Whole Lotta Love: Artists and the SM58
Few pieces of gear inspire so much passion and loyalty as Shure's SM58. From Led Zeppelin to Henry Rollins, admiring musicians have helped turn this microphone into an icon over the past 50 years.
Okay, let's be honest – I'm a little biased when it comes to my favorite microphone. But this isn't about me. It's about the love and affection for the SM58 I've found while out interacting with our artist endorsers and their fellow musicians. Without it, we wouldn't be celebrating the 50th anniversary of its introduction this year.
Perhaps the most gratifying part of this love fest is that it was almost always unprompted. Granted, nine times out of 10 I was the guy in the room wearing a Shure t-shirt. But these artists apparently felt compelled to wax poetic about their own SM58. I can't recall the times I've suddenly found myself huddled in a corner somewhere talking about this little mic.
So why the big love fest?
Well, if you walk into your favorite local venue, chances are there'll be an SM58 in the mic stand at the front of the stage. And there are good reasons it's probably the most recognizable microphone out there today: Quality and durability.
When you're a young band packed into a cramped van and barely getting by, the last thing you want to worry about is spending your hard-earned money on gear that fails midway through your tour. And every artist I've spoken to can attest their SM58 was always still going strong after several tours. That's not to say you have to baby these tough little mics. On the contrary, the SM58 has proven its worth time and time again with uncompromising musicians like Roger Daltrey and Henry Rollins. These guys have certainly put the SM58 through its paces night after night, concert after concert, year after year.
We've all seen The Who frontman swing his SM58 tethered to a cable at high velocity...it wasn't always a happy landing. Daltrey actually did have an SM58 fail on him one night, but upon further review after yards of gaff tape was removed, it turned out to be a faulty cable and the mic continued to work just fine for the rest of the tour.
And during his early years with Black Flag, Rollins would literally crush his SM58 in his hands, the intensity of his grip tightening as the show went on. By night's end, the mic would be immersed in sweat and the grille would have dents from Henry's vocal technique and precise thumb placement. I have a mic in my office that he used for multiple spoken word tours. Only after 10 years and over 750 shows did the mic begin to show a little wear and tear in its audio characteristics.
Crafting a solid piece of steel that can survive the rigors of the road is one thing, but the other characteristic of the SM58 that always gets compliments is its honest audio quality. Now, I say "honest" because that is exactly how it has been described to me over the years. The SM58 is famous for its live performance and is considered the gold standard for authentic vocals. Engineers and musicians alike always have the same reaction: The mic simply sounds like the artist in his or her truest form. Henry Rollins appreciates this and will use only the SM58 for studio sessions. It's the same routine every time, an engineer will want to try some new or vintage mic on Henry's vocal. For a small amount of time, Henry will go along with this little experiment. But after awhile, he recommends the SM58 and then proceeds to deliver his vocal track. At this point, the engineers always seem to marvel: "That sounds like you!"
Over the past 50 years, the SM58 has won over some of world's most legendary performers. And that has helped pass love for the mic to a new generation of musicians. Vocalists growing up seeing Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, Bruce Springsteen and Run-DMC using the SM58 want the same look, sound and feel as their idols. And when they finally do get that piece of steel in their hands, they think of the mic's history and the artists that have relied on its audio quality and durability. That's when they become part of the SM58 family.
I think that's the story that I hear most from artists: They all at some point started in a band in the family garage or basement and one day their singer showed up with an SM58. A mic just like the ones they saw in the pictures of their favorite band. At that moment, they felt like they made it. That's a whole lotta love for a $100 piece of gear.