Miking Guitars Reloaded

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How do you get a decent guitar sound in the studio? New engineers can use this intro guide to different techniques to try.

This article is an old article I decided to re-write and fact check a bit. This article is an introduction to miking techniques for people new to the recording hobby.

In the home studio many artists are starting to lean toward direct recording with modelers such as the POD, V-Amp and other such direct recording solutions. They have become a very real possibility for many artists. However, there is still the purist among us that wants to do it the old fashioned way. For you among us, let's look at miking.

A very common mic for home use is the good ol' trusty Shure SM 57, a work horse of a microphone that is reasonably priced and works one everything. As condensors come down in price they are becoming more and more common as well with many decent priced mics to choose from. The forum has many threads on that topic. Most of the comments below apply to both types of mics.

Commonly, a mic is placed dead-center on the cone of the speaker facing straight in, this gets you the truest sound, but, also puts the most pressure on the diaphragm of the mic which can be damaging over time. It is, however, not uncommon to see engineers put the mic straight in, aligned midway between the frame of the speaker and the dust cap of the speaker. This puts less pressure on the mic, and gives a little different texture to the sound. But, as with anything, there are many different ways people like to put their microphones. The pictures below demonstrate some of the most common:

The classic "Dead Center" miking position, this is the most obvious and most common positioning. Sometimes, with certain mics this may want to be avoided because it does put a huge amount of pressure on the mic due to the sound coming from right in the center of the cone. It does give a clean, pure representation of the speaker, but is sometimes prone to overdrive the mic.
Placing the mic on the center of the cone. Many engineers use this method, I don't use it myself, but it is a nice sound, with less pressure put on the mic. Still, it is a nice, close-proximity option for you to try with your amplifier.
Putting the mic at a 45 degree angle with the mic centered on the cap. I have seen this method used more for the second mic on a cabinet rather than the first, but none-the-less, it is an option. Used as the second mic, placed further back from the amp it can be good for grabbing extra bass. Theoretically, the highs will just shoot right past it and the booming bass will the picked up more with this position.
Putting the mic perpendicular with the speaker. This is even a more radical approach to getting more bass in your sound. Same theory as above, just a greater angle to let more highs zip past can add a lot of thickness to the sound by capturing more of the low end and putting minimal direct pressure onto the microphones diaphragm.

When looking at these miking positions, be aware that they are all also capable of enhancement via a second mic that could be placed further back from the speaker. The are many formulas to how to place the two mics in accordance with each other, some put the first mic half-a-foot to a foot back from the speaker and the second three times as far back from the speaker. I commonly put one mic one the speaker, dead-center and put a second in the nearest corner of the room facing the corner. This method helps create some ambience in the recording by capturing more reverb, or sound of the room bouncing around in that corner. If you happen to be recording an open-back cabinet, another idea is to place a mic behind the cab capturing the sound coming out of the back. Condensor mics are great for the ambience-catching mics.

Your best bet is trying all these positions, mixing and matching the different styles with more than one mic and then blending all the sounds and just seeing which method works best for you.

After recording the guitar, it then comes down to placing it in your mix. It's not just about the guitar sound at this point; it is also about how it fits in the mix with all the other instruments. When I EQ a guitar I often rolloff at around 80Hz to leave room for bass instruments and boost a bit around 2k to 2.5k to add some sizzle if the guitar is a distorted rock guitar. if the guitar sounds like a "cheap" guitar, for lack of a better description, try cutting a bit around 800mhz to 1k make add some dynamics to the higher and lower end, cutting the mids a bit.

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User-submitted comments

Jun 05, 2005 09:57 pm
I use an SM-57 to record my Fender Deville. I placed the mic about 1-2 inches away from the grill cloth centered with the speaker cone, ran it into a Behringer mixer and then into the computer. Recording clean or overdriven guitar caused significant clipping in the recording. I have read that its best to crank the amp pretty loud, but even when I turn the amp up to only a rather low volume, I still get some clipping in the track. What should I do to help fix this problem?

Jun 05, 2005 10:36 pm
You should ask at the forums...
it plainly states here "DO NOT ask questions in comments, use the forum for that."

Jun 14, 2005 05:18 pm
2 Microphones are better than one...
I just wanted to add my favorite miking position: 2 57's on the same speaker, at the same distance, one right on the center of the cone and the other between the center and the edge. I find that this gives you a much fuller tone that includes the best of both worlds. Try it out.

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