Best Microphones for Recording Your Guitar Amp Under $500
Let me start this top five list off by saying you won’t find the Shure SM57 on this list. By no means, does this imply that it’s not a great mic for recording a guitar amp (not to mention pretty much anything else), but if you’re reading this, then you likely already know (and own) at least one of these mics. If not, you should probably go buy one right now.
While the SM57 might be one of the most well-known microphones for recording guitar amps, it’s certainly not the only option. There’s a lot of sonic variety out there, and I wanted to highlight some fantastic and reasonably priced options between the go-to-standard and the super high-end Royer R-121 Ribbon Microphone.
Here’s Top Five’s picks for best mics for recording your guitar amp:
1. Aston Stealth ($399)
The Aston Stealth sits near the higher end of our price cap, but claims its spot for both its versatility in the studio, and most of all, for its sound. I was particularly impressed with this mic’s ability to faithfully capture high gain sounds. If modern rock and metal is your jam, I recommend checking out Michael Nielsen’s unboxing and demo of the Stealth on a Friedman BE-100 into a Bogner 4 x 12 Vintage speaker and then a Marshall Silver Jubilee into a Fryette Fatbottom with Fane F70G speakers. He also has a great acoustic demo of this mic.
Here’s why James Young of Aston Microphones recommends this particular model for guitar amps: “Aston Stealth is the prefect guitar mic for both studio and stage. With 4 voicings, including a Ribbon emulation and a settings specifically tuned for guitars by a panel of 92 of the world’s top producers, a built-in Class A mic pre, and the ability to handle a huge 150dB SPL, it’s perfect for literally every guitar application.”
The Stealth is a dynamic mic with a cardioid polar pattern features four settings: Vocal 1, Vocal 2, Guitar, and Dark, offering a range of settings to suit almost every application. The Stealth is often compared to the well-known Shure SM7B broadcast mic, but offers quite a bit more flexibility as an overall studio workhorse with its four settings, with the Dark setting acting as a ribbon mic emulation. All in all, you get a lot of microphone for the price tag.
2. Sennheiser e 906 ($189)
Next up is the Sennheiser e 906 Supercardioid. Another dynamic option, one of the many things I love about this microphone is that it can draped over a cabinet and hung by its cord, eliminating the need for a mic stand. While this may seem like a trivial point, both on-stage and in studio, it’s a nice perk to save a stand.
Personally, I find the overall tone from this mic far more pleasing than the SM57, though they share some similarities. The e906 was tailor made for recording guitar amps, and it really shines in this application. A less expensive option is the Sennheiser e 609, but for the slight price difference, I prefer the 906 because of its built in switchable presence filters: a high-pass filter ideal for aggressive metal rhythm guitars, a normal position great for general guitar tones, and a third position that attenuates the presence range for warmer jazz and blues tones. The super cardioid pattern will also reduce spillover from other instruments, and the E906’s hum compensating coil rejects unwanted interference. Add in absurdly high SPL (sounds pressure level) handling, and this is pretty much the perfect mic for capturing dimed amps.
Hang this puppy in front of a guitar amp and you’ll smile ear-to-ear.
3. Cascade Fat Head ($195)
If you’ve never tried out a ribbon mic on electric guitar, then you’re missing out. These days, there are plenty of great ribbon mics in this price range, and not only are they sturdier than previous incarnations of ribbons, they also sound fantastic. Ribbons record sound in a similar manner to how our ears hear, and on a cranked tube amp, this is pure magic. For a long time I wondered why my recordings sounded so different in my DAW compared to what I heard when tracking. Once I added a ribbon into the mix, I stopped asking that question. The Fat Head is a great choice for this application. It comes with a decent case and clip, is built like a tank, will tolerate phantom power oopsies, and captures all that tone you crave. This might be my favorite mic on the list.
4. AKG C214 ($399)
This fixed-cardioid version of the AKG C414 is one of the most overlooked mics in the pro recording world. The C214 is clean, clear, and phenomenally detailed, and with its impressive 156dB SPL handling it’s an obvious choice for guitar amps. A good condenser mic is often one of the first serious mic upgrades folks make, and the C214 is a good all-rounder for your studio too. Condensers are great to pair with a dynamic mic, providing a nice, full-spectrum capture of your amp. I’ll often use them to capture room tone as well, blending that in with the closer mic signals.
Again, there’s a ton of great condenser’s in this price range, with Audio Technica, Rode, and Golden Age Project coming to mind as some of the more popular choices. For a slight ($50ish) price upgrade, I’ve had great results with the Shure KSM32 and the mic-modeling capable Antelope Edge Solo too.
5. The Mic You Have
Look, there are a ton of great amp emulations out there, but there’s something special about recording your own setup, in your space. If you want to guarantee that your guitar tracks sound like you and no one else, you’re going to have to stick a mic in front of your speaker and play it loud. You’ve probably spent a lot of time, effort, and thought in creating your rig, and you should capture it with the tools you have at your disposal (yes, even if it’s with the ubiquitous 57). Gear is a fun part of the past-time, but it should never get in the way of actually making the music. So grab whatever mic you having laying around and see what you get. Even if you blend it into the mix with emulations, you’ll be adding some unique sonic flavor all your own, and after all, isn’t that the point of this?
A few closing thoughts on guitar mic types and placement:
· Pick up midrange punch with a dynamic mic close to the grille
· Ribbon microphones let you capture natural amplifier sound
· Record the cabinet sound with a more distant condenser mic
· Blend any or all of these techniques to craft the perfect tone
· For best results, be sure to use mics with high SPL handling