10 Microphones I Recommend for Recording Acoustic Guitars
Recording acoustic instruments can be particularly tricky. One must know where to place the microphone. You’ve gotta know what microphone to choose. The musician has to be able to give a fluid performance without affecting the microphone placement.
In this post I’m going to talk about a few different microphones that work best with recording acoustic guitar.
I’m also going to get into some basics of microphone placement and why each method works best given the equipment that you are using and the musician.
Small Diaphragm Condenser Microphones vs. Large Diaphragm Condenser Microphones
There are two types of condenser microphones: small diaphragm condenser microphones and large diaphragm condenser microphones.
Large Diaphragm Condenser Mics Capture Everything
Large diaphragm condenser microphones are the ones that you are probably more familiar with. Those are the type of microphones that are most commonly used to record vocals and virtually every studio in the world has one. As the name suggests, the capsule is rather large at about an inch and a half or 2 inches across.
The advantage to using a large diaphragm condenser on an acoustic guitar is that it typically will pick up not only the sound of the guitar but also the room that you’re recording in. If you have access to a good-sounding room with nice wooden floors and controlled reflections, you’ll likely end up with a recording with more of a three-dimensional sound.
Additionally, there is very seldom a need to put multiple mics on the instrument. Typically, a large diaphragm condenser microphone should be placed about two or 3 feet away from the guitar. This will allow it to capture the entire sound of the instrument including the sound coming from the soundboard, bridge, and the sound of the pick going over the strings.
Complications arise when recording guitar at the same time as other sources. If you use a large diaphragm condenser mic to record an acoustic guitar while someone is singing, you are going to capture a lot of the vocal in that channel. When this happens, good luck trying to make any major edits to either track…
Small Diaphragm Condenser Microphones Provide Isolation
Small diaphragm condenser microphones, sometimes referred to as pencil microphones, are not as recognized as large diaphragm condenser mics. These can be as small as a tube of lipstick and as long as a foot long. These feature a much smaller diaphragm, usually about the size of a nickel.
Small diaphragm condenser mics tend to have a much more focused sounds then large diaphragm condenser mics. For this reason, engineers choose them when trying to isolate a source in an environment with other noises. This is why they are often used on movie sets. They excel at this application because they have the clarity of a condenser mic, but reject sound coming from the sides.
This is particularly useful when recording an acoustic guitar while the guitarist is singing. It can be particularly challenging to isolate vocals and guitars when recording them simultaneously. Doing so successfully allows for editing of both vocal and the guitar. If you’ve ever tried to edit a guitar that has captured spillover from the vocals or tried to tune a flat singer with the guitar in the background, you’ll understand why it is important to isolate these instruments.
A small diaphragm microphone will do a much better job of isolating these sources then a large diaphragm condenser will.
The 5 Best Small Diaphragm Condenser Mics For Acoustic Guitar
Small diaphragm condenser microphones tend to cost a little less than large diaphragm condenser mics. At the same time, they don’t have as many applications as a large diaphragm condenser microphone and that being the case, it can be hard to justify the cost if you are on a limited budget.
This blog caters mainly to people that are building a studio on a budget. The small diaphragm condenser mics that I’m going to share in this list are going to be mostly in the sub $500 range. I can tell you with all confidence that you can get a phenomenal sounding acoustic guitar recording with a $150 small diaphragm condenser.
I have an old Audio Techica small diaphragm condenser that has been discontinued. I bought a few years back had a pawn shop for $40 and have gotten numerous compliments on its sound when people have come over to check out what I’ve been working on. The sounds that I get from a small diaphragm condenser is bigger then what I get from a large diaphragm condenser.
Rode Microphones NT55
This is my absolute favorite when it comes to small diaphragm condenser mics.
RODE really excels at producing these kinds of microphones. This is why they have done such a phenomenal job in penetrating and dominating the microphone market for video cameras.
The NT 55 is a phenomenal little mic that we’ll get you the big acoustic sound that you are looking for. It comes in at under $500 and isn’t from a brand that you ever need to be embarrassed of; the last thing that you want is for someone to come into your home studio and see you recording their instruments with a Radio Shack-branded microphone.
Neumann KM 184
If money is no object, the KM 184 is probably your microphone.
It is an industry standard for small diaphragm condenser mics and comes from the most renowned brand in the industry. These microphones are used on the biggest recordings in the biggest studios in the world and they do actually cost under $1000.
A KM 184 pointed at the 12th fret of your acoustic is going to be the gold standard for recording an acoustic. If you really wanted to go all out, you could also combine it with a U87 or a U87 clone about two feet away.
Another common miking technique with these is to have two of them miking the guitar at a 90° angle from one another; one pointed towards the 12 fret and the other one pointed towards the bridge.
If you decide to go with the KM 184, you’re probably going to be set with microphones for acoustic instruments.
I have had nothing but phenomenal experiences with every Audix microphone that I have ever worked with. While I have not worked specifically with the F9, I would feel 100% comfortable going into a session with this mic to record an acoustic guitar.
Audix produces really high quality microphones, and at around $125, there’s no way that you can go wrong with one of these. Truth be told, I have not ever noticed a massive difference in recording quality between budget small condenser mics and the super expensive ones.
I recall one project that I used my aforementioned $50 AKG as well as a very high-end road shotgun mic to record acoustic guitar. I brought the files over to my friend’s house” and remember which tracks where recorded with which mic. When we got to the mixing phase, there really was no discernible difference between this small condenser microphone and the RODE shotgun mic.
If you are on the fence about getting a small condenser microphone for your acoustic because of the cost, this is the one that you wants to go for. Even if for whatever reason you decide that you want to get a large diaphragm condenser for your guitar, you should be able to resell it quite easily and get most of your money back.
The last of the small diaphragm condenser mics and I’m going to recommend is the Shure SM 137. This is another industry-standard that is particularly affordable at around $150.
I’ve never recorded with it but I have used it in live situations. I also know from here save that a lot of sound engineers swear by it for recording violins and drum overheads. If it works for either of those applications, it will probably work for and acoustic guitar. This mic is well known for having a very natural, flat response. You don’t have to worry about any scooped mids or hyped recordings coming out of it.
The 5 Best Large Diaphragm Condenser Mics For Acoustic Guitar
There are a number of large diaphragm condenser mics that can be acquired under $1000 that will do a fine job of recording acoustic guitars.
The advantage of getting a large diaphragm condenser mic to record acoustic guitars is that it can be used to record vocals as well; you will not have to purchased a microphone to only use it on one or two sources.
Based on the Neumann U87
The WA87 is based on the Neumann U87, one of the most sought-after and frequently used microphones in history. You can find photos of the Neumann U87 recording every major artist that you can potentially imagine, and for good reason.
It’s considered to be one of the best microphones ever designed and naturally sounds like a dream on guitars.
Now, an actual Neumann U87 will run $2000+, but the WA87 is sounds virtually indistinguishable from it at under $700.
How Does it Compare the the Neumann U87?
Some people will say that they have compared actual U87 to the WA87 and heard a difference, but the truth is that if they took any two U87s and compared them to one another, they would also heard a difference. Different does not mean worse or better; it just means different.
One thing that you can be assured of is that you can get results with a WA87 that will rival those of a microphone costing three times more.
What Else Does it Come With?
In addition to the excellent audio quality, the W 87 comes with a shock mounts and wooden box for storage. The amazing thing is that the Neumann U87’s shockmount alone costs about half of the entire cost of this bundle.
Why Get a WA87 to Record Acoustic Guitars?
You cannot go wrong with this type of microphone. To start, you will not be locked into only using it on acoustic guitars; with a WA87 in your closet, you’ll be able to record vocals, drums, guitar cabinets, or virtually any other audio source and be sure that you’re going to get a good sound out of it.
The only real downside to the WA87 is the fact that it is a large diaphragm condenser mic.
For large diaphragm microphones to sound the best on an acoustic guitar, they need to be a few feet away. This can cause complications if you are trying to record vocals and acoustic guitar simultaneously wow isolating each source from one another.
If you place this microphone 2 feet away from your guitar and start singing, it will pick up your vocals as well. This could become an inconvenience during mixed down when any effects place on the retard channel will also have an effect on the sound of the vocals. This is less of an issue when using a small diaphragm condenser microphone.
This is not exclusive to the WA 87, however. Any large diaphragm condenser microphone is going to present complications if you want to isolate sources from one another in the recording.
BLUE Dragonfly Microphone
The Blue Dragonfly is a large diaphragm condenser mic voiced specifically for acoustic instruments.
In addition to being voiced for sources such as acoustic guitars, its unusual shape helps to position it in even the most cramped quarters.
It has a cardioid pattern like the majority of the microphones in this list, which helps to focus its sound.
I’ve used this mic in the past. While I did like it on my acoustic guitar, I wasn’t a fan of it on my vocals. It may have been that it simply didn’t complement the unusual timbre of my voice…
I can wholeheartedly recommend it as a mic for your guitars, but I don’t think it is as versatile as the other mics in this list.
The Rode NTK was the first good condenser mic that I ever bought and I used it for years.
It is the only tube microphone in this list. It uses a 6922 twin-triode in its signal path and being a tube mic, it comes with a lunchbox-style power supply (see left).
The Rode NTK is Warm, but Detailed
Being a tube mic, it’s a warm-sounding microphone, but not to the point of sounding muffled. I found that it doesn’t have the hyped, cheap sound of some large diaphragm condenser mics in the sub $500 range. I’ve done records where we used this might as well as the road classic II (a U47-inspired design) and really couldn’t tell the difference at all between the two once we got all the instruments in the mix. Frankly, placing the microphone 2 inches further or closer to the instrument would have made a bigger difference then recording with this microphone versus a $2000 dollar Neumann.
Great Sound Considering the Price
If you’re looking for a tube mic in the $500 range, this is definitely a mic you should consider. I’ve used it on a lot of projects and I’ve always been happy with the acoustic guitar sound I captured with it. RODE makes phenomenal mics and you can be absolutely, 100% sure that you can get a professional level recording out of this microphone.
How comfortable are you with a soldering iron?
The MXL 990 is a usable, but not amazing sounding microphone out-of-the-box. It is, however, a great platform for modifications. I did another post where I actually did a modification of the MXL 990, be sure to check it out to see what’s involved.
How Does a Modded MXL 990 Sound?
When I was all done, I was extremely happy with the results. It sounds a lot like a TLM 103, which I’ve always considered to be a good sounding mic that would cost half the price of it didn’t have Neumann badge on the front of it.
All in, I spent about $250 between the microphone and the new capsule, and it sounds like thousand dollar mic. If you’re looking for an all-purpose large diaphragm condenser mic for under $500 and you feel comfortable with a soldering iron, I don’t think that you’re going to do any better. I’m not hyping it; it’s a really great sounding my once it’s been modded.
AKG C414 XLS
This is one of those classic mics that you see all over the place. I’ve used it in number of times in a number of studios and it’s a real Swiss Army knife when it comes to microphones. It has nine different pick up patterns that you can set, which will allow you to try all kinds of different placements when in recording acoustic instruments like the guitar. No other mic in this list is as versatile as the AKG C414.
If you can’t get a good acoustic sound out of this microphone, you are doing something wrong. With all of the different pick up patterns that it offers and the overall high-quality, you should be good to go.
Technically, this microphone costs just over $1000, but places like Musicians Friend are constantly running specials. If you take some time to search online for a coupon, you’re almost certain to be able to find a 10% or 15% off. If you manage to find one—as you should—the mic will be under $1000.
Wrapping It All Up
My List of the 10 Best Mics for Acoustic Guitar is:
- Rode Microphones NT55
- Neumann KM 184
- Audix F9
- Shure SM137
- Audio Technica Pro 37
- BLUE Dragonfly Microphone
- Rode NTK
- MXL 990 (Modded)
- AKG C414