The Shure SM58 is a microphone I have never owned, and it is not a model that I would particularly recommend. I can always think of a better alternative. Nevertheless, if I arrive to engineer a show and find that the theatre or the PA company have supplied SM58s for all the vocals I am not unhappy with the choice! It is unlikely that any of the vocals are going to sound amazing. At best they will probably sound good and at worst they will be ok. Part of the ‘magic’ of the Shure SM58 is that whilst accuracy is not one of it’s hallmarks, it does a reasonably good job of flattering most singers. The SM58 is like Dave the rhythm guitarist in your band………… He is never going to be an inspired soloist but he turns up at all the rehearsals and can be relied upon at the gigs to play the right chords. Not fantastic but utterly dependable. A safe pair of hands!
With the 58 it is not just vocals. If you run out of quality mics at a gig and a stray conga player turns up who is not listed on the technical rider you will inevitably stick a couple of 58s on them. [NB. It is a matter of scientific observation that no matter how many microphones are used at a concert there will always be 2 x SM58s left in the case!??] Not the best choice but they will do the trick! I once had a ‘guest’ fiddle player suddenly appear on stage during a live recording. He grabbed the nearest 58 on a stand and pointed it at his instrument. I hastily adjusted the gain and the impromptu fiddle track ended up on the album. (In fact quite a few people commented afterwards on how good it sounded!)
Another clue to the enduring popularity of the Shure SM58 lies in this photograph. They will put up with almost any amount of abuse!! On tour it is very hard to find one without a dented grill. In fact there is a brisk trade on eBay for replacement grills. (see pic above) You can drop a 58 regularly for 30 years and it will probably still be working (that may not quite be true but I have certainly seen examples that look like that is what has happened!) and after the gig you can store them in a damp, unventilated van. Don’t worry; just chuck them loose in the glove compartment or in an old cardboard box under the front seat. (These appear to be popular storage solutions preferred by SM58 owners!) Even when the paint is all corroded and chipped they will still be working just fine! A friend of mine was engineering at a festival a few years ago when an ‘overexcited’ singer vomited all over his 58. After a bit of a wipe and a rinse, unlike the singer, it was back in action! No problem!
The legendary rock’n’roll credentials of the SM58, I think, can be traced all the way back to the film of the Woodstock pop festival in 1969. The only mics used at Woodstock were in fact modified Shure 565s which are very similar to the 58 (just more shiny?!) They were used on everything from bass drum to vocals. Martin Scorsese’s film was seen by millions worldwide and in every camera close-up of the stars on stage there appeared the same Shure microphone! Woodstock was the first big festival PA system, setting a benchmark for years to come and cementing the place of the Shure SM58 in the forefront of popular music.
So Happy 50th Birthday SM58!
P.S. If you want to listen to sound clips of this mic there are several million on the internet!