THE SM58: SETTING THE STANDARD
Is the SM58 the most popular microphone of all time? Quite possibly, yes. What else could handle Run-DMC’s rhymes, Frank Carter’s screams and Mitski’s drama with such ease? There’s simply no substitute when you’re onstage and everything is on the line. It looks right. It feels right. Most importantly, the SM58 just sounds the way a microphone should. It sounds natural.
So where to start with such a legend? This is a microphone so iconic, it’s even become an emoji. So let us praise you, venerable, versatile and oh-so essential SM58.
STUDIO TO STAGE
Pop divas crooning. Hardcore frontmen hurling abuse. Stand-up comedians dishing out blows just for laughs. This stage stalwart can truly handle anything thrown its way. There’s a good reason the SM58 has set the industry standard for live performance for more than half a century.
So, it’s a bit ironic to learn Shure initially developed the SM58 in 1966 to be part of a new line of mics for recording studios rather than the showtime superstar it’s become. Ever wonder what the SM stands for? Yep, that’s right: ‘Studio Microphone.’
Based on the Shure 565 model with the famous Unidyne III cartridge inside, the SM58 was perfectly suited to the human voice from the start. Shure then painted the new mic black, so it wouldn’t be too reflective under studio lights, and removed the off switch, so performers wouldn’t accidentally turn it off during a session. A cardioid pickup pattern blocked out unwanted noise and the ingenious shock mount made it nearly impervious to touchy-feely handling, unintentional bangs and other bumps.
Admittedly, none of these innovations really convinced audio engineers at studios across America to ditch their high-end condensers for a scrappy new dynamic microphone. But taken together, Shure had inadvertently just created the perfect mic for a stage-strutting rock ‘n’ roll singer.
It doesn’t take much imagination to understand why The Who frontman Roger Daltrey started using the new mic in the late 1960s. The SM58’s now renowned durability allowed Daltrey to perform his famous spinning mic trick, where he’d whirl an SM58 around his head by the cable before catching it.
‘I’ve found this mic to be absolutely remarkable. No one is more abusive to a microphone than I am. I slammed it at the floor…it didn’t break, it didn’t change the sound, it was extraordinary.’ – Roger Daltrey
Other early adopters included Robert Plant, Paul McCartney and Janis Joplin, followed by punk greats like Patti Smith, The Clash and The Sex Pistols. Henry Rollins became a fan during his time fronting Black Flag and still uses his favorite mic for his spoken word gigs. Of course, hard rocking artists continue to have a soft spot for the SM58: Frank Carter of the Rattlesnakes even has one tattooed on his leg!
Another important milestone: being embraced by the hip-hop community. Run-DMC, Public Enemy, Salt-N-Pepper and the Beastie Boys all relied on the SM58 to bust their rhymes at one point or another. And it was in the 1980s New York rap scene where it also became the preferred instrument for a whole new art form: beatboxing.
DROP THE MIC
From rock to rap and pop to punk, the SM58 over time built up a reputation that it was the mic that could survive almost anything. You could hit it, smash it, or spill your beer on it, and it would still work just fine. More importantly, it would still sound as amazing as ever.
One survived more than a week underwater after a hurricane, and people have even been known to use it as a hammer when nothing else was to hand. Of course, that astonishing toughness is no accident: it’s the result of great design and an incredibly rigorous Shure testing process.
‘After Armageddon, nothing will be left but cockroaches and SM58s.’ – Sylvia Massy, producer for Johnny Cash, Tool and Red Hot Chili Peppers
And finally, there’s that iconic ball grille on the end. Not only does it stop p-pops, plosives and wind noise, but it also acts as crumple zone. So the grille might bend, but all the important stuff on the inside remains protected.
Without the SM58, mic drops simply wouldn’t be the same.
Of course, nobody would use a microphone if it were only incredibly durable. It’s the audio quality that makes the SM58 such a legend: It just sounds like a microphone is supposed to. YOU sound like you’re supposed to.
The secret sauce? A carefully crafted frequency response that delivers warmth and clarity no matter if you’re a heavy metal screamer, indie pop princess or alternative R&B aficionado.
Combining bass roll-off with a smooth mid-range presence peak to enable vocals to cut through the mix sounds simple enough. But it took incredible engineering knowhow to package it into what has become the performer’s best friend: The SM58.
Have you got yours yet?