Bluegrass band

Today we had Rich Stillman and his four-piece group (banjo, mandolin, guitar, & upright bass) in to the Bose performance space. Rich wanted to tryout the system with his all-acoustic bluegrass band.

We first set up the way these types of bands traditionally do in live situations; one mic (AKG 414) picking up the entire group. The mix is acheived by the band members moving in to, or away from the mic. With one system set up behind them, it sounded very good in the room, but we couldn't get the volume up very high because of the inherent qualities of the large diaphragm 414 condenser (this mic is primarily used in the studio, and it picks up everything in its vicinity beautifully, but is very prone to feedback in live situations).

Next, we moved the system up to the front of the stage, about two feet in front of the musicians, and to the side. We got the volume up much louder and it sounded very good. The band could surprising hear themselves very well with the system in front of them.

Now for the good stuff....

We then placed another system on the other side of the stage, again about two feet in front of the band, and placed an MXL 993 condenser mic three feet to the side of the 414 (mainly to pick up the guitar). The sound just OPENED-UP! It was truly hi-fi, and we got it more than loud enough for probably hundreds of audience members.

If you play in a bluegrass band (or any other acoustic ensemble) this setup would be all you'd ever need for 95% of your gigs; and with only two mics, you could set it up in about five minutes. For the other five percent of your gigs, you could use the system as monitors (and to cover the first 25 rows) and give line outs to the FOH sound engineer.

Here's a picture of three of the band members (the fourth was out front listening) with one system at the front of the stage, playing into two mics.


Photos (2)
Original Post
I was there for all of this too. First of all, these are all first rate professional touring musicians. We'll post their names and website and maybe some audio samples when they send that along to us.

I've been in this business for a long long time and I simply was not prepared for what happened when we added the second mic/speaker combination. It was like going from 2D to 3D, or from mono to 5.1. Everything just opened up. It was also the most astonishing live-music demo of the cocktail party effect I've ever experinced. By turning off one side, then turning it back on you would get the most vivid evidence that having voices and instruments come from different directions adds dramatically to our ability to hear them.

Please keep in mind that this group, like many bluegrass groups, wants to play in as natural a way as possible. The ideal is to just play acoustically. When you walked up on stage you really felt you were just in their living room. When you walked out into the house you felt you were in a technicolor cinemascope bluegrass dream.

I'm especially excited about the simplicity of the setup:


(I hope this Fred Flinstone Atari diagram comes out okay. Sorry about all the x's -- I couldn't make spaces work. Perhaps ST could take a crack at a real illustration?)

M1 was attached to CR1 and M2 to CR2.

It really sounded incredibly full and hi fi. We used Preset 00 for everything.

Big thanks to the pros that helped us dial this in today. They are the real deal.

Music is Human.

Yup, you nailed it my friend. The change from the mono, one mic listening experience to the two was remarkable. Every instrument seemed to just open up and bloom. It was neat to have experienced the change.


PS Anyone who says musicians can't mix themselves has never heard this group. Their mix was perfect ... just plain perfect. I'm still amazed at how well the banjo cut through and made it in the mix ... very cool. It's clear to me I still have a lot to learn. Smile


A few details that will improve the accuracy of the sketch:

- The speakers were cheated in toward the center of the room by about 15 degrees.

- Mandolin, bass, and guitar all sing.

- The mic on the right was not aimed to the right but was aimed straight like the left hand mic.

- In scale shown speakers were another 30% or so further out to the sides, or about three feet I estimate further than what you've shown.

- I believe that adding a stage outline would greatly enhance the clarity of the illustration.

You rock ST. Big time.
Hi Ken,

Sure, I can make those changes.

- How
a) wide /
b) deep is the stage?
Haven't been able to tell from the pictures.

- How many feet were the mics from the L1's
--- I've got them about:
---- c) 2 feet back
---- d) 4 feet "in"
- So I've got another sense of it,
---- e)about how far apart would you say the L1's were?
---- f)were they setup at the center of the stage or _______

These should be:
Please show stage as about 6' deep and 20' wide (in actuality ours is deeper and wider but I'm thinking of an illustration for the general case -- not one for this particular case).

The mikes were each about 6-8 feet from the speakers with about two feet between the mikes.

CR1 6' M1 2' M2 6' CR2

The mikes were about two feet behind the L1's,

Band and mikes were centered between the two L1s.

I hope this is enough info. Please let me know if not.
Originally posted by Steve-at-Bose:

I'm still amazed at how well the banjo cut through and made it in the mix ... very cool. It's clear to me I still have a lot to learn. Smile

Steve, it's clear you have not listened to much bluegrass, otherwise you would have known that the banjo can cut through anything. There is a good reason why you never hear anyone say "turn up the Banjo" Wink

I hope this exercise turns into a research project, to determine the best setup configuration and mic choices for bluegrass and other, all acoustic, styles of music.

To be able to use high quality "area" mics with this Bose technology to amplify music being done in the most traditional manner, I think is very exciting.

To be able to make a suggestion for use that doesn't include, "install a pickup" I think would be rewarding to many traditional musicians, as well as all the At-Bose-Folks.

Thanks guys, Oldghm
Guys, this is 'uge! (ST, thanks for the usual visual wonderment, right on the money)

I was late for the earlier "backline" experiments (Chiropractor visit/evidence of start of tennis season) and walked in when they were playing into the 2-mic dual system. It's hard to describe what I experienced. The band was playing (these guys were killing it!!) and it was just a big exciting version of what you'd expect from a normal "acoustic" ensemble. It was totally organic. Tony and I took the remotes and turned both systems up and down while they were playing and I swear it just got bigger but remained spectrally intact. The lead singer just got a little closer for leads (he simply leaned in a little) to the 414 and the mix was perfect, evidence that they could hear it all. They later confirmed this. The big deal for me was the elegance and organic purity of the setup. 2 mics, stand up and play. At the very least, you'd expect a tangle of 7 or 8 wires connecting various thingys to a mixer or something. This was 2 mics, period. The upright bass sounded full and perfect in the mix, you could hear all the instruments in detail and the voices, in my opinion, had qualities you simply can't get with eat-the-mic. Honestly, everything sounded amazing and the stage was totally clean and clear. As usual, the L1's disappeared off to the sides. No oil derricks (mic stands) and clown noses (ball mic pop filters) cluttering the stage front, just the cats and their instruments.

I suppose the only drawback to such an approach is you can't play blisteringly loud due to feedback. (That's not how you "rock" anyway. It's all in the fingers.) These guys played great! Hats off to Rich for trying a very brave and useful experiment. This was, for me, one of the most spectacular and creative new uses of our system I have ever seen. (Rich was also present for the Tom Paxton Martin presets, ended up doing most of the curve himself and got approving harrumphs from everyone present. Who is this guy?)

Again, I think this is a new stake in the ground for amplifying this format of ensemble. The sound quality, I believe, can't be replicated using "mulitirack" techniques. It's simple and way closer to the "plug and play" ideal we aspire to. It can probably be used for an audience of 400. I think the sound level is totally in keeping with what bluegrass artists want for their audiences. I have seen the future of amplified bluegrass...
Originally posted by Cliff-at-Bose:
I think this is a new stake in the ground for amplifying this format of ensemble.

You may be too young to remember but these groups are going back to the mic techniques that were used at the conception of Big Mon's music for radio performances and recordings.

Of course, the wonderful PAS now enables groups to extend this genuine sound to their live audiences. What a gas!

Rhonda Vincent's hard working/playing group should check this out along with 100's of other bluegrass bands around the world. You do know the Japanese culture holds this folk art form in highest regard?

I can't tell you how many times you get sound contractors who only know LOUD bass/drums and nothing about acoustic bluegrass instrument requirements. Get these things on festival stages and the word will spread like wildfire!

Steve cracked-me-up about the banjo, LOL...
Hey ST,

The drawing looks great. I'll repeat that your illustrations are beautiful works of art.

I once asked the brilliant guru of information design, and Yale professor Edward Tufte what he thought about the cave paintings at Altamira and Lescaux (sp?) and elsewhere -- did he think it was art or information -- and his answer hit me like a freight train: "I am indifferent to the distinction." BOINGGGGG! Your work feels that way to me.

And now from the stratosphere to the dirt:

There's no need to have two different kinds of microphones, and I don't feel that there's a need to have a very expensive large diaphragm mic either. (I'd love to do a blind test to prove my point.) I believe that the big large-diaphragm condensers are used for two reasons: they're expensive so they must sound that much better, and they look old-timey like the way the old radio broadcasts were done back when the world was a better place.

The only reason we didn't use two of the same mikes is we didn't have two lying around.

(No need to change the mikes in the illustration unless you're inspired.)

The canonical setup I think would be two high quality cardioids on their appropriate presets. OM-5s would work great. This would bring the system price down to about $4,500 for a brilliant presentation of acoustic ensemble music.

Given the excruciatingly long hours of practice, the reduction in setup time and transportation costs, and the piece of mind musically to just plug in two mikes, unpack your instrument and play, this seems like a good value to me.

The band was Adam Dewey and Crazy Creek:

Adam Dewey on mandolin
Brian Clancey on guitar
Joe Singleton on bass
Rich Stillman on banjo

Stage area - darkened
Powerstands now canted inwards 15°
Added notes about the microphones. I thought it was nice to leave the actual microphones used in the image, but added the notes for clarification.
Originally posted by Ken-at-Bose:
I don't feel that there's a need to have a very expensive large diaphragm mic either. (I'd love to do a blind test to prove my point.)

The canonical setup I think would be two high quality cardioids on their appropriate presets. OM-5s would work great.


I didn't expect the suggestion/recommendation of the OM 5 or any other tight cardioid pattern dynamic mics. To my ear even the best of them lose much of the low end when the distance from mic to music source is greater than 2 feet.

I look forward to hearing the results of your blind test.

Tony(-At-Bose). Thanks for posting this.

Ironically, after following this forum for a year and with the little experimenting we've done with the one PAS we have, I had (recently) pretty much come to the same conclusion for the one mic method: I.e., put the PAS out front, rather than behind. I also thought that adding a 2nd PAS and mic to our setup would be sufficient, but it is good to hear about how much of a improvement it would make. Maybe next year. :-)

As I've mentioned previously, the musicians are 3 of my kids (and one other), not me, and their desire is to use the one mic method. Blue Lightning. We've not had opportunity to use the PAS at public performances yet, as a system has always been provided, but we're hoping to change that soon. I'm convinced that once people hear how good it sounds, it'll be an easy sell...

I recently purchased an AT 3035 based on some online reviews and initial testing with the PAS seemed pretty positive. Glad to hear a +/- $1000 mic isn't required...

Like Oldghm, I also was surprised to see the OM-5 recommendation.

In addition to the blind test Ken-At-Bose mentioned, I'd be interested in the results of a similar test for a traditional bluegrass band which had each band member with their own PAS and mic(s) v.s. the double PAS/condensor mic setup. Does this sound like something the Bose folks could make happen???

Anyway thanks again. We're looking forward to many years of making music and just having fun, with the PAS of course :-) ...
Originally posted by Steve-at-Bose:
Oldghm and ASAT,

I was "banjo challenged" but now I'm on a 12 step banjo program. There's hope for me.


PS I can tell you a lot about Eddie Van Halen's and Stevie Ray Vaughan's guitars and amplifcation setups though. Wink

Hey Steve, just having a little fun with you. You're always a "hot shoe" in my book.

Some of us have grown-up as guitar pickers with banjos in the family band so it's natural to understand the volume difference.
I've put together a posting with Specifications and Polar Patterns for the AKG 414, MXL 993 and Audix OM-5 so you can look at these together. I didn't want to clutter up this discussion with the pictures, but when you look at the pickup patterns it looks like the OM-5 picks up pretty evenly +/- 80° (160° spread in front of the microphone).

Specifications and Polar Patterns

edit - restated the way I was reading the dispersion characteristics.
To All,

I hesitate to jump in here and say too much, when I'm not sure I understand all the info available, but..... The polar pattern and the frequency response curve must be assesed together.

While the polar pattern may indicate a wide pickup pattern, what is it picking up? Is it enough to accurately represent the musical spectrum of an acoustic ensemble?

Perhaps one of the Bose Guys would give us a primer on "How to interpret Polar Pattern and Frequency Response Charts". I doubt that I'm the only one who doesn't completely understand.

My personal experience tells me that distance (sound source from mic diaphragm) is the issue. And I'm not sure how to relate that to the charts.

To paraphrase Ron Thomason of the Dry Branch Fire Squad: "The banjo is the loudest instrument known to man. But that hasn't stopped every banjo player from continuing to look for a louder one."

I don't know about Eddie Van Halen or SRV, but there is some serious 5-string banjo hardware out there in the hands of people like Jon Bon Jovi and Bernie Leadon. The banjo is definitely right on the edge of mass market acceptance. I just wish it would get there soon. Smile

I need to make one correction in the bluegrass band setup described here. I recall the two columns being canted away from the center, not toward it. I remember thinking it was the same way we'd place conventional speakers, to cover more of the house and reduce the interaction between speakers and microphones.

As good as the setup sounded, I think an even better arrangement would be two similar microphones set a couple of feet apart, or close together and angled away from each other. The band could work that setup much like a single mic, but the stereo image should be fantastic. With the even sound distribution of the PAS, standing anyplace in the room should give the effect of standing in the middle of the band, but with more honest stereo separation than the oddly distributed mix we had. I think two AT4033s or similar large diaphragm mics would do the job at far less cost than even a single AKG414.

One more thought - I was at a chamber music concert last weekend. The stage was rigged with two condenser mics that looked like those Oktava MK012s that Guitar Center is just about giving away. The mics were about 5 feet from the frontmost musicians and angled at 90 degrees from each other. All musicians were seated, so they didn't move around at all. FOH sound levels were very low, just enough to ensure that everyone in the (very quiet) audience could hear.

This is a very common setup for small classical music ensembles. I see it all the time. Given the lower volume levels required and the comfort level these groups already have with static microphone placement, this seems like another group that would be very receptive to the PAS. Likewise small theater companies who string a row of microphones at the front of the stage along with the footlights should be interested. The even sound and stereo image of these systems would give the audience much more of an "on-stage" experience.

-Rich Stillman

I did consider the frequency response issue, but with the OM-5 chart, is seems that the polar response is nearly identical from 125-1500 Hz and doesn't appear to get significantly narrower (< 60° off axis) until you are up around 4000 Hz.

But it would be good to hear from the people-at-Bose about this.
I think the next time we get with a bluegrass band, we can try these different ideas. I'm confident about the fact that high quality but not expensive mikes will do the trick -- but I've been wrong before and I'll be wrong again. My batting average is good, but certainly not 1000.

So we have a few yummy things to try. What fun.

What we already know works is a slam-dunk in my opinion. I still can't get over the cinemascope sound of that band through just the two systems.
Oh, I forgot one other thing that really helped the sound.

We did not have an isolation mount for the mikes and it was picking up a lot of mud from the vibration of the stage. Moving the mike stand off the stage and onto the concrete floor, and booming the mike into position made a significant audible improvement.

How do you know when this might be happening to you? Just tap the mic stand. If you hear a ringing sound (takes a while for the sound from the tap to die out) you've probably got a significant amount of undesireable coloration coming from the stage.

Be aware that different mikes are wicked different in their rejection of vibration.
Thanks ST, for the chart. It is the lower frequencies of voice and guitar and especially the bass that I think will suffer the most.

Many bands add a mic to the upright and that would certainly solve that issue in this instance.

Many Bluegrass bands pride themselves on four part harmony, especially on their Gospel material, again a potential for something to be left out if the mic is not very sensitive in the lower freq, at long range.

Sensitivity may be the part of the equation that is not clearly understood by looking at the mic charts/graphs.

An AT 4033 mentioned by Rich is the mic I have seen used most often by Bluegrass groups.

Ken, I really don't want you to be wrong, if this method will work with two $150. dynamic mics, that would be great.

The PAS reproduces acoustic instruments so well that discovering a truly trouble free method of micing ensembles can only be a positive move for Bose, as well as the many traditional pickers out here looking for a better way.

The loss of the low midrange and low frequencies has always been my complaint about bands that adopted the single mic, starting with Doyle Lawson and Del McCoury. I got the sense when we were experimenting with the single mic/single PAS setup that we were losing those frequencies also. One of my hopes when we started the experiment was that we could work on an EQ that would compensate for that loss, and make that EQ a preset on the PAS. That could still work, but we ended up really seduced by the sound of the double mic setup. It seemed to eliminate or compensate for the loss of low end, and the addition of the stereo information made it sound far better than anything we could have done with a single system. We ran out of time before we could go back to the one mic setup, but I'd very much like to try that again. A workable solution that involves only one mic and PAS will be much more affordable for many bands, and a steppingstone even for bands that eventually want to move to a stereo setup. Even so, having heard what we heard, I have no illusions we can make one system and mic sound anywhere near as good as two.

I think bands that really work the single mic setup will really be able to make this setup shine. Many of the classic Flatt & Scruggs and Bill Monroe recordings, and virtually all of their shows, were done with one microphone, and the bass fiddle and bass voice showed up just fine - in some cases, a little too clear, if you've heard the sloppy bass playing and singing on some of the recent CD releases of these old 78s. Those frequencies made it onto the masters and were lost in the pressing process.

I'm pretty sure Mike Bub still plays bass on Del McCoury's live shows without a separate bass mic. Thanks to his tremendous technique, he gets picked up just fine by the mics in front of the band.

This setup has the potential to completely change many bands' approach to live sound. The experienced bands will make this work right away, and the inexperienced ones will learn much faster since the PAS lets them hear what happens if they move around onstage.


I think you are right about Del McCoury's bass player, no mic and great technique.

I am not a Bluegrass player but I grew up on Flatt and Scruggs, and my style has been greatly influenced by many Bluegrass players over the years.

If Bose can come up with a plan that can be promoted without reservation, I really don't think the price of the Bose will be an impediment. Two systems still cost less than many of the instrumets played by many beginning bands. When JD Crowe or Alison Krauss is on the road the value of the instruments in either band would be a great start on the cost of a nice tour bus.

Karl Shiflett and Big Country took the one mic technique to a whole different level with their choreography. The last time I saw them they were using the AT 4033 inside their custom made, old time looking shell.

Ken and I actually talked about this issue 8 or 9 months ago, and I sent him some bootleg Bluegrass live recordings, hoping to inspire him to get this technology in the hands of topnotch pickers if for no other reason, to make the bootlegs better. Smile

Now that the Bose guys have had Bluegrass "in the house" we can't let up till they get real serious about the possibilities.

Keep the pressure on.

I completely agree about Karl Shiflett. He's turned single mic choreography into an art form. I've had the chance to watch hours of old Flatt & Scruggs TV shows and feel like the energy of those shows came from what the players were forced to do to get the music out through the one mic. In that sense Karl Shiflett's show doesn't really capture the old F&S and Bill Monroe shows, it creates a whole new style of presenting bluegrass by making the visuals intentionally as important as the music itself.

I still think the single PAS option is important. Serious touring bands will pass right by and plunk the money down for two systems, but there is a large community of pickers who scrape together "only" $2000 or so to buy a basic professional level guitar, banjo or mandolin. For those people, the difference between a $2500 sound system and a $5k sound system is a very big deal. Giving them a way to get started with a PAS not only means they'll sound better out of the gate, but also that they can upgrade to a second unit with no loss of their initial investment.

I remember making the decision in 1988 to spend almost all of a $3000 bonus check on a new banjo. I never regretted it, and I still play that banjo, but it was a serious step at a time when I was making house payments and raising a child. It's important to remember people who are passionate, but on a budget - they're a big market, and some of them end up going all the way.

Was watching CMT late Sat. night they had a show called "Top 20 Country Bands". The list included Del McCoury, Bill Monroe, Flatt & Scruggs, Ricky Skaggs, Alison Krauss, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, And Emmy Lou's Hot Band from the mid 70'd thru the 80's.

It was interesting to watch some of the clips. There were some that showed Del McCoury's band with three condencers, two in front and one for the bass.

Some of the 60's television stuff showed only one very normal looking mic but the mix of instruments suggested there might have been some unseen overheads. TV is the greatest of illusions.

It really is amazing how oldtime mountain folk (music and people) influenced so much of american music. It's nice every now and then to see the old and the new become the now, like for instance Jack White and Loretta Lynn.

I do agree that a one PAS solution is desirable, but I wonder if that can be achieved at a level that Bose can endorse it. Many have tried the one PAS for complete band approach, with varying degrees of success. All who have moved on to two or more are quick to notice and appreciate the rewards.

It is for that reason I think Bose should perhaps say "one is possible, for Bluegrass, but...if the one mic technique is what you hope to use then we recommend ................." That way there is no disillusion about what to expect.

I think this product has satisfied more needs in more ways than the Bose Guys ever dreamed of. In spite of all the claims that some may think are outrageous, it has really been undersold, meaning it will match the claims and more. There probably is no reason to change that approach.

I don't know if you can really tell from the first picture I posted, but the systems were skewed in, not out. I'm sure they would work just as well out, but the musicians might not hear themselves as well with that arrangemnet.
Well, as my name might have tipped you off, I've been known to roll a five string. I've played with Rich Stillman. He's a great player and has won quite a few New England banjo contests (no...not the kind where you see how far you can chuck the banjo...). Last time I saw him he played a turn-of-the-century piece that was very complex. And the banjo typically cuts through the other instruments for both volume and frequency range. It's why we're hated/loved so much. Ironically, I haven't tried the PAS with my banjos because lately my playing has centered on solo performance and the banjo is (mostly) an ensemble instrument.
Captbanjo, I do recall a couple of years ago at Ossipee the banjo contest was held at the same time as the trebuchet banjo toss...

st, I'd like to add one more detail to your drawing. The main reason we added the MXL 993 was to address Adam's complaint that the guitar wasn't strong enough in the mix. Brian played the guitar into it as he would a standard close mic. There was enough bleed across the stage so each side of the room got some of the ambient sound, and the PAS magic made things sound pretty balanced everywhere in the room. But the drawing should show that the guitar was in front of the MXL and the rest of the band was grouped around the 414. Having everyone stand a distance from two large diaphragm mics should produce a very different result - probably a better one.
Originally posted by ASAT:
Originally posted by Rich Stillman:
Brian played the guitar into it as he would a standard close mic.

Hey there, gotta question. Does Brian flatpick in your show or is it all rythym guitar?

Brian plays killer rhythm guitar but he doesn't take flatpick leads. He does play 3-finger Scruggs-style guitar on gospel quartets. In that configuration Adam switches from mandolin to rhythm guitar, Joe doesn't play anything, Bradd stays on bass, and I sit down offstage and get the banjo back in tune.

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