Recording acoustic instruments can be a ton of fun. There’s intimacy in having an artist simply sit down with their acoustic guitar and play. Because there aren’t many moving parts from a technical perspective, you have more energy to focus on performance and nuance. That’s when the real challenge (and fun) begins! For those recording at home, finding the best mic for acoustic guitar can be daunting. Thankfully, you don’t need access to a high-end mic locker to capture excellent acoustic recordings!
What is the best mic for recording acoustic guitar?
That’s the age-old question that us gear junkies have, isn’t it? What is the best ‘x’ for accomplishing ‘y’? The real answer to this question is that there is no ‘best’ anything; sure, there are long-running favorites that engineers have relied on for years, but recording music is far too subjective an experience to claim a be-all-end-all. There are so many factors involved, from how the performer plays, the song itself, the instrument used, how the room sounds, the engineer and the artist’s personal sonic preferences, and on, and on.
With all of those other variables to consider, it almost makes mic choice seem trivial. In some ways it is, because talented engineers have been getting amazing results with little to nothing for decades. And in other ways it’s very important, based on tried-and-true acoustic guitar recording methods. Before we dive into our picks for the best mics, we’ll briefly discuss fundamental acoustic guitar recording techniques.
Recording Acoustic Guitar
Most engineers like to record acoustic guitar in high detail using some form of stereo miking. X/Y is easy enough to set up and makes use of cardioid mics, so you don’t have to worry about having multiple polar patterns on more expensive microphones. That’s one way to record acoustic guitar with richness and width.
Small diaphragm condensers are also a popular choice for acoustic guitar and other acoustic instruments because they tend to be very detailed in the way they capture sound. They also work beautifully as a pair for stereo recording, so SDCs are going to be at the top of the list for acoustic guitar.
Now here’s where things start to get ambiguous again, because certain dynamic mics, and of course large diaphragm condensers, are great for recording acoustic guitar as well. Dynamics are more genre-dependent, though; they’re insensitive and less detailed than a condenser, but would work great for someone doing heavy strumming. Of course, LDCs work on anything and everything. Usually one LDC placed anywhere between the bridge and the bottom of the neck to taste works well on acoustic guitar.
Best Mic for Acoustic Guitar Under $1000
There are plenty of options under $1000. Many can even be purchased in pairs for less than a grand. These are a handful of the top picks for the home recorder!
The Shure SM81 small diaphragm condenser is designed for acoustic guitarists first and foremost. Shure kindly opens the door for use on piano and drum overheads or hi-hats too, but this thing really gets it done on guitar. It’s pretty simple in terms of features; it’s a fixed cardioid mic with low self-noise, high SPL tolerance, and a switchable high-pass filter. From there, it’s just point and shoot!
The ubiquitous 451 is one of the most famous small diaphragm condensers of all time. It’s primarily noted for being a fantastic hi-hat or cymbals mic, and strangely enough, what tends to work on parts of a drum set also tends to work on acoustic guitar. Even though the two instruments seem worlds apart in terms of sound, the fundamental goal of recording either is to capture transients and high-end sheen in great detail and clarity. Thus, the 451 makes for an excellent acoustic guitar mic, whether alone or (better yet) as a stereo pair.
Here’s another straightforward SDC with a reputation for sounding great and being very affordable. This one has a smooth frequency response across most of the spectrum until it reaches a modest boost in the highs for some added presence and air. Depending on your taste, that extra little bit of kick in the top end could sound phenomenal when capturing all the details and nuance of an acoustic guitar.
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What can we say about the SM57 that hasn’t already been said? It’s easily in the top three (top two?) most famous microphones ever made. Since its debut, the 57 has likely played a part in just about every record ever made. Reputation aside, we don’t often consider this dynamic mic a great choice for quieter, more subtle acoustic instruments.
Even though the rugged and brash SM57 isn’t the best for recording the most detailed and nuanced performances, it’s still an awesome choice for someone who strums aggressively. The 57’s presence boost works well enough, and you can even use proximity effect to your advantage to give a thinner sounding guitar more body.
The 214 shares DNA with the iconic 414 in a more affordable package. If you know anything about 414s, you’d know that they’re one of the most favored and versatile LDCs apart from the venerable Neumann U87. The 214 is definitely on par in terms of sound quality, though it lacks some of the extra features found in its big brother. Thankfully that’s no compromise when recording acoustic guitar, making the 214 one of the top choices in large diaphragm condenser microphones.
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Lewitt LCT 240 Pro
The Lewitt LCT 240 Pro is an unbelievable utility mic for entry-level recording. Lewitt themselves note that it ‘excels on acoustic guitar,’ but works great on a variety of different sources. It’s one of the most affordable Swiss Army LDCs you can add to your home studio collection. Like some of the other mics in this selection, it boasts a reasonably flat frequency response until about 3k where it begins to climb, centering on a large 8k boost. This extra presence and top-end glimmer is great for flattering a shimmery acoustic guitar performance.
This guy is an impressive LDC almost tailor made for acoustic guitar. With features exceeding its price, the LA-220 comes with switchable high-pass and low-pass filters at 120 Hz and 12 kHz respectively. Recording acoustic guitar means you may contend with low-end boominess and high-end harshness, which these filters take head-on. The overall design is inspired by vintage classics, with more modern noise-free components and a price tag that anyone can afford.
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The best mic for acoustic guitar isn’t just one! There’s a whole massive world of microphones out there, and we’ve chosen but a few to share based on what tends to work when recording acoustic instruments. Most of the time small diaphragm condensers sound great, especially in stereo pairs. Large diaphragm condensers make a perfect single-mic choice, though they can be used for stereo recording as well.