Originating in the Madeira Islands of Portugal and then introduced into Hawaii in the late 1800’s, the Ukulele has recently snuck its way into a bunch of chart-topping indie and pop tracks. Hit songs like Riptide by Vance Joy, Elephant Gun by Beirut and Do You Remember by Jarryd James have utilised the instrument successfully in a range of contexts.
The humble ukelele has been put to great use in recent years with the little instrument featuring heavily in some massive recent hits. Here we take a look at recording the uke in a modern context.
Before hitting the studio always have reference tracks, it’s quite difficult to record an instrument without a sonic vision in mind so set yourself a sound goal. Although the ukulele seems like a simple instrument (four nylon strings and a tiny body) the majority of good quality ukulele tracks have been recorded incredibly carefully using an array of different sized uke’s.
Vance Joy’s Riptide for example uses at least two overdubbed sopranos, one tenor and at times a baritone all of which build toward the pristine ukulele sound the track exhibits. Experimenting with different microphones (if you’re not using a DI) is also important but be aware that it may take some time to find the exact sound you first set out to achieve.
Finding the Perfect Sound
Like any instrument, finding the perfect ukulele recording technique/s will take time. Try to experiment with various mic positions fleshing out reflections, articulations and tone colours as this will be profoundly beneficial for mixing further down the line and any future recording.
Jarryd James’ track Do You Remember displays a pizzicato playing style achieved through close miking and careful editing to remove any hand/finger sounds. This works well for the style of the track (electro/indie), however if you’re aiming to achieve a sense of ‘realness’ in your recording, try to keep these idiosyncrasies.
All acoustic instrument recording will vary in accordance with quality, there’s only so much you can fix with EQ. Investing in a mid-high range ukulele will improve your recording ten fold!
Whenever you’re recording real/acoustic instruments always avoid looping, this takes away a great deal of interest particularly in strumming patterns. Strumming should be recorded carefully as all four strings are used heavily. Try and mix a few overdubs that vary in microphone position, strumming pressure and articulation to bring out the best possible performance.
Mikaela Grob is an intern sound engineer at Enmore Audio. Have a read of another piece she wrote on recording raw trumpet sounds in a home studio setup.