When mic’ing an electric guitar, there are countless options, avenues, and tools that you can explore to capture the most authentic sound of your instrument, or shape your tone into something entirely different. Three types of microphones that are commonly used are dynamics, ribbons, and condensers. These mics all work great on their own, and can yield even more options when paired together.
Dynamic mics—like the Shure SM57—are a classic choice, due to their ability to handle high SPL’s and capture transients with a slower response, resulting in a “smooth” recording of an aggressive source. Their frequency response is a lot narrower in range, with a lot of dynamic mics having a pronounced mid-range focus that complements the tonality of an electric guitar well. That said, you may find them lacking or needing extra processing, when working in a sparse arrangement.
Ribbon mics—like the bidirectional Royer R-121—have a little more weightiness, and a sense of “depth” to them. As a generalization, ribbons tend to be darker in comparison, and are smooth and forgiving with their ability to soften the edges. They can really make a guitar sound “natural,” as if you are in the room with the amp. Finding the sweet spot is key for these mics. They can really bring some weight to the low-end and lower midrange, and some overall body that may need a bit of carving when placed in a tightly packed mix.
Large diaphragm condensers—like the Neumann U87—can deliver a wonderful polish and clarity to a sound, but can be a little tricky to work with on guitars. This is due to their heightened sensitivity and faster response. Putting a detailed mic like this straight in front of an amp can overload the capsule and cause unwanted distortion in the recording. By adjusting the angle of the mic, and its position in front of the speaker cone, you can augment the sound into a musically flattering, detailed depiction of the instrument.
Marc personally likes to pair ribbon and LDC mics together, as he finds this gives him the full range of frequencies and dynamics from the guitar — you get body, low-end, and bloom from the ribbon, but the LDC also gives a sense of definition, clarity, and sparkle on top, especially with clean playing.
With something a little more aggressive and/or with some kind of distortion, Marc likes to pair together an LCD and a ribbon mic. This paring gives you a sound with a lot of body and midrange, but also one that is malleable, so you’re able to take an EQ to it and sculpt it out into the mix for the sound you want.
It is important to remember that within these categories not all mics sound the same, so keep that in mind when reviewing the samples in this video, and when you are doing your own recording.
It is also important to remember that there are different sweet spots for each individual microphone. In this video, Marc places all three mics close together, and a few inches away from the grill, to compensate for phase (since this was a single recording). Having said that, there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to recording.
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