Acoustic guitars are a delicate instrument, and require a microphone that’s capable of capturing that nuance and subtlety of your performance.
Obviously, microphone placement is of utmost importance, and will prove to be one of the core hurdles you face when trying to get that perfect tone.
A few inches off can leave your performance lifeless, dull, and muddy. Alternatively, you can achieve results that are too percussive, grating, and high-end centric.
We’ve tried to pick out microphones that are more forgiving when it comes to this particular problem. You’ll find that microphones like the Shure SM57 and Neumann U 87 Ai are fairly flexible when it comes to being placed slightly off, and will still come out with results that are at the very least usable.
This list isn’t in any particular order, but we hope that the microphones mentioned below can give you a decent sense of what to look for when it comes to trying to capture that perfect sound out of your acoustic guitar.
These are the best microphones for recording acoustic guitar:
- Shure SM81
- Neumann U 87 Ai
- Shure SM57
- Beyerdynamic M 160
- AKG C451 B
- Shure KSM141
- Rode NT1
- Neumann KM 184
The most trusted
The SM81 tends to pop up whenever talking about recording acoustic guitar, and for good reason. It’s specifically designed for recording acoustic guitar. The microphone is a small-diaphragm condenser with a cardioid polar pattern.
It has an incredibly flat frequency response, with hi-pass filter pads to help your acoustic guitar cut through in a mix. It showcases little self-noise in conjunction with a high output. The mic adds very little color as well, even when positioned off-axis.
Not only is the SM81 great at handling the high end shimmer and transients of an acoustic guitar, but it’s an equally capable microphone when it comes to drums and piano.
Neumann U 87 Ai
The most sought-after
What is there to say about this classic microphone? While you may be intimidated by its price of roughly $3300, if you have the means you should most definitely buy it.
The U 87 Ai sounds good on just about whatever you throw it at. Whether you sing into it, point it at an acoustic guitar, or try to record drums. The microphone has an incredibly flat frequency response, and is one of the most honest-sounding microphones available, period.
The Neumann U 87 Ai is one of the more sought-after microphones for this very reason. It may be expensive, but the investment is worth far more than an arbitrary number.
Read the full Neumann U 87 Ai review to find out more.
A true workhorse
While it may not be the “best” microphone to record acoustic guitars with, why knock a classic?
The SM57 is a dynamic microphone with a frequency response of 20 Hz – 20 kHz. This tried and true staple has proven its usefulness a billion times over in almost any and all applications you can put it up to.
There’s a good reason why studios will have at least 10 to 20 of them on deck. They’re cheap, reliable, indestructible, and sound as good as you truly need anything to sound.
While they may not be as graceful sounding as a condenser, or as warm as a ribbon microphone, the Shure SM57 delivers consistent results and are fabulous at capturing the transients and body of an acoustic guitar.
Read the full Shure SM57 review to find out more.
Beyerdynamic M 160
Warm and beautiful
While ribbon microphones are great for a number of reasons, one of their defining characteristics is that they tend to have a figure-8 polar pattern. This made them rather popular in the days of radio, as engineers could use one microphone to pick up two broadcasters.
However, the microphones add a level of warmth that proved them far more capable in a wider variety of applications. The only issue with a figure-8 pattern is that it can pick up a lot of unwanted background noise if you’re only trying to capture one sound source.
The M 160 tries to nullify this effect with a hypercardioid polar pattern, which is similar to a figure-8, except that the 180-degree address is less pronounced. Because of this, the M 160 has become a staple since its inception in the 1950s.
It makes your guitars sound warm, silky, and smooth. It also has a double ribbon design, which boosts its output levels and creates less self-noise, which is perfect for quieter interludes.
AKG C451 B
The AKG C451 B is a small-diaphragm condenser microphone with a frequency response of 20 Hz – 20 kHz.
It has long been a tried and true favorite amongst drummers. It was often used on hi-hats, snares, and rides before somebody had the brilliant idea to try it out on a steel string.
Surprisingly, it worked its magic just as well in this application. Its ability to capture the quick transients and shimmer of high-ringing percussion translates very well when it comes to recording acoustic guitars.
The C451 B has a slight boost around 5 kHz to help your acoustic poke out in a mix. It also has two hi-pass filters which cut off your bass at either 75 Hz or 150 Hz to help it poke out even further.
Read the full AKG C451 B review to find out more.
The KSM141 is a small-diaphragm condenser microphone with a frequency response of 20 Hz – 20 kHz, as well as switchable cardioid and omnidirectional polar patterns.
This microphone is particularly adept at capturing the shimmer of your guitars, and shouldn’t be slept on. While it may not capture as much body, it’s amazing when it comes to capturing the fine details of your recordings.
It may be better when used some distance away from the guitarist, unless you’re wanting to hear a more ‘picky’ and percussive sound out of your guitars.
The Rode NT1 is a large-diaphragm condenser microphone with a cardioid polar pattern and a frequency response of 20 Hz – 20 kHz.
While the Rode NT1 isn’t the most sought-after microphone on this list, it does do a great job when it comes to studio vocals and acoustic guitar. The clarity it presents in the mid-range can really help your steel-string sit comfortably in a mix.
Something rather interesting about this microphone is that it has a self-noise level of 4 dBA, making it one of the quietest microphones of its type in the world.
Read the full Rode NT1 review to find out more.
Neumann KM 184
The Neumann KM 184 is a small-diaphragm condenser with a cardioid polar pattern and a frequency response of 20 Hz – 20 kHz. The KM184’s frequency response is incredibly flat, showcasing a slight boost in the high end around 8 kHz.
In pure Neumann fashion, however, the microphone’s performance is incredibly honest, so honest that it may be a little disconcerting for some of you.
They are very sensitive microphones, so it might be in your best interest to record in a well-treated room, as the microphone will pick up whatever unwanted reflections are present.
In conclusion, there isn’t any correct choice of microphone when it comes to recording acoustic guitar. Although some microphones are clearly better than others.
Ultimately, the microphone you decide to go with will have to be the one that suits your needs. Which depends on whether you’re looking for a more neutral sound or a bright and shimmery sound, or something in-between.
Your choice will be largely informed by your budget, so don’t feel shot down if the microphone you really want is out of your price range. Such is life.
The Shure SM57 is listed for exactly that reason, because while it may be cheap, it is more than capable of delivering fantastic results.
Take your time and choose the microphone that best suits your needs.