Despite its beautiful simplicity…
There’s no doubt that the acoustic guitar is a challenging instrument to record.
Mostly because…capturing it in full-detail requires some form of stereo recording.
The problem is…
To perform those techniques, you still need a good assortment of condenser microphones…
…which few home studios have.
And unless you have lots of cash on-hand…
The only alternative is to find those rare studio gems that can deliver high-end sound, for a low-end price.
And so…to save you the research, for today’s post I’ve assembled this list of:
The Top 7 Microphones for Recording Acoustic Guitar: under $500.
Building a shopping list
To record acoustic guitar using EACH of the common stereo techniques (A/B, X/Y, Blumlein, etc.)…
What you’ll need at a minimum…is:
- a CARDIOID pair of small diaphragm condensers
- an OMNI pair of small diaphragm condensers
- a MULTI-PATTERN large diaphragm condenser
So in the following list of 7, I show you several options for each one.
1. Shure SM81
As one of the most famous, and widely-used mics of its kind…
The Shure SM81 has been an industry standard for decades…
And has been used on countless hit-albums for acoustic guitar, hi-hats, and many other instruments.
One reason this Shure mic stands out so much is:
Despite its cardioid pattern, it shows an unusually uniform frequency response from the sides, meaning its off-axis coloration is minimal.
For acoustic guitar especially, its 3-position bass roll-off offers a simple way to compensate for the natural proximity effect from close-miking.
For general stereo recording, the SM81 works as:
- a pair for X/Y recording
- a pair for ORTF recording
- the “mid” for Mid/Side recording
Overall, it’s a great mic to have in your locker, whether you record acoustic guitar or not.
If the SM81 is too expensive, here’s a good alternative:
2. AKG Perception 170
Normally, when you start looking at condenser mics in the sub-$100 range…
It’s natural to be suspicious of quality…since most of them are crap.
But there are exceptions, and the AKG Perception 170 is a great example.
The countless positive reviews of this mic confirm that it’s every-bit-as-good as AKG claims…
And it quite possibly has more satisfied users than any other mic on this list.
With its cardioid pattern, the Perception 170 works for the same tasks as the SM81, including:
- X/Y recording (as a pair)
- ORTF recording (as a pair)
- Mid/Side recording (as a single)
For home studios looking for the cheapest possible way to record stereo acoustic guitar, I highly recommend a pair of Perception 170’s.
3. Shure KSM141
Among the must-have tools for stereo recording…
Few are as essential as the omnidirectional small diagram condenser.
The problem is…most “true omni’s” are high-end reference microphones, costing several-grand-a-piece.
In the lower price ranges, what you more often find is a hybrid mic that has 2 interchangeable omni/cardioid capsules for a single body.
But the common complaint with this design is…those capsules can be easily broken or misplaced.
The Shure KSM141 on the other hand, uses a much smarter design, that switches polar patterns with a simple rotating collar on the neck.
For acoustic guitar recording, the KSM141 works for:
- Mono recording (omni single)
- A/B recording (omni pair)
- X/Y recording (cardioid pair)
- ORTF recording (cardioid pair)
- Mid/Side Recording (cardioid “mid”)
Next to the SM81, the KSM141 is likely the second most reputable mic on this list.
And for just a slightly higher price, you get two-tools-in-one.
4. Rode NT2A
Now that we’ve covered the small diaphragm options…
Next let’s look at the large ones.
For acoustic guitar recording…
A multi-pattern large diaphragm condenser is great because it works for so many jobs, including:
- A/B (omni pair)
- X/Y (cardioid pair)
- ORTF (cardioid pair)
- Mid for M/S (cardioid single)
- Side for M/S (figure-8 single)
- Blumlein (figure-8 pair)
And in our target price range for this category, no mic can compare to the Rode NT2A.
Based of the original NT2, and multi-pattern brother of the famous NT1A, the NT2A is quite possibly the most versatile mic on this list.
For a singer/songwriter, it’s especially useful because it can easily double as a vocal mic as well.
As a nice bonus, the NT2A offers an entire suite of accessories, including a shockmount, pop filter, mic cable, and bag.
5. Studio Projects B3
While it may not be nearly as famous as the NT2A…
The Studio Projects B3 has the edge in the one key department that so many of us care about:
While it offers all the same standard features of the NT2A, it costs less-than-half as much.
So if what you need is a reliable, yet super-cheap option for a multi-pattern condenser mic…
There’s really no other mic that even comes close to the B3.
6. Rode NT4
Often times, beginners AVOID the use of stereo recording…
Because they fear the “apparent” hassles of setting up and positioning multiple mics.
And while its really not that hard…the unfamiliar territory still scares some people off.
If you’re one of those people, here’s a mic I know you’ll love:
The Rode NT4.
Known as a “stereo microphone” the NT4 combines two mic capsules into a single body…making the entire task of stereo recording seem much less intimidating.
While it is slightly over our $500 price cap…it’s such a great option for beginners, I snuck it on the list anyway.
And since the NT4 is technically two-mics-in-one, its still cheaper than buying a matched-pair in the same price range.
7. Blue Microphones Yeti Pro
While USB mics might be ideal for a simple bedroom studios…
They’re not what most people would consider true “studio microphones“.
In fact, since their invention, USB mics have mostly been dismissed as “amateurish”.
But no more…
Because with the new Blue Microphones Yeti PRO…USB technology and pro studio quality have finally been combined into a single package.
Improving upon the original Yeti (which is phenomenally popular)…
Blue Microphones combined both a USB connection, and a 5-pin stereo XLR balanced output, into a single microphone.
Using a one-of-a-kind tri-capsule design, the Yeti PRO offers 3 standard pick-up patterns:
PLUS…the coolest of all: a dual-channel setting which records in stereo, the same way you would with the Rode NT4.
And while stereo microphones are often expensive, the Yeti PRO is one option that virtually any studio can afford.