Ribbon Mics & Electric Guitars

December 13, 2012

My personal go-to ribbon is the rugged Royer R-121. it’s pricey ($1,295 street), but it can handle almost any audio source, and capture organic and natural sounds.

You shouldn’t get much argument that a dynamic mic placed right up against an amp’s speaker grille delivers that classic, articulate, and slammin’ guitar sound heard on gazillions of beloved albums. Perhaps only a fool would grumble over success, but do you always want to play it safe and dial in the same guitar sound that everyone else does? Not me. Experimenting with different microphone types (condensers, dynamics, boundaries, ribbons), polar patterns, and mic positions opens more possibilities for crafting unique and individual sounds.

So when I want an unhyped, natural, warm, and sweetly dimensional guitar tone that still has balls, I usually reach for a ribbon mic. Then, I try not to mess up a good thing! Here are four tips for optimizing what ribbon mics do best.


If you record instruments live, the hypercardioid Beyerdynamic M 260 ($499 street) can avoid massive signal bleed from other source sounds.
Don’t Futz with Frequencies

Using a ribbon to capture an organic sound, and then boosting midrange and treble frequencies in an attempt to simulate a dynamic mic’s snappy mids, or a condenser’s shimmering highs, makes little sense. Use mic positioning to seek subtle timbral colors, and keep your hands off the EQ.

Embrace Air

Ribbon mics—especially those with bidirectional polar patterns—are perfect for capturing natural room sounds without bright and edgy reflections. Your guitar will sound simultaneously impactful and dimensional if you let the mic “hear” the room. So don’t close-mic your amp and choke off all that lovely ambience. Start at a distance of three feet, and move a tad closer or further away to taste.

It’s hard to beat the $79 (street) Nady RSM-5 for ribbon sound on a tight budget.
 Kiss the Grille for Lows
Want two tones in one mic? the shure KSM313 Dual-Voice ($1,295 street) ribbon offers bright and warm sides.

However, if you want more low-end content in your guitar sound, then by all means move that mic closer to the speaker. The “proximity effect” produced by bidirectional and cardioid polar patterns (omnidirectional mics exhibit virtually zero proximity effect) adds bass, muscle, and heft to the tone.

 Celebrate Diversity

For a wide stereo perspective with both edginess and warmth, “partner” a ribbon with your favorite dynamic or condenser mic, position the two mics a reasonable distance away from each other, and pan the signals hard left and hard right.




A smooth operator at a mid price, the $999 (street) Audio-Technica AT4080 comes with a shockmount.

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