The 5 Best Mics for Guitar Amps for Every Budget

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Microphones are a huge part of the guitar tone your audience hears, both on stage and in the recording studio. In both situations, your audience is hearing a chain of gear that begins with your hands and ends with their ears. In between, there are a few crucial pieces of kit that must be considered. Outside of your choice of amp and speakers, the microphone on your cabinet is the most important of these. It plays a bigger role in shaping your overall sound than most players realize. Today, we’re here to learn what the best mics for guitar amps are in an effort to give you tonal control.

Microphone selection and use is practically an art form in and of itself, as any engineer or sound person will tell you. Some folks will use the normal, expected choices for normal situations and others will go buck wild and use unusual mic and instrument combinations if it suits their larger purpose. That being said, this article will assume that you want your guitar to sound like a guitar and not become a sonic character actor in your mix. The mics here will work well in most situations where a mic is called for and all have their own fans. Ready to learn?

1Shure SM57

Any article on choosing a guitar amp mic could begin and end with the Shure SM57 and all would still be well. The eternal SM57 has been the go-to mic for guitar amps and drums for decades and with good reason: it’s practically idiot-proof and makes it easy for budding engineers to get tones quickly. Most people new to recording won’t need any other guitar mic for quite a while.

The 57 is a dynamic mic, which means that it’s rugged, needs no external power, and can withstand high Sound Pressure Levels, or SPLs. It has played a part in countless recording sessions and live gigs from the smallest bars to the largest studios and stadiums. Your ears are most likely already attuned to the sound of a 57 whether you know it or not because at least half the guitar music you’ve ever heard was recorded with one. It’s very hard to go wrong with these, so get a few.

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2Sennheiser MD421

The Sennheiser MD421-II, it’s safe to say, is probably the SM57’s main competition. It is another incredibly versatile dynamic mic that works very well for a variety of applications. In the fight for the best mic for recording guitar sounds, it’s a worthy contender. The 421 is just as well-liked as the SM57 but it has a different sound to it. It has a wider frequency response than a 57, which means more highs and lows going to tape. It is also built around a larger diaphragm and this gives it a greater degree of off-axis coloration than the Shure. Off-axis artifacts can be a problem in some situations but, on a guitar amp, they only add more vibe and character.

421s have been popular since hitting the market over 35 years ago and have become a must-have tool used on guitar amps, drums, group vocals, and other sound sources. They are my personal favorite mic for electric guitars. Even if you have 57s, you should get a couple of these, too. They’ll come in handy.

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3Sennheiser e609

What makes the Sennheiser e609 great is its LACK of versatility. The 609 was designed from the stage up to be a guitar mic. This is not the mic you’d pick to use on a group of background singers like you might a 421. This mic is a specialized tool that excels at its one job. Its shape allows it to be hung over the front of an amp or speaker cabinet for micing, which eliminates the need for one mic stand each time you use it. It also uses the less-than-common Supercardioid pickup pattern. This makes it excellent at rejecting off-axis sounds and coloration for better isolation of instruments live or in the studio. Even further, it has a hum-cancelling coil that helps block noise and interference from other sources. Some users feel the 609 is a ‘better mousetrap’ situation compared to its storied competitors and it has become a popular microphone choice.

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4AKG C414

Yes, dynamic microphones are normally thought of as the first choice for recording or reinforcing guitar amps but they are not the only choice. Condenser mics, while more expensive than dynamics, can deliver outstanding results on guitar amps and are often found in professional sound environments. The AKG C414 is a legendary condenser microphone that works like gangbusters on just about anything you happen to stick it in front of. It is probably the most versatile condenser mic available and has been used on vocals and all instruments with wonderful results. Any studio that can afford one should get one. You’ll never grow tired of using it. These things love guitars to the moon and back.

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5Royer R-121

Over the last twenty years, the Royer R-121 ribbon microphone has become a favorite among both recording engineers and guitar players. The 121 is not large and easily damaged like the ribbon mics of old but rather it is tough, compact, and built for the modern world. It has so many fans that it may well become the first great mic of the 21st Century. As expected, the Royer has a Figure 8 polar pattern and the output level of a dynamic microphone. What is also has is an incredibly warm sound, a flat frequency response, and the ability to stand up to guitar amps, brass instruments, drums, and other loud and lovely things that would destroy one of the ribbon mics of the past. It uses Royer’s patented offset ribbon transducer technology, a design that puts the ribbon closer to the front of the microphone and allows it to take high SPLs without failing. The 121 is priced beyond the means of many home studios but is worth saving up to get. It’s a game-changer.

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