Best Mics for Recording Acoustic Guitars: A Value-For-Money Guide

If you’re in a hurry and want to cut to the chase, know that we recommend the Shure SM81 Small-Diaphragm Condenser Microphone as the best microphone for recording acoustic guitar. You can check its price on Sweetwater here.

Let’s say you’ve been learning to play the acoustic guitar for a while now, and you feel you’ve become pretty good.

You’ve tried writing some songs and you’ve got a tune you feel good about.

You want to record, but you need a microphone, and you don’t want to break the bank getting one. So, you set out to find the best mics for recording acoustic guitar, at the best value.

Recording With a Microphone vs Direct

Today, it’s easier than ever to have your own recording studio.

We have digital audio workstations (DAWs) on our smartphones and tablets. We have preamps that plug into headphone jacks. It’s an exciting time for anyone who wants to make music.

Nowadays, it’s very likely that your acoustic guitar has an output. But when it comes to recording it, it’s better to go the old-fashioned way.

In other words, you’ll get better results using a microphone than recording it direct.

It all comes down to the fact that an electric guitar is, well… an acoustic instrument. So internal electronics usually don’t do a good job of capturing its sound.

But what type of microphone is going to get the job done?

The Different Kinds of Mics Out There

If you Google “recording microphones,” you’re going to see the words “dynamic” and “condenser” a whole lot.

Before you add the shiniest one to your cart, you must understand the difference between the two. They’re meant for different things.

Dynamic Vs. Condenser Mics: The Pros and Cons

Dynamic microphones are optimal for capturing strong, loud noises; think drums and high-volume vocals.

They are commonly used for live instruments and in front of amplifiers. They tend to be more affordable, and they don’t need a power source.

They’re also very durable and will last a long time! However, they’re not very sensitive to quiet sounds and high frequencies.

They’d be well suited for a Metallica concert, but I wouldn’t recommend them for recording Billie Eilish.

Condenser microphones are a bit different.

They capture a wider range of frequencies and are great for quiet sounds. They’re sensitive and accurate.

Pricewise, they run a little on the higher side compared to dynamic mics. They’re also not as durable, and don’t perform well in very loud environments. This is the microphone you’d want to record Billie Eilish with.

There’s a slew of other types of microphones out there.

Omnidirectional mics are great for when you want to pick up the sound of the room where you’re playing.

Cardioid mics are best for capturing the direct sound of your instrument or vocals.

But since your goal is to record your acoustic guitar, you’ll also want to take diaphragm size into account.

Microphones with large diaphragms are better for picking up lower frequencies. Small diaphragms are best for capturing high frequencies.

Why I Prefer a Small-Diaphragm, Cardioid Condenser Mic

How you like your guitar’s tone is similar to how you like your steak cooked, or how burnt you like their toast.

If you really enjoy the low-end tones your guitar puts out, then maybe you’d like a mic with a large diaphragm.

So here’s my take. Small-diaphragm cardioid condenser microphones are the best for recording an acoustic guitar.

I like my guitar to shine on the track. I want to be able to hear the subtle changes when using suspended chord shapes or tracking lead parts.

Large diaphragms tend to boost my low end while muddying up my high end. And dynamic microphones just don’t cut it unless I’m using an electric guitar.

I also prefer cardioid to omnidirectional. I record in a house that’s rather small and stuffy.

If I had a big, brilliant room that added some good tone to my track, I’d experiment with an omnidirectional mic. Since that isn’t the case, my goal is to capture only my guitar.

Microphone Placing for Optimum Recording

Indulge in another one of my hypotheticals. Let’s say you’ve purchased a cardioid condenser mic with a small diaphragm. And now you’re wondering how to set it up for a recording session.

As pointed out in the video below, you don’t want to put your mic right next to the soundhole of the guitar.

Due to the COVD-19 outbreak, many people have been social-distancing at the time of writing this article. Well, you’re going to want to socially distance your mic from your soundhole.

A full six feet would be a little extreme, though. Your guitar isn’t coughing its brains out, so one foot will do the job.

Also, try to line up your mic with the 12th fret of your guitar to ensure it picks up a nice, even sound.

Always be conscious of the room you’re recording in.

Bathrooms or any space with too much tiling and porcelain will create a lot of natural reverb. Recording on a carpet or couch will absorb a lot of sound and give you a cleaner sounding track.

Here Are Some of the Best Mics for Recording Acoustic Guitar

Here’s a selection of promising microphones at various price points. Let’s help you narrow down your search!

Shure SM81

The Shure SM81. One of the very best mics for recording acoutic guitars.

This small-diaphragm condenser mic is great for small home studios. It’s a small-diaphragm unidirectional mic. So it’ll pick up a wide range of frequencies, but only of the instrument that’s directly in front of it.

It’s highly popular for recording acoustic guitars, due to the warmth and detail it brings to the track.

At $350, it’s a little on the pricier side, but you absolutely get what you pay for. If you’re looking for high performance in your recording session, this is the mic for you.

• • •

Audio-Technica AT2035

Audio-Technica AT2035 large-diaphragm condenser microphone.

A reliable, versatile, large-diaphragm condenser microphone. It works great for live performances, professional recordings, and home studios. It responds beautifully to low-end tones.

So it’s a great fit for recording your acoustic guitar if you prefer something less bright. For $150, this is a durable mic that has more than a couple tricks up its sleeve.

• • •

Behringer C-2 Matched Studio Condenser Microphones (Pair)

Behringer C-2 Matched Studio Condenser Microphones.

Let’s say your budget is tight. So you need something that won’t break the bank without compromising too much on quality. For just under $70, these terrible twins got your back!

They’re best used as a stereo pair, and not only for recording acoustic guitars. They’re also great for upright/acoustic basses, simple live trio performances, field recordings, and even drum overheads.

But be aware that the low end on these babies can get a bit noisy at times. And while they’ll certainly get the job done, the end product won’t sound amazing.

The C-2’s versatility is perhaps a bit more about quantity rather than quality.

• • •

Samson C01 Large-Diaphragm Condenser Microphone

Samson C01 condenser microphone.

For the same price point as the Behringer C-2’s, the Samson C01 is a great studio mic to start out with.

It’s optimal for recording instruments as well as vocals in the studio. If you’re putting together a bedroom studio for the first time, this could be the mic for you.

But if you’re looking for a more long-term investment on your mic, you may want to shop at a higher price point.

The C01 can have an unpleasant hiss from time to time. And if you use it often, the mic’s performance will probably deteriorate before long.

This mic is best for those starting out, who record a track every once in a while.

• • •

Samson Go Mic Portable USB Condenser Microphone

Samson Go Mic Portable Condenser Microphone.

This is likely one of the best microphones in the market under $50.

It’s not the best if you’re trying to get close to a professional sound. But if you’re trying to demo songs or practice on the go, this little guy gets the job done.

It’ll plug into your computer, and with the right adapter it’ll hook up to an Apple device.

It’s also great for videoconferences, recording lectures, or anything that requires capturing the spoken word.

• • •

And Here’s My Very Favorite Mic for Acoustic Guitar

All these microphones are good options for recording an acoustic guitar. But my personal favorite is the Shure SM81.

Shure SM81 small-diaphragm condenser microphone.

The AT2035 is a good piece of equipment, but I simply have no desire for that large diaphragm. I want an intimate, crystal clear tone that makes my guitar sound like a painting you can hear.

A small diaphragm, unidirectional condenser microphone (a.k.a. the Shure SM81) is the only microphone on this list that’ll give me that degree of clarity.

The Samson Go is too much of a quality compromise, perhaps better suited for recording podcasts and lectures.

The Samson C01 definitely has a place in the studio, but I want to invest in a mic that’ll have some longevity. I don’t want to have to buy another mic by the time the holiday season rolls around!

The Behringer C-2’s are the most promising budget-friendly option. But it’s just a little too versatile for my taste. The idea of a mic with such a wide variety of applications seems almost too good to be true. So it probably is.

Hopefully, this article helped you narrow down your search for your new recording mic. If you’re new to recording music in general, I hope this article taught you something.

Take what you’ve learned and channel it into your trade and your art!

• • •

Image credits:

Featured image by Ctd 2005, used under a Creative Commons (CC BY 2.0) license.

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