Six-String DIY Recordist: Guide to Dynamic and Condenser Microphones

One of the most important pieces of gear in any home studio are microphones, especially microphones for recording guitar amps, which is what today’s post is about.

There are two types of microphones every six-string recordist needs to know about and own in order to capture great-sounding guitar tones in the home studio. These are dynamic microphones and condenser microphones.

So what are the differences between a dynamic and a condenser microphone, you ask? Dynamic microphones use the principle of electromagnetic induction, while condenser microphones make use of capacitors to capture sounds.

Dynamic mics are constructed with very few moving parts. Because of this, it makes them quite rugged and able to withstand high volumes, so they are perfectly suited for capturing the sound of a cranked-up, loud amp. The microphone’s diaphragm vibrates when sound waves hit its surface, and this in turn moves a coil of wire back and forth past a magnet, which generates an electrical current that is then sent down two wires and out of the mic. A general example of a dynamic mic is the ever-popular Shure SM-57.

Condenser microphones, on the other hand, are a much more fragile unit with a flatter frequency response, though able to record a wider range of frequencies. Unlike a dynamic, a condenser mic needs power from a battery or external source such as a “phantom” power on a mic pre-amp or audio interface. A condenser houses two thin plates, one moveable and one fixed, that form a capacitor.

As the moveable plate moves in relation to the acoustical pressure waves, the capacitance will change between the plates, and so the voltage across the plates will change in proportion as well. Because of this, a condenser responds much more quickly to transients than a dynamic mic does. The AKG C414 or the Rode NT1 is a prime example of a condenser microphone.

Because condensers are more sensitive and responsive than dynamic mics, they are not ideal for high-volume work, as their sensitivity makes them prone to distortion. Because of this, a condenser is most suited to capturing those subtle nuances in a sound.

Now that I’ve briefly explained the differences, go ahead and try experimenting with the two types in your recording projects, taking particular note of each microphone’s characteristics and capabilities. This way, capturing the guitar sound you are seeking or envisaging will become a lot easier to attain, and your recordings will be all for the better of it.

Joe Matera is an Australia-based rock guitarist who has played in countless original and cover bands over the past 20 years. As a solo instrumental artist, his current release is an original guitar instrumental track called "Face Off," now available on iTunes. His upcoming instrumental EP, Slave to the Fingers, comes out November 28 through W.A.R Productions (Europe) and Mercury Fire Music (Australia). Slave To The Fingers features four new studio tracks, all showcasing Matera’s six string talents. The EP begins in bombastic fashion with a brief balls-to-the-wall rocking interlude before Matera’s tasteful melodic playing takes center stage on the title track. Underscored by some eclectic styling, the track also features a special guest appearance by guitarist Mick McConnell from legendary rock band Smokie who contributes a breathtaking guitar solo on the track. Matera also makes a guest appearance playing a blazing guitar solo on UK thrash metal veterans Atomkraft's cover of the Thin Lizzy classic "Cold Sweat," which is out this summer. He also is a Guitar World magazine contributor. For more info, visit

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Joe Matera

Joe Matera is an Australian guitarist and music journalist who has spent the past two decades interviewing a who's who of the rock and metal world and written for Guitar World, Total Guitar, Rolling Stone, Goldmine, Sound On Sound, Classic Rock, Metal Hammer and many others. He is also a recording and performing musician and solo artist who has toured Europe on a regular basis and released several well-received albums including instrumental guitar rock outings through various European labels. Roxy Music's Phil Manzanera has called him, "... a great guitarist who knows what an electric guitar should sound like and plays a fluid pleasing style of rock." He's the author of Backstage Pass: The Grit and the Glamour.