Gear Tribute: The Shure SM57, From 'Rumours' to The White House

Countless rock stars have stories of hard living and hardy survival — and so does the Shure SM57 dynamic microphone.

People back vans over it. They throw it against walls for fun. And still, that Shure microphone works fine.

During my time writing for On Tour With Shure magazine, I witnessed a 57 dropped from the top floor of a company’s world headquarters. After plummeting several stories, it hit the pavement with a crack worthy of a snare drum sample. And yes, it still worked.

Probably still does.

This stick of sonic dynamite occupies a vaunted place in the mic lockers of the world’s major studios, thanks to its low cost, ruggedness, and almost universally applicable sound. That’s why so many artists have been able to take it so far beyond the limits and limited roles of the typical studio mic.

One Mic to Rule Them All

It’s said that the Red Hot Chili Peppers, for instance, used SM57s to record the whole drum kit on 1991’s Blood Sugar Sex Magik.

The mic has played an even bigger studio role with Anthony Kiedis’s vocals. On Californication, “Anthony always used an SM57 for his lead vocals,” recalled Jim Scott in an interview for Sound on Sound from December, 1999.

“We put it on a stand, but I'm sure he held it in his hand, and leant on it and swallowed it. That's how he gets his sound, but it meant that it was important to compress him, in order to protect the tape."

Red Hot Chili Peppers - "Californication"

John Frusciante also used a 57 on his guitar cabinet for Stadium Arcadium.

For The Killers’ 2004 debut album Hot Fuss, Brandon Flowers cut all of his vocals with an SM57. That was the band’s way of capturing the energy and spirit of its demos. And on 2008’s Day and Age, guitarist Dave Kuening employed a pair of 57s to create a stereo guitar image: one close micing his amp and one placed at a distance.

Good Enough for Fleetwood Mac

But it’s not like the humble SM57’s prominent placement on major recordings is anything new. It was a go–to for Fleetwood Mac all the way back in the ‘70s.

Lindsey Buckingham’s guitar solo on “Go Your Own Way” from Rumours (a composite of several takes) sounds incredible, right? A SM57 captured it.

Fleetwood Mac - "Go Your Own Way"

Engineer Ken Caillat also confirms that the 57 was used for guide vocals on Rumours and some final vocals on the song as well. “I got some really great vocals with that mic,” Caillat told Shure’s website. “People thought I was using a very expensive tube mic, but I wasn’t. I think it’s hysterical.”

The SM57 comes with Callait on every session he does, and he says it commonly wins shootouts with vocal microphones that cost thousands of dollars.

I would tell anyone: don’t think about what the microphone costs. Just pick the one that sounds best for that job." - Ken Caillat

There’s something unique about the mic — some alchemy between its sturdy build, low cost, and versatile sound — that invites rare moments from musicians. Callait recalls a moment when he was recording Fleetwood Mac’s vocals for a track on Tusk.

Callait handed the vocalists SM57s while they were just sitting on a couch in the studio. There, they layered soft harmony parts without any headphones in sight — just playback over the studio monitors. “I would tell anyone: don’t think about what the microphone costs. Just pick the one that sounds best for that job.”

One Mic to Unite Them All

I heard these stories about Fleetwood Mac’s affair with the SM57 while writing for Shure, and it inspired me to ask Shure to greenlight an unusual experiment code named “Project 57”.

I recorded an entire song, start to finish, using 57s on everything: drums, guitars, lead and backing vocals, and bass (a Rickenbacker 4001 pumped, oddly enough, into a Gibson Lab Series L5 solid–state amp). As is always the story with the 57, it may not cost much, but the sound and vibe it generated hardly sounded cheap.

President Nixon with his 3 SM57s

The SM57 wasn’t just good enough for all of the instrument tracks in Project 57. It’s good enough for the most powerful man in America, and has been for decades.

One fascinating bit of SM57 trivia surprises many musicians and engineers. Every U.S. president since Lyndon Johnson has used the SM57 following its introduction in 1965. Why is this? For starters, the 57 doesn’t require phantom power, so it’s less likely to quit in the middle of an important speech.

LBJ used four of the mics at once, Nixon used three, and fast forward to this year’s inauguration and you’ll see Trump just needed one. It doesn’t matter if you throw it off your roof or stick it in front of the Commander in Chief. The SM57 always gets the job done.

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