Learning how to mic a guitar amp can be an essential skill when recording, but also for setting up live sound! Today we take a look at the top 3 positions for the mic, and describe how they work.
Learning How To Mic A Guitar Amp: The Easiest Way To Record!
Recording is much easier these days when it comes to amp sims, and processors like the Helix. Those methods are super easy, especially if you use the USB function. But if all you have is a guitar amp, then that complicates things.
Many modern amps, like the BOSS Katana has a USB function as well. But your regular old tube amp is probably not going to have that kind of tech built in. Older tube amps in particular will have to be mic’d up to capture the sound when recording. Using a mic is pretty old school, and has been used in recording since forever.
The thing is, once you learn how to mic your guitar amp, you will be able to mic just about any guitar amp. Not just yours! The process is pretty much the same no matter what kind of amp you are using. Stack or combo, tube or solid state, the process remains virtually the same across the board.
I call it “the easiest way to record” because once you know what you’re doing, you can literally have everything ready in a minute or two. The three different positions we are going to look at today are the most common, and they will give you the information you need to get started.
Some people will tell you that learning how to mic a guitar amp is an “art”. It can be, when you get into complex setups that use multiple mics. But today we are looking at the direct way, using a single microphone.
I am going to show you the 3 best mic positions to start with using ANY amplifier or speaker cab. These are just guidelines, and you may even find different positions that work better for your particular amp. Learning how to mic an amp is not rocket science, though.
Note: If you use amp sims that feature cabinet controls, and NEVER plan on putting a mic up to a real speaker, this guide can still help you! If you have ever wondered how to properly dial in your impulse response, or digital speaker controls, this guide will shine some light on what those features are doing!
Let’s take a look at how to mic a guitar amp, and get professional results!
How To Mic A Guitar Amp: Preparation
The absolute first thing you want to do, is dial in your tone exactly how you want it. Chances are, you already have a sound in mind or you have your amp set the way it usually stays for shows. This can always be adjusted later, but its best to just have it dialed in the way you want.
Remove the grill cloth from your amp or cabinet. This is not for sound quality, the speaker grill is not going to have that much of an effect on your amp’s sound. This is so you can see the speaker better. You can use a flashlight, or your cell phone to locate the speaker if you cannot remove the grille cloth.
Keep your pedals/pedalboard away from the amp as far as possible. Most mics meant for recording are going to pick up any outside noise. You don’t want to hear your foot clicking a pedal during the quiet part of a song! Keep your pedals at least 6 feet away from the mic.
If you are at home, turn off any fans or air conditioning vents. We are going to be using a dynamic mic in almost every case while learning how to mic a guitar amp. The microphone will pick up any electric fans or sounds made by your AC unit. If you can, try to isolate the speaker you plan on using in a closet or separate room.
Have a small mic stand handy. If you don’t have one of the smaller “desktop” mic stands, you can also position a boom mic downwards. Either way, you want the mic to be easy to move around. Most of all, you want the mic to be stable so it doesn’t move while you are recording.
Once you get started, remember moving the mic even an inch can affect the sound quality. I like to keep a roll of colored tape handy so I can mark the “sweet spot” on the grill cloth of the cabinet/amp. So have some tape handy to mark YOUR sweet spot when you find it.
Have the amp at you usual “playing” volume. This means your “stage volume” if you are playing in a band. You want the amp to be pretty loud, and this rule goes double if you have a tube amp. You are trying to catch your amp in its “natural environment” so to speak, so you need it at the volume it sounds best.
The Right Mic: Popular Mics For Recording Guitar
- Shure SM57/SM58
- Sennheiser e 609
- Audix i5 Cardioid Mic
- Sterling P30
All of these mics that we have listed fall into budget territory, but don’t let the prices fool you. If a professional was telling you how to mic a guitar amp, they would probably grab a Shure SM57 as an example. These may be cheap microphones, but they are all used in studios around the world.
We have listed “dynamic” mics primarily, since they are the most common to use when learning how to mic a guitar amp. Condenser mics like the SM57 will be your best bet, since they will isolate the sound better. But I have used the other mics listed for different sounds, and different “feels” when recording.
If all you have on hand for now is a regular dynamic vocal mic, that’s fine. We are learning how to mic a guitar amp today. The sound quality the first time doesn’t have to be perfect. We just want you to get comfortable with the whole idea!
Professional mics can go from $100 all the way to $5000, depending on the brand. Any of the ones listed will be great for learning how to mic a guitar amp, and they won’t break the bank. If recording becomes something serious for you, then you can always invest later after you’ve mastered the basics.
Once you have everything ready to go, it’s time to place the mic. This is usually the part that producers will tell you is an “art”. To a certain extent, I agree with them. But knowing the specifics, and the main starting positions is the best way to get your feet wet.
How To Mic A Guitar Amp: Understanding Distance
After you have chosen a mic, and you have it ready to go on the secure stand/mount, its time to start placing the mic. In most cases you want the mic pretty close. You do not want to press the mic directly on the speaker though, as this can cause all kinds of ugly noises.
A good rule, is you want about half an inch or so between the mic and the speaker/grill cloth. This will allow the speaker to breathe naturally without any obstructions in the way. In most cases, you will want to point the mic directly at the target. Especially since all of the mics we have listed are “dynamic”.
“Dynamic” means all sides of the mic will pick up sound, but the “sweet spot” is just like when you are using a mic to speak or sing. The head of the mic is going to pickup most frequencies that you want from a guitar amp. So you want the mic facing the amp directly, as we will show in photos when first learning how to mic a guitar amp.
However, moving the mic sideways can sometimes pick up more midrange frequencies. The sides of a dynamic mic pick up sound really well, so if pointing the mic directly at the speaker is just not working for you in any position, try tilting it to the side a smidgen.
Different mics will respond differently to tilting or moving “off axis” in any way. The Shure mics that we have listed are the industry standard, and meant to be placed directly forward. If you have a different mic, or you are just using what you have at the moment, try tilting it if the sound is muddy.
When it comes to distance, it isn’t mandatory to place the mic so close to the speaker. If you feel like the mic is too close, then you can move it back a little. If you plan to record the amp at a high volume, you may need to move the mic back just a little bit.
Moving the microphone closer to the speaker will increase the bass frequencies overall. Moving the mic away from the speaker will decrease the bass frequency. How much the bass is changed will be decided by a ton of factors like dialed in bass on the amp, volume, and speaker size. This is why you sometimes see dual mics being used; one for up close, the other further away.
I learned how to mic a guitar amp using a Shure SM57 and a Marshall 4×12 speaker cabinet. Since this was a tube amp, I had it cranked while we were recording. It was common practice to have the mic sitting a few inches back in that situation, because of the loud volume.
So each speaker cabinet, and each amp setup is going to be slightly different when learning how to mic a guitar amp. Depending on your situation, you may have to experiment with distance. But 9 times out 10, you can put it close to the speaker and be fine.
Contoured frequency response for clean, instrumental reproduction and rich vocal pickup, the Shure SM57 has been used for decades in all kinds of applications! This is one of the legendary condenser mics, heard on all kinds of albums over the years.
How To Mic A Guitar Amp: Mic Positions
All of my example photos are pressed right up against the grill cloth, which is not proper at all. But I wanted to get as close as I could to get the right angle for pictures. So just a reminder: Start about half an inch away from the speaker/grill cloth.
All three of the positions are the most common that end up working for most guitarists when learning how to mic a guitar amp. But it is better to use them as guidelines, and as the “general area” to start with. Like we have stated, just an inch in either direction can make a vast difference.
So start with the position as pictured, and slowly move the mic until you get the desired tone. You may be dead-on the first time, or your might have to move the mic around a little bit. Mic placement is all about experimenting with position and distance.
Lower Right Corner: 4 O’ Clock
Placing the mic on the lower right corner of the speaker is a great starting place. Most live sound guys will start with this position also. This is the “general” position, and a great place to start for most 12” speakers. If using a cabinet with multiple speakers, use the bottom right speaker to start with.
Have the mic facing directly forward, like in the photo. Moving the mic off center, or at a 45 degree angle can pick up some really nasty frequencies, as we mentioned earlier. This is especially true when it comes to distortion tones, or any kind of modulation effects. Tilt the mic only if necessary.
Remember, moving the mic even an inch can have an effect on the sound. This applies to the mic being sideways, or “off axis” as well. So make sure you have your tape handy, or take photos of the positions once you place the mic.
I like to place the head of the mic right on the outside of the speaker cone, at about the 4 o’ clock position. You want it to be in between the speaker cone, and the furthest outside edge of the speaker. You want more of the edge of the speaker on the mic, than the actual cone.
This position is the mic position that you often see the soundman at a gig start with because it responds well to high volumes. It gets some of the cone’s mid frequencies in the mix, but also captures a good bit of bass and low-midrange. If your amp is naturally mid-heavy, like a Fender, this might be the sweet spot.
This position could result in the loss of midrange, or it could have too much bass for recording purposes. This will depend entirely on your guitar tone. If you find that this is too muddy, or has too much bass, its time to move the mic to the second position.
My next step is usually to put the mic dead center on the cone of the speaker. For some people, this is going to be the “sweet spot”. This is especially true if you are using clean tones at low volume, or have a lot of low-end dialed in to your amp. Either way, you will hear a remarkable difference from the first position.
The mic placed directly in the center will give you a lot of overtones, and midrange frequency. Now you may put the mic in the middle like this, and immediately be appalled if your sound already lacks bass. However, if you are dealing with a muddy amp tone… this position could sound perfect.
I sometimes use this position for solos, because all of the midrange is so present, and you get lots of harmonic overtones. This kind of sound really cuts through a dense mix, making it ideal for solos but also great for overdubs.
Depending on your overall amp tone, the center of the cone may be completely unusable. But it is worth trying out, especially if you are just now learning how to mic a guitar amp. It is very important to know how positions change the sound. But there is one more that I like to try as well…
Between The Cone And Edge
If the lower corner of the speaker didn’t work for you, and the center of the cone sounded even worse, positioning the mic in between those two points can do wonders. This is a pretty common position, and it can highlight a LOT of different frequencies.
Most tutorials will tell you to start with this position. But since you are learning how to mic a guitar amp, I wanted you to hear the difference between two extremes. I also wanted you to hear how subtle movement one way or the other can completely change the sound.
To get this position right, you want to place the mic so it still picks up the outer ring of the speaker cone, but is also picking up some of the bass-heavy, outer edge of the speaker. This gives you a little bit of both extremes. You get some mids and overtones from the cone portion, and still get some bass from the outer edge.
You might have to play around with this one more than the others. Moving the mic just slightly will pick up different frequencies, and you want to try and get a balance of the cone’s midrange and the bass from the outer edges of the speaker.
Again, learning how to mic a guitar amp is a lot of experimentation. But by now, I think you see how tiny movements in different directions can affect the sound in different ways. Distance also plays a part in your recorded sound, and that is something worth playing around with as well.
Learning How to Mic A Guitar Amp: Mistakes To Avoid!
So today we have learned the basics of how to mic a guitar amp. It can be a fun way to record guitar, and the results can vary widely depending on your technique! The whole experience can give you a window to how many famous songs were recorded, as well as change your personal sound.
But to close this article, we need to talk about the biggest mistakes you can make when learning how to mic a guitar amp, and how to avoid them. I thought about the mistakes that I made in the beginning, and these are easy to miss:
- Fixing It In Post: When you are recording your guitar, try to get it as close as possible the first time. It may sound good in your head to fix it later, but then you go down a rabbit hole of EQ, compression, and volume levels. Do it right the first time, because sometimes fixing it later will be impossible.
- Make Sure Your Mic Input Is Balanced: Check your interface when you are learning how to mic a guitar amp. Make sure it isn’t red-lining out. You don’t want a distorted mess that cannot be fixed later. You can always make the track louder, reducing it’s volume/gain is MUCH harder. Adding gain is always easy, taking it away is difficult.
- Sometimes, Your Amp Is Just Dialed In Wrong: You are probably used to hearing you amp from a few feet away, with the amp on the floor. The mic is right in front of your amp, picking up every nuance. If you can’t get a good mic position, maybe dial in your amp differently. Boost/decrease the bass or midrange to compensate.
- Don’t Make Drastic Movements: When we are talking about moving the mic, if you are close to the sound you want, use small movements. Anything more than an inch or so at a time, is too much.
- Always Start Close: I know the knee jerk reaction to a loud amp is to move the mic back from the speaker. But this is a case of turning the input on your interface down, instead of moving the mic back. Recordings always sound better when the mic is close.
Good luck! Don’t forget that the key to learning how to mic a guitar amp is experimentation, and every amp and mic is going to be different!
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Christoper HortonChristopher has been playing guitar and piano for 27 years. He has been active in the professional music industry for over two decades. He has toured for years with several bands and music projects. He worked in LA as a studio musician and engineer working with bands like IAMSOUND, Baroness, Kylesa, Black Tusk, Reflux, and Tripping Daisy. In between giving private lessons, he is recording a solo album for 2022-2023. Christopher plays Schecter guitars, BOSS amplifiers, and uses STL Tones in the studio.
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