Quick Summary

If you’re looking for the Goldilocks of fiddle microphones, then the Bartlett Fiddle Mic might just be it. There are many cheaper mics and pickups, there are many more expensive and fancier, but in my experience none delivers the perfect middle ground in terms of price, sound, size, and ease of use. Whether you’re a professional or just in need of a mic to amplify your fiddle for dances and gigs, I know of no other mic that fits the bill so well as the Bartlett Fiddle Mic.

Looking for a fiddle mic?

One of the joys of playing oldtime music is that most of the time we get to play completely acoustically. No pickups, no amplifiers, no gear to schlepp or worry about. It’s easy and it sounds great, as long as the room cooperates too. But if you stay in the game long enough, there will also come situations where amplification is necessary. Dances, recording sessions, gigs, busking. What do you do then?

When amplification is called for, guitar and banjo players have it relatively easy as there are quite a few good sounding and affordable pickups that fit the bill. Bass players can most often get away with decent dynamic mic or pickup and a DI box.

But fiddle players are put before a seeming dilemma: cost or sound? That’s because most affordable pickups and mics designed for fiddle just don’t sound natural at all, while those that do sound good are so expensive that they only really make good sense for full-time professionals or those with money to burn. 

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The dpa 4099, for instance, is often touted as a great violin mic. And for $600+ it better be! But it’s also not a reasonable solution for fiddler who only plays a few amplified gigs a year.

Cost or sound, cost or sound? If you’re not willing to trade one for the other, then in my book there’s only one alternative on the market that fits the bill: The Bartlett Audio Fiddle Mic.

Sound

For acoustic instruments microphones always provide a fuller, more natural sound than pickups. But every microphone has its own sound. Some aim to be more neutral in the response, while others are “colored” in a way to suit particular instruments or styles by emphasizing certain frequencies and reducing others. In essence the Bartlett Fiddle Mic falls into the former category of a neutral mic, but with a twist. 

The mic has a very flat (=neutral) response throughout its range. But it cleverly focuses that range specifically to the range of the fiddle. Along with the other Bartlett instrument mics, it was designed by North Carolina mic engineer Bruce Bartlett specifically to reproduce a warm fiddle sound. This is not a general “instrument mic”; it’s a fiddle mic.

It accomplishes this by rolling off the highs and lows precisely at points in the frequency range that could otherwise cause problems for fiddlers. The low-end response of the Fiddle Mic rolls off just below the lowest note on the fiddle. This means that it can still reproduce these low frequencies well, while not picking up lower signals that could color the sound, make it sound muddy, or increase the risk of feedback. More importantly, at the other end of the spectrum, the highs of the mic are gently rolled off at a frequency that allows the sound to remain clear and natural while avoiding the shrill or harsh frequencies that mics or pickups with a flatter frequency response would overemphasize.

Frequency response of the microphone in Hz

The result is a mic designed for one very specific situation: close micing a fiddle. It might be a one-trick pony, but boy is that trick good. The sound can be gently altered based on whether the mic is positioned directly behind the bridge or slightly off toward the f-hole, but either way the sound is detailed, warm, and very natural, while also being easy to carry, install, and use in live settings.

In use

The microphone itself is a very small condenser capsule (specifically an omnidirectional electret) on a 10′ cable with an XLR connector. Condensers are highly sensitive and natural sounding microphones typically reserved for high-end performance and studio situations, and require phantom power to work. Phantom power is an electrical current that is sent through the microphone cable to power the microphone capsule itself. The Fiddle Mic requires phantom power, which is generally supplied on most mixers. If that’s not available, you will need a separate phantom power supply.

The mic is mounted on the fiddle by using a small foam pad wedged between the top of the fiddle and the tailpiece. The microphone capsule can then be positioned just behind the bridge for a brighter sound or angled off to the side toward an f-hole for a warmer sound.

Ease of installation can be a blessing and a curse, depending on your use case. If you’re a full-time professional, then having to put the mic on and off every time you play a gig could be deal breaker. While it takes less than a minute to do so, many professionals prefer a built-in system that stays on the instrument and is ready immediately. But if you’re only using the mic for some of your playing, I think the mic is perfect.

The entire mic is fits in the eyeglasses case it’s delivered in. Mic, cord and connector. All that fits comfortably in many fiddle cases, meaning there’s nothing else to carry or worry about. Just pop it in your case, slip the mic under your tailpiece, plug in, and you’re ready to go. The thin cable can be wrapped around your tailpiece or just draped over your shoulder.

Live and recording applications

In my experience, this mic is most at home in live settings. In fact it’s almost perfect for them. The voicing of the mic, with rolled off highs and lows, means that you can get a great sound through a PA system every time. It’s very reliable and requires essentially no EQing in my experience to get a very good sound.

I’ve used the Fiddle Mic to play dances with various PAs and through a small acoustic amplifier for gigs and been more than pleased with its performance every time.

That said, I don’t think I would reach for the Fiddle Mic in many recording settings. First, in a recording setting I prefer to capture those highs and lows the Fiddle Mic rolls off, and then see how they can be adjusted later in the recording process. Second, very close micing is rarely the optimal choice when going for the most natural sound of the fiddle. Placing a mic somewhere between 12 and 24 inches from the fiddle provides a broader representation of the entire fiddle and sounds much more natural. Lastly, a small diaphragm condenser is not the best choice of mic for every fiddle. Many prefer the sound of ribbons, dynamics, or condensers with larger diaphragms.

That’s not to say it can’t be done. The Crutchfield Project recorded a studio album using only Bartlett instrument mics and the sound is very good. But it’s a specific sound of close-miced condensers with less air and room sound than many would choose.

Conclusion

The Bartlett Fiddle Mic is a great choice for fiddlers who need an affordable, easy, great sounding, reliable mic for live work. For the price and features, I don’t know of any other mic that comes close. If you have money to burn, then there are other choices you might want to check out and if $179 is too much, then you’ll have to settle for less. But if you need a fiddle mic that just works, this is your best bet.

To find out more, or learn about Bartlett’s other instrument-specific mics, go to:
www.bartlettaudio.com

1 COMMENT

  1. Yes, this is an excellent mic, used by Turtle Island Quartet, Darol Anger, Brittany Haas and many others. I have this and also a DPA 4099v, and I like the sound of this one better, since it is voiced for the fiddle.
    Also AT Pro-35 is another good alternative for $150.

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