Resources for the Recording Musician
June 12, 2019

Microphone positioning on Guitar Amps

Hello again Stephen. You’ve been very helpful to me and I am hoping you will help me through one more dilemma. I am putting a mic in my all tube Marshall combo to record distortion guitar. I am using a Sennheiser e609, a dynamic mic, right up against the grill off my Marshall DSL40. I have to say that the recorded image does not really match what my amp sounds like. Its a little muddy and I am wondering what could I do, or what you do to make your distortion guitar mixes sound good. Or maybe there is a better mic placement technique you know of or something I should do in the mix? Using Slate digital and Presonus plugins in Studio One 4 just so you know. Any help would be greatly appreciated.

Let me ask you a question in return: Do you normally listen to a guitar amp with your ear right up against the grill? If not, then it's not any wonder that a microphone right up against the grill doesn't sound the way you are used to hearing it. I know several guitar players who absolutely hate it when someone puts one microphone right up against the grill for recording, even though that seems to be a fairly "standard" technique.

The keys to recording ANY instrument, including amps, are:

  • microphone choice
  • microphone position
  • instrument/amp position in the room

That's really all there is to it. If you don't like the sound you are hearing through your monitors, change one of those 3 things, and listen again. Repeat until you find the sound you like. It's even better if you have an assistant who can be moving the microphone very slowly in the studio, while you are listening in the control room, and can hear the changes in real time while the microphone is being moved. It's amazing how much difference moving the microphone a very small amount can make in the sound.

If you don't have lots of different microphones to choose from, then you still have the other 2 things you can play around with. For example, if you think your sound is a bit muddy and dull, then try moving the microphone more towards the center of the speaker cone in your amp. The closer to the center you get, the brighter the sound will be. Conversely, if it's too harsh, then move it more towards the edge of the speaker cone.

Then you can also try moving it further away from the grill, which may help "open" up the sound a bit more. Or, maybe your room has some nodes that are causing some of the lower/muddy frequencies to build up. In that case, try moving your amp further away from the wall, or getting it up off the floor (I often set amps on top of a chair), to minimize reflections/build-up from the floor or wall.

If you want a sound that is closer to what you hear while you are playing your guitar, then put the microphone closer to where you usually stand/sit when playing, rather than right up against the grill. Sometimes the added bit of room tone you get when you get the microphone away from the grill may be just what you are looking for. I will often have one microphone up close to the grill and then one further back in the room, adjusting the positioning until they sound good blended together without any phasing issues. That often gives you a more "natural" sound, and with those 2 microphones routed to separate tracks, you can control the blend later in the mix depending on if you want a really up front sound (close microphone), or more of the room tone sound.

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