How to Record Guitar: Microphone Placement

There's nothing that beats the sound of an electric guitar playing through a miked amplifier.

Ultimate Guitar
While it's become a common practice to plug directly into a recording interface and play with plug-in effects after the fact, there's nothing that beats the sound of an electric guitar playing through a miked amplifier. Here in this article I'll touch the basic mic techniques for recording electric guitar.

First thing we need to do is establish where our speakers are and place the dynamic microphone (yep, we'll start with this one) on the center of the speaker. This will usually give you the brightest sound (as shown in video below).

If you're looking for a darker tone, then what we're gonna do is move the microphone from the center of the speaker to the outside edge.

Next step we wil try using the large-diaphragm condenser microphone - they're a little more sensitive than dynamic, that's why we'll move them back from the amp for about 4 inches. Again, to achieve the brightest tone you'll have to place on the center of the speaker, and for darker tone - move it to the outside edge.

If you're using a ribbon microphone, here's a thing to consider - ribbon mics are typically bidirectional, which means most of the sound will come form the amp side, but you'll also get some ambience from the room, which creates a more natural sound. As with the other mics, to adjust the tone from bright to dark, just move the mic from the center of the speaker to its edge.

It's not an uncommon thing to use multiple electric guitar microphones - for example, you can use the large-diaphragm condenser microphone for recording ambient sound and dynamic microphone for recording direct sound from the amp. Combining these two will give you the best of both worlds - rich, full sound.

That's it for now - hope you enjoyed my article. Share your recording techniques in the comments below and keep rocking!

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12 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Nice and short, and for what I know it was correct information. Thanks for the article I have heard that placing the mic in the center of the speaker is a bad idea, but I guess that some people want that sound. I think that a good rule of thumb is to place the mic between the center and the edge and adjust from there. The tip about the ribbon mic was nice, I might want to try that.
    There's nothing wrong with placing the mic in the center of the cone. It's just a matter of what you want it to sound like. I usually use a SM57 on the outside of the cone, but angled towards the center of the cone. Just a matter of preference though.
    Another thing to remember is READ THE MANUAL. It will tell you all about mic placement (both general and specific to that one) and frequency response. Off-axis response for example will help you understand how to angle the mic for different frequencies/sounds
    It's also good to acknowledge that micing smaller amps can result in bigger sounding tracks, all due to the size of the speaker compared to the diaphragm of the microphone. On regular sized speaker, the physical width that is covered by the polarity of your microphone is reduced due to proximity, hence the huge difference between different positions with the same mic toward the same speaker. It's like using a flashlight against a huge wall, you can only get the light on one spot at a time, not the whole. Now suppose we'd make the wall shrink and make it small enough to be all covered by the light coming from the flashlight, same goes with mics. With small 4 watt amps with very tiny speakers the angle determined by the polarity of the mic can now cover a wider space on the speaker and pick up more harmonics that would be left out on bigger-sized amps. If you use a large-diaphragm condenser mic, you can even pick up more. This is how a good part of the QOTSA lead tones are created. Got huge tones from a small pignose and supro amps. Also there are a lot of things that can be used for saturation that you wouldn't go for in the first place (my two go-to distorsions are a Tascam TSR8 pre amp and a Sherman Filterbank) , the way your amp sound in the room is really different from the sound that's actually coming on proximity right next to the cone, which is what is picked up. The only way to get the best sound is to record as much as possible with as many different combinations as possible and one will turn out to work out great. No recipes, all contextual. Because is recording is something you do with your ears, not with your eyes.
    I can never seem to get a better sound from miking than from DI. I think SM57s sound like crap, and all the condenser mics I use, while they give an OK sound, still sound inferior. I don't own high priced tube amps or high priced condenser mics though.
    I use an SM58 and get great tone. They're essentially the same microphone, so you should be able to get similar results. Here's how I do (learned this from a recording clinic): 1. line up mic with x-axis of speaker cone if you were directly facing it (like in geometry class). Put it dead center center to start off. 2. You want the mic facing it directly. If you make your hand into a paddle shape and take away your pinky and thumb so that what's left is the pointer, ring, and middle fingers, you want abouts that horizontal distance between the speaker cone and the actual diaphragm of the mic. 3. Move mic left or right as slowly as possible. Even a millimeter can make a difference in tone. The center is the brightest and shrillest (read: Treble) spot on the cone. The far side is the deadest and bassiest spot on the cone. 4. Record dat shit. It helps if you can record DI first and then reamp or have a friend who can play while you place the mic. There are, of course, many ways to do it, but I've always gotten very good results using this method.
    This is a great article/ video. But I have a couple of points that I find are difficult to get right with miking. First this video only shows you a clean tone that is miked. My question is it different when miking distortion? Yes I would think so and so what would that be? Secondly for both clean or distortion what volume level is an amp at? How does the volume differ your settings? For me this is always a problem because the amp isn't loud enough for the mic to pick up the sound.
    The amp should be 'sweet-spotted'. Turn up the gain and volume (and play with the treble, mid, bass, etc) until it sounds yummy for your current project. Your amp might sound great with the volume on 7 and the gain on 4. Mine sounds great at Loudness 10 and Gain 6. It may also be different depending on the type of track or tone you're going for. That can change between tracks or even parts of tracks. The whole thing is an art. Otherwise, it's not much different between distorted guitars and clean ones. The only difference is where on the cone you place it (sometimes) Example being if your distortion tone is very trebly, you may consider moving the mic away from the center of the cone toward the edge to roll off some of those nasty high frequencies. Also keep in mind that even moving the microphone a millimeter can change the tone, so go slow with the movements. Also keep in mind that your amp is about knee level or lower when you're standing. If you're getting a bad tone, try sitting down for a minute and playing what you're recording. You'll notice the tone may be drastically different at that angle, and that's what the mic is recording. Adjust if necessary. Volume shouldn't be a problem. If you're using a dynamic mic like an SM58/57 and not getting enough volume, you may need to move it closer. There's a proximity effect (look it up on google or youtube), which means it's picking up far less bass frequencies if it's not close enough. Otherwise, as long as the audio's not clipping, you're good to go. If it is, move the mic away from the amp a hair until it doesn't. Anyway, good luck Remember, nothing about recording is hard and fast. A number of great recordings were made in weird conditions and home recording is very much trial and error.
    I tend to use three mics on a speaker. A close (57 or similar) mic, a condenser a little further away off axis and a ribbon mic a little further again. It takes a while to eliminate phasing but I can then blend a decent mix with ambience and have a little more freedom to make the frequencies fit the track better when mixing.
    I like to put a condenser in an open back amp for some rumble. Out the front i usually put an sm57 up close with a ribbon or a condenser a little further away. Its all about personal preference.
    I've heard different opinions on this: If you're using two mics, how do you go about setting them up in your DAW (I'm using Cubase, not that it really matters)? Do you put each mic through it's own mono track, or it's own stereo track? Or do you put both mics into a single stereo track? The problem I'm having is that I like to record multiple guitar parts and pan them pretty sharply. The issue is that if I pan a stereo track hard left, for example, I want it to be an even mix of both mics, pushed all the way to the left. But what happens is it just cuts out most of the right mic, which defeats the purpose of using two mics in the first place. One is an SM57, and the other is a condenser mic, because I like the blend.