What's the Difference? - A Microphone Placement Comparison for Guitar Amplifiers

To anyone who has ever truly enjoyed an album, there is a good chance that one of the main components of those records that you really connected with was the guitar, and more specifically the electric guitar. Now, take a minute to think about what those guitars sound like in your head. Perhaps right now you're thinking of Gerry Rafferty's "City to City" or maybe Dinosaur Jr.'s "Bug." There are countless, truly fantastic recordings that predominantly feature the guitar. Among those guitar sounds, there are probably certain sounds that even at this moment, stick out to you as sounds that have forever captured your attention. Maybe it is the chimey, sparkly, shimmering tones of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Or the snarling, growling, biting tones of The Who or The Smashing Pumpkins. Whatever it is, the guitar is incredibly powerful, and even now as you read this, I'm sure that you can hear those guitars in your head...right at this very second.

Have you ever stopped to think, "How did they get those guitar sounds?"

Well, it turns out, 9 times out of 10, the answer to that question falls on one, single, seemingly-insignificant hunk of metal.

The microphone.

The microphone IS the ear of recorded music. It is the very essence of what recorded music is, and has been...and will be, for that matter. The microphone is what "records" and it is what breathes real life into what the artist plays and in turn, what we as the listeners hear. Just as the loudspeaker gives us the sound that the microphone captures, it should come as no surprise that the microphone and the speaker are actually, technically and physically, the same thing, just with different wiring.

Microphones are a lot more important than they generally get credit for.

So without getting into a longer, more-grandiose lecture on the importance of microphones, I will just say this...

To answer that previous question of "how did they get those guitar sounds?" In one word, I would say, "placement."

The microphone had to be at the right place at the right time.

While we here at TSV spend a lot of time rigging up touring concerts sound systems, filling projector rental orders and setting up DJ lighting, we are audiophiles and recording nerds at heart. Our individual pursuits and quests to capture exactly what we are trying to achieve on a recording, may very well be a pursuit that never ends, and is never quite fulfilled.

And so, without further ado, I give you this video.

You will hear just how differently the same exact guitar line can sound through similar microphones (the Shure SM57) placed in different locations along a speaker. These differences cannot be denied. However, share this video with a friend, and let them hear the differences, and then discuss with them which ones sounded "the best" and I guarantee that you will have started quite a conversation.

Subjective Objectivity...we all hear the same exact thing, differently.

So the next time you listen to your favorite record, think about this...

It is quite possible that the artist didn't actually find the "perfect" sound...but perhaps just stopped trying to achieve "perfection" and rather decided to just go with "well, that sounds good to me!"


mic placement

Microphone Placement Comparison

In this video we record Shure SM57 microphones in various placements, both on-axis and off-axis in front of a guitar amplifier. Some of these mic placements are widely considered to be the best for modern guitar recording.

No effects pedals were used in this video, simply the guitars (1999 Gibson SG Standard, 2007 Fender Jazzmaster) straight into a 2006 Vox AC30CC2, picked up by the various Shure SM57's all at the same time. These signals were then fed to the Presonus FP10 interface and captured on Ableton Live 9.

No effects, compression, reverb or EQ was added to the Ableton Live mix.

Video was captured on the Black Magic Cinema Camera

Video was edited using Final Cut Pro 7