You practice day and night to get the right tone and timing on your guitar. You purchase a long list of gears to help you achieve your desired effects at every turn. You might even have your own recording equipment to let others hear what you have been working on. Now you just have to set things up to capture the music. Contrary to popular belief, this isn’t as simple as putting a mic in front of a guitar amp and letting it rip. If you don’t plan this carefully, then you might end up with a distorted record.
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Using just one tiny amp means that you can pinpoint your sound source. Find where the speaker is located by shining a flashlight in front of the device. Place the mic close to the speaker grill. The gap should be no more than a few centimeters for the best results. As for the distance to the center, put the mic right in the middle if you want to hear a bright tone. Adjust to the edges to make it darker and muddier, which may work well for certain types of songs and styles. Experiment with the positioning and hear the difference.
Armed with this knowledge, you can troubleshoot relevant problems on the fly. If you like a bright tone but you are getting a muddy one, then you can simply move the mic an inch or so closer to the center and marvel at the resulting change. You might even want to try doing short recording at various mic positions so that you can listen in and determine the ideal settings. Just make sure that you are taking notes and placing markers so that you can redo the exact settings the work later on.
If you don’t have much time, then just two or three positional experiments should suffice. Take pictures of the setup every take with your phone to make them easier to remember. Use a stable mic stand with the right height so that you won’t have to fiddle with this aspect too much. Remember that even a slight variance in positioning can result in massive divergence. You are dealing with an amplifier, after all. Be extra careful with every step and your efforts will be rewarded.
In most situations, the mic is placed at a very close distance to the guitar amp. It usually provides the best sound but sometimes you want a different kind of aural experience. For example, you can move the mic away from the amp by a few feet and get a more atmospheric sound as if the guitar was just part of a faint chorus in the background. There are songs in which this kind of trick can do wonders. Of course, going too far might drown out the sound and almost make it indistinguishable. Again, this will call for a bit of trial and error. Try to enjoy the process of learning as you might discover neat tricks along the way.
If you are going to record in a home studio or other similarly small venues, then consider using a small amp instead of a big one. Having an array of powerful amps may be impressive in live outdoor concerts but they don’t work well for recording situations. By using diminutive amps, you can have a better handle on where the sound is coming from and how you can adjust the mic to get your desired tone. You will also be able to get the speakers to break at a reasonable volume, if you want this effect, instead of pushing the decibels too high.
Use a dynamic mic for studio recording. This is a must if you want professional output. It’s hard to fix things later in the studio when the raw recording itself is bad due to the mic. Stick to respected brands such as Shure, Audix, and Sontronics. You can also ask around if you know other guitarists who have been recording for a while. Forums are also filled with helpful musicians willing to share their experience.
You are likely to spend a decent amount for a high quality dynamic microphone. Don’t hesitate with this as it is worth every penny. Features to look for include compact windscreens, solid build quality, and good EQ response. If you have a tight budget, then look for used mics from good brands. Make sure to deal with a trusted seller because there are plenty of fakes in the second-hand market.
Indeed, you might even want to consider using dual mics in your setup. You might use the same mic models or two different ones. See how your combinations sound. You might be in for a pleasant surprise. Imagine having two tones as if you have two guitars playing together in the recording. Just be sure to consider possible phase issues as this can be detrimental to the output. This configuration works best with the mics located at roughly the same distance from the cab.
All of these might sound overwhelming if you are just learning how to mic a guitar amp. However, it can actually be a fun educational experience to set things up for the first time. Take as much time as you need and perform as many experiments as you want. Record, compare, and note the effects of each change.