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The Shure SM58 is arguably the most iconic microphone ever made. A common site at any live music venue, these durable, quality microphones have been leading the way since the 60s making it the best selling microphone of all time.
Because so many people own one, or are able to buy one cheaply, people will often try and use it in the home studio for pretty much everything. So I often get asked the question, “can I use a Shure SM58 for recording guitar?”
You can use an SM58 for recording guitar with great results. It is particularly good for recording from a guitar amplifier due to it being a robust dynamic microphone that can deal with high volumes. Whilst it also works well for acoustic guitar a condenser microphone is usually the preferred option in that situation.
In this article, I will explain why it is a great choice for recording certain types of guitar along with some tips of how to get the most out of the sound.
What Type of Mic is the SM58?
There are two main types of microphone you are likely to come across in the home studio. These are dynamic and condenser microphones. If you want a detailed explanation of the difference between these two then check out this article I wrote on the topic.
The Shure SM58 is a dynamic microphone.
The older technology of the two, a dynamic microphone works by having a diaphragm (usually made of very thin plastic or polyester film) that moves when a soundwave hits it.
This diaphragm is attached to a metal coil that is suspended between two magnets.
As the coil moves due to a soundwave, it produces a small electrical current that can be transmitted down a cable and into an amplifier so you can hear it or record it.
Condenser microphones take some of the same technological principles as a dynamic microphone but with some key differences.
They still contain a diaphragm but in this case, it is usually a very thin sheet of metal. There is then a second piece of metal known as the ‘backplate’ An electrical current is applied to these metal plates (you may have heard of phantom power).
This technology means that compared to dynamic microphones, condenser microphones are much more sensitive and can pick up a greater range of frequencies.
There are other more specialist microphone types such as ribbon microphones. But until you get to an advanced level of recording, or you happen to find one in the back store room of an old abandoned music store then it is unlikely you will need to worry about how they work.
The Pros and Cons of Dynamic Microphones
After reading about the difference between dynamic and condenser microphones, you might be thinking a condenser microphone is always going to be the best option for recording anything.
But this is not necessarily true. Just because dynamic microphones such as the Shure SM58 have a cruder design doesn’t mean they aren’t better for some applications. In fact, it is because of this more rudimentary design that they are often a better choice.
Pros of the SM58
Tried and Trusted
Before I get onto the pros of the design. The main reason I still use SM58s and other Shure microphones in my home studio is that they are a tried and trusted mic.
You know you are getting something of great quality. There is a reason it is still one of the more popular microphones available even after all these years.
Dynamic microphones such as the SM58 are not as sensitive to loud sounds and sudden changes in volume.
If you play heavy distorted electric guitar, or really any amplified electric guitar, this is very likely to happen.
A condenser microphone is likely to cause issues when placed close to an amplifier and blasted with loud riffs. Even damaging the delicate mechanism if you are not careful.
The SM58 is basically bullet proof. This is why they are so widely used in a live setting. You can knock them about a bit, even drop them (although I don’t advise you try) and they will probably still work years later.
Dynamic microphones such as the Shure SM58 tend to be cheaper and with the SM58 having been around for such as long time there are plenty available second hand. I just bought another one on eBay for a bargain price myself as you can never have enough.
It’s directional (cardioid)
Having a directional microphone gives you the advantage that you won’t pick up too many unwanted ‘room noises’ such as echo.
The SM58 will only really pick up the sound that is coming straight at it. So this is ideal when you put it in front of a guitar amp and you haven’t spent thousands of dollars sound proofing your room yet.
Cons of the SM58
They don’t capture sound as accurately as a condenser
Before you buy a SM58 consider what you will be using it for.
If you are recording softer, cleaner sounds without lots of distortion or changes in volume a condenser microphone may be a better choice.
But it isn’t really a matter of dynamic or condenser microphones being better or worse than one another. They are just used for different applications.
So with that in mind when would you use a Shure SM58 for recording guitar?
Using an SM58 to Record a Guitar Amp
In my home studio (and in many professional studios too) Shure dynamic microphones are the default microphones for recording electric guitar from an amplifier.
I know the sound quality is going to be great and the dynamic design is able to capture loud distorted or overdriven sounds without causing clipping or damaging the microphone.
I can place them right up against the speaker and crank the volume right up and the result still sounds really impressive.
Using an SM58 for Acoustic Guitar?
This is the one time when the Shure SM58 may not be the best solution for recording guitar.
Although it is entirely possible to get a decent recording sound a dynamic microphone. It won’t capture subtle dynamic changes and softer more delicate notes of an acoustic guitar. Certainly not as well as a condenser microphone, would.
With an acoustic guitar not played through an amp, you are less likely to have those loud sounds or quick volume changes.
So for acoustic guitar and softer, cleaner electric guitar tones it may be worth considering a condenser microphone for recording.
But that said if you are on a budget and you want a microphone that can do everything, the SM58 will still do a great job and you can always tweak the tone and EQ in you DAW too.
Is a Shure SM58 the same as the Shure SM57?
This is a question I get asked a lot. The Shure SM57 is another commonly used microphone and is probably more likely to be seen for recording guitar than the SM58. But is there actually any difference between the two? If you already own a SM58 do you have to buy an SM57 too?
Well not really. They are pretty much the identical microphone. They are both dynamic cardioid microphones. The main difference is the metal grill on the top of the SM58.
This metal grill is there as the SM58 is designed primarily for vocals and so it acts as a bit of a shield for those plosive sounds (the popping you get when you say words containing the letter p).
But besides the metal grill there really isn’t’ much difference. People will argue about slightly different tones and there is a slight difference in the output frequencies of the two.
To the trained ear this can result in a slightly more bass-heavy tone from the SM58. This can sound better initially but can cause issues when mixing making things a little muddier.
The SM57 also has a slightly tighter cardioid pattern. I.e it picks up less sound from the room and so has a slight advantage there.
But really I can’t tell the difference most of the time and I don’t think it is worth spending the extra money on the SM57 if you already have an SM58.
Should I Take the Capsule Off the SM58 to Record Guitar?
So after I have just explained that the SM58 is basically the SM57 with a metal capsule screwed on the top, should you simply take that off to record?
Well you can do yes. This will allow you to place the microphone slightly closer to the speaker on the amplifier and therefore capture less room noise.
I personally tend to just leave the capsule on as I’m lazy and it provides a little bit more protection to stop me accidentally damaging it.
As with anything in the home studio, give both options a try and see what sounds best.
How to Position the SM58 for Recording
With a cardoid (directional) microphone like the SM58 you want to be pointing towards where the sound is coming from. So that is the speaker on the amp.
If you have multiple speakers in a cabinet for example then test them all. Weirdly, a lot of amps have one speaker that sounds better than another (don’t ask me why!).
You don’t want to point directly at the centre of the speaker though. Point about half way between the central point and the edge of the speaker. Leave a slight gap (around 1cm) between the mic and speaker, you don’t want to be touching it.
This is just a starting point though. Move it around and monitor the sound you are getting. If it is too bass-heavy, try moving it back a bit. If you are getting too many mid-tones then move more towards the edge of the speaker.
There are no exact instructions here as every amp is different. Just keep experimenting until you get a tone you like.
For an acoustic don’t aim it straight at the air hole as you may get unwanted ‘booming’ sounds. Aim it slightly at the neck above the hole.
Alternatives to the Shure SM58
I’m a big fan of the Shure microphones and I own 3 SM58s alone. That said, there are now loads of great alternatives out there and the Shure SM58 may not hold onto the crown as the most popular choice forever.
For Recording Guitar Amps
As discussed, a cardoid dynamic microphone is probably the best option for you when recording a guitar from the amp.
If you have lots of money (around $800) and you want the very best then that is probably the Sennheiser 441. This is probably the most expensive high end microphone you can buy for this purpose. But I doubt many of you reading this will want to stretch to that so a great alternative from the same company is the E609.
The E609 is a supercardoid microphone so it will only pick up sound from a very narrow field in front of it, minimising that annoying ‘room bleed’. This is ideal for use on a guitar amplifier.
For Acoustic Guitar
As mentioned already, a condenser microphone is probably a better option for acoustic guitar than a dynamic microphone like the Shure SM58.
But even once you have decided on a condenser there are still other points to consider.
The main decision you will be faced with is large diaphragm vs small diaphragm.
The difference in the size of the diaphragm will affect the tone of your recording.
Again it depends what you are after and what tone you prefer. Want a warmer tone with more low end then consider a large diaphragm microphone such as the Samson C01 which is a quality affordable mic.
If you want to capture ore of the high end tones of the acoustic then consider a small diaphragm mic like the Audio Technica Pro 37.
Shure dynamic microphones are the most popular microphones ever made for good reason. They are reliable, robust and sound great.
If you already own one and want to use it to record guitar then give it a go. I’m sure you will be pleased with the results. But equally if you are thinking about buying one then they are a great addition to any home studio.
Just think about what the main purpose you will be using it is and then select microphone type accordingly. Unfortunately there isn’t a microphone that will do every single job perfectly.