We all know how Elvis took the music world by storm, well not as well known but equally cool was the Stromberg-Carlson MD-41 Microphone. Yep this was the same type of microphone that Elvis would sing into and drive the girls nuts. The microphone was actually produced by the Shure Brothers and Stromberg-Carlson just added their own branding to it. The MD-41 is basically the Shure 55S microphone designed for high impedance equipment.
Shure Brothers introduced the Shure 55 model in 1939. It was big and it was bad. The first model was called the Shure 55A and is known as the Fatboy or Fathead to microphone collectors and music lovers. The Stromberg-Carlson equivalent is known as the MD-31 and is essentially the same as the Shure 55A.
Stromberg-Carlson was originally located in Chicago. Stromberg heading marketing and getting out the word about their products. Carlson was responsible and oversaw manufacturing. They produced telephone equipment and in 1901 almost lost the company to a hostile stock takeover by Western Electric. The attempt fail and Stromberg-Carlson decided to reincorporate in New York to better protect themselves from this type of action. The company was purchased in 1904 by Home Telephone Company and operations were moved to Rochester, New York. Prior to WWII the company became a major manufacture of consumer electronics (telephones, radios and receivers). After the War, they would get into television sets and set their sites on the broadcasting market. One of their first purchases was WHAM, a radio station in Rochester, which was also one of the first FM broadcasting stations in the US. Sometime during this period, the Shure Brothers manufactured microphones for Stromberg-Carlson line. I haven’t found exactly when this occurred, so I would love to know more about how Shure worked with Stromberg-Carlson and what their relationship was.
The initial fatboy models for Stromberg-Carlson were the MC-31 and the MC-32. These were both manufactured by Shure after their model 55A and 55B. Looking at the Shure historical timeline, the MC-31 and MC-32 were probably produced around the same time as the Sure 55A, 55B and 55C. That would put the mics in the age range of 1939 – 1947, when shure stopped making the fatboy series. The MC-31 was geared towards singers while the MC-32 was geared more for the studio, broadcasters and engineers. You can read a little more about them from their 1950’s catalog.
After these two beasts were released the Stromberg-Carlson MC-41 was released. The MC-41 was smaller and lost that Fatboy look, but retained the same overall style. This is the microphone style that Elvis sang with and is known as the Elvis Microphone.
There isn’t a ton of information about these iconic designed microphones, so it is really hard to dig up much intel on them. They are supposed to be rarer than the Shure brand microphones, but for whatever reason they don’t sell for as much. The MC-32 seems to be the most rare of the 3, since it was more of a specialized microphone for radio announcers and studios rather than your generic singers. The MC-41 had to be made after 1950, since the 1950 catalog doesn’t contain any reference to it.
One thing to note is that these early microphones didn’t have an on/off switch like many microphones do today. To get around this Shure made an on/off switch called the A85C (A85C On / Off push button switch) and the A83B (A turn dial on/of switch). These could be attached to the bottom of the microphone.
Another thing you might see on the early models is a Impedance Selector Screw. The Shure 55S has a screw on the back part of the microphone that can be adjusted based on the desired Impedance of H,M or L and is written HML.
There are three general classifications for microphone impedance. Depending on manufacture, these guidelines may vary slightly. Impedance is measured in ohms, shown with the Greek Omega symbol Ω. A microphone with the specification 600Ω has an impedance of 600 ohms.
- Low Impedance(less than 600Ω)
- Medium Impedance (600Ω – 10,000Ω)
- High Impedance (greater than 10,000Ω)
L or Low impedance is generally the preferred choice. Low impedance microphones should normally be connected to an input that has the same or higher impedance. Connecting a microphone to a lower input impedance source will usually cause loss of signal strength. The main rule of thumb is the lower the impedance the better the microphone. Microphones that only come with a high impedance are normally less expensive and not as good. The reason why you might want to switch impedance is to better match the input device the microphone is attaching to.
So far I haven’t seen any imitations out there, but as with most antiques, once the price starts to rise, imitations naturally hit the market.