What Type Of Microphone Is Best For Recording Electric Guitar | Decibel Peak

what type of microphone is best for recording electric guitar

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If you’re planning to start recording electric guitar at home using an amplifier, you’ll need to start considering the type of microphone you’ll be using. We’ll be deciding what type of microphone is best for recording electric guitar depending on your recording environment and what type of sound you’re going for.

Determining what type of microphone is best for recording electric guitar isn’t as simple as it may sound. What I mean by that is that there isn’t any right or wrong way. There are definitely some factors you’ll need to take into account, especially if you’re recording electric guitar at home, but it’s pretty subjective. One of the most important factors is ambient noise which is why you may prefer working with dynamic (moving-coil) microphones. They’re the least sensitive and provide the most isolation, but we’ll also be going over the other options because you may want to try them out as well!

Using dynamic (moving-coil) microphones to record electric guitar

When we’re talking about dynamic (moving-coil) microphones, we’re talking about the Shure SM57, AKG P5 S and others. These microphones are usually unidirectional and provide some derivative of the cardioid polar pattern.

Recording electric guitar with these types of microphones is more than ideal (especially if you’re working in your apartment).

Dynamic (moving-coil) microphones are used to mic electric guitar amplifiers on-stage, but they’re also used in the studio more often than not. The simple reason is that they provide maximum isolation from ambient noise and are the least sensitive microphone type.

That means these microphones are placed in close proximity to the sound source.

It also means that you can record at lower volumes, but it still needs to be loud enough.

The disadvantages of recording electric guitar with dynamic (moving-coil) microphones are as follows:

  • Less dynamic range
  • Noisier (unless you have one of these)

The industry-standard microphone for recording electric guitar is the Shure SM57, but I personally found something MUCH better and slightly more affordable.

I’m talking about the AKG P5 S of course!

There’s nothing wrong with the Shure SM57, but the AKG P5 S has an extended frequency response (up to 20,000 Hz) which makes it more versatile in my opinion. I also prefer the sound, but that’s my personal opinion. However, the supercardioid polar pattern does make it better at rejecting ambient noise than the SM57.

Either way, recording with dynamic (moving-coil) microphones is ideal for home recording.

Here are the ambient noises you’ll be avoiding:

  • Neighbours
  • Ventilation
  • Outdoor noise
  • Strumming

These are things worth considering, especially if you’ve only got one room to work with.

Using dynamic (ribbon) microphones to record electric guitar

Recording electric guitar using dynamic (ribbon) microphones is probably the second best option for most of us. Compared to dynamic (moving-coil) microphones, they’re not much more sensitive, but the polar pattern is different.

Dynamic (ribbon) microphones are bi-directional (figure of eight) by nature.

That means you’ll be potentially capturing noise from the rear of the microphone. However, an easy fix would be to place something behind the microphone to isolate it.

However, the sound characteristic of dynamic (ribbon) microphones is much different. Dynamic (moving-coil) microphones are generally pretty “flat”, but dynamic (ribbon) microphones are much “beefier” in the low frequencies.

They also roll-off some of the high-frequencies, so they sound warmer.

Depending on the sound you’re going for, that can either be great or terrible… 

It also depends on the type of amplifier you’re using. You may actually want to tame some of those high frequencies using dynamic (ribbon) microphones. I remember how “bright” my Fender Excelsior sounded, so that would be the perfect candidate!

Just keep in mind that ribbon microphones are usually much more expensive.

The vintage ones are also much more difficult to accommodate.

Whenever you’re working with dynamic microphones (moving-coil and/or ribbon), it’s always better to use the TritonAudio FetHead to optimize their sound. I’m telling you, this little device can dramatically increase the sound quality.

Check out my review here (they’re also known as “inline microphone preamps”).

Dynamic (ribbon) microphones are worth looking into for recording electric guitar, but I personally wouldn’t use them on their own. I would personally combine one moving-coil and one ribbon microphone to get the best of both worlds.

If you’re interested, the ribbon microphone should be placed BEHIND the amp.

That’s where all the “warmth” resides!

Using condenser microphones to record electric guitar

My least favourite type of microphone to record electric guitar is the condenser microphone. I’m not saying that it sounds bad, I’m just saying that they’re much more difficult to work with because of their sensitivity.

Condenser microphones (large and/or small) are opposite to ribbon microphones.

The sound is very bright and detailed providing more of a “modern” sound. The dynamic range is also the best when it comes to using condenser microphones. They pick up every single nuance of your playing and that’s probably because they’re active.

That’s right, condenser microphones require 48V Phantom Power.

You’ll need to make sure your audio interface supports that!

The main difficulty when recording electric guitar with condenser microphones is that they usually capture LOTS of ambient noise. You’ll hear things that you couldn’t even hear with your naked ear, so that can cause problems.

The microphone placement will also be very different.

Instead of placing them in close proximity, you’ll be using them as “ambient” microphones.

If you wanted to place your condenser microphone really close to the amp, the volume would need to be incredibly low. That’s usually impossible if you’re using tube-powered amplifiers since they require more volume to sound at their best.

If you’re recording next to the amplifier, you’ll most likely capture your strumming as well.

To record electric guitar using condenser microphones, you need to place yourself in another room or at least far enough to avoid microphone bleed. The good news is that most condenser microphones are unidirectional.

I’d personally use condenser microphones in combination with a dynamic (moving-coil) microphone just to get some of that “room” sound.

Combining different microphone types to record electric guitar

You’ve heard me talk about combining microphones twice now. It’s not uncommon to work this way and it can produce remarkable results when done correctly. The key is to realize each different microphone types’ strength and emphasize it!

To be honest, you could combine all three microphone types.

Here are some examples of configurations you could try:

  • Moving-Coil (near), Ribbon (rear) and Condenser (distant)
  • Moving-Coil (near), Ribbon (distant) and Condenser (distant)
  • Moving-Coil (near), Ribbon (distant)
  • Moving-Coil (near), Condenser (distant)
  • Ribbon (distant), Condenser (distant)

You get the idea!

Another thing you can consider is using a matched pair of microphones. You could use them to create a stereo-image of your electric guitar which can really liven up your mix!

what type of microphone is best for recording electric guitar - fender bassman with microphones

The possibilities are endless, but you need to learn about your tools.

Dynamic (moving-coil) microphones are ideal for close proximity recording and provide the most balanced sound out of the three. Dynamic (ribbon) microphones are warm and provide that “vintage” sound which is perfect for that “boomy” bottom-end. Condenser microphones are modern and “crisp”. They provide the best dynamic range and frequency response.

If you have the luxury, I recommend experimenting with all of these microphones.

You’ll decide for yourself when and where you’d like to use them in your recordings.

Which microphones do I use to record electric guitar?

To be honest, I haven’t used microphones to record electric guitar in quite some time. Ever since finding out about Universal Audio, I started recording my instruments directly into the audio interface with remarkable results.

There’s no need for me to use microphones, but I do use them now and again.

If I do, the setup is pretty basic. I just use my AKG P5 S and that’s it!

However, I have been debating recording my guitar amp in stereo using my pair of Samson C02 (which you can read about here). Small-diaphragm condenser microphones seem like they’re better suited for that kind of thing anyway (compared to large-diaphragm).

Either way, I always double up my signal using my DI box’s throughput.

It’s better to have a “clean” copy of your signal in case anything goes wrong.

If you’re interested in learning about my process, I highly recommend starting with my guide on the “best way to record electric guitar at home”. I’ll also be leaving some links to some of the gear I personally use and recommend for the job.

If you have any questions or concerns, feel free to leave a comment!

Shure SM57 (dynamic cardioid microphone)

AKG P5 S (dynamic supercardioid microphone)

Avantone Pro CR-14 (ribbon microphone)

Samson C02 (pair of small-diaphragm condenser microphones)

You should now know what type of microphone is best for recording electric guitar. It really depends on how you plan to work, but personally believe that everyone needs to use at least one dynamic (moving-coil) microphone. I’d say at least 99% of the guitar tracks you hear were recorded using one of those. Even the amp modelling software you use emulates that sound. Even the amp DI boxes emulate that sound! If you’re interested in learning how to record electric guitar at home and obtain professional results, you can read some of the other posts I’ve written on the subject. I also invite you to download a FREE copy of my ebook about computers for musicians. Thanks for stopping by!

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