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Record Guitar Amps Naturally With This “Secret” Method

record guitar amps condenser dynamic mic

When you record guitar amps, the harsh tones can be tough to handle. When I first started out recording, I spent a lot of time trying to get my electric guitar sounding clear and natural, without being too brittle. With a lot of trial and error and by choosing the right microphones for the job, I found several ways to record guitar amps while getting a balanced tone – clean or distorted.

There Is A Right Way And A Wrong Way To Record Guitar Amps!

The wrong way is to just throw up the mics and hope for the best. The wrong way is also to painstakingly find the best position by peeking through the grill cloth and symmetrically align all microphones so that they are on axis, in phase and on point.

We record with our ears, not our eyes.

You’ve got to set the mics up, record a little, listen, adjust, record again, listen, adjust, repeat. Find the piece of air where the sound of the amp comes together. The clarity, the jangle and the resonance. Or the drive, the body and the core. Use your ears and don’t lock anything in until you’re satisfied.

Having said that, there are some good positions to help you get started.

Miking A Guitar Amp

When miking a guitar amp, recording engineers generally use dynamic mics, condenser mics or ribbon mics.

Dynamic microphones tend to give you a clear, direct sound, but without much “movement”. Despite their name, dynamic mics don’t really give you a very dynamic sound when recording guitar amps.

Condenser mics on the other hand, tend to cater for a more dynamic sound, giving you high highs and low lows and add life to the signal.

Ribbon microphones, due to their somewhat duller frequency response respond well to harsher guitar tones such as distorted or overdriven guitar amps.

The Pitfalls Of Using An SM57 To Mic A Guitar Amp

The Shure SM57 has long been a go-to microphone for micing amps. It really hit it’s heyday when the Marshall JCM800 was one of the most popular guitar amps in the 80s and 90s. You could just stick it up in front of the 4×12 cab and away you go.

But I have never really been satisfied with the SM57 whenever I used it to record guitar amps. It has quite a hard sound which in my opinion doesn’t respond well to such a hard instrument as a guitar amp. Clean tones tend to lack clarity and depth, and overdriven and distorted guitars seem to always sound harsh and brittle when using an SM57 – in my opinion.

Good alternative dynamic mics for recording guitar amps are the Sennheiser MD421 or a Beyerdynamic M88 TG. The MD421 has a clear but rounded tone, while the M88 gives guitar amps a bit of a vintage sound much like you would expect from a ribbon microphone. Both handle high sound levels well and are almost unbreakable.

Recording A Guitar Amp With A Condenser Mic

Add a condenser mic to the picture and the nuances of the guitar tend to emerge. Blending a dynamic mic with a large diaphragm condenser can give you the best of both worlds – a clear and direct tone coupled with the transients and nuances from the more sensitive condenser.

Just make sure you either position the mics at exactly the same distance from the guitar amp, or if you get creative and find two perfect spots at different distances, make sure to phase-align them with delay when mixing. Out of phase guitar amp recordings can get really nasty!

The “Secret” XY Method To Record Guitar Amps

Now, folks, this is where things get interesting. There is a not-so-well-known technique to try out that can give you a really natural and direct tone when you next record guitar amps. It involves taking one large diaphragm cardioid condenser and one cardioid dynamic mic and blending their signals together to get one master signal.

It is just like the XY technique for recording overheads, acoustic guitar or classical instruments.

Position the mics directly in front of the speaker cone. The trick is to point the condenser mic at the right edge of the speaker and the dynamic mic at the left edge so that they are at a 90° angle from each other.

The cardioid polar pattern of each mic reduces the high frequencies coming from the centre of the speaker cone, as we are pointing the mics off-axis. Blending the signals of each mic to one channel or bus will give you a balanced tone that sounds like a guitar amp should without unnaturally harsh or abrasive frequencies.

Best Condenser Mic For The XY Guitar Amp Technique

You can use literally any combination of microphones for the XY technique to record guitar amps, it’s always better to use what you’ve got now, than wait around while you save up for the “perfect” condenser mic.

That being said, here is a list of tried and true mic combinations for the XY guitar amp technique:

  • AKG C414 (B-ULS!) / Sennheiser MD421
  • AKG C414 (B-ULS!) / Beyerdynamic M88 TG
  • Røde NT1A / Shure SM57
  • Audio Technica AT4040 / Sennheiser MD421

Or mix and match any of the above!

Wrapping Up

So, my friends, I hope that you were able to arm yourself with yet another technique for miking a guitar amp. Remember to always use your ears, record, listen, adjust, repeat. With practice comes experience, so take your time and try out the methods above!

About The Author

Nick Braren is an audio engineer and musician with over 15 years experience in the studio, on stage, back stage and front of house. He is the owner and operator of Upaya Sound, guitarist and vocalist of Vandemonian, father of 2 and husband of 1. When he’s not in the studio or in the band room he’s either travelling in his van or at the beach – or both.

Mixing Engineer

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