It doesn’t matter whether you have an intense, distorted heavy metal tone or a smooth, warm tone for jazz; you only sound as good as the audio you capture. Thousands of listeners, musicians, and engineers consider well-recorded guitar tracks of paramount importance regarding the quality of a song. However, with the sheer diversity of amps, guitars, effects pedals, playing styles, and microphones, the methodology of how to capture a great guitar tone can be tricky. Here are some tips and tricks to put you on the right track to get the best possible production value you can.
Deciding the microphone placement for your guitar amp all starts with what you hear. Usually, having the microphone about an inch from the grille of the guitar amp will give you a very tight, up-front sound with a lot of attack. Alternately, moving the microphone further away from the amp will give you a more “roomy” sound. Also, the closer the microphone is to the center of the speaker the “brighter” or more “crisp” the tone will be. The farther to the outer edge of the speaker the microphone is, the “darker” or “muddier” the tone will sound. You don’t always have to have your microphone pointing directly at the speaker either. Tilting your microphone off axis so that it is at a forty-five degree angle towards the front of the speaker can produce some cool results, too. Another method is to point your microphone vertically instead of directly facing the speaker. This, also, can yield awesome results. What you hear through your reference monitors or headphones during playback will determine where your placement should be.
Single Mic Method
A single microphone, though lonesome, can be everything you need and will do a damn good job at it. As mentioned above, mic placement with one microphone is everything when it comes to getting the best quality natural sound you can get. After all, you only have one microphone to capture the whole spectrum of your unique sound. Nonetheless, a single microphone can give you tight and singular pronunciation in your tone and playing technique. For doing solos, leads, or certain chord progressions it is a great choice.
Dual Mic Method
Two microphones can be better than one, no doubt. Especially for tones that are “heavier” in nature. With two microphones you can capture a broader frequency spectrum without having to split the difference. Typically one microphone will be placed closer the center of the speaker for a “brighter” and “snappier” sound while the other is placed closer to the edge of the speaker to capture the “darker” and “richer” tones. Thus, in the end your tone is “thicker”, “heavier”, and “wider”.
Triple Mic Method
Personally, this is generally what I use for many guitar tracks I record. Using three mics sounds, primarily, the same as using two except the third microphone provides more depth. The mic is usually placed behind the guitar cabinet to capture certain tones floating around the back of the amp that the other mics aren’t exposed to. Mic placement with this method is subjective as it is a technique used to capture any extra frequencies you’d like to hear in your tone. In other words, it’s purely up to your discretion. Keep in mind that open-backed guitar cabinets yield the best results for this as they are not enclosed. The microphones I generally like to use for this method are boundary microphones such as the AKG C 547 BL. Although boundary microphones are not typically used in this application, microphones such as the AKG C 547 BL with it’s hyper-cardioid pattern can produce fantastic results. You can get the best of all worlds without the sacrifice. I definitely recommend trying it.
The go-to microphone without a doubt is the Shure SM-57. If you record or play at all, this is almost a given and considered common knowledge. With its aggressive mid-range response and ability to withstand high volume pressure, the SM-57 is reliable, rugged, and a damn good choice for any session.
A popular alternative to the Shure SM-57 is the Sennheiser MD421. The MD421’s five selections for bass roll off are used to minimize proximity effect giving you more control where you need it. Its tolerance for high SPLs give the MD421 a full, distinctive, and dynamic sound. It’s been used for decades and rightfully so.
The Sennheiser e609 is a guitar cab milking pro. With its ability to help isolate ambient noise while absorbing high SPLs without distorting makes this microphone another staple in any engineer’s studio.
The AKG C414 is an absolute classic. With five switchable polar patterns (omni, wide cardioid, cardioid, hyper cardioid, figure-8) and a large, the AKG C414 gives you the diversity you need to really experiment and concisely capture the tone you want.
The Nueman U87 AI is yet another legendary classic. Featuring a large diaphragm the microphone has three polar patterns; cardioid, omni, and a figure-8. The Nueman U87’s rear switch is attenuated and can take up to 127dB while having a frequency response of 20Hz–20kHz. The thickness you like to hear can be detected in both clean and distorted tones.
The Royer 121 is a dynamic Ribbon microphone with a figure-8 polar pattern. The mic is very warm, thick, and ornate but was designed to handle an SPL rating of 135dB which is ideal for recording guitar cabs. Another cool feature is if you turn the microphone around and reverse the phase, the back is sonically brighter.
The Beyerdynamic M160 is a hypercardioid dynamic ribbon mic that has two ribbons with one on top of the other. This microphone’s max SPL rating is 129dB and has a frequency response of 40Hz–18 kHz. With its big, full sound it’s a classic and a favorite for a good reason.
Letting it Sink In
Recording guitar cabs to get the right sound can be tricky at times, but with a little know-how and practice it is definitely possible. Keep in mind that even though there are popular practices as to how to mic guitar cabs, always remember that it’s your sound. So experiment, break rules, and do what ever the hell you want to get the sound you want!