As guitarists we focus a ton on our guitar rigs. We put a ton of thought into picking the right amp, guitar, cables, pedals and even picks. It has been my experience that often times we forget to stop and think about another important part of the rig, the mic. Yes thats right, we can dial our tone in to what we think sounds great on stage but at the end of the day it is the mic that translates that to the Front of House Engineer. I know it sounds dumb but nothing in the chain will actually matter unless it sounds good out in the audience. You might think to yourself, “but I’m no sound engineer… how should I know what mic is better for me?” Well my friends, no worries. Today I’d like to talk about 3 of the most common mics used by guitarists for their amps.
Almost everywhere you perform you will find one of these guys. The SM57 was designed by a gentleman named Ben Bauer who later passed its design on to Ernie Seeler who improved the design back in 1959. Ernie made the SM57 with the hopes that it would find its place in a lot of classical music venues. He hated rock, and ironically the mic found its home in most work venues. It’s an all purpose mic that can been used on Snare drums, Toms, guitar amps, and even bass amps. It’s a true work horse.
The Sennheiser MD421 (more commonly known as “the 421”) like the SM57, is a legend among amp mics. Originally designed for broadcasting and radio use, the 421 found a nice home amping Lesile speakers in organs. Soon after the 421’s potential was discovered, people started using it to mic guitar amps, bass amps and its a personal favorite for tracking toms & drums. This mic has helped define a large part of rock history. Its most notable feature is the bass roll off that can clean up a muddy signal without any extra EQ’ing. You might not see it as often as the SM57 but it is also makes a great mic for amplifiers.. I personally like this mic on clean Fender amps, but thats just me.
The e906 is quite easily spotted with it’s lollipop shape. It is the newest of the 3 mics we are trying out today. It was made specifically for mixing guitar amps. The flat design is intended for placing the mic close to the speaker cab making it ideal for use on a stand or sometimes tied up to the amp handle and hung in front of the speaker. It also features hi pass and low pass filters for specific needs.
So ok, all this information is good, but lets get to the fun part. What do they sound like? I recorded some demos here for you to listen for yourself. For this demo, I am using a Fender Blues Junior III (Theres an awesome review of this amp here). I’ve placed each of the 3 mics where the center of the speaker and the cone meet. The preamp I’m using is a Universal Audio 4-710 and all three mics were recording using the same settings. The guitar am using is a Duesenberg Starplayer Special. To get a sense for how these mics perform with humbuckers and single coils I am using the coil split function on the guitar.
Shure SM57 Clean
Shure SM57 Ambient
Shure SM57 Overdrive
Sennheiser MD421 Clean
Sennheiser MD421 Ambient
Sennheiser MD421 Overdrive
Sennheiser E906 Clean
Sennheiser E906 Ambient
Sennheiser E906 Overdrive
So what do you think? Which one did you like best? I’d love to read your comments and converse with you. Please feel free to post what you liked best as well as any questions you have. Godspeed!
Man, the 421 and the 906 keep grabbing my attention and if I had to choose, I’d go with the 421. It sounds like it adds a bit more of a growl to the tone that just hits the heart. That said, I also gravitate towards the warmth of the 906. That mike feels more full and robust. I fear it would get too muddy with my setup – I use a Gibson Les Paul with a Fender Blues Deluxe Reissue 1×12 amp. `Anything to articulate the Gibson tone only improves on the fat sound already built into it, so perhaps the bass roll off on the 421 is a good idea. I can see the 906 being used on a Fender or other such guitar with brighter single coils.
Greg, I couldn’t agree more. The 906 with a les paul and deluxe ri might get pretty muddy. The Deluxe RI tend to be bass heavy and the Les Paul just adds to that. A 421 should be a great fit. Pair it with a SM57 and you would have a pretty wide EQ range I would think. Or pair it with the 421 if budget is not a concern ;). Thanks for checking out the site.
I have come to appreciate the 3 over the years I’ve been touring. I have a special kind of love for the 421 on Fender Amps. They will always bring out the best of the high end. On a Vox kind of amp I can always count on the SM57 on the edge of the speaker facing the angle of the cone. Because I usually play stereo and use the Fender/Vox combo I’ve found that this works really well. The e906 is also really awesome but I’m kinda set on my 57/421 combo. They serve as a great starting point to me. I typically take on tour a LP style Duesenberg that coil splits so I’m also going back a forth on pickup styles. The combo does not go wrong!