The Best Microphones for Recording Acoustic Guitar - Small & Large Diaphraghm

The Highest Rated Acoustic Guitar Mics
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The acoustic guitar is the most popular musical instrument in the world. Knowing how to record this popular instrument is a fundamental skill in audio engineering as it teaches you concepts like proximity, phase, and tonality to name a few. Technologies have been developed to amplify and record the instrument such as acoustic guitar pickups but many engineers still prefer using microphones.

Choosing the right microphone can be a challenge especially with so many on the market today. And among those, not every mic complements the sound of the acoustic guitar. Some microphones have frequency responses that sound great with vocals but end up making acoustic guitar sound brittle or thin.

To help you in selecting microphones, we went ahead and did the research to come up with our recommended list of mics for recording acoustics. While you can technically use any mic for recording, we delved deeper into reviews, community sentiment and expert opinions on which mics work best with the instrument.

The Best Mics for Recording Acoustic Guitar

Author & Contributors

Raphael PulgarRaphael Pulgar

An audio engineer of 20 years who specializes in rock and metal recordings, he also plays guitar and produces original music for his band and other content creators.

Best Small Diaphragm Condenser Mics for Recording Acoustic Guitar

Audio-Technica ATM450

95
GEARANK

95 out of 100. Incorporating 90+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$279
Audio-Technica ATM450 Cardioid Condenser Instrument Microphone

The Audio-Technica ATM450 is an affordable cardioid condenser mic designed specifically for high SPL (Sound Pressure Level) sources like drums, cymbals, amplifier cabinets and more, but it has enough sensitivity to capture the nuances of acoustics.

This sensitivity, coupled with its side address design, allows for different placement options.

The ATM450 features a built-in 80Hz hi-pass filter and a switchable 10dB pad.

Specifications:

  • Polar Pattern: Cardioid
  • Frequency Response: 40Hz-18kHz
  • Impedance:200 ohms
  • Max SPL: 152dB
  • Power Requirements: +48V

Pros

Users praise the ATM450 for its versatility though noteworthy comments on usage with acoustic guitar include smooth sounding captures that blend well with a full band mix. The side-address design also helps minimize bleed in the case of recording guitars simultaneously with vocals.

Cons

There are a few who feel that the low-end is lacking, but this can be remedied by closer proximity or EQ.

Overall

If you're looking for a great, all-rounder microphone that records acoustic guitar with a bit of smoothness and neutrality, the ATM450 by Audio-Technica is a great pick.

Audio-Technica ATM450 Frequency Response and Polar Pattern Charts:

Audio-Technica ATM450 frequency response chart

Shure SM81

97
GEARANK

97 out of 100. Incorporating 350+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$349
Shure SM81 Small Diaphragm Cardioid Condenser Microphone

The Shure SM81 tops our list of small-diaphragm condensers with its impressive ratings.

This cardioid condenser microphone continues to please users and experts everywhere with its transparent and clear sound that's comparable to premium tube microphones.

Because of its small diaphragm design, the SM81 is lighter (1.63 lbs) and easy to position than most microphones of this design.

It handles loud sound sources better with a max SPL (sound pressure level) of 136dB (146dB w/ the built-in Pad), and as such it captures the nuances of acoustic guitars much better - be it during loud strumming or when carefully fingerpicking.

This also makes it capable of handling acoustic guitar amplifiers and other loud instruments.

Specifications:

  • Polar Pattern: Cardioid
  • Frequency Response: 20Hz-20kHz
  • Impedance: 150 ohms
  • Max SPL: 136dB (146dB w/Pad)
  • Power Requirements: +48V

Pros

The usual downside of small diaphragm mics is its lack of frequency response, but this doesn't seem to be very noticeable with the SM81, with its frequency response of 20Hz-20kHz. Reviews are consistent in saying that the SM81 gives you more sound quality per dollar than similarly priced microphones.

Cons

It's really hard to find fault with it, especially for acoustic guitars, other than its natural limitation of not having the same low frequency emphasis as large-diaphragm mics.

Overall

Retaining the top most spot in this list for a long time now is quite the feat, and looking at current data, there's no reason to believe that it'll be dropping from the #1 spot anytime soon. The Shure SM81 is highly recommended for acoustic guitar and beyond.

Shure SM81 Frequency Response Chart:

Shure SM81 frequency response chart

Shure SM81 Polar Pattern Chart:

Shure SM81 polar pattern chart

Neumann KM 184

95
GEARANK

95 out of 100. Incorporating 100+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$829
Neumann KM 184 Small Diaphragm Condenser Microphone

The Neumann KM 184 is a pencil style small-diaphragm condenser that can rival the sensitivity of large-diaphragm mics, while retaining high SPL handling.

It has a frequency range of 20Hz to 20kHz, which is similar to large-diaphragm mics, and this allows for more detailed sound capture that many users appreciate.

Neumann emphasizes its minimal off-axis coloration; a great feature for recording acoustic guitars with a matched pair in an x-y or near-coincident formation.

Specifications:

  • Polar Pattern: Cardioid
  • Frequency Response: 20Hz-20kHz
  • Impedance: 50 ohms
  • Max SPL:138dB
  • Power Requirements: +48V

Pros

As expected from Neumann, this mic has premium build quality and feel. High input gain proved to be no problem with its supremely quiet operation. There are many reports of it working well with acoustic guitars especially with stereo miking techniques. It also gets a lot of thumbs up for how good it works with orchestral instruments, hi-hats, cymbals, and even vocal choirs. Some even go so far as claim that the Neumann KM184 is the best pencil style condenser microphone, and we understand where they are coming from, especially when most users agree.

Cons

There are no common issues to report on, other than the price, but those who wisely invested in the Neumann KM 184 are more than satisfied with what they got.

Overall

Not just great for single miking, Neumann has hit a home run for stereo recording with the KM 184. Its phase integrity and tolerance are its best selling points as using a matched pair makes for great sounding acoustic guitar recordings in stereo.

Neumann KM 184 Frequency Response and Polar Pattern Charts:

Neumann KM 184 frequency response chart

Budget Small Diaphragm Condenser

Shure PGA181

93
GEARANK

93 out of 100. Incorporating 100+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$94
Shure PGA181 Condenser Microphone

The Shure PGA181 is a versatile, side address mic with a frequency response that complements a wide variety of sound sources.

Design-wise it is unlike the usual small diaphragm "pencil" form factor. Instead, it uses a side-address design more common with large diaphragm condensers. This gives the mic positioning options more similar to large diaphragm condensers.

Specifications:

  • Polar Pattern: Cardioid
  • Frequency Response: 50Hz-20kHz
  • Impedance:120 ohms
  • Max SPL: 138 dB
  • Power Requirements: +48V

Pros

The PGA181 is hailed as a "Jack of all trades" mic by many users. On acoustic guitar specifically, the sound is best suited for capturing near the bridge or near the neck joint and helps tighten up big bodied acoustic guitars. For single mic use along with singing, it captures a nice balance between instrument and vocals.

Cons

The mic is noted as heavy by some users, tipping some mic stands over. To address this, we recommend using a solid Mic Stand.

Overall

The PGA181 is a versatile microphone that you can use for both your acoustic guitar and vocals (as well as other instruments). Get it if you want a great do-it-all mic at this price.

Shure PGA181 Frequency Response and Polar Pattern Charts:

Shure PGA181 frequency response chart
Shure PGA181 polar pattern chart

Best Large Diaphragm Condenser Mics for Recording Acoustic Guitar

Neumann TLM 102

97
GEARANK

97 out of 100. Incorporating 475+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$699
Neumann TLM102 Studio Microphone with Standmount

Despite being far from "cheap", the TLM 102 is Neumann's most affordable offering in its lineup.

It carries the sound and legacy of the famed manufacturer in a stripped-down but uncompromised package.

It is slightly smaller than most large diaphragm condensers and significantly lighter.

It only has one polar pattern and no pad switches. This doesn't mean Neumann skimped on materials and sound quality, though. The transformerless circuitry draws many similarities from its more expensive brethren and provides a clean sound with a slight lift starting at around 6khz to present more details, especially for acoustic guitar.

Specifications:

  • Polar Pattern: Cardioid
  • Frequency Response: 20Hz-20kHz
  • Impedance:50 ohms
  • Max SPL: 144 dB
  • Power Requirements: +48V

Pros

Many users immediately heard the difference in their recordings when they used the TLM 102 for the first time. The TLM's small size and light weight mean that positioning around an acoustic guitar player is easy since the boom arm won't tip the stand over. Sound-wise, the slight high frequency lift adds detail to strummed acoustic guitar, making the sound ideal for use in dense mixes to emphasize the rhythmic nature of the instrument. For classical guitars, the dynamic range and clarity help with bringing out every small nuance from a performer.

Cons

The price was seen as a barrier to entry for some. The lack of features was a necessary tradeoff to bring the price down as low as Neumann can but users noted that they'd gladly pay a little extra for at least a dB pad.

Overall

Few mics at this price point call upon the heritage and technology of their higher priced namesakes. While Neumann's more expensive offerings offer luxury and class akin to a Rolls Royce or Maybach, the TLM 102 is a minimal, sporty coupe that's ready to take on any recording project. Acoustic guitars shine with the TLM 102, with the top end and transients taking center stage. Get it if you want to dip your toes into higher-end microphones.

Neumann TLM 102 Frequency Response and Polar Pattern Charts:

Neumann TLM 102 frequency response chart

Audio-Technica AT4050

95
GEARANK

95 out of 100. Incorporating 200+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$699
Audio-Technica AT4050 Studio Condenser Microphone

The AT4050 is Audio-Technica's upper tier large diaphragm condenser mic.

Aimed at getting every nuance from your sound source, the AT4050 employs dual diaphragms that are gold-vaporised and aged for consistency.

Transformerless circuitry ensures no low frequency distortion and fast transient response.

It also features three switchable polar patterns (Cardioid, Omnidirectional, Figure-of-eight), switchable 80 Hz hi-pass filter and 10 dB pad.

Specifications:

  • Polar Pattern: Cardioid, Omnidirectional, Figure-of-eight
  • Frequency Response: 20Hz-18kHz
  • Impedance:100 ohms
  • Max SPL: 149 dB
  • Power Requirements: +48V

Pros

One of the main reasons for this mic's popularity is how neutral it sounds. Users pick this mic for capturing sound sources that they want to remain as unembellished as possible for their raw tracks. On acoustic guitar, the neutral midrange coupled with a rich low frequency range help great sounding acoustic guitars maintain their character on record. They also note that for folk singers, the AT4050 as a guitar mic works well with another mic positioned to capture vocals.

Cons

Some reviews note that the neutral sound feels "bland" and needs more processing in post to get it to sound the way they want.

Overall

If you want a mic that works well on solo folk performances or a neutral sounding mic for capturing great sounding instruments as they are, the AT4050 is a great pick.

AT4050 Frequency Response and Polar Pattern Charts:

AT4050 cardioid frequency response chart
AT4050 omni frequency response chart
AT4050 figure 8 frequency response chart

Budget Large Diaphragm Condenser

MXL 770

94
GEARANK

94 out of 100. Incorporating 1700+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$80
MXL 770 Cardioid Condenser Microphone

While promotional material and reviews note the MXL 770 to be a Small Diaphragm Condenser mic, the 0.87" capsule is closer to the usual 1" measurement of Large Diaphragm microphones.

Nevertheless the MXL 770 is a multi-purpose condenser microphone designed to suit a variety of recording situations at an affordable price.

Internally, it features a a 6-micron, 20-mm gold-sputtered diaphragm. and atransformerless FET preamp design with wiring made by cable giant Mogami.

Specifications:

  • Polar Pattern: Cardioid
  • Frequency Response: 30Hz-20kHz
  • Impedance:150 ohms
  • Max SPL:137 dB
  • Power Requirements: +48V

Pros

Cheap condensers usually have a harsh top end to compensate for the lack of harmonic richness in those frequencies. The MXL 770 does not artificially boost the high end on recordings, making it a surprisingly smooth sounding microphone. Many users note that at this price point, it is rare for a condenser not to have that brittle high end.

Cons

There were some concerns about the long term durability of the mic. However, some of the malfunctions were caused by drops or improper handling.

Overall

The MXL 770 continues to be one of the best value condenser mics in the market today. If you are on a budget and you need a good do-all mic, the MXL 770 is a safe choice.

MXL 770 Frequency Response and Polar Pattern Charts:

MXL 770 frequency response chart

Best Dynamic Mics for Recording Acoustic Guitar

Shure SM57

96
GEARANK

96 out of 100. Incorporating 5900+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$99
Shure SM57 Dynamic Cardioid Microphone

Capable of recording almost anything, the Shure SM57 is arguably one of the most versatile microphones on the market.

While it is most commonly used with miking up snares, electric guitar amplifiers and sometimes vocals, the SM57 is equally adept at recording acoustic guitar.

Veteran audio engineer Sylvia Massy uses it on acoustic guitar for a "dry, woody and percussive sound."

Specifications:

  • Polar Pattern: Cardioid
  • Frequency Response:40Hz-15kHz
  • Impedance: 310 ohms
  • Max SPL: 149 dB

Pros

The SM57 is usually used to capture more of the strumming and plucking sound of the acoustic guitar rather than the tone. It makes a great complementary mic to condenser mics, adding percussiveness and attack. On it's own, users note that they preferred the SM57 for acoustic guitars that will be layered into dense mixes.

Cons

The downside of accenting attack is a reduced emphasis on sustain and tone. Users note that the SM57 is not good at capturing solo acoustic guitar performances.

Overall

If you need a mic that can capture the percussive nature of acoustic guitar, the SM57 is the right tool for the job. Its pros however may be outweighed by the cons during solo/folk recordings.

Shure SM57 Frequency Response and Polar Pattern Charts:

Shure SM57 Frequency Response Chart

Shure SM57/SM58 Polar Pattern Chart

Sennheiser MD 421-II

96
GEARANK

96 out of 100. Incorporating 475+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$400
Sennheiser MD421 Dynamic Instrument Microphone

Although designed with loud sound sources in mind, the Sennheiser MD 421-II's large capsule (for a dynamic mic) enables it to capture nuances better than most dynamic mics.

While the SM57 dynamic mic emphasizes percussiveness, the MD 421-II has a richer and smoother sound which brings out the bass strings more on acoustic guitars.

Specifications:

  • Polar Pattern: Cardioid
  • Frequency Response: 30Hz-17kHz
  • Impedance: 200 ohms
  • Max SPL: 160 dB
  • Power Requirements: +48V

Pros

Reviewers that used the MD 421-II on guitars note that it works well with playing styles involving a lot of low string plucks. The mic adds girth to to larger bodied acoustics and fattens up smaller, thinner sounding instruments. Rhythmic techniques like body taps are also accentuated, making a convincing kickdrum-like thump to these styles.

Cons

Many still dislike the MD 421-II's mic clip design. There are third party accessories that address this but do note that any modifications done to your mic will void the warranty.

Overall

For rhythmic guitar playing as popularized by players like Andy McKee, the MD 421-II is sure to add some thump to your performances. The mic's frequency response also adds body to smaller acoustic guitars.

Sennheiser MD 421-II Frequency Response chart:

Sennheiser MD 421-IIfrequency response chart

Best Ribbon Mic for Recording Acoustic Guitar

Royer R-121 Ribbon Microphone

96
GEARANK

96 out of 100. Incorporating 70+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$1295
Royer R-121 Studio Ribbon Microphone

Rounding out this list is the Royer R-121 Ribbon microphone, and deservingly so because for a 1K+ priced item, it continues to receive positive ratings and reviews, outscoring others that are cheaper and more accessible.

The ability of ribbon mics to capture ambience may not be a good thing for some home studios, but experts and professionals find this feature important especially when injecting life and soul to a track.

This "open" sound makes it ideal for acoustic guitars, resulting in professional quality and natural sounding recordings.

Specifications:

  • Polar Pattern: Figure-8
  • Frequency Response: 30Hz-15kHz
  • Impedance: 300 ohms
  • Max SPL: 135dB (20Hz)
  • Power Requirements: +48V

Pros

Users and experts comment that the R-121 has excellent sound quality and build quality, and that its premium price tag is truly justified with some even saying that their high expectations are exceeded. Reviewers also noted the mic's ability to reproduce fine details of high frequency sounds better, making this one ideal for fingerpickers and strummers alike - even John Mayer was spotted using this mic on one of his YouTube live performance videos. And since it comes with a genuine Ribbon design with max SPL of 135dB, it can be used to capture high SPL sources like guitar amps, trumpets and other instruments. The frequency response is a bit different compared to conventional ones, at 30Hz-15kHz. Weight is fairly standard at 0.54lbs so positioning is easy.

Cons

Obviously the price is too high for many, but those that can afford it continue to give it their wholehearted thumbs up.

Overall

Ready for a top-tier mic for your acoustic guitar recordings? The Royer R-121 is ubiquitous in big studios for a reason: it's an amazing microphone that makes acoustic guitars sound natural and "in the room" thanks to its ribbon mic design.

Royer R-121 Frequency Response and Polar Pattern Charts:

Royer R-121 frequency response chart

Things to Consider When Buying an Acoustic Guitar Mic

  • Diaphragm

    Since acoustic guitars produce similar frequencies to vocals, large diaphragm condenser microphones work great with them. These are widely available and versatile, making them a practical option, ideal for first timers and those working to a budget. The only downside would be the size especially for models with a shockmount. Removing the shock mount may be a hassle if it's your only mic for both acoustic guitar and vocals. Keeping it on for acoustic guitar may limit your positioning options.

    Small diaphragm condenser mics and ribbon mics, with their high frequency response and high SPL capabilities, work considerably well with the acoustic guitar's inherent treble emphasis and varying dynamics . As such they remain to be the professional's choice, as evidenced by their presence in many performance stages and recording studios. While they are not advisable for for use as an all-around mic, they are ideal extra mics that can be used for acoustic guitars, miking other instruments and for adding space and realism to recordings. Small Diaphraghm mics tend to have more low frequency roll-off than their large diaphraghm counterparts which makes them more suited for use multi-miked recordings. A spaced pair with one pointed at the soundhole and one near the bridge can compensate for the low frequency loss as well as provide an option for more detail in strumming. Using X-Y or near-coincident mic patterns with small diaphraghm condensers produces better stereo recordings than a spaced pair of large diaphragm condensers and are easier to position.

  • Polar Pattern

    Cardioid is the most common polar pattern used on mic designs, because of its simplicity and effectiveness. It is especially great for capturing single sound sources like acoustic instruments, where you just move the mic around to find the sweet spot and start capturing. Still, it won't hurt to have mics with multiple patterns because they can be useful for other purposes, like when capturing multiple instruments that play simultaneously. Do take note that different mics may have the same polar patern but have different sensitivities at varying degrees of capture. Some may be suited for miking directly in front while others are better for capturing the room.

  • dB Pads

    Pads allow microphones to better handle loud sound sources, especially when positioned up close. And since volume and dynamics vary from player to player, mics with pads allow for easy compatibility and positioning.

  • Reliability

    These days, most condenser mics are built like tanks with tough metal exteriors, but it still pays to check the specs and pictures to see if the mic is solid. This is important because miking acoustic guitars require a bit more repositioning than when miking vocals, so there's always the tendency of bumping or falling off. As with all electronic devices, do handle with reasonable care.

Acoustic Guitar Mic Selection Methodology

The first edition was published in 2016 and the latest edition was published on April 24, 2021.

Our methodology for this guide is a bit different from most of the gear guides on gearank.com. While our recommendations are usually based on product ratings, in this case we used a combination of professional judgement and ratings.

We created a short-list of 42 mics that we know from experience have properties that are well suited to recording acoustic guitars, and which other audio engineers have also indicated as being suitable in their reviews.

For this April 2021 edition we ended up examining over 29,600 reviews, ratings and forum comments; both with the Gearank Algorithm to produce rating scores out of 100 and to report on each recommended mic's pros and cons when it comes to recording acoustic guitars. Our top picks were then sorted according to type for this guide. For more information about our methods see How Gearank Works.

About the Author and Contributors

Here are the key people and sources involved in this guide's production - click on linked names for information about their music industry backgrounds.

Lead Author & Researcher

Raphael PulgarRaphael Pulgar

An audio engineer of 20 years who specializes in rock and metal recordings, he also plays guitar and produces original music for his band and other content creators.

Aside from endlessly window shopping and watching hours of gear reviews for leisure, he enjoys playing competitive FPS games, MMORPGs and caring for his 5 cats. He is primarily influenced by guitarists like Kurt Ballou and Paul Gilbert. His favorite pieces of gear are his Ibanez RG550RFR, Orange Brent Hinds Terror amplifier and EQD Acapulco Gold fuzz.

Contributors

Alexander Briones: Supplemental writing.
Jason Horton: Editing and Illustrating.

Media

Main/Top Image: Created by Gearank.com using photographs of the Neumann KM 184, Neumann TLM 102, Royer R-121 and Guild D-40.

The individual product images, frequency response charts and polar pattern charts were sourced from their respective manufacturers' websites, promotional materials or supporting documentation.

Comments

Thanks for pointing out that

Thanks for pointing out that I made that mistake when editing this guide. I have now corrected the SM57 specifications.

Why did you remove the Rode?

Why did you remove the Rode? I think it's a fantastic microphone for voice and acoustic guitar. I tried the Technica, but found that it failed the clarity test. I know other people will hear different things. But I would have Rode at the too of my list.