How To Mic a Guitar Amp: An In-Depth Guide for Beginners
Creating and recording your own music has never been as easy as it is now, especially with the advancement of technology.
Today, all you need is a computer and the right set of software programs, and you’re good to go.
Gone were the days when you had to rent a professional studio to record and mix your track.
On the other hand, there are some who set up their own recording studio at home.
If this is the route you wish to take, you will need to learn how to mic a guitar amp. And for that, we’ve got your back.
What Does It Mean to Mic a Guitar Amp?
Back in the day, a home studio setup is almost impossible to do.
Guitarists and sound engineers would devote hours after hours dialing to get their preferred amp settings.
Then, they also had to choose the right microphones and set up each one to capture the sounds they wished to record.
Done correctly, you’d be able to record the sounds coming from the guitar and the room where you’re recording.
This is what’s called miking a guitar amp.
When figuring out how to do this, you’ll find no single rule to mic an amp. Instead, the guitar should be the one to adapt to the song.
Basically, miking an amp means using a quality mic to “hear” the speaker’s sound, which is a distinct part of an amp’s sound.
You do this to capture not only the sound of the speaker but also the sound of everything else in the room.
The Relationship Between Mic Positioning and Amp Tone
Miking an amp has much to do with the resonant frequencies of the cabinet and the harmonic overtones let out by the speaker.
As you can imagine, the sound produced will differ depending on several factors.
When it comes to setting up the mic, you’ll have to consider its distance to the speaker as well as how it is angled.
You’ll also have to think about where the mic is in relation to the center of the cone or the outer rim of the speaker.
These are the things you have to consider when trying to capture the essence of a full-band studio performance.
Distance of the Microphone to the Amp
The closer you put the mic to the amp, the more sounds it will pick up.
On the other hand, the farther you place it, the more it will pick up the sounds around the room.
With that in mind, it would be best to switch from a dynamic mic to a condenser mic if you wish to position the mic farther away from the amp.
Outer Rim of Speaker or Center of Amp’s Cone
There are three zones where you can place the microphone in relation to the amp’s cone.
Firstly, you have the center of the speaker called the dust cap, where you’ll find a lot of high-end frequencies.
Next is the middle part of the cone, which is where you will find a lot of mid-range frequencies.
Lastly, there’s the rim of the cone or where you’ll find high frequencies but with less mid-range frequencies.
Axis of the Microphone in Relation to the Amp
The microphone’s axis in relation to the amp dictates whether your tone will be brighter and clear or warmer and dark.
To put your microphone off-axis, do not place it 90 degrees in front of your speaker. Instead, have it pointed perpendicularly.
To get a darker and less aggressive tone, adjust your microphone to be more off-axis and vice-versa.
There is no strict way to position your microphone.
It is still best to experiment with it by moving your microphone around the amp until you get the sound you’re looking for.
What Type of Mic Can You Use?
By now, you should know the microphone placement techniques to produce the best sound.
How do you decide on the kind of microphone that best suits your playing and recording style?
Here are the most common types of mics used to record guitar amps:
Among the three, you will find that dynamic microphones are the least sensitive.
As such, they are perfect for snares, toms, bass pedals or guitar pedals, or any other loud sources.
Such mics can withstand bumps and bruises well and are very tough.
They are also the cheapest, so if you are on a tight budget, you should consider this type of mic for your setup.
When getting to know microphones, talking about their polar pattern is essential.
It dictates how a specific microphone type captures the sound and which direction it rejects sound.
You will find that a dynamic microphone has a cardioid polar pattern, also called a unidirectional polar pattern.
A unidirectional polar pattern on a mic means that it will only capture the sound where you point the microphone to.
That said, it will reject any sound coming from any other direction.
For this reason, you will often find dynamic microphones used in live performances. They are also the most common mic used for recording guitar amps.
Condenser microphones differ from dynamic mics because they have a more complex mechanism and are often more expensive.
Because they capture clearer frequencies, they give your sound a sweeter and more balanced finish than a dynamic mic.
However, you have to be cautious of significant blows of volume, as these can damage your device.
Condenser mics are available in many polar patterns. They can be unilateral, like a dynamic microphone, or have a figure-8 pattern.
This means they can capture sounds from both the back and front of the capsule.
Lastly, you can also find condenser mics with an omnidirectional polar pattern, picking up sounds from all directions: front, back, and sides.
A condenser mic with an omnidirectional polar pattern is ideal if you want to capture the sound of the room.
If you want a warm, vintage, kind of organic feel to your sound, a ribbon microphone is your best bet.
When using one, you’ll want to remember to be careful because they are the most sensitive type.
Ribbon microphones feature a figure-8 pattern. As such, they are the ideal choice for applying different techniques when recording.
One downside to using this type of mic is that you will have a more challenging time isolating your sound source.
What you can do to remedy this is to use both a dynamic microphone and a ribbon microphone.
This way, you can pick up the sounds from your amp.
How To Mic a Guitar Amp
As mentioned, there are no strict rules for recording electric guitars and miking them up.
Even if audio engineers have been doing it for many decades, you still have the freedom to do it however you like.
That said, several techniques have been used regularly in professional recording studios throughout the years.
Each technique will create a unique sound, and finding one that will suit your music should be your number one goal.
The following techniques have withstood the test of time, but use them only as a guide.
It would still be best to experiment with your setup so that you can achieve the sound you’re looking for.
Even a slight movement of the mic can drastically change the way it “hears” the amp.
Therefore, you have to listen intensely to notice how different mic placements impact your final product.
1. Point a dynamic mic to the center of an amp’s speaker cone.
When using a dynamic mic, place it pointed at the amp’s speaker cone, preferably at the center of it.
If there are two or more speakers, try your best to find the speaker that produces the best sound and point the microphone at it.
This particular placement produces a punchy sound.
Try to experiment with the mic’s placement and find what’s best for your taste.
Some musicians and engineers prefer placing the mic one-thirds toward the speaker’s rim.
2. Leave a distance of two feet in between.
Point the mic near the center of the speaker’s cone or exactly at its center, leaving a short distance between them.
Adding some distance will result in the mic “hearing” the mixed sound of the room and the amp.
Again, experiment with different distances.
Try placing the mic away from the amp by 10 inches first, then slowly move farther until you reach two feet.
When using a cardioid mic, adding some distance between the amp and mic will decrease some response from the bass.
3. Use a cardioid mic for a clean guitar sound.
When targeting a lot of high and mid frequencies, which is a good setup for a clean guitar sound, use a cardioid mic.
Generally speaking, the mic’s placement should be directed at the front of the speaker.
In some instances, you can place the mic a bit higher.
Adjust the microphone’s angle to 45 degrees from the front of the cabinet.
For this setup, you will want to have a distance of around eight to 12 inches in between.
4. Position large-diaphragm condenser mics at least three feet away.
When using condenser mics with a large diaphragm, try to mic them up at various distances from the amp.
You can start from three feet up to how long the room is. Again, experiment with the distances.
Condenser mics with a large diaphragm are ideal because they capture more on the low end.
Some condenser mics can switch to omni-directional.
If you’re using one, and you are in a square or rectangular room, try placing the amp around one or two feet away from a wall.
Then, place the mic at the center of the room. This is great for setups that need to hear a lot of room ambiance.
There is also a tendency to pick up environmental sounds, such as barking dogs or roaring vehicles outside.
5. Use two mics for an open-back amp.
If you happen to have an open-back amp and two mics, try to mic them up at both the front and the back of the amp.
For this, you can use two condenser mics, two dynamic mics, or even one dynamic and one condenser mic.
Remember to set the pattern to cardioid for your condenser microphone.
One of the microphones should be placed a bit to the left, while the other a bit to the right.
Make minor adjustments in the distance and position to find that sweet spot you like.
6. Using dynamic and condenser mics in one setup
Here is another technique that uses two mics. This one requires you to have one dynamic and one condenser microphone.
Put the dynamic microphone close to the speaker to allow the dynamic mic to “hear” the dry guitar sound.
Then, grab a condenser microphone with a cardioid pattern.
Place it at about six feet high and 10 feet away from the front of the amp.
Point the mic toward the middle of the cabinet of the speaker.
7. Experiment with different types of environments or rooms.
For instance, if you want a longer reverb, find a room with hard and reflective surfaces.
Carpeted rooms filled with furniture will have a shorter reverb time.
Most Common Techniques to Record Guitar Amp
There are unlimited ways to mic up your amp and achieve all sorts of sounds.
Below are the three most used techniques:
Using two microphones is the most common way to mic up an amp.
For this, you need two dynamic mics placed close to each other and pointed toward the speaker.
Be careful when placing the mics, as an inaccurate distance between each other and towards the amp may result in a thin sound.
X/Y Stereo Recording
If you want to achieve more clarity and depth in your music, this is the technique to use.
To do this, place two microphones at 90 to 135 degrees to make their capsules coincide at one single point.
You will find this setup commonly done when recording guitars, pianos, and drums.
Mid/Side Stereo Recording
The mid/side stereo recording is one of the more interesting techniques to experiment with.
You need one condenser mic with a figure-8 pattern and one dynamic mic with a cardioid pattern for this.
Place the dynamic cardioid mic in front of the amp. Then, the condenser figure-8 mic should be at a 90-degree angle from the amp.
Miking a Guitar Amp
Although we are in the computer era, learning how to mic a guitar amp is still a great way to capture all kinds of beautiful sounds.
With the correct techniques, your setup will be able to pick up both the tone of the amp and the room’s ambiance.
In the end, you will realize that the sound produced does not compare to the sound created when you directly connect your amp to the computer.