TMP Guide to Guitars – Day 2 – Mic Technique

Today’s post is all about mic technique for guitar cabs.  When it comes to recording guitar, I still think that real amps sound better than digital amp sims, although new units like Axe FX are quickly closing that gap.   Knowing how to mic a guitar cab is still an essential skill to have as an engineer, especially if you want to break out of the home studio and have the chops to work with a variety of artists and genres.  Here are some tips for improving your mic technique on guitars.

Start Simple

SM57 and Royer R101 with a flashlight to show mic placement.

SM57 and Royer R101 with a flashlight to show mic placement.

I’ve experimented with many mics and combinations, but at least 80% of the guitar recording I do is still with a single Sm57 on the cab.  When you add more mics, you add phase problems, and if you’re not careful the guitar sound will become a smeary mess.  To get things going with a 57, grab a flashlight and shine it through the grill so that you can see the speakers.  Start by placing the mic on-axis, pointed at the spot where the cone meets the dust cap, between 0-1″ away.   Now go listen.  If the sound is too ‘fizzy’, move the mic sideways, further away from the center.  If the sound is too dark or boxy, move it more towards the center.   Check for low end response and move the mic back from the cab if you notice too much low-end ‘boom’ on low notes and palm muting.  After a few adjustments, you should have a pretty good guitar sound.

Multiple Mics

Two mics on a guitar cab.  Notice the second track (lower) is slightly later than the first.

Two mics on a guitar cab. Notice the second track (lower) is slightly later than the first.

There are cases when a single 57 just isn’t capturing what you need.  This is when you should try adding another mic.  One popular combination is the SM57 paired with a ribbon mic to help fill out the low-end and midrange.  As I mentioned earlier, you need to watch out for phase issues when using multiple mics, and luckily it’s not too difficult to accomplish.  Place your 2nd mic beside your 57 or on a different speaker (I personally prefer to mic the same speaker), and create a new track in your DAW.  Record your guitar player hitting a quick “chckk” sound (think X’s on a tab sheet), and zoom in on the waveforms as far as you can.  You’ll be able see when the sound hits each mic.  If one track is earlier or later than the other, compensate by moving the mic closer or further from the cab.  It may  take a few tries, but eventually you’ll have the sound hitting each mic at the same time, and voila, you’re in phase.  You can repeat this process for additional mics, but in my experience, it’s not necessary.  If the tone’s not right, fix the problem by trying a different guitar, amp, cab, or mic before adding another one.

A Different Approach to Multiple Mics

3 mics set-up on the cab, ready for auditioning.  I only recorded one mic at a time.

3 mics set-up on the cab, ready for auditioning. I only recorded one mic at a time.

There’s another way to get the most out of having multiple mics on a cab.  Set up 2 or 3 mics and have them all ready-to-go in your DAW.  Rather than recording all the mics for each track, audition each mic on a part-by-part basis and choose the one that suits the section best.  For example, a you may choose the darker tone of the ribbon mic for a thick rhythm track, and then switch to the 57 for the lead.  Now you’ve got a variety of clear and distinct tones that will help you shape the overall guitar sound of your track, and switching between them only takes a mouse click.

 

Other Posts in This Series:

Day 1 – Tuning
Day 3 – Tone & Layering
Day 4 – Recording Tight Tracks
Day 5: In the Mix

6 Comments

on “TMP Guide to Guitars – Day 2 – Mic Technique
6 Comments on “TMP Guide to Guitars – Day 2 – Mic Technique
  1. Pingback: TMP Guide to Guitars – Day 3 – Tone & Layering | The Modern Producer

  2. Nice articles man, really helpful. One thing I’m wondering about when I’m reading this. When you mic up your cab, how do you dial in the amplifier? Because in the next article you say you are trying to get the right sound after you already miced the cab. But when you are looking for the right mic position, isn’t it logical to have your tone already? Because when you found the right spot and then change the knobs again it will sound different again doesn’t it? Or do you put al the knobs to 12 o’clock or something, place the mic and than tweak your sound?

    • Good question. I recommend starting with a single mic in the spot that I mention in the article. Then tweak the amp to try and dial in the tone you’re after, and adjust the mic if your amp settings aren’t quite getting you there.

  3. I’ll be posting daily as long as possible. After this, I’ll be posting some more ProTools tips, video guides, etc!

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