Capturing Great Guitar Tone - I am often asked how I approach mic'ing a guitar speaker & after all the years of explaining this verbally it just occurred to me to take a quick trip to google & spend a few moments in Photoshop to create a graphic image as an example. This is the starting point I use when mic'ing a speaker live & in a recording studio.
To explain a bit more; The red circle represents the mic's diaphragm & I draw an imaginary line down the middle of the diaphragm from top to bottom, which is represented by the white line you see in the image. I then line that up with the edge of the speaker's 'dust cap' (which is also notated in the image), I get the proper level on the mic-pre & record a pass to see what it sounds like. If you need the tone to be brighter simply move the mic more towards the center - small movements make a big difference & if you want to warm up the tone move the mic more towards the outside of the speaker.
There are lots of ways to go about it & much like music everyone has an opinion on what works best for them. This mic technique has been a tried-&-true method that has been used to capture classic tones for decades. It's a good starting point & I encourage you to experiment. Feel free to share this as you like in the hopes it also helps others to get the tones they are after
*** UPDATED 10-25-2015 10:05pm ***
Hello again gang! We’ve had some questions via email & posts on our other facebook pages so I thought I would address them in this post my answers here. Much of what I’ve learned over the years has been passed down to me from great engineers, producers & players alike as well as countless hours of experimenting. Feel free to use & share this info as you like in the hopes it helps you capture the tones you are looking for.
1.) Image - First let me extend my apologies regarding the image. I am often asked how I approach mic’ing a speaker & thought it best to try & get a visual as that seems to be more helpful than trying to verbally explain it, I wish I would have thought about this sooner (lol) but you take the epiphanies when they occur to you (lol). Some of you have noticed the mic says ‘Front’ & that it could be perceived as being backwards- Fair enough. In the interests of avoiding any confusion please be sure to point the side of the mic marked ‘front’ towards the speaker, it’ll sound better this way
2.) How close to the grill do you put the mic? Generally speaking I place the mic against the grill cloth of the cabinet. If it’s a 4x12 cabinet that has casters or tall feet I will either remove the casters or tip the cabinet on its side so that it acoustically couples with the floor / stage. The over all frequency response is more correct this way, if you have the cabinet on casters it will shift the lows & lower mids
3.) Do you ever use more than one mic? Yes, almost always. I look at mics as EQ & one mic per speaker. Then you have to suss out the phase to make sure the mics are in phase with one another however many classic records were made with using just one mic to capture the guitar tone.
4.) What mics do you like? There are several I like & over all it depends on what kind of tone I’m trying to capture. In a recording studio I favor the follow mics & with a 4x12 cabinet I will mic every speaker as I look at each mic as EQ.
• Older Shure SM57
• Older Sennheiser MD421 (not the MD421-II & I do not use the roll off switch)
• Sennheiser e906 – I prefer the 409 but they are harder to come by
• Older Electro-Voice RE20 – If you like that chewy older EVH lower midrange
• Royer R-121 – Be careful as these do not take higher SPL’s well
5.) Do you use outboard EQ or plugins? I am honestly not a fan of using the channel strip or a plugin to EQ guitar tracks. I was taught to get the signal from the source as the results would always be better. I’m a creature of habit in that regard (lol)
6.) Do you ever use 'Beam Blockers'? I myself am not a fan of Beam Blockers. This tends to be more of a band-aid approach & while I understand the intent is to get closer to what the tone(s) we want, band-aiding tends to take us further away. As such I prefer to resolve the problem at the source. If the tone is so bright you feel you need Beam Blockers then I would first determine where the excessive top end is coming from & resolve it accordingly. IE: different speaker(s), different cables, different pickup & so on.
7.) When you mic a 4x12 do you leave the casters on? I always remove the casters or tip the cabinet on its side so that it acoustically couples to the floor allowing the full frequency response to come through. Leaving the cabinet on the casters shifts the frequency response, which may or may not be what you are looking for tonally. Try both & see which you prefer.
8.) In the recording studio do you prefer a straight or slant 4x12? Answer – I prefer a straight 4x12 but I also usually mic all the speakers, IE: one mic per speaker. Some times only use 1 or 2 mics can be used as we may be limited by the amount of mic-pres available so I usually mic the speaker(s) closest to the floor.
The image I created is not a revolutionary idea by any means but it is how I always start out when mic'ing a 2x12 or 4x12 sealed cabinet. From there you can adjust the mic or add additional mic(s) to get what you're looking for. If you have the time you can put on a pair of headphones, move the mic to find the spot where the amp’s ‘hiss’ is loudest & place the mic there. This is one of many tricks, there are so many ways to mic cabinets which is all part of the fun of experimenting. Have a great day & keep making great music!
Trace Davis, President / Founder
Voodoo Amplification Inc