Every musician has their favourite piece of equipment. Paul McCartney is renowned for his violin-shaped Hofner bass, and Jimi Hendrix became synonymous with Fender Stratocasters - but for Frank Sinatra, it was the Sony C37A microphone.
This condenser microphone, released around the world in 1958, was the perfect partner for Sinatra, bringing out the best of his voice when other microphones just couldn’t.
Before the microphone was invented, Sinatra struggled to find the exact sound he was after in the recording studio - after three or four takes, he would eventually walk out altogether, leaving his record label to pick up the bill for the day. After the microphone was installed in one of Capitol Record’s recording studios, Sinatra nailed every track in one take. Not only did Capitol consequently install C37As in every one of their recording studios, but Sinatra took a C37A on the road with him for his live shows.
Upon its release, the microphone was immediately hailed as a game-changer for the recording industry, surpassing the microphones made by the previously unrivalled German company Neumann.
Not much technology of any kind can claim to still be at the top of its game 50 years on, but the C37A still leaves musicians of all genres impressed by its formidable sound, capable of recording pretty much any instrument that it’s faced with.
Justin Vernon, the man behind Bon Iver, takes advantage of a plethora of instruments and equipment in his music, but he considers his vintage C37A to be his favourite piece of kit. It was used extensively on Bon Iver’s debut self-titled album, recording everything from the vocals to the acoustic guitars and the various percussion instruments.
Other notable advocates include Daniel Lanois and Mark Howard, two Canadian record producers who have used C37As to record pretty much every vocalist they’ve worked with, including Bono, Peter Gabriel and Neil Young and Bob Dylan.
During a talk at Berkeley Performance Center, Lanois discussed using the microphone to record Dylan: “You can get real close to the voice and the voice can become the central character of the production. On a couple of [Dylan’s] early records his voice sounded like a mosquito. I don’t want a national treasure to sound like a mosquito.”
There weren’t many things that were lucky enough to receive the Sinatra seal of approval, but the C37A was one of the few exceptions. It’s allowed producers and engineers around the world to record and capture vocals in perfect clarity - as the artist truly intended - for over half a century, and long may it continue.