The Best Mics for Recording Electric Guitars
[This article contains affiliate links, As an affiliate, I earn from qualifying purchases.]
Even with products like Kemper and Helix, a majority of people are still doing things the old fashion way. Micing up a guitar cab has been the default recording process for a long time. However, this method can bring much frustration if you are not using the right gear. Whether it be clipping, not enough gain, or just not getting an accurate representation of the room, live recording guitars can be a hassle. While a lot of these issues are fixed with knowledge of the trade, having the right gear helps as well. In this case, the right gear is mostly reliant on the mics you use. There are several specific mics that have come to be industry standards. These mics have all been used on countless recordings because they sound great for a number of reasons. There is quite an array of price points here, so there should be something for everyone’s budget.
Shure SM57 - $89.00
No surprise here. Just like for so many other situations, the SM57 is the ol’ reliable for micing up guitar cabs. This Shure mic has been proven time and time again by making its way into even the most high-end studios around the world. What makes this mic great for everyone is the cost. It might be hard to believe that the most iconic guitar mic ever comes with a sub-$100 price tag, but it does. Even with every mic at their fingertips, often professional still come back to this little workhorse.
There are so many factors that play into why this mic great to own. Just like everything else Shure makes, 57s are uber reliable and built like tanks. On top of that, you can get more than just great guitar recordings from the 57. Both vocals and snares will work fantastic with this dynamic beast. Truly, there is no better place to start when building out a mic locker than a couple of 57s.
Sennheiser e609 - $79.95
Sticking with small, affordable dynamic mics, an often-used alternative to the SM57 is Sennheiser’s e609. Both give you great sounding guitar recordings and take very little gain to push them (i.e there are dynamic). Additionally, both have received much acclaim by studios and professionals everywhere.
The differences really come down to two things, the physical design and elements of the actual recorded sound. Physically the difference is quite obvious, the Sennheiser is flat while the Shure is more like a cylinder. The difference in sound is definitely apparent but also not completely opposite. They both have a frequency response of 40 to 15khz and sounds like dynamic mics do. However, the e609 is clearly a little more tailored to recording guitar cabs. In Particular, the lows and highs are more narrowed in for guitar tones.
As for whether this Sennhiser is better than a 57… it’s completely subjective. In recent years, more and more people are leaning towards the e609 for recording electric guitars. Yet, some still prefer the sound of the 57 and can’t leave the classic design. Furthermore, the e609 is not versatile. Specifically, snares just do not benefit from the alterations in sound. In the end, no choice is wrong here, just go with your ears.
Royer 121 - $1295.00
If you’re looking to step up your guitar mic game from the previous dynamic mics mentioned, your next logical step is ribbon mics. These mics function in a very similar way to that of dynamics mics, the main difference being they utilize a ribbon instead of a coil as the active element. While this change yields what many consider to be a clearer sound, they also tend to jump substantially in price. Thus, we have arrived at the Royer 121.
This mic from Royer is without a doubt the world’s favorite guitar cab mic, think of it as the U87 for guitar amps. It is hard to find anyone reputable hating on 121’s, they sound great to nearly everyone’s ears. In fact, the blending of a 57 and 121 is well known for being one of the best cab mic combos of all time. The two perfectly complement one another and require very little EQ after the fact. Additionally, the Royer 121 is notorious for capturing deep kick drums and warm vocals. If you have the means, you will not regret picking one of these up.
Beyerdynamic M160 - $610.00
Don’t let the company's name fool you, Beyerdynamic’s M160 is by no means a dynamic microphone. M160’s are ribbon mics with an interesting twist inside. This mic is rocking a double ribbon transducer that gives it an interesting timbre compared to other mics of the same technology. Just like 121s, it is common to pair M160s with a 57 or another dynamic mic of some kind. Although, some people prefer the sound of just a single M160 on the outside of the speaker cone. Regardless of how you set up this mic, it’s going to perform well. It may not sound just like a 121, but if you are trying to get an iconic ribbon sound, the Beyerdynamic M160 is one of the best picks under a grand.
AKG C414 XLII - $799.00
You will see AKG’s C414 all over the place in the recording world. For vocals, overheads and acoustic instruments this thing really performs. However, these are all run of the mill things when looking at condenser mics. Yes, that’s right this is a condenser mic that works great for recording guitar cabs. While some condensers are great choices for getting the room sound of a cabinet, C414s can actually record great guitars period. What makes this awesome for you is the versatility of it all. Not only will this mic get you great sounding guitar tracks, but it also can function as a workhorse for your studio as a whole. With 9 pickup patterns, 3 pre-attenuation pads, and a 20-20khz range this offering from AKG is the most versatile on this list. If you're looking for a mic that can do much more than just great guitar tones, this might be the perfect option for you.
Every mic that I have listed here is a terrific option for one reason or another. Things like 57s and e609s are the perfect starting point for anyone looking to get into recording guitars. For those a little further along with a bigger budget a 121 or M160 will pair great with one of the previously mentioned dynamic options. Lastly, for anyone looking to get the most versatility for the money may want to look into something like the C414. This mic is the perfect kind to center a home studio around. However, as with all these mics, be sure not to rush into anything. This stuff is expensive, make sure you're getting what sounds best to your ears. With mics as common as these, you will likely be able to track down well-made shootouts/demos to help you figure out what they’re paying for. But also… these all sound wonderful!