The 6 Best Mics For Acoustic Guitar In 2021 - Musician Nerd

Updated on Apr 12, 2021



Finding the best mic for acoustic guitar can be a daunting task, as there are so many options on the market. Most condenser microphones advertise themselves as "suitable for guitar" but the reality is, there are a lot of standards to qualify as a guitar microphone. Here at Musician Nerd, we've worked with so many microphones for vocals & instruments and can help you find the best choice for any budget.

It’s challenging enough trying to find the best guitar as you cycle through the many options in search of the best tone. Each guitar has its own unique sound, and that same sound changes the whole dynamic of a tune.

Adding in the stress of recording acoustic guitar can drive you in circles, and so we hope that this list we’ve compiled will help relieve you of that and get you on your way. Afterward, we’ll discuss what factors we use to determine a good acoustic guitar microphone and dive into the technical details.

The Top 6 Best Guitar Microphones


Budget Option

1. Shure SM57 Under $100


The first option in our list is the Shure SM57, one of the more popular instrument microphones, and works great for recording acoustic guitar. While a little out of the ordinary, this XLR microphone has a dynamic capsule, following the SM7B’s lead with strong mids and deep lows. While we normally prefer condenser microphones for their high sensitivity, the Shure SM57 offers its own unique abilities when recording. The dynamic capsule will help capture more of an aggressive rhythmic sound, as opposed to condensers which capture the warm, deep, and full sounds of the guitar.

Shure SM57 Dynamic Instrument Microphone
Shure SM57 Dynamic Instrument Microphone

Whenever I meet someone looking to start doing gigs, I recommend they grab the Shure SM58 & SM57 for their vocal/instrument audio, as they both have similar features & outstanding quality for the price. Aside from live stage use, the Shure SM57 makes for an excellent beginners microphone for recording acoustic guitar.

The contoured frequency response you’ll get from this microphone provides clarity to your audio without the need for post-production edits. As we often find in dynamic microphones, it features a cardioid polar pattern and pneumatic shock mount. This reduces both background noise and handling noises.

Shure has always been a trustworthy brand for microphones, and this dedicated instrument microphone highlights their standards of quality. Adding in the level of affordability, it's easy to see why we have it listed as the best mic for acoustic guitar.

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Budget Option

2. Audio-Technica AT2020 Cardioid Condenser Studio XLR Microphone Under $150


The second option on our list is the Audio-Technica AT2020 Cardioid Condenser Microphone, which is one of the most popular choices for recording acoustic guitar, and one of the first microphones I ever purchased for that. If you're looking for a deep, warm-bodied sound, all at a good price, this microphone may be the best option on this list for you.

The Audio Technica AT2020 Cardioid Condenser Studio XLR Microphone On A Stand
The Audio Technica AT2020 Cardioid Condenser Studio XLR Microphone On A Stand

The Audio-Technica AT2020 Cardioid Condenser Microphone is a side-addressed studio condenser microphone with a high level of sensitivity for gaining the most quality out of your soundwaves. With the extremely low-mass diaphragm & a high SPL, this XLR microphone will record your audio with pristine accuracy, which is an absolute must when working with the acoustic guitar.

Because of how diverse acoustic guitars can be, from the rich warm sounds from the soundhole to the high-frequency driven sounds from the neck, we need a mic that can accurately process these soundwaves, and that's exactly what the Audio-Technica AT2020 Cardioid Condenser Microphone does best.

The superior transient response we get from this XLR mic ensures that the rapid vibrations from the guitar strings are picked up without fail. This gives us the most natural sounds in our recordings, which I don't need to tell you gives a massive boost to your quality.

For the price point the Audio-Technica AT2020 Cardioid Condenser Microphone comes in at, it's amazing how high quality it sounds. I personally like to use two microphones for recording my acoustic guitar, which is why I started with two of these microphones as opposed to a more high-end option. It's an amazing choice and I can't say enough good things about it.

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Budget Option

3. AKG P220 Condenser Microphone Under $200


The third option on our list is the AKG P220 Condenser Microphone, built for vocals but does an incredible job as an acoustic guitar microphone. In fact, I was first introduced to the AKG P-series when watching a video on how to record acoustic guitar and noticed a featured clip with this microphone.

AKG P220 Condenser Microphone In Spider Shock Mount
AKG P220 Condenser Microphone In Spider Shock Mount

I still have the AKG P220 Condenser Microphone in my closet and ran a test before writing this to ensure it still meets my standards, and I have to say I was a little more impressed than I expected. The range of depth this condenser microphone captures from the picking of your guitar strings to the sliding of the fretboard offers some of the most well-rounded audio for a budget microphone.

The wide frequency response provided by the condensers paired with the bass roll-off at 300Hz offers a rich depth to your guitar audio with a natural feel. The rugged capsule paired with the cardioid polar pattern allows you to bring it on stage as a guitar microphone. If versatility is an important factor in your microphone buying decision, consider this mic carefully.

AKG does a fantastic job with building condenser microphones, and if you're looking for something under $200, the P220 is likely your best mic for acoustic guitar.

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Mid-Range Option

4. Audio-Technica AT4040 Cardioid Condenser Microphone Under $500


The fourth option we have for you is the Audio-Technica AT4040 Cardioid Condenser Microphone. It should never come as a surprise to see Audio Technica on a list like this as they’re one of the top brands in the affordable microphone space.

Audio Technica AT4040 In Shock Mount
Audio Technica AT4040 In Shock Mount

This large-diaphragm condenser microphone offers smooth & natural audio with warm lows giving a quality level of richness to your audio. Like the AKG P220, the Audio-Technica AT4040 is extremely versatile, working great for recording acoustic guitar and vocals. The value you get from this condenser microphone exceeds the cost, being comparable with microphones in the $500+ range.

The low self-noise is impressive & expected, but the nickel-plated brass acoustic element baffle ensures optimal sensitivity and wide range frequencies for that “full picture” audio. The exceptional transient response provided by the Audio-Technica AT4040 captures the vibrations of your guitar strings for maximum accuracy. If you’ve read our article What Is A Condenser Microphone, you’ll understand just how important transient response is to your audio.

If you’re looking for the best bang for your buck, the Audio-Technica AT4040 is a must buy.

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Mid-Range Option

5. Shure SM81-LC Cardioid Condenser Instrument Microphone Under $500


The fifth choice we have for an acoustic guitar microphone Is the Shure SM81-LC Cardioid Condenser Instrument Microphone. This mid-range instrument mic is a perfect choice for an acoustic guitar microphone without breaking the bank. Using a cardioid condenser. The SM81 offers a wide range of frequency responses with low self-noise, for pristine accuracy.

Shure SM81-LC Cardioid Condenser Instrument Microphone
Shure SM81-LC Cardioid Condenser Instrument Microphone

This high-quality unidirectional condenser mic has a high output clipping level with the low distortion which is essential for any instrument mic as the volume can vary drastically. If you are someone who likes to play hard, this microphone can handle the extra loud input without ruining the output. Other features include a swivel adapter, attenuator-switch lock, and foam windshield for reducing unwanted noises.

In terms of audio quality, we’ve compared a lot of microphones in this price range and found the Shure SM81-LC. & the above Audio Technica AT4040 to exceed some of the other choices. The mid-range price point has a lot of competition, so it’s hard to say for certain which is the best mic for acoustic guitar, but after running extensive tests, we collectively put our faith in the Shure SM81.

If you’ve used Shure in the past, you’ll know how well they perform compared to the price they charge. This microphone follows that same pattern, and we highly recommend looking into it.

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High-End Option

6. Shure KSM44A Under $1000


The last and most high-end option we suggest is the Shure KSM44A, coming in around $999 on average, this is arguably the best mic for acoustic guitar on this list, and well worth it if it’s within your budget. We’ve definitely made a leap going from $350 to just under $1000 but let us tell you why the KSM44A is a great buy.

Shure KSM44A With Case And Accessories
Shure KSM44A With Case And Accessories

For starters, unlike any others on this list, the Shure KSM44A offers multi-directional polar pattern modes, such as cardioid, bidirectional, and omnidirectional, allowing you to control how much audio it lets in. The internal pop filtering removes the need for extra accessories as it may be the best-in-class internal pop filter we’ve used.

More impressive is the Prethos Advanced Preamplifier Technology with the extremely fast transient response and no crossover distortions. This feature alone makes this microphone perfect for recording acoustic guitar, as well as other high-vibration instruments.

There are too many features for us to cover, so we highly suggest checking it out for yourself if it’s a price point you can consider. The level of quality is self-explanatory the first time you hear it. This is one of my absolute favorite acoustic guitar microphones to use both on stage and in the studio.

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Special Mention


While we love the options listed on here for recording acoustic guitar, there are another type of microphone we didn't touch upon that can be great for this. Using ribbon microphones can offer a massive advantage to your recordings. The affordable sE Electronics Voodoo VR1 is one I use for my acoustic guitar a lot.

For a more high-end option, the Beyerdynamic M160 has been used by the likes of Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin & David Bowie for a range of uses, lie guitar, drums & vocals. Definitely consider checking out our list of the best ribbon microphones.


Analysis


Our Expertise


We could go on and on about the best acoustic guitar microphones, but who are the Musician Nerds, and why are we qualified to talk on this subject? As our name suggests, we are very passionate musicians. We have been working with audio equipment from a hobbyist standpoint from an early age, and our founder, Adrian, has been recording music since he was a little kid. He has experience from both a budget home-studio perspective and being in professional-grade studios, allowing for unique insights on the importance of audio equipment. Furthermore, as "nerds", we love gaming, streaming, and listening to podcasts, and so we have an even deeper love for microphones used in those settings.


How We Make Our Decision


Here at Musician Nerd we’ve tried and tested a very wide catalog of microphones for acoustic guitar. As a guitarist and microphone enthusiast, I have nearly a lifetime of experience on this topic experimenting from an early age with my bedroom studio.

As with every list we compile, we keep price ranges in mind to ensure everyone has an option on this list. The low-end options have been tested against several competitors for a few specific factors including:

Person Recording With Acoustic Guitar Microphone
Person Recording With Acoustic Guitar Microphone

  • Transient Response, which is responsible for picking up rapid sound waves such as the guitar string vibrations. This small yet important detail makes a massive difference to the accuracy of your recording.
  • Frequency Response, which is responsible for the level of depth in your audio. Dynamic microphones such as the Shure SM57 try to simulate this by focusing on the mid-range with a low roll-off, and for one of our budget choices, it does a great job at it. The other microphones being condensers offer 20Hz – 20kHz, the accepted standard for wide-range response.

    It’s important to have a healthy balance as too strong of highs can lead to twangy audio, whereas dominating lows can be so warm your sound is unrecognizable.

  • Added features, which can make or break a microphone. A lot of these choices feature internal pop filtering, which reduces clipping from pop noises. Some of the higher-end options also offer their own anti-clipping technology to give you a sense of security. Internal shock mounting is also essential to reduce vibrations and handling noises.

When looking for the best mic for acoustic guitar, it’s important to focus on these 3 features to get the most for your money.


How To Record Acoustic Guitar


Picking out the best mic for recording acoustic guitar is only half the battle. If you want to learn how to record acoustic guitar, you'll need to wrap your head around the different nuances with recording modes & mic placements.

Typically, there’s two modes you can record in; Mono & Stereo. There’s no one-size-fits-all in this instance, as they both have their advantages.

Instrument Microphone Recording Acoustic Guitar
Instrument Microphone Recording Acoustic Guitar

Mono recording eliminates phasing issues as there’s only one signal. However, I usually use mono modes for layering my audio and adding little bits here and there to a tune. We’ll see why below.

The stereo mode gives you the full picture. Mono cannot give you the same level of depth that stereo mode provides, and so we use it as our primary rhythm recording mode.

If that makes sense, let’s move on to microphone placement. While it might seem obvious to some, many people struggle the first time around.

My first time recording acoustic guitar I placed my condenser microphone right in front of the soundhole & the audio did not sound right. It took me a while to figure out that the cause is from the lower frequencies dominating the soundhole.

The best placement for your microphone will be roughly a foot away from the guitar you’re recording. This allows the frequencies to disperse enough to capture the full picture of your audio. Every guitar is different, however, and so we recommend experimenting at different ranges, adjusting 1 or 2 inches at a time.

Read here if you want to learn more about How To Record Acoustic Guitar.

Conclusion

Finding the perfect acoustic guitar microphone can be daunting, but don’t let that stop you. Not any old microphone will do, so it’s essential to research and test different choices before you settle.

While there are plenty of good options out there, we feel extremely confident in the options we’ve laid out for you and can confidently say they’ll provide the best bang for your buck.

If you end up picking a mic from this list, let us know in the comments below! Or ping us on one of our social media pages, we’d love to hear your music!

Do you think we’re missing an essential choice, or maybe you disagree with a few points? We’re always looking for feedback, so don’t hold back!


Posted on Oct 16, 2020

Recording

Have questions for us? Email us at info@musiciannerd.com


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