If you play in a live band — even in relatively small clubs — it’s not that unusual to mic the guitar amplifiers. The preference towards smaller amplifiers and the general frowning upon of high stage volume makes mic’ing the amp a good option. If for nothing else, being able to feed the guitar through the monitors allows everyone to hear what is going on. And as every guitar player knows, it’s impossible to judge your guitar sound — or how loud it is — while standing two feet in front of your amp. Having the guitar in the monitor also helps prevent “volume creep” during the night.
So while having guitars in the mix has obvious benefits for the both the audience and the band, what’s the best way to get it into the mix? Typically most bands tend to mic amplifiers, and there are plenty of options for microphones. As guitar amplifiers get more feature-laden, many now include a balanced direct out, sometimes with various forms of “speaker emulation.” As not only a guitar player, but the sound man for the band, two things have made my life infinitely more convenient: Digital WiFi mixers, and a good amplifier direct box. So while it’s very convenient to be able to throw a mic in front of the amplifier, I find that a direct box gives more consistent results and fewer headaches during the performance.
I’ve been using the Radial JDX for a number of years, which is specifically designed for guitar and bass amplifiers. If you have a head/cab arrangement it’s very easy to connect between the head and speaker. After that you run a microphone cable from the direct box to the mixer and off you go. If the amp is a combo, it can get a little more tricky if the speaker has a very short cable or is internally wired. This is a primary reason sound techs like to use microphones, as they work with anything. But if you plan ahead or mix the same bands all the time (like I do) using a direct box has advantages.
Why a direct box? For starters it’s more consistent, and you get the same sound wherever you go. Bouncy floors, microphone bleed, placement…none of that matters. Plus I can’t tell you how many times a mic gets kicked out of position on a cramped stage. With a direct box none of that will ever happen.
I use the non-phantom version Radial JDX which has a “reactive” load to mimic the characteristics of a speaker, but it is not a speaker emulator in the sense that is simulates a particular speaker. To me it sounds very natural, and it since the room sound is a mix of amp and PA, there is still plenty of the “real” amp sound in the room. Subjectively speaking I’m just as happy or happier with the sound of the JDX over a well-placed SM-57. I’ve tried the phantom power version of the radial JDX but the results have varied depending on the mixer. This may be due to variations in phantom power output depending on the brand of mixer, so I stick with the AC-powered version.
If your guitar amp has a direct out, try it and see how it works. Ditto for the speaker emulation, if that’s an option. Speaker emulation is a matter of taste, so let your ears be your guide.
If you are recording, microphone selection and placement is almost an art. But if you are in a working band and need to show up, set up and have everything work, consistency and reliability take precedence. This is even more true if like many weekend warriors you don’t actually have a person in charge of the sound. For DIY bands, going direct can save time and headaches.