The search for the “perfect” electric guitar sound must be one of those mythical quests, a bit like the search for the holy grail. It can be an expensive quest, but with a few bits of basic equipment and some trial and error, you can get some great results. In this post, I will demystify the basics of miking a guitar amp.
Virtual or real amp?
The virtual amp technology has developed at great speed in the past two decades. Some of the virtual amp sounds are so close to the original that it can be hard to distinguish one from another. Personally, for me, practicality plays a big part here.
If you live in an apartment, where your neighbors would not be too happy about you cranking up a Marshall stack, I would definitely and happily use Virtual amps. But there is something magical about positioning a microphone in front of a speaker in a nice sounding room, so if the noise is not an issue, that is the way I would go.
Get it right from the start
Be realistic about the capabilities of your amp. Having a great microphone and positioning it correctly will not make a crappy sounding amp sound amazing. You work with what you got.
Most amps have a sweet spot when it comes to adjusting the sound of your amp, so experiment a lot. Often a little less distortion and a little more volume can make your sound much bigger than just turning up the distortion. Also loads of bottom end can be tempting, but often it gets in the way of the bass in the mix and makes everything sound muddy. Think about where the guitar fits into the mix
The right microphone
Let me just say this; there is no such a thing as a perfect microphone. There are some standards that are often used because they work well, but that does not mean you should not experiment with some other alternatives. Also not having a specific microphone should never stop you. Pretty much any dynamic microphone will do the job.
The industry standard for recording an electric guitar amp for a while now has been the trusty old Shure SM57. They are very reasonably priced, and a great quality microphone. I also like them for the fact that they are a real multipurpose microphone. So if you can only afford to have a few microphones in your home studio, the Shure SM57 would be one of my recommendations.
I am also a big fan of Sennheiser E 906. Especially when recording smaller combo amplifiers. If you want to get more adventurous and you have the budget, feel free to experiment with ribbon and condenser microphones as well.
But at the end of the day, if you only have an old beat up Shure SM58, that will do the job as well.
This is where you can get experimental. The basic rule is, to position the microphone close to the cone of the speaker. I would not recommend facing it at the center of the speaker. I would aim somewhere between the center and the edge of the speaker. The general rule is, closer to the edge is muddier, or softer tone, and closer to the center is clearer or sharper tone.
But get creative. Experiment with the distance from the amp. We have even recorded an old Pignose amp from behind of the speaker.
Two or more microphones
More is not always better. Having more than one microphone can cause phasing issues, which in the worst case can eliminate frequencies. But with a little bit of creativity, you can make some interesting sounds this way.
I have had success positioning the guitar amp at one end of a hallway, then positioning one microphone close to the amp, one-half way up the hallway and one at the other end of the hallway. In the mix, I would pan the close microphone in the middle and the other two hard left and hard right. This can give you a nice stereo feel to the sound.
The magic ingredient
The last thing I would like to remind you is that at the end of the day, the magic of your sound is in your hands. It is not the equipment you have, but what you do with it. The best way to get good at recording is by doing more of it. Get involved in as many diverse projects as possible. In the news feed in Melosity, you can find a diverse mix of projects and many passionate musicians who would love to collaborate with you and help you gain more experience. Go and sign up your account HERE today.