10 Things You Might Not Know About the SM58

This year Shure celebrates the 50th anniversary of the world’s most popular mic, the Shure SM58® Vocal Microphone. Loyal users know that this rugged and reliable mic sounds great. But many may not know some of the fascinating history and technical facts about it.

#1  The “SM” in SM58 stands for “Studio Microphone.”

Shure microphones had been a fixture in the public address market for nearly three decades when Shure executives saw growth potential in the radio and television broadcast markets of the early 1960s. This led to the development of the SM microphone series. The SM57 (1965) and SM58 (1966) were based on the popular Unidyne® III 545 (1959) used for public address systems. These new SM models were intended for broadcast studio use, eliminating the on-off switch and featuring a non-reflective, dark gray finish.

 


SM58 Stonehenge Ad

#2  The SM58 faced extinction in 1970.

A single competitor was so entrenched in the broadcast market that radio and television stations weren’t excited about the new Shure SM microphones. Sales were sluggish, and plans were afoot to discontinue the SM58 and the SM57. As a last-ditch effort, the Shure national sales manager suggested introducing the mics to live sound engineers in Las Vegas. The mics were a hit in Vegas, and entertainers began to embrace these models for live performance. As they say, the rest is history.

 


#3  Add a meshed ball grille to the SM57, and you have the SM58.

Both models are based on the Unidyne III cartridge design developed by Shure engineer Ernie Seeler in the late 1950s. The primary difference between the SM57 and the SM58 is the grille design. The SM58 was designed for vocal applications, utilizing a ball grille that acts as an effective P-pop filter. The SM57 was designed primarily as an instrument microphone where a smaller grille size is preferred. In this application, P-pop is not a concern.

 


#4  You can turn it up to 11. Maybe even 12.

How much SPL can the SM58 handle? At what point will the sound distort? The answer is much higher than would be safe for your ears: somewhere in the 150 to 180 dB SPL level, close to the noise level of a space shuttle launch. A well-designed dynamic like the SM58 is unlikely to reach its distortion point under normal circumstances.

 


SM58 in Space

#5  Zero gravity is no challenge for the SM58.

In a video interview with The New York Times in April 2011, a wired SM58 is floating around and being shared by six astronauts on the International Space Station. It sounded great, and it provided a testing opportunity even Shure engineers could not have performed on Earth: the SM58’s performance characteristics when weightless.

 


Ernie Seeler

#6  Ernie Seeler, the man behind the development of the SM58, didn’t like rock and roll.

It’s ironic that a quiet man who preferred classical music invented a mic that would become synonymous with rock and roll, first capturing the attention of acts like The Who and The Rolling Stones. Shocked by its widespread adoption on the rock stage, Ernie Seeler said, “I love classical music, but rock and roll, I don’t take very seriously.”

 


Taped up SM58

#7  The SM58 was born to perform. In fact, it’s practically indestructible.

The SM58 has been subjected to caught-on-video tortures in a series of Shure Mike videos in which the sturdy SM58 was dropped from a helicopter, dunked in a pint of Guinness, shot with a 12-gauge shotgun, run over by a tour bus, tossed into the Pacific, grilled alongside some hot dogs, and slap-shot into the boards by the Chicago Wolves. Ernie Seeler tested the Unidyne III cartridge back in the 1960s by dropping, cooking, freezing, and submerging it. We can all thank the Shure Quality Assurance standards for its unfailing durability 50 years later.

 


#8  The SM58 capsule is still #1 in Shure wireless.

Currently, there are fourteen microphone capsules available for Shure wireless microphone systems. They range from the affordable PGA58 dynamic element to the new KSM8 Dualdyne™. Due to popular demand, the SM58 capsule is available for every one of the eleven Shure wireless lines.

 


Vintage Shure Microphone Drawing

#9  The internal acoustic design of the SM58 can be traced back to the Unidyne Model 55 introduced in 1939.

All Shure unidirectional cardioid microphones employ the revolutionary Uniphase acoustical network that engineer Ben Bauer began developing in 1937 and used in the Unidyne Model 55 microphone (1939.) Ernie Seeler advanced this technology in the 1950s by designing an end-address microphone with an internal pneumatic shock mount, the Unidyne III. The SM58 has a Unidyne III cartridge.

 


Artists with SM58s

#10  A variety of artists have turned this mic into an icon.

The SM58 has been the microphone of choice for Roger Daltrey, Paul McCartney, Henry Rollins, Patti Smith, Alice Cooper, Buddy Guy, Cheap Trick, G. Love, Martina McBride, Megadeth and countless other musicians. In fact, it would be difficult to name a major entertainer who has not used the SM58 at some time in their career.

 


Final thought: The Shure SM58 has become the touchstone for a professional vocal microphone, perfect in form, function, and feel. For many musicians, it is the only microphone needed for their entire career. Everywhere people make music, and for almost as long as music has been amplified, the SM58 has been “what you sing through.” If any product has ever earned the title of “worldwide industry standard,” surely the SM58 is it.

 

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Michael Pettersen

Michael Pettersen

Fascinated by music, sound, and audio technology since building a crystal radio set as a child, Michael Pettersen is the Director of Corporate History. Employed by Shure Incorporated since 1976, he is a contributing author to the 1,550 page reference tome "Handbook for Sound Engineers" as well as the sole author of numerous pro audio technical papers. In his personal life, Michael is a professional musician, published composer of choral arrangements, co-author of a biography about jazz guitarist Freddie Green, and a notorious raconteur.

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47 Comments

  • Bruce says:

    Bought my 1st 57 and 58 in the mid-70s And used both as instrumental mikes, prefer the 58 for saxophone. Still in excellent use, even though looking rough after 40 aught years on the bandstand.

  • Aaron says:

    I got a 58 for Xmas in 1996. Still use it and it still sounds great! Indestructible and fantastic piece of equipment!

  • Marcos Padilla says:

    My 58 has been with me for 20+ yrs it’s one piece of equipment I never have to worry about, thanks for the good times. See ya in 20 more
    \../(‘😎’)\../

  • Stevie Simpson (One Bloke One Mandolin) says:

    My SM58 just upped an failed from one gig to the next. I was stunned. I never dropped it, I looked after it. I was disappointed but I went out the next day and bought another cos I figured that ain’t gonna happen again.

  • Bruce Sorensen says:

    I have been using the same SM58 for the last 45 years on thousands of gigs. It’s been dropped, stomped and abused in more ways than I can remember and still works perfectly. (I have replaced the wind screen a couple of times)

  • Vince Warner says:

    The article starts off saying how the 57/58 was designed for studio work (“Studio Microphone.”)
    Then the article talks about how the mic was designed for stage work.
    Which is it?
    If “These new SM models were intended for broadcast studio use, eliminating the on-off switch and featuring a non-reflective, dark gray finish…”, then why did the 57 not have a plosive filter?
    This history makes no sense.

    • Webmaster says:

      The SM57 does not have a plosive/grill or screen as it was designed to be primarily an instrument microphone for studios (TV, radio, recording). The SM58 was designed to be a vocal microphone for studios, which is why it has the ball grill that acts as an effective P-pop filter. While the SM57 and SM58 were originally designed for studio use, both have found worldwide popularity as stage microphones for live sound.

  • Chris Harris says:

    I love my SM58 (and my SM57s, and Super 55…) but I doubt it’d withstand a Shuttle launch – not 180 dB, think more on the lines of 215 dB – and 220 dB, if you wait for the sonic boom to come back!
    http://www.makeitlouder.com/Decibel%20Level%20Chart.txt

  • RB says:

    It’s funny to me how many times I’ve had club sound guys and music store salesmen put up some new oddball mic and try to sell it as “just like a ’58, only better.” It never is. My 1982 ’58 is still getting the job done.

  • Tommy Z says:

    I witnessed the lead singer of Faith No More (Mike Patterson maybe?) do the unthinkable with a 58 onstage in Buffalo some years ago. Worst thing I’ve ever seen at a performance. But it still worked afterwards, though I can’t imagine anyone ever wanting to use or be near it again.

  • Buddy Lee says:

    I have an SM57 and a BETA 58A sitting here on my desk that I’ve had for about 30 years. They both still work like a charm. I remember one of the first bands I was in had about 30 0r 40 SM 58’s and about 15 or 20 SM 57’s. This was back in the mid 80’s. I love those mics.

  • Frankie Palermo says:

    I have an SM58 that I’ve been singing through for years… recently bought a Sennhauser for vocals, moved my 58 to mic’ing an amp! The stupid sennhauser failed on its FIRST gig…had to pull the 58 off and use for lead vocals..am returning the junk today and picking up a second Shure SM58!!!

  • Anonymous says:

    You can pound nails with

  • Joe S. Cline says:

    There’s a story I first heard about forty + years ago: Doc Watson was recording a new album [perhaps when he was with Vanguard Records?] and the recording engineer said, “Doc, I’ve got this great new mic you should try — it’ll make your voice sound even better than it does now.” Doc dutifully recorded a track or two through the “better” mic. He then stopped and said, “Son, have you got an SM58 I can used?” He then recorded his album through his faithful -58.

  • Bob McNamara says:

    As a Musician playing for over 45 years, I have always loved the Shure SM57 and SM 58. I have one I bought in 1986, and it still works every day. I own 9 SM58s, 6 SM57s, 2 SM81s, 1 SM52, and 1 KSM32. I love them all, and as a systems engineer for Mood Media, I sold hundreds of Shure mics to my clients.

    • Rebecca Senft says:

      Thanks so much for your comment. We’re happy to hear about your experience with the SM58 and other Shure mics!

  • Philip Hadler says:

    A very interesting read and I’ve always loved the way they perform, often they seem to have built in compression! Really surprised about the 57 plan! How odd!
    I have to say, only last week my two year old sm58 insert went open circuit! It’s only used 2/3 times a week and looked after, it happens!

  • Mark Kovacik says:

    I still use my SM58 that I bought in 1975-not a SINGLE problem ever!!

  • vic says:

    Also i believe John Lennon used a favorite SM58 for many of his solo album recordings.. possibly “Imagine”.. not some fancy Neuman etc..

  • vic says:

    I did sound for Black Flag in the early 80’s at the Lyon’s Club in San Diego.. needless to say the SM58 took a beating.. where i had to use the handle of a screwdriver to pound out the mess from the inside to a somewhat sphere.. and yes used it for concerts for the next few years.. amazing construction.. ;p

  • Steve Lee says:

    And it cost about 100 bucks at least 40 years ago and cost about 100 bucks today to buy. How is that possible?

  • David Pelletier says:

    Howard Harwood was the hero in #2. He was our buddy and took care of all the Tycobrahe acts. Stones, Tull, TYA, Faces, Fleetwood, Who, etc. in the early ’70s.

  • David madden says:

    Thanks for the info. My band in the 70s used Sure mikes and was successful doing so… jamaica w i.

  • Ricky Evans says:

    I love my 58 and my 57 and like Tom Petty I use a 57 for vocals quite often expecially and smaller venues , I have a 58 that my dad bought me when I was in high school and it still works great and that was a long time ago, I will not use any microphone other than a sure they are the best microphone ever made and if anybody’s using anything else it’s their loss !!!!

  • Mike Sokol says:

    Pretty cool that this year is also the 50th anniversary of Star Trek. Beam me up, Shure…

  • Scott says:

    Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull called Shure “The Harley Davidson of microphony.”

  • Jesse says:

    i have alway wondered what the difference between undine lll 57 and 58 and the newer 57 and 58

  • Dan Lesperance says:

    I had a trio in the late 80’s early 90s and one night the female drummers’ kick broke and we used a SM 58 under her foot to get a bass drum sound. 3 sets like that. She rocked it!

  • Brad says:

    The older 58s sound better than the ones made after 99 2000

    • Rebecca Senft says:

      Brad, thanks for your feedback. I’ll pass it on to our product team. Sound is subjective, so it’s always interesting to hear what customers think.

  • Norm says:

    I’m wondering how much the capsule of the 545 has changed as it morphed into the 58?

    • Rebecca Senft says:

      Thanks for the question, Norm. I passed it along to one of our application engineers, who had the following response:

      “The short answer is that it hasn’t.  The capsule in the 545 and 565 is the same capsule as the SM58, SM57 and SM7B capsule. 
      There are basically three features that differentiate the 545 and 565 from their SM cousins. 
      First is cosmetic – these two mics have a chrome, shiny finish, whereas the 57 and 58 are matte grey. 
      Second, the 545 and 565 have a selectable impedance – high or low – which can be switched by changing two contacts on the XLR connector.
      Third, with the exception of the SM58S, the standard SM58 and SM57 do not have on/off switches, whereas the 545 and 565 do.”
       
      I hope that helps!

  • Mikko Melakari says:

    Now we know what the “SM” stands for. Who would tell us what the numbers mean, then?

  • George Lyons says:

    Great information, fascinating history – long live the SM 58!

  • Pat says:

    Nicely done Michael.

  • Charles Buck says:

    Most may hold up well, but I’ve got a box full of dead ’58’s

  • Lonnietj says:

    I bought my first SM58 in 1987 and I swear it sounds better than a brand new SM58. A sound guy ripped out the wiring of my trusty SM58, can you recommend a fix???

  • T says:

    Very well done.

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