Uke Tech Support Nothin' Quite Like a "Mic'd Up" Uke

For the tough stuff!

Bill Sheehan

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This afternoon I experimented a little bit with my Martin S-0 (with "jjb electronics" passive piezo disc pickup installed inside) running into my Behringer ADI-21 pre-amp/DI box, and from there into the XLR input of my Roland Cube Street amp. I felt like I attained a pretty nice combination of EQ and level settings as between the Behringer and the Roland, and the uke sounded decent coming through the amp.

But before I put everything away, just out of curiosity I put the pre-amp aside, grabbed my SM-58 microphone, put it on a stand, plugged it straight into the amp, and sat down in my folding chair with the microphone aimed at the 12th fret, about eight inches away from the uke. I gave it a healthy amount of volume, and darn, it sounded so good, so clear and true. Honestly it was much more pleasing to my ear than with the pre-amp/DI "plugged-in" approach.

Now I'm tempted to re-visit the possibility of mic'ing up my uke for live performances, and leaving the pre-amp and instrument cable out of the equation. For the most part I do small-room retirement home outings, where feedback and crowd noise aren't really an issue.

Anyone else prefer to "mic up" that uke rather than plugging it in, at least when the venue and situation allow?
 
I used to have a variety of ukes with preamp/pickups including my go-to uke, but now only two of my four have one. My new go-to does not, so when the time comes, I'm going to use a mic. I have a Shure gooseneck condenser mic with an Xvive wireless phantom power system. I don't use cables anymore, all my equipment is wireless and battery operated.
 
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I think a good microphone beats a piezo pickup for sound quality any day of the week.

That said, I mostly plug-in (or use no amp at all) because I am often busking outside and simplicity rules. You don't have to worry about wind and I tend to move around a lot to engage with the crowd. I never sing with a mic when busking, either. Therefore, I don't want to haul around and be tied to a mic stand. I will plug-in to a tiny amp when I need to, just to make the uke a little louder and let it go at that.

I also plug-in for indoor swing dance gigs. I run it through an LR Baggs preamp/DI (Venue model, I think?) and go direct to the board. I would kind of rather mic an amplifier on stage and control my own tone that way, but almost all the sound technicians in my area would rather do the DI route. To keep them happy, that is what I do. If they don't even want to mic my amp, they certainly don't want to mic my instrument. It gets the job done.
 
I always prefer a mic to a pickup if I'm looking for an acoustic sound. All of my guitars and one of my ukes have pckups installed, but I only use them out of self-defense, not because I prefer the sound. If everyone else in the group is plugged in or if drums and electric instruments are involved, I will plug in, but not for solo or duo or bluegrass gigs or anywhere I can get away without plugging in.
Gillian Welsh, David Rawlings, John Hammond Jr., Country Joe MacDonald and a bunch of other pros don't plug in most of the time. Tony Rice once told an interviewer, "If you ask me what kind of pickup I use, I can tell that you've never seen one of my shows."
An expensive mic is not needed. I find that an SM57 or a Beta57 work just fine.
If I'm using my own mics, I use a, Shure SM58 for vocals and a Shure Beta 57 for instruments. The Beta57 is a little more expensive than an SM57, but my wife bought it for me and was feeling generous. Neither one will break the bank and they seem to be the industry standard.
They are also almost indestructable. I don't do mic drops, but if you do, you don't have to worry too much about these mics.
 
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I agree mic sounds best, but practically I prefer to plug in. It took me a while to find a decent way to tame the piezo quack though. I now use a cheap compression pedal which also gives me some control over the tone before the sound goes into my acoustic amp (via some other pedals if I need them).

Otherwise I have an iRig Acoustic Stage which has a clip-on MEMS microphone but can also mix in the piezo output to help reduce feedback. I'll sometimes use that for solo playing, but the extra cable makes it a bit messy. The preamp on the iRig Acoustic Stage works quite well on just the piezo too (not even plugging in the mic).

Although I've often heard people say sound engineers prefer a DI, a couple of times lately they've preferred to mic up my amp. That's partly so I'm in more control of my sound and partly they then don't have to care what level my DI puts out. It probably helps that I have a 30 watt amp on a stand which angles the sound up toward me; anything less and I'd struggle to hear it on stage with the rest of the band all amped up.
 
Thanks to all, for the very helpful input and observations. I have ordered a pre-owned Audix OM-2 (dynamic) mic via the Reverb website, which I'll probably try out for the purpose of micing the uke. I realize that condenser mics are thought to be preferable for this application, but I don't have phantom power, and I'm told that the Audix scores well in the "off-axis rejection" and "gain-before-feedback" departments. So, we shall see...
 
Thanks to all, for the very helpful input and observations. I have ordered a pre-owned Audix OM-2 (dynamic) mic via the Reverb website, which I'll probably try out for the purpose of micing the uke. I realize that condenser mics are thought to be preferable for this application, but I don't have phantom power, and I'm told that the Audix scores well in the "off-axis rejection" and "gain-before-feedback" departments. So, we shall see...
I once owned an Audix OM2, and used it as an instrument mic as well as for vocals.
I did the job well.
Unfortunately I had to sell it for financial reasons. I had too many mic's anyway, so something with brand recognition that would sell, had to go.
 
After watching this for the first minute or 2, skip to about 6 mins for SM58 comparison.:

It looks like you will need to the place the mic as close to the instrument as possible. IME having a windscreen on it will soften the inevitable bumps from working that close to it.

These windscreens arrive vacuum-compressed, but just take one out and rinse it for a few seconds in hot tap water and it'll puff right up. Put it on and leave it on until you wash or replace it. They'll fit snugly. Mine haven't started disintegrating yet, after about 1 year. They do not muffle the sound.

Amazon: Mudder 5 Pack Foam Mic Cover Handheld Microphone Windscreen
 

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This afternoon I experimented a little bit with my Martin S-0 (with "jjb electronics" passive piezo disc pickup installed inside) running into my Behringer ADI-21 pre-amp/DI box, and from there into the XLR input of my Roland Cube Street amp. I felt like I attained a pretty nice combination of EQ and level settings as between the Behringer and the Roland, and the uke sounded decent coming through the amp.

But before I put everything away, just out of curiosity I put the pre-amp aside, grabbed my SM-58 microphone, put it on a stand, plugged it straight into the amp, and sat down in my folding chair with the microphone aimed at the 12th fret, about eight inches away from the uke. I gave it a healthy amount of volume, and darn, it sounded so good, so clear and true. Honestly it was much more pleasing to my ear than with the pre-amp/DI "plugged-in" approach.

Now I'm tempted to re-visit the possibility of mic'ing up my uke for live performances, and leaving the pre-amp and instrument cable out of the equation. For the most part I do small-room retirement home outings, where feedback and crowd noise aren't really an issue.

Anyone else prefer to "mic up" that uke rather than plugging it in, at least when the venue and situation allow?
Are you singing into this mic as well?
 
After watching this for the first minute or 2, skip to about 6 mins for SM58 comparison.:

It looks like you will need to the place the mic as close to the instrument as possible. IME having a windscreen on it will soften the inevitable bumps from working that close to it.

These windscreens arrive vacuum-compressed, but just take one out and rinse it for a few seconds in hot tap water and it'll puff right up. Put it on and leave it on until you wash or replace it. They'll fit snugly. Mine haven't started disintegrating yet, after about 1 year. They do not muffle the sound.

Amazon: Mudder 5 Pack Foam Mic Cover Handheld Microphone Windscreen

Thank you for that followup, Wiggy! Those windscreens look pretty decent! (Edit: Ordered the five-pack! Thanks for the tip!) (y)
 
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Are you singing into this mic as well?
Hi SWB, no, I'm singing into a separate mic (an inexpensive but nice-sounding Behringer dynamic vocal mic). I have the vocal mic on the mic stand in the usual fashion, and I have the ukulele mic situated below it, on an "arm" attached to the mic stand, similar to what John suggested above.
 
I have a Sennheiser e609 mic, which is commonly used to mic-up guitar amp cabinets, just hung down in front of the grille. I wonder if that would also work as a uke instrument mic, instead of an SM57? Maybe I'll dig it out and try.
 
I have a Sennheiser e609 mic, which is commonly used to mic-up guitar amp cabinets, just hung down in front of the grille. I wonder if that would also work as a uke instrument mic, instead of an SM57? Maybe I'll dig it out and try.
Thank you, John. One of our Forum friends, I believe it's AnthonyG, has often stated that certain mics (SM-57 in particular) which are so often recommended for micing "instruments" are actually good at micing up "instrument CABINETS", because they're designed to handle the relatively strong blast of sound coming from a close-mic'd speaker-- and on the other hand they may not be particularly suitable for placing on a stand and playing a "softer-voiced" instrument, such as a ukulele, into them. I'll be the first to admit, however, that I know just enough to be dangerous when it comes to this stuff! (But it's so fun to "mess with"!)
 
Yes, I mic up always.
I don't even have a pickup option by choice.
When on proper stages I ask the engineer to cut my foldback right down to prevent problems.
Thanks, Anthony. I will add you to the list of players who inspire me by their preference to simply "mic up"-- along with Chris Hough ("Ukulele Uff"), who seems to prefer the micing-up approach too, and his Martin soprano always comes through loud and clear!
 
I never liked the '57 as the edge of its grill feels like a cheese grater when you hit it with your lips. Same if your instrument hits it. As Jack Nicholson said in Easy Rider when he took his morning nip of whisky: "Nick, nick, nick!"

 
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I never liked the '57 as the edge of its grill feels like a cheese grater when you hit it with your lips. Same if your instrument hits it. As Jack Nicholson said in Easy Rider when he took his morning nip of whisky: "Nick, nick, nick!"

The SM57, from what I have read, is basically an SM58, with its grill cut right back so that it can be used to close mic instruments.
It was never intended to be a vocal mic (that's what the SM58 is for). Disregard any/most video's you may see of an SM-57 being used as a vocal mic, its just there as a prop for the video.
I've seen all kinds of ridiculous prop microphones being used in video's. Pencil condensor mics get used as props ofen because they are so skinny and don't obscure peoples faces. Probably the same logic behind an SM57 being used as a prop mic.
 
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