When it comes to recording electric guitar, there are a myriad of factors to be taken into account.
What kind of guitar are you using? Are you running it through any pedals? What kind of amp are you using? Is it solid-state? A tube amp, perchance?
All of these things can drastically change the sounds you’re capable of producing.
All of that aside, almost any microphone can fulfill the role you’re wanting to use it for. However, not all microphones have been created equally, as some of them are more consistently reliable than others and require less work and touch up in post production.
If you want to get the most out of your guitar tone, obviously the bulk of the work lies in getting as close to the tone you want before you start running it through a microphone. Once that’s all squared away, as long as you have a fairly neutral-sounding mic, you should be ready to go.
Some microphones may be a bit more colorful than others, which can obviously be used either to your detriment or benefit. You’ll have to use your discretion in this regard, but if the mic you’re using has more high-end than what you’re aiming for, you can either use a different mic or EQ it down in post.
Anyway, we’re starting to get too pedantic. The microphones listed here are in no particular order, but they’re all your greatest bets when it comes to finding the best microphone to record your electric guitars with.
These are the best mics for guitar amps:
Starting right off the bat, we have the Shure SM57. This is one of the most iconic microphones, and for good reason. Almost every studio will have a handful of these on deck, due to them being inexpensive, nearly indestructible, and incredibly reliable.
Aside from them being useful in practically any audio engineering situation, they’re particularly good when it comes to recording guitar cabinets. Why? Well, the SM57 can theoretically handle a maximum SPL level of 190 dB – which is pretty loud.
Ultimately, the SM57’s sound signature is unassuming, in part to its neutrality but also largely due to how often its been used in large scale recording projects.
It may not add anything to your record, but it’ll capture what you have honestly and without issue.
Check out our full Shure SM57 review
Neumann U 87 Ai
One of the best
If you’re at all familiar with microphones, you’ve probably heard people go on about how great of a microphone the Neumann U 87 Ai is.
If you can get your hands on an original U 87 (maybe because you have some ten thousand dollars burning a hole in your jeans), these things are monsters in the studio.
The newer models, the U 87 Ai, are just as good although they might lack the depth and warmth that the OG’s have to offer.
Either way, the U 87 Ai is a truly phenomenal microphone. Whether you’re trying to record a guitar cabinet or anything else, the microphone offers a neutral and flat frequency response that can get up close and personal with whatever you’re trying to capture.
The M80-SH is a dynamic microphone with a supercardioid polar pattern and a frequency response of 50 Hz – 18 kHz. The SH models are particularly apt to handle tight-fit applications where a full-sized microphone might be too overbearing.
While the M80-SH is technically a dynamic microphone, it performs much more like a condenser. It also has a high SPL, making it more than capable of capturing the full range and sound of whatever source you’re applying it to.
When it comes to guitar amps, we’ve found that the M80-SH is especially great for dirtier sounds, although it does perfectly well on cleaner tones.
Its frequency response may not be the flattest, but it offers a lot of midrange and presence in the highs.
Neumann U 47
A monster in the studio
A lot of people prefer the U 47 over the U 87, and specifically when it comes to recording guitar cabinets.
The U 47 is capable of making things sound bigger than life, which can be extremely useful when you want your electric guitars to rip through the mix.
Its midrange response is particularly fat, and offers a warmth and depth that very few microphones are capable of delivering.
All this being said, they don’t run for cheap. So if you’re on a tight budget, this might be one of the more impractical suggestions you could receive. However, if money isn’t an obstacle, the U 47 is a classic microphone that performs exceptionally well.
One downside, for the sake of not being overly positive, is that it is an extremely colorful microphone. Which when used on multiple sources in one mix, can either help things gel together, or can conversely make your tracks fight for a place in your mix.
Lush and beautiful
The M160 is a ribbon microphone with a hypercardioid polar pattern and a frequency response of 40 Hz – 20 kHz. It offers a warm and buttery sound, which can be phenomenal when used in the right context.
It can be especially great for quieter, clean guitar tones. Largely due to its double ribbon design, which boosts its output levels while also creating less self-noise.
If you’re looking for a warm, buttery, silky, and smooth sound out of your electric guitar, the M160 might be one of the best microphones for you.
This list is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to recording electric guitars. There are many, many more options available to you.
Some people may swear on that ten thousand dollar microphone, but you can always get usable results out of a cheap second hand microphone from a guitar shop.
You’re just as likely to get amazing results out of a tried and true workhorse as you are an unknown janky microphone. It’s all about how you use it and in what context you’re applying it in.
In any case, the best choice is going to be whatever suits your budget and personal stylistic preferences. Just trust your gut and go with the microphone that is most appealing to you. As long as you’re read up on proper mic placement, you’ll be just fine.