Idiot-Proof Electric Guitar & Bass Mic Technique

One mic = zero phase problems

Wishnefsky asked me how to get great guitar and bass sounds when miking Mesa speaker cabinets. There are any number of ways to record a great tone, but there’s one idiot-proof way to do it if you’re not sure what you’re doing:

Point a single microphone, on axis, directly at the glue ring of a speaker’s dust cap. 

That’s the simple answer. The more involved answer entails choosing the right microphone, placing it the optimum distance from the grille cloth, determining how aggressively to set the microphone preamp, etc. I could devote an entire master class to this, but I will keep it simple for this post. Long story short, you can’t go wrong with this technique.

Here are a few things that will help you take it to the next level.

  • Wear earplugs when setting your amp, and listen to the speaker with your ear, not the back of your knees as so many guitarists do when playing onstage. Flat frequency response filters like ER 15’s are good for this.
  • Learn the sonic differences between condenser, ribbon and dynamic microphones. Choose one conducive to the vibe you want to create.
  • If you decide to use multiple close mics, the combination of a ribbon and a dynamic can be very effective. The ribbon sounds warm and natural while the dynamic is bright and punchy. I like to use a Royer R121 along with a Sennheiser MD 421 or MD 409U3 to capture complex and sophisticated electric guitar tones. The capsules of both microphones want to be exactly the same distance from the glue ring around the dust cap, angled on the same plane.
  • If you cannot clearly see where the glue ring is, shine a bright flashlight through the grille cloth. The dust cap will reveal itself.

Be aware that a great guitar or bass tone is partly a function of the sound of the room in which it is recorded. You can experiment with setting up a room mic to capture some of the ambience if you like it.

Based on my own personal experience, I prefer taking the simplest route to success. Start with one microphone, and get it to sound the way you want it. If you can’t accurately capture the tone, try a different microphone or add a second one.

I wouldn’t be surprised if some of my world-class engineer friends roast me for this post, but I’m telling you, this works. I recently captured a live performance of Cathedrals for a Spotify Session without a sound check. I had to trust that the microphone was going to give me a usable sound for not only for FOH (front of house), but also for the album that I would subsequently mix. As expected, it worked.

Let me know if you have any questions or any great ideas to share. Good luck and happy recording!

 

 

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