Recording heavy guitars at home can be a challenge, but with the right techniques and tools, you can achieve professional-quality recordings without leaving your house. In this article, we will discuss the best ways to mic a guitar amp and how to obtain the sound you hear in your head using different microphones and techniques. We will also briefly touch on recording guitars digitally and using amp sim plugins! We will dive deeper on this topic in another article!
How to Mic a Guitar Amp
One of the traditional methods for recording electric guitar is to mic a guitar amp. By capturing the sound directly from the amplifier, you can achieve a rich and full-bodied tone that can be often difficult to achieve with digital modeling. However, micing a guitar amp requires some knowledge of microphone types and placements to get the best results. You can’t just put any microphone you want, in any place you want, and expect great results! Sometimes you’ll get lucky, savor those moments, but we’ll show you how to get closer to the sound you want.
Mic Types and Placements
There are two main types of microphones used for mic'ing guitar amps: dynamic and condenser. Dynamic mics are often preferred for recording electric guitar due to their ability to handle high sound pressure levels (SPLs) and their directional pickup patterns. The Shure SM57 is a popular choice for mic'ing guitar amps, thanks to its affordability and versatility. Almost every concert venue uses SM57s so it’s almost guaranteed this is the microphone you’ve heard when you’ve heard your favorite band live. They’re also incredibly popular in the studio as it’s often the first choice for engineers since it almost always works, especially for metal music.
Condenser mics, on the other hand, are more sensitive and can capture a wider frequency range, making them a good choice for capturing the nuances of an electric guitar. However, they are more expensive and keep in mind they require phantom power (48v) to operate. Most interfaces come with this though, but just be sure before investing into a new mic.
In terms of microphone placement, the most common technique is to position the microphone directly in front of the guitar amp's speaker cone, slightly off-center. This is known as the "cap edge" position and can provide a balanced tone with good midrange presence. Another technique is to position the microphone closer to the speaker cone for a brighter sound, or farther away for a more ambient, darker sound. For example: If you have a bright guitar, such as a Telecaster, you may want a darker placement to balance the brightness from the guitar. It’s really important to make sure you have an intent for the tone you’re looking for so you know where to move your microphone.
Pro tip: Sometimes it’s hard to see through the cabinet material, pull out your phone and use the flashlight to make sure you can see where you where you’re placing the microphone (like Isaiah is doing above in this photo).
Finding the "Sweet Spot"
Regardless of the microphone type and placement, it's important to find the "sweet spot" on the guitar amp. This is the area where the sound is the most balanced and has the most tonal character. To find the sweet spot, move the microphone around the speaker cone while playing the guitar and listen for the best tone. Note that in any amplifier with multiple speakers, each speaker DOES NOT sound the same. Make sure you experiment to find which speaker gives you the sound you want! We recommend doing recording tests and listening to the different tones to decide what you like. Make yourself do blind audio tests to see which one you like without having any prior knowledge - this helps you maintain an objective opinion. If you find yourself liking one particular placement, use tape to make a marker on the cabinet of where to put the microphone so it’s quicker to find next time you set up to record.
How to Mic a Guitar Amp with a Condenser Mic
If you choose to use a condenser mic to mic your guitar amp, there are a few things to keep in mind since they are different from dynamic mics. While dynamic mics like the SM57 are commonly used to mic guitar amps and are sufficient for metal, condenser mics can also be used for a different tone. Here's how to mic a guitar amp with a condenser mic:
- Choose a condenser mic with a cardioid polar pattern, such as the Audio-Technica AT4053b or the AKG C214.
- Set up the mic about 1-2 inches away from the speaker cone, slightly off-axis.
- Use a pop filter to prevent plosives and harsh high frequencies.
- Adjust the mic placement to achieve the desired tone.
- Use EQ and compression to further shape the tone in the mix.
Keep in mind that condenser mics are more sensitive than dynamic mics, and may pick up more background noise and room ambience. It's important to choose a quiet and acoustically-treated recording space when using a condenser mic to mic a guitar amp. Always be sure to experiment with different placements to find the best tone for your recording as different microphones will always give different tones and characters.
Should You Mic Your Guitar Amp?
While mic'ing a guitar amp can provide a rich and authentic tone, it's not always the most practical or efficient method for recording electric guitar. If you don't have access to a high-quality guitar amp or a suitable recording space, mic'ing an amp may not be the best option. One alternative to mic'ing a guitar amp is to use a guitar amplifier simulator plugin, such as the Clairvoyant Amp Suite from us at the Modern Metal Songwriter. Amp Sim plugins can provide a wide range of amp models and tonal options, allowing you to achieve the sound you want without the need for a physical amplifier or all of the gear it takes to achieve a great tone.
Another alternative is to use a load box, which is a device that allows you to connect your guitar amp-head to an audio interface without the need for a speaker cabinet. This can be useful for recording in a small space or at low volumes, as it eliminates the need for a loud guitar amp in the room, while still capturing the tone of your amp.
If you choose to use a load box, you can also use impulse responses (IRs) to simulate the sound of different guitar cabinets. Check out our Declassified: Impulse Responses pack for a range of high-quality cabinet IR's that can be used with a load box to achieve a variety of tonal options.
How to Record Electric Guitar on Your PC or Mac
If you don't have access to a physical guitar amp, or prefer to use a guitar amp simulator plugin, you can easily record guitars on your computer. Here's a simple step-by-step guide:
- Connect your guitar to your computer using an audio interface or USB guitar cable. We recommend the Audient ID14 MKII!
- Open your DAW (digital audio workstation) and create a new audio track.
- Insert the guitar amp sim plugin on the audio track.
- Set the input of the your interface to your loudest playing.
- Adjust the settings of the plugin to achieve the desired tone.
- Arm the audio track for recording and press record.
- Play your guitar and listen to the playback to make sure you've achieved the desired sound.
By following these steps, you can easily record an electric guitar on your PC using a guitar amplifier simulator plugin such as Clairvoyant Amp Suite. Here’s a link to a YouTube video explaining how to use the plugin, and all of its features.
Recording heavy guitars at home can be a bit challenging because let’s be honest, metal guitars are mostly white noise that takes up a ton of the frequency spectrum and are difficult to make sound “good”.
By experimenting with different techniques and equipment, you can achieve a professional-quality sound, it just takes a lot of time and attention to detail. Whether you choose to mic a guitar amp or use an amp sim, be sure to keep your goals and budget in mind, and don't be afraid to try new things. There aren’t really any “wrong” ways to do these things. If it sounds good, it is good!
If you're looking to get an amazing guitar tone at home, check out the free trial of our amp suite Clairvoyant, and start writing some new music with it! In the end, the most important thing with getting a great guitar tone is using it in a good track!