I like simple, tough and reliable things. Things that do not have fancy features, that are not over designed and that do one job and do it well. Of the few cars I’ve owned for example, the ‘71 VW Beetle and the ‘71 Mini are my favorites, because they were simple, could be beat around, and fixed without great expense. However, I never really needed to fix them too much, because they were just so damn reliable.
Not much of the equipment we use in the production of our shows and events could really be called simple and tough, although most of it is reliable to a point. We can’t throw around our lighting consoles or sound boards, not if we want them to work the next time. Same with the lighting instruments themselves, or a video projector. If we could, if the gear was that tough, the road case industry would disappear overnight, and if that happened, the crew would have nothing to case surf across the stage on, and we can’t have that.
One of the pieces of gear we use, and use a lot, one that does take a beating, one that is simply and effectively designed, and almost never fails is also happens to be one of my favorite pieces of equipment, the Shure SM58 microphone.
Now before your eyes glaze over at the mere mention of product numbers and the like, I can guarantee you have all seen and heard an SM58 in your lives. That is if you have ever been to a live concert, a gala or event, a wedding or Bar Mitzvah, or anytime someone was using a microphone. The chances that it was an SM58 are very high (see the image above).
So here’s just a little history on the microphone. The Shure Radio Company was founded on April 25 1925 by S. N. Shure as a one-man company selling radio parts kits before factory-built radio sets were marketed. They expanded into the manufacture of it’s own microphone designs in 1931. One of Shure’s first iconic microphones was the Model 55 Unidyne Microphone developed in 1939, and that models smaller variant, the 55S become known as the “Elvis Microphone”. You will all recognize that one too:
In 1965, they developed the SM57, known now as the “President’s Mic” as it has been used for every U.S President as their lectern mic since Lyndon B. Johnson.
Around the same time, Shure developed the SM58, and it rapidly became the microphone of choice by rock musicians, primarily for its rugged reliability and great sound quality. It was the Who’s Roger Daltrey’s choice for swinging over his head because if it hit the stage it would continue working. Also it was and still is affordable, one of the first mics to offer it’s level of quality, and still be able to work after being run over by the band’s van when the drummer, for some reason, is allowed to drive.
So what is it that make it so good really?
For a start it’s a cardioid Dynamic microphone meaning it works via electromagnetic induction, and has a pickup pattern that is rotationally symmetrical about microphone axis which means……WHAh WAH WAHH AHH AH WAH WAh wah…………and other dry boring technical stuff.
Simply put, the way it picks up sound reduces the chance of feedback. If you’ve never heard feedback, it’s when sound goes from the speaker, into the mic, and loops without stopping, an annoying screechy noise the seems like its never going to stop. Think weekly interdepartmental budget meetings, and you get the idea.
It also is built with internal shock mounts, which reduce handling noise. This is when the sound of someone grabbing the mic or it being clipped to its stand is amplified through the body of the mic. Not such a big deal in a studio, as the mic is not touched or removed from the stand as much. But in a live situation, when it’s going to be yanked from the scarf covered mic stand of Steven Tyler, as he dives to his knees in crescendo of “Dream On”, you want to hear his high screams and his wide vocal range, not the thump and bump of the mic.
For those too young to know who Steven Tyler is, or the song “Dream On”, turn off the Beyonce or Bieber and run, don’t walk, to Google.
Lastly, and my favorite little repair hack for them, deals with the grill, or the wire mesh ball at the top of the mic. Sometimes during its use, this grill will get knocked about, deforming it, or making flat spots. Fixing this is easy. Just unscrew the grill, and place it over the rounded top of a broomstick. Lightly tap the flattened area with a hammer from the outside and you’ll re-shape the grill back to original.
After all this though, why do I like them so much? Because they harken back to a simpler time. Don’t get me wrong, give me a new Ion lighting control console over a manual analog board any day. Same with digital audio consoles, or a modern projector over a tri-gun one from decades ago that needed three crew to carry it.
The SM58 was just designed and manufactured in a way that I can’t see ever happening again. Solid, made to last. A visitor from the past, still with us today.
Now you kids get off my lawn!