Assume the Position
Last night, I was working on a session with
a well-known guitarist who’s been making
records for 30-plus years. Even after all that
time standing in front of blasting Marshall
cabinets, he’s still got ears. With the small
change of a mic position at his suggestion,
the sound we were searching for came
through the studio monitors. It got me
thinking about how important a nudge here
and there can be.
The example I speak of above was being
recorded with a single SM57 through a
Universal Audio preamp. It was a small Vox
AC15 being slightly overdriven with a beat-up Telecaster and no pedals. Interestingly,
since the amp was so small, we dialed up
the sound while sitting in the control room.
When I took the amp out to the live room to
mic it up, I put the 57 slightly off axis about
an inch from the grill cloth.
After we got some level, he mentioned that
it wasn’t the sound he’d heard in the control
room. So I went out there and we placed
the Vox on the floor, directly on the wood.
That didn’t do it. Then he asked if the mic
was right up on the grill. An assistant went
out there and pushed it in as he was playing—pretty amazing how you could hear the
bass response and midrange change in real
time, with just an inch of movement. That
was the sound he “heard” in his mind, the
one he wanted to capture.
Experiment with placing your mics back from the speaker an inch, two inches or even more. For that extra
punch, try jamming it right on the speaker. With open back cabinets, see what it sounds like putting it behind.
some ambience if needed. To fit the track,
the guitar needed to have some midrange
punch and a touch of grit to cut through. So
his suggestion to push the mic right into the
cone provided that deep response that having it even an inch back didn’t deliver.
Driving home later on, that small episode
really stuck with me. I’ve recorded countless guitar players and sessions along
the way, and this was a cool little lesson
learned. It made me realize that for one
thing, you’re never sure what the player that
you’re recording hears through the speakers. You can only go out there and place a
mic, (or two or three) in positions you feel
will achieve a great tone. Once the setup
is complete, you may think it sounds great,
while they’re still not pleased, or vice versa.
While it sounds fundamental, it couldn’t
be any truer: don’t settle for placing that
mic on the amp and just recording. Mess
around with various positions and angles.
Straight on the speaker (on axis) will present the most direct signal to the microphone. The sound will change by angling
the mic slightly off axis, especially with cardioid dynamics like the SM57.
even more. For that extra punch we found
on last night’s session, try jamming it right
on the speaker. With open back cabinets,
you can even see what it sounds like putting
it behind. If you can, try to get someone to
put on a pair of headphones and move it for
you, while you’re talking to them. This way,
you’ll be able to monitor the sound in the
control room and hear the subtle changes
take place with each movement.
Also, don’t forget to alter your position on
the actual speaker itself. The sound in the
middle of the cone will be different from
that just off to the side. You just never know
what will sound right until you try it.
Micing up an amp is really not a secret or a
science project; it can be a lot of trial and
error. You select the mics that relate to the
character—clean, distorted, bassy, bright,
etc. The 57 we chose for the Vox was in
character with the sound presented. I also
placed a Royer 121 a few feet back to catch
Of course, if you’re using a ribbon mic like
the Royer, the polar pattern is a figure 8.
That means that sound will be captured from
both the front of the mic and the rear. It’s the
perfect thing to include some room ambience
and direct sound with the same mic.
Experiment with placing your mics back
from the speaker an inch, two inches or
Rich is a producer, engineer and mixer who has worked
with artists ranging from Al DiMeola to David Bowie . A
life-long guitarist, he’s also the auther of Pro Tools Surround
Sound Mixing and composes for such networks as Discovery
Channel, Nickelodeon and National Geographic.