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

The Best Mics for Recording Acoustic Guitar
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The acoustic guitar is quite possibly, the most prolific and accessible musical instrument. While technologies have been developed to amplifiy as well as record the instrument, many studio engineers still prefer using microphones to capture performances. Miked up acoustic guitars sound more natural compared to signals from pickup systems.

Not all microphones work well with acoustic guitar. Some microphones, particularly large diaphraghm condensers, are hard to position properly in front of a performer. For performances with simultaneous recording of instruments and vocals, using the wrong kind of microphone may lead to unecessary bleed from vocals and instruments.

Which is why we have done the research necessary to choose the best microphones for acoustic guitars. Technically, you can use ANY microphone for recording, but we went the extra mile and looked into reviews, community sentiment and expert opinions about which microphones sound best for the instrument. With these in mind, we bring your our March 2020 update featuring microphones that are readily available from major retailers.

The Best Mics for Recording Acoustic Guitar

Best Small Diaphragm Mics for Recording Acoustic Guitar

Audio-Technica ATM450

94
GEARANK

94 out of 100. Incorporating 100+ 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

98
GEARANK

98 out of 100. Incorporating 250+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$349
Shure SM81 Small Diaphragm Cardioid Condenser Microphone

The Shure SM81 tops our list of microphones with its impressive Gearank rating. 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

94
GEARANK

94 out of 100. Incorporating 80+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$799
Neumann KM 184 Small Diaphragm Condenser Microphone

The Neumann KM 184 is a pencil style small diaphragm condenser microphone 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, which 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

Royer R-121 Ribbon Microphone

95
GEARANK

95 out of 100. Incorporating 60+ 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 should be easy.

Cons

Obviously the price is too high for many, but those that can afford it continue to give it their whole hearted 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

Best Large Diaphraghm Mics for Recording Acoustic Guitar

Shure KSM44A

96
GEARANK

96 out of 100. Incorporating 60+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$999
Shure KSM44 Large Dual-Diaphragm Condenser Microphone

The Shure KSM44A's spec sheet may read as any other: frequency response is 20Hz-20kHz, multi-pattern switching (Cardioid, Omni, Figure 8) and switchable 15dB pad for improved max SPL of 137dB.

What makes it extra special however is its dual diaphragm design which allows its large diaphragm to behave like two paired small diaphragm mics, allowing it to handle both low and high frequency transients. Two different capsules enable high frequencies to be captured more accurately without the low frequencies overloading the diaphraghm.

Specifications:

  • Polar Pattern: Cardioid
  • Frequency Response:20Hz-20kHz
  • Impedance: 50 ohms
  • Max SPL: 131dB (Cardioid), 137dB (Omni), 136dB (Figure-8)
  • Power Requirements: +48V

Pros

Shure grabs another spot on this list with the KSM44A, a large dual-diaphragm microphone that many are hailing to have the best low noise operation and sonic quality in the sub $1000 price range. Because of its price, not many are able to afford this mic, but those who did have nothing but good things to say about it, which is quite remarkable considering the heightened expectations that comes with its cost. In fact many consider the KSM44A to be well worth the money, thanks to its multi-pattern versatility, great bass extension, and neutral coloration.

Cons

A minor complaint about the KSM44A is its hefty weigh of 1.0875 lbs, so you'll want a sturdy stand to get this positioned properly in front of the guitar.

Overall

If you're looking for a true workhorse go-to microphone for recording acoustic guitar and just about anything else, check out the Shure KSM44A. The ticket to entry is steep but the rewards of having this amount of detail and nuance captured in your acoustic tracks are worth it.

Shure KSM44A Frequency Response and Polar Pattern Charts:

Shure KSM44A frequency response chart

Mojave Audio MA-200 Tube Mic

96
GEARANK

96 out of 100. Incorporating 125+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$1199
Mojave Audio MA-200

Mojave Audio is a custom mic shop that was started by David Royer himself, meant to be his outlet for crafting premium microphones. To develop and produce the MA-200, Royer drew from over two decades of experience, resulting in a tube driven condenser microphone that sounds like a well-maintained vintage studio mic.

It features military grade JAN 5840 vacuum tubes that reduce high frequency shrills, resulting in a warmer sound that works great on acoustic guitars, vocals and other instruments.

Other premium elements include its 3-micron gold sputtered capsule, and the use of Jensen audio transformers, both of which work in conjunction with the vacuum tube to better recreate classic characteristics that many prefer. Note that the MA-200 has a cardioid pattern and it has no built-in pads or filters.

Specifications:

  • Polar Pattern: Cardioid
  • Frequency Response: 30Hz-18kHz
  • Impedance: 200 ohms
  • Max SPL: 120dB
  • Power Requirements: +48V

Pros

The response to the Mojave Audio MA-200 is overwhelmingly positive, to the point that some even regretted not buying the mic earlier. Most users report hearing dramatic improvements in their recordings, especially on acoustic guitars and vocals, with many of them describing the sound to be better than anything they've tried.

Cons

Since tube mics tend to color the sound of acoustic guitars, it is not ideal for those who prioritize transparency.

Overall

Despite not being as ideally "neutral" as other microphones, the Mojave Audio MA-200 impresses on the track, a certain gloss or polish that makes acoustic guitars just sound magical. Even skeptics who wanted transparent mics found themselves impressed with the MA-200. It's a top tier Large Diaphraghm Condenser that flatters and enhances. Get it if you're the type to get it right in tracking with minimal processing.

Mojave Audio MA-200 Frequency Response Chart:

Mojave Audio MA-200 frequency response chart

Mojave Audio MA-200 Polar Pattern Chart:

Mojave Audio MA-200 polar pattern 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 effectivity. 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

  • Noise 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

This guide was first published on January 22, 2016 written by Alexander Briones and the latest major update was published on written by recording engineer Raphael Pulgar with contributions from Alexander Briones.

This guide gets yet another update for 2020, based on the most recent data on market favorite acoustic guitar friendly microphones. Compared to the previous update, the data we gathered increased again, going over 8700 reviews and ratings, all of which were were processed via the Gearank algorithm.

We used this data along with expert recommendations to measure the current market outlook for each microphone, while also taking into consideration our own experience to finalize the list. The result included large diaphragm and small diaphragm condenser mics in both regular, tube and ribbon variants. We then looked at each and checked mentions of use with acoustic guitar. Unlike the previous version where we focused on price range diversity, this update only includes the best of the best because of the specific usage on acoustic guitars. Note that if you have the funds, you should consider getting multiple mics, because using two or more will let you capture the finer details of an acoustic guitar, much like how professionals do with stereo miking and room miking techniques. For more information about our methods see How Gearank Works.

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