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Microphones and miking instruments

You'll Discover:

  • Common types of microphones found in a live music set up.
  • Suggestions on microphone and instrument pairing.
  • The most versatile microphone you can own for live.

Choosing the correct microphones for a live set-up is imperative to effectively capturing live sound. It’s no secret that there are many microphone options on the market, so this article aims to provide you with the knowledge to make informed choices on what microphones you purchase or hire and how best to utilise them.

There are 3 main microphone types: dynamic, condenser and ribbon. We’re focusing on Dynamic and will leave the rest at the bottom of the article for more advanced applications.


Dynamic Microphones are most useful

Dynamic microphones are used most onstage. These are considered a more durable microphone, and according to ThoughtCo., have “limited frequency response, which makes them well-suited, along with their ability to withstand high sound pressure levels, for loud guitar amps, live vocals, and drums.” 

The polar pattern of dynamic mic’s is unidirectional (also known as cardioid), which means that they pick up the most sound from the direction that they are pointed in. The microphone also cancel out most of the sound coming from behind it. These factors make them perfect for a loud live environment - they can be targeted at specific instruments, and are less likely to pick up surrounding sounds and the audience.

Examples of different types of microphones.

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Instrument and microphone pairing

We’ve summarised the most common pairings below:


A dynamic mic with cardioid pattern is the most common type. Many sources indicate that this type of microphone will last longer and provides a thicker, warmer sound.

Some examples of commonly used vocal mics at venues include the Shure SM58, AKG D5, Sennheiser E836 Cardioid, Sennheiser E935 Super Cardioid and Shure Beta 58A.


There are multiple microphones required to mic a full kit effectively. 

Noisegate recommends the following:

  • Toms -  a clip-on dynamic instrument microphone

  • Floor Toms - large-diaphragm dynamic microphone

  • Snare - a clip-on dynamic instrument microphone

  • Kick Drum - large-diaphragm dynamic microphone

  • Drum overhead - dynamic microphone or small diaphragm condenser

Examples of commonly used kick drum mics include the AKG D12, Sennheiser E602 II and Shure Beta 52A. Examples of other commonly used mics for different kit parts include AKG P4, Sennheiser e609, Sennheiser MD421 and the Shure SM57.

Sweet Water does point out that depending on the size of the venue, you may not need to mic up everything. They make the point that “If you’re in a small space, then there’s a good chance you won’t need to mic up the kit at all. In fact, you may need to isolate the drums with something like acoustic isolation panels, or the rest of the band will have to dial it up to contend with the drums, and you’ll blow your audience away.”

Drum mics can usually be purchased as a kit which contains everything you need to mic up your drums properly (from mic clips to mics).


The most common guitars are of course bass and electric. 

Sweet Water suggests the following:

  • Electric guitar amp - A large diaphragm dynamic (much like the drum mic or vocal mic) will do the trick. For example, a Shure SM57 or SM58. They point out: “Dynamic mics can also typically handle high Sound Pressure Levels (SPL), which is another reason that dynamic mics fare well on guitar cabinets.”

  • Bass guitar amp - large-diaphragm dynamic mic will work. But they do also suggest that it is “also common to take a direct bass signal from the direct out on an amp, a direct box, or an amp emulator and combine that with the mic’d cabinet sound.”

If you have a limited budget to purchase mics for amps and instruments, the most versatile option would be the ShureSM57 which can be used for drum kits and miking up guitar amps. It can even be used as a vocal mic, but most prefer using a round headed SM58 style mic.

Shure SM57 - the most versatile mic your venue can have.

The Shure SM57


Electronic keyboards give you a choice. You can choose to mic up an amp with a high SPL capability or you could decide to run the keyboard’s line signal directly into the mixer (as outlined by Sweet Water).

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General tips for miking instruments

Every instrument or sound source on stage will require a different mic placement or technique to gain the best sound. 

Here are some general suggestions that will help you:

  1. Placing the microphone close to the sound source - by getting direct sound from the source this will reduce the chances of feedback.

  2. Leave time for sound check - there’s nothing worse than something going wrong with minutes to go before doors open. Leave time to test the set-up you have created and make sure you schedule time with the performer to be there when you do.

  3. Know the room - the level of acoustic treatment in the room will determine how many microphones you should incorporate into your live set up. There are more detailed explanations of this concept in the sources below.   

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Other Mics Types Generally Not Used Live

It’s important to avoid accidentally buying condenser or ribbon mics for live performance, unless you really know what you’re doing with them! 

Condenser microphone - for advanced use

Condenser microphones are most commonly used in recording studios but some can be used in live performance setting (mostly on drums). These microphones can be split into two different types.

Musician On A Mission outlines these types as:

  • Large diaphragm microphone - “pick up more lows and low mids, but a little less of the highs. These are great on full-bodied instruments.”

  • Small diaphragm microphone - “pick up less lows and low mids, but add a lot to the top end. These are also known as pencil microphones. They’re better for capturing brighter instruments.”

Condenser mic’s also have more range in polar patterns. These are demonstrated via the below images (courtesy of Microphone Geeks) with the centre being the microphone.

Cardioid (unidirectional) pattern:

Bidirectional pattern:

Omnidirectional pattern:


Ribbon microphone

Not as common since the introduction of dynamic and condenser microphones, Ribbon microphones are commonly used nowadays to record. Musician on a Mission defines their effect as being warm and producing a “vintage “vibe”” but also being quite expensive and very sensitive.

If you do intimate acoustic performances or acapella groups, and have a good PA - a ribbon microphone may be worth trying.

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Find more detailed suggestions on microphones purchasing and pairing mics and instruments via the links below:

  • Sweet Water - “Live Sound Microphone Buying Guide”
  • Noisegate - “Choosing the Right Microphone for Your Live Performance”

There are also some detailed tips on how best to mic an instrument via these articles:

  • Sweet Water - “Best Live Sound Mic Placement Techniques”
  • DPA Microphones - “10 Points On Close Miking For Live Performances”

Element ICT - “Tips and tricks for miking live music performances, avoiding feedback and getting the best sound quality from your performance.”

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