What kind of audio equipment do rock stars prefer?

The obsession with a musical instrument is called the Gear Acquisition Syndrome. This is a professional disease of many musicians, because the creation of modern music, be it rock, metal, electronic or even acoustic genres, is unthinkable without dozens or even hundreds of different devices.

At the dawn of their career, many artists do not like the sound of their music – they always want the guitar to sound more confident, the vocals to be brighter and closer to the listener, the bass drums to swing better, the mix to sound cleaner and denser, etc. Many see the reason in the lack of equipment. This article will open the veil of the inner workings of rock music and talk about the legendary equipment that gave the world legendary tracks.

Vocal microphones
There is an opinion that vocals are the main instrument, comparable to guitars, drums and synthesizers put together in terms of their impact on the listener. Which is not surprising – after all, the performer can convey such shades of emotions through vocals that instrumentalists never dreamed of with their limitation of 12 semitones. Therefore, it is very important to choose a microphone that would capture these nuances and transmit them to the listener.


Vocal microphones are conditionally divided into stage and studio. Which is logical, because the greenhouse conditions of the studio with its perfect acoustics are strikingly different from the stage noisy from all sides, along which you also need to move around for the show. Therefore, reliable and time-tested solutions with a cardioid directivity are often used on stage:

The Shure SM58 has been the rock star of stage microphones for over half a century. There is no vocalist who has not sung into this microphone at least once in his entire career, and there is no such club that has not had at least a couple of SM58s lying around in the pantry. It was used by Kurt Cobain (Nirvana), Eric Clapton, Ed Sheeran, Paul McCartney, David Bowie, Ozzy Osbourne, Corey Taylor (Slipknot), Bono (U2), etc. etc. There are legends about its reliability: you can drop it on the floor, dip it in water , kick it with your foot, beat the guitarist with it for the wrong chord – and then finish singing the verse as if nothing had happened.

Microphone Shure SM58-LCE 10 999 *
Shure Beta 58A – if the SM58 does not suit you in terms of timbre or dynamics, the Beta58A goes into battle. Many rockers including Trent Reznor (Nine Inch Nails), Bono, Nick Cave, Jon Bon Jovi, Elton John, Ronnie James Dio (Dio) and many more have praised this mic for accurately capturing the nuances and articulations of their performances. On the Internet, they often argue about which is better – SM58 or Beta58A. The latter sounds slightly brighter and has a super-cardioid directivity, as a result, it winds up less on stage. However, the main difference in the sensations when performing is very individual, so it’s worth trying and comparing them yourself – fortunately, almost any rehearsal spot has both.

Microphone Shure BETA 58A
The Shure Super 55 is another of the iconic stage microphones, nicknamed the “Elvismic” after one of his most famous fans, Elvis Presley. The chrome-plated body and characteristic appearance make it possible to clearly see the microphone in numerous photographs from the concerts of Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Buddy Holly and even Metallica.

Microphone Shure 55SH SERIESII 13 999 *
James Hetfield singing in Super 55

As for the studio, condenser microphones rule the ball here. They are less reliable and more capricious than stage ones, but they convey more nuances:

The Rode NT1-A is an inexpensive and popular studio microphone that can often be found in home studios. Once upon a time, the king of the blues BB King sang in it, and today eminent producers – Nicky Romero, Madeon and others – use it. It perfectly conveys timbre and dynamics, allows you to record excellent-sounding vocal parts, as well as guitars and acoustic instruments, is reliable and unpretentious, which explains its popularity.
Telefunken U47 – this model can hardly be afforded by a home producer, but in large professional studios there will definitely be a dozen U47s. Whoever sang in it – Bob Dylan, John Lennon, Jim Morrison (The Doors), Lenny Kravitz, Mike Shinoda (linkin Park), even Taylor Swift and Kendrick Lamar. In nearly 60 years of existence, the design of this living recording legend has hardly changed, because what is already perfect cannot be improved.
Shure SM7B – for male vocals and extreme techniques like harsh, scream and growl, SM7B is often used instead of condenser microphones – another legend from Shure, which cannot be ignored in this article. Invented as a microphone for radio broadcasts, it has been successfully used by a huge number of vocalists, the most famous of which is Michael Jackson. Besides him – James Hetfield (Metallica), Mick Jagger (The Rolling Stones), Corey Taylor, Joe Duplantier (Gojira), Dave Gahan (Depeche Mode) and even Ed Sheeran.
Michael Jackson singing in SM7B

Instrument microphones
To record guitars, drums and acoustic instruments, microphones are also needed. For example, guitar stacks and amps are shot with instrument microphones, among which the most commonly used are:
Shure SM57 – same as SM58, but for guitarists. One or two of these mics, mounted in front of a stack or combo amp speaker at different angles, are the default setup when recording guitars. An incredible amount of instruments have been recorded with the SM57. Kurt Cobain, Slash (Guns N’ Roses), John Frusciante (RHCP), David Gilmour (Pink Floyd), James Hatfield, Joe Satriani and many, many others have used it. Sound engineers really appreciate it for its ability to capture exactly the part of the guitar signal spectrum that cuts through the mix best, especially when it comes to overdriven guitars.
Sennheiser MD 421 – often used alone or paired with the SM57 to get a more spacious and tight guitar sound. Gives a more even tone than the SM57, with an emphasis on the lower mids. Kurt Cobain, Eric Clapton, Steve Vai, Brian May (Queen), Jeff Beck and other guitarists often use it to shape the unique timbre of their instruments.
The Neumann U87 is a condenser microphone that is often used for recording “clean” guitars, including acoustic ones. It perfectly conveys nuances and dynamics, allows you to create a crystal-clear timbre, for which it is appreciated by such guitarists as David Gilmour, Al Pitrelli (Trans-Siberian Orchestra), Glenn Fricker (Youtuber and producer) and others. Also often used for recording vocals.
Amplifiers and processors
As for amplifiers, there are also legends here. So, for the sound of a clean guitar, combo amplifiers are used:

Fender 65 Twin Reverb – No combo amp sounds as crystal clear as the famous Twin Reverb. David Gilmour, John Frusciante, Lenny Kravitz, Nuno Bettencourt and thousands of other guitarists use it on their recordings.
Vox AC30 – gave voice to the guitars of such musicians as Slash, Dave Grohl, Kurt Cobain, Jimmy Page, Tonny Yommi, Ritchie Blackmore and many others. It is used when you need to add a little overdrive to a clean guitar for a hysterical sound.
To create the effect of an overdriven guitar in heavy rock genres, not combo amplifiers are used, but huge tube “heads” with cabinets of four 12-inch speakers. Here, too, there are legends:

Marshall JCM800 – this amplifier gave the world the sound of 80s metal. Slayer, Judas Priest, AC\DC, Motley Crue, Yngwie Malmsteen and dozens of other bands and names owe this amplifier their bright, screaming guitar sound.

Kerry King (Slayer) shows off his JCM800

Mesa Boogie Dual Rectifier – This amp features a looser, growling overdrive structure and is responsible for the timbres of bands such as Metallica, System Of A Down, Korn, Tool, Mastodon, Killswitch Engage, Limp Bizkit and hundreds of others.
The Peavey 5150 , a joint invention of Eddie Van Halen and the Peavey Company, has won the hearts of thousands of metalheads around the world for its incredibly tight buzzing overdrive. Thanks to its excellent sound and low price, this device has created entire genres – for example, melodic death metal owes it like no other. In Flames, Arch Enemy, Gojira, Machine Head, Kreator, Trivium, Bullet For My Valentine and many other bands have used it on their recordings.
Recently, there has been a tendency to abandon bulky tube stacks and switch to compact all-in-one processors – there are amplifiers, effects, and the ability to connect all this to a computer via MIDI, so that he switches everything himself and does not distract the musician on stage . These are things like Line6 Helix , Kemper Amp , Ax FX and others. Over the past decade, software guitar gain modulation has made unprecedented progress, so even experienced sound engineers cannot always tell the difference between a real amplifier and a processor when blindly testing. And since there is no difference, then you don’t need to carry expensive, heavy and capricious lamp equipment with you on tour.
Synthesizers, midi keyboards and controllers
It’s not that these devices are standard rock music trappings, but genres like nu-metal, alternative rock, industrial rock\metal and a few others continue to experiment with electronic sounds. Do not forget about DJs and composers of electronic music. On stage and in studios you can often see:

Access Virus TI is one of the most famous synths that has given the world many unusual sounds and timbres thanks to projects such as limp Bizkit, Linkin Park, The Prodigy, Scooter, Massive Attack and many others. Perhaps every composer associated with electronic music either already has this device in his collection, or is still preparing to acquire it.
Native Instruments Maschine is an interesting production tool, almost like a studio port, that allows you to create tracks on the go. Trent Reznor, Kraftwerk, Mike Shinoda (linkin Park), as well as Skrillex, Deadmau5, Armin Van Buuren use it in their work.
Arturia KeyStep is a midi controller and sequencer that has been used by musicians such as Amir Derak (Orgy), Andrew Huang (popular music YouTuber), Thomas Dollas (Oh Sees) and others.

MIDI Arturia KeyStep Keyboard 20 299 *
Liam Howlett (The Prodigy) plays Virus Ti

Studio monitors, headphones, sound cards
If an old school rock star could just be a guitarist or a vocalist without doing anything else, then today it will not work. Modern realities dictate their conditions – a musician must be not just a composer and performer, but also a producer of his work. For example, the success of progressive metal band Periphery is inextricably linked to the personality of their guitarist Misha Mansour, who not only composes, but also records and mixes all of the band’s music in his home studio. On the one hand, musicians no longer need labels, studios, producers and humiliating contracts to achieve success, on the other hand, all the production work fell on their shoulders.

Misha Mansour (Periphery) in home studio

So, the minimum necessary for producing music is an audio interface, studio monitors and headphones. Among sound cards, the most common professional solutions are RME, UAD, Apogee and Focusrite. These are not always expensive devices – for example, many use the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 (Noisia, Periphery, Rob Chapman).

External sound card FOCUSRITE Scarlett 2i2 3nd Gen 18 599 *
Many producers and musicians are not shy about using budget studio monitors like Yamaha HS8 (Mike Shinoda, FINNEAS) and KRK Rokit series (Kanye West, Skrillex, Yngwie Malmsteen, Robert Trujillo (Metallica)).

Active monitor 1.0 KRK RP103G4 62 600 *

Kanye West at home studio with KRK Rokit 8

As for the headphones, the following models are popular here:

Beyerdynamic DT 770 (Roger Waters (Pink Floyd), Armin van Buuren, Taylor Swift, Grimes and almost every studio in the world),
Audio-Technica ATH-M50 (Paul McCartney, Skrillex, Wiz Khalifa, Rihanna)

Wired headphones Audio-Technica ATH-M50X black 10 899 *
Sennheiser HD 650 (Avicii, Adam Nolly Getgood (Periphery), Ryan Bruce (popular YouTuber and musician)).

Wired headphones Sennheiser HD 650 gray
The device in this article is just the tip of the iceberg. With a decent recording and performance kit, many musicians start to dig deeper – there are dozens of legendary studio preamps, equalizers, compressors and analog mixers, the cost of which makes even seasoned musicians cringe.

The main thing is that the passion for the apparatus does not interfere with the development of musical thinking. Not always one interferes with the other. For example, virtuoso guitarist Steve Vai works in a home studio filled with rare vintage gear. “I’m always on the lookout for cool gear,” the musician boasts, pointing to a pair of original Urei 1176 compressors for $8,000 each.

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