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The acoustic guitar has long been, and continues to be, the most accessible music instrument available. Having the right mic to record this prolific instrument is critical to a good recording setup for any musician or studio.
Ideal Microphone Types
Since acoustic guitars produce similar frequencies to vocals, large diaphragm condenser microphones work great with them. These types of mics are widely available and versatile, making them the practical option, ideal for first timers and those working to a budget. There are however instances where small diaphragm mics and ribbon mics with their high frequency response and high SPL capabilities work better, especially if recording small body guitars and for live performance recording.
List Of The Best Mics for Recording Acoustic Guitar
We have gathered the highest rated among these acoustic guitar friendly microphones, including large diaphragm and small diaphragm condenser mics, and thrown in a ribbon mic as well - to help you narrow down your choices. The list covers a wide price range so you can find one that suits your needs, whatever your budget may be. 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.
The Shure SM81 leads our list of microphones with its impressive Gearank rating, it even received perfect rating scores at some retailers. 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, this mic is lighter (1.63 lbs) and easy to position than most, 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. That also makes this mic capable of handling acoustic guitar amplifiers and other loud instruments.
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 this mic gives you more sound quality per dollar than similarly priced microphones. And since this mic is crafted by Shure, you can be assured of reliability and consistency without having to shell out too much dough. It's really hard to find fault in this mic especially for acoustic guitars, other than its natural limitation of not having the same low frequency emphasis as large diaphragm mics. If you are looking for a reliable acoustic guitar mic that doesn't color your sound, the Shure SM81 gets our top recommendation.
The RØDE NT2A is easily the most versatile mic in this list, and as such is considered as the best bang per buck recording mic by many. It sports a 3-position variable polar pattern, allowing you to instantly switch between Omni, Cardioid & Figure 8 - making this mic ideal for both single acoustic guitar tracking and for multiple instrument recording. It also comes with a 3-position variable highpass filter switch that gives you either flat, 80Hz or 40Hz. Finally, there's a 3-position variable pad that increases the mic's max SPL to 147dB which is quite impressive for a condenser mic. If you've been watching YouTube covers, chances are you have already seen this mic a number of times.
Reviews have been consistent in praising this mic's transparency, and versatility, and it continues to be among the most recommended microphones in the sub $500 price range. Some experts also commented that this mic tops others of the same price point when it comes to low noise operation (with its 7dB self noise) and sound quality (with its 20Hz-20kHz frequency response). There are some concerns over the mic's weight at 1.9lbs, with some users recommending sturdy mic stands to ensure stable positioning in front of your guitar. Other than that, this is a great all-around microphone that happens to work really well with acoustics.
Shure's 2nd entry into this list is the KSM141, another acoustic guitar friendly small diaphragm condenser microphone that's been getting rave reviews and ratings. And it's not just great for acoustic guitars, because it works just as well for violins, drum overheads and other acoustic instruments. While the number of people who have rated it may not be that many yet, reviewers that know what they are doing consistently give this microphone their thumbs up, thanks to its clear and crisp reproduction of acoustic sounds.
In terms of features, the Shure KSM141 does not have that much going on, still it does have a mechanical polar pattern switch that allows for cardioid or true omnidirectional. This makes the mic useful for both single and multi instrument recording as well as for capturing room ambience. It's simplicity also makes this mic straightforward and easy to use, just strum away as you move it around in front of your guitar until you find the sweet spot and you're good to go. The smaller diaphragm allows for higher max SPL rating of 159dB while frequency response is pretty much standard at 20Hz-20kHz, and it captures higher frequencies better - making this ideal for small body guitars like parlor, OM and concert shape guitars. One surprising feature of this mic is its extremely light profile, weighing in at just 0.34 lbs. For best results, you can try setting up a pair of KSM141s for stereo recording, if you have the budget. Get this one if you're looking for a reliable and lightweight microphone for acoustic guitar.
Although mostly used for recoding vocals, the AKG C214's ability to capture sonic nuances has made it a favorite mic for recording acoustic guitars. It continues to gather quite the number of impressive positive ratings and reviews, thanks to its incredible dynamic range, versatility, reliability and stylish look. For a large diaphragm condenser mic, the AKG C214 has an impressively high max SPL of 156dB (with the built-in pad), which makes this mic capable of handling loud acoustic guitar strumming and is even known to work quite well with guitar amps.
The general consensus for this mic is that its solidly built, reliable and gives you more quality than what you actually pay for. There's nothing really outstanding about it on paper, but the AKG C214's workhorse worthy quality makes it a great mic for recording acoustic guitars in both live and studio scenarios. And it's interesting how they crammed all its features inside a compact form factor that is only 0.62 lbs light. Being a large diaphragm condenser, this mic can handle a wide variety of sound sources, even those with increased low frequencies - so you're actually getting an all around mic and not just a good mic for acoustic guitars. Check this one out if you're into playing soft and expressive lines or if you want to recreate the boom of your jumbo or dreadnought acoustic.
There's also a cheaper option from AKG specifically designed as an instrument mic - see this AKG P170 Meta-Review for further details.
If you're budget is limited, there are still plenty of options to choose from in the sub $100 price range. One of which is represented here, the small diaphragm Audio-Technica AT2020 which works really well in reproducing the high frequency zing of spruce top acoustics, without having to drill a hole in your pocket. This particular small diaphragm mic handles loud instruments well with a max SPL of 158dB with pad, without compromising much of the low end compared to other small diaphragm mics in this price range. This makes the AT2020 have a brighter sound which is ideal for steel string acoustics.
Reviewers all agree that reliability and durability is never an issue, thanks to its sturdy metal chassis, which in this price range is quite a bonus. My only complaint is that it does not have multi-pattern capabilities, but that really is asking too much considering the price tag. This is a great entry level mic for acoustic guitar players and is also a viable and practical addition to home studios that already have a good large diaphragm condenser.
Neumann TLM 102
Neumann has a reputation of producing premium quality industry standard recording mics, but they can be pricey and may not be accessible to some hobbyists. Still many professionals and experts highly recommend investing in their mics, one of which - the Neumann TLM 102 - made this list with its high rating and positive recommendations. The most notable feature of this mic is its incredibly clear sound, and even though it is being marketed for vocal use, its transparent operation makes it work really well with acoustic instruments.
First thing you'll notice about this mic is how tiny it is (0.57 lbs), especially for its price! But setting it up and putting it to use have convinced many that this more expensive mic is well worth the investment. Frequency response is standard at 20Hz-20kHz, but Neumann adds a slight boost above the 6kHz which results in a really crisp, clear and cutting sound that makes it stand out from other conventional mics. It also has a surprisingly high tolerance for loudness, with max SPL at 144 dB, making this mic viable for guitar amps, wind instruments and more. If you're looking to have professional quality guitar recordings, and you want something compact, then you ought to invest on the Neumann TLM 102.
Shure grabs a third spot on this list with the KSM44, 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 especially considering the heightened expectations users have. In fact many consider this mic to provide great value for your money, thanks to its multi-pattern versatility, great bass extension, and zero coloration.
The spec sheet does not mention anything special: frequency response is 20Hz-20kHz, multi-pattern switching (Cardioid, Omni, Figure 8) and switchable 15dB pad for improved max SPL of 137dB. What makes this mic extra special however is its dual diaphragm design which allows this seemingly large diaphragm mic to actually behave like two paired small diaphragm mics, allowing it to handle both low and high frequency transients. In layman's terms, this mic captures acoustic guitar tone really well, down to the nuances of your fingers moving across the fretboard. A minor complaint about this mic 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. Now if only this mic was more affordable it would've gotten more user reviews to take the top spot. If you're looking for a true workhorse go-to microphone for recording acoustic guitar and just about anything else, check out the Shure KSM44.
Royer R-121 Ribbon Microphone
Rounding out this list is the Royer R-121 Ribbon microphone, and deservingly so because for a 1K+ priced item, this mic continues to receive positive ratings and reviews, outscoring others that are cheaper and more accessible. Users and experts comment that this mic 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.
The ability of ribbon mics to capture ambiance 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. 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 of this mic is a bit different compared to conventional ones, at 30Hz-15kHz. Weight is fairly standard at 0.54lbs so positioning should be easy. Obviously the price tag of this mic is a bit too high for many, but those that can afford to invest in one will not regret doing so, much like the many who gave it the thumbs up.