Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Cadillac of vintage microphones

A 1939 Cadillac
When I wrote an older post about the Turner 33 series, I compared vintage microphones to the streamlined designs of 30’s-60’s cars. Well, after doing some research to write about the Shure 55, I found out that the microphone that would become so popular in live performances, radio stations, and famous speeches, was actually inspired by the front grille of the 1939 Cadillac. Like the vintage microphones, those pieces of art on wheels are in a category of their own, providing us with a design that we would never see again. Sure, there are really well designed cars today, but very few make us breathless. At that time, both the streamlined mics and cars flourished during what would probably be their golden age.

In the late 30’s, Shure engineer Benjamin Baumzweiger (who later changed his last name to Bauer), was working on a microphone that would solve feedback problems. Before he created the 55, the unidirectional microphones available were much heavier and had two elements. Bauer’s breakthrough was to become the first single element unidirectional microphone. Shure would call this model the 55 Unidyne (UNI = unidirectional, DYNE = dynamic).
Scene from The Temptations
A young Elvis with the Shure 55
In the beginning, the 55 would have model variations (55A/55B/55C) for different impedances. The one pictured on this post is a model 55, which substituted the need for different models, with a high/medium/low switch on the back. It would also vary in silk color (black, red, or blue). In the 40’s, there would be more two more models, the 555 and 556 shock-mounted microphones. On a curious note, the precursor of the 55S mic is known today as the fat Elvis mic. And no, the 55S, the thinner and smaller version which would make its debut in 1951, is not called the skinny Elvis mic. Nor Elvis on a diet.
Scene from La Bamba
Up to this day, the 55 is the most recognizable microphone in the world. Throughout all these years, it captured the voices of so many different people in such different areas, like: Elvis Presley, Indira Gandhi, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, General Eisenhower, Eva Peron, Sarah Vaughan, Frank Sinatra, Groucho Marx, Harry Truman, and was even present at the signing of Japan’s surrender at the end of World War II. The DS rarity scale: 8.5/10.

A promotional photo of Walk the Line


  1. Really cool the comparison you made, vintage microphones to the streamlined designs of 30’s-60’s cars!

  2. Where can a person purchase a new vintage microphone in this make/model?

  3. Where can I purchase a new version of this make/model?

    1. Hi Mel! Shure stopped making this model some decades ago. You can only find this specific model used, on Ebay, private sales, or at a musical instruments store. They do, however, still make the thinner version, now called Super 55 Deluxe. You can easily buy these online, on sites like Amazon, or on their own site:



      If that's still too pricey for you, there's still the Shure 55SH Series II, which was made until Super 55 came out: