Originally published on January. 22, 2016 and updated on June 19, 2017.
This gear guide is sponsored by Sweetwater and you can click through to their website to read customer reviews, check prices, or make a purchase, however all of the recommendations below have been made by the Gearank team.
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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.
Here we present you with an up to date look at the best microphones for acoustic guitar in 2017, showcasing highly regarded mics that are widely available. Like the original list, it is still dominated by modern small and large diaphragm condenser microphones. It also includes two premium favorites, a tube condenser and a ribbon mic.
- The Best Mics for Recording Acoustic Guitar
- Things To Consider When Buying a Microphone for Acoustic Guitar
|Mojave Audio MA-200 - Tube Mic||96||100+||$1095|
|Royer R-121 - Ribbon Mic||95||50+||$1295|
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 it continues to rate highly even after our 2017 update. 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. If you've been watching YouTube covers, chances are you have already seen this mic a number of times. 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.
Reviewers are impressed with its transparency, and versatility, and it still is among the most recommended microphones in the sub $500 price range. Even experts reported that the NT2A 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 works really well with acoustics, and it still is a market favorite.
The Audio-Technica ATM450 is a cardioid condenser mic specifically designed to capture the sound of instruments. It is meant 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, allow for good and quick mic placements, which translates to better capture of acoustic guitars, be it for recording in the studio or for live performance on stage.
For the price, the ATM450 comes packed with nifty extras, including a built-in 80Hz hi-pass filter and a switchable 10dB pad, both of which make for easier miking of different instruments and play styles. Thanks to this versatility, reviews are consistent in saying that the Audio-Technica ATM450 is a great all-around budget-friendly mic. There are a few who feel that the low-end is lacking, but this can be remedied by mic placement or EQ.
All in all, this is a great value mic that's more than just good for acoustic guitars, highly recommended for home studios.
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.
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.
The AT2020 still rates highly, with many pointing to its reliability and durability as its best trait, thanks to its sturdy metal chassis which is quite special in this price range. My only complaint, and others agree, is that it does not have multi-pattern capabilities, but it maybe asking too much considering the price.
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 and light 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 work exceptionally well with acoustic guitars. It also has a surprisingly high tolerance for loudness, with max SPL at 144 dB that's viable for guitar amps, wind instruments and more.
With its consistently favorable ratings and reviews, the Neumann TLM102 secures its spot yet again this year.
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 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 KSM44A.
Mojave Audio MA-200 Tube Mic
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 reduces high frequency shrills, resulting in a warmer sound that works great on acoustic guitars, vocals and other instruments. Other premium elements of this mic 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 mic characteristics that many prefer. Note that this mic has a cardioid pattern and it has no built-in pads or filters.
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. Since tube mics tend to color the sound of acoustic guitars, it is not ideal for those who prioritize transparency. Still, even skeptics who wanted transparent mics found themselves impressed with the MA-200.
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 is a bit too high for many, but those that can afford it continue to give it their whole hearted thumbs up.
Things To Consider When Buying a Microphone for Acoustic Guitar
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.
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.
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 sweetspot 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.
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.
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.
For this 2017 update, we gathered the latest data on many of the acoustic guitar friendly microphones in the market. We got over 3000 reviews and ratings, all of which 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, and also ended up having a tube condenser mic and a popular ribbon mic. Like the original version of this guide, we covered 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. Click here for more information on how Gearank works.