When you think of Antique or Vintage microphones you probably picture the Shure Model 55. It’s one of those iconic mics that just grabbed the attention of the music generation during the late 30’s and into the 60’s.
Introduced in 1939, the Shure 55 mic became one of the most sought after instruments for singers, musicians and announcers. The looks appealed to young and old and the quality was top notch. It possessed a single dynamic element, which was cutting edge technology in the microphone world.
Sidney Shure founded the Shure Radio Company in the mid 1920’s. The company was mainly supplying radio parts throughout Chicago. Once Samuel, Sidney’s brother came on board, the company changed their name to Shure Brothers. Starting in the early 30’s, the company began to produce microphones for singers, musicians and broadcasters. Their first model was the Shure 33N. In 1939 they released the first single-element unidirectional microphone, affectionately known as the UNIDYNE aka unidirectional dynamic microphone. In doing so, they revolutionized the microphone industry.
The first model to really capture attention of the music world was the Shure 55A, known as the fatboy or fathead by collectors today. Along with the Shure 55A, the 55B and 55C were also produced. These designs were an immediate hit and anyone who could afford them, bought them up in droves. The design has been so successful throughout the years, that even today, Shure makes a similar model, albeit a little smaller, known as the Shure Super 55 Deluxe. While the new model might have better internals as far as performance goes, the quality and craftsmanship of the older models will probably never be matched. The shear weight and metal used in the older models has made them stand the test of time. I guess it is something about the weight and size that just makes them feel like quality works of art.
When the Shure 55S debuted, it again became a very sought after microphone. Gone was the bulky profile of the fatboy and replaced instead with a slimmed down version that was more refined and elegant. This new model would be called the “Baby Unidyne” or the “Elvis mic”, due to Elvis Presley’s on stage use of the mic. The postal service would even come out with a stamp of Elvis singing into the Shure 55.
Shure Unidyne Microphone Timeline For the Model 55
1939 – Shure introduces the “unidyne” cardiod dynamic microphone
- 55A – $45; cardioid; low impedance (50 ohms)
- 55B – $45; cardioid; medium impedance (250 ohms)
- 55C – $45; cardioid; high impedance (15,000 ohms)
The Fatboy or Fathead as they were called, were produced from 1939 – 1947. These microphones need the Amphenol MC3M connector, since they will not connect directly to a modern XLR connector. The 55C was designed for broadcast radios and other equipment with a high impedance input.
At some point in this timeline, the Sure Brothers also manufactured the Shure brand of microphones to Stromberg-Carlson. The only difference I could see between the Shure branded microphones and the Stromberg-Carlson are the name plates and model numbers. Stromberg-Carlson had model numbers that began with MC (MC-31, MC-32, MC-41 and so on). They may have also manufactured the 55 type microphones to other companies, but I haven’t seen them. Stromberg-Carlson’s microphones tend to be more rare, but for whatever reason don’t fetch as much on the market.
1940 – Shure introduces the Broadcast 555 cardiod dynamic microphone
- 555A – $60; cardioid; low impedance (50 ohms); shock mount in lower portion of mic
- 555B – $60; cardioid; medium impedance (250 ohms); shock mount in lower portion of mic
- 555C – $60; cardioid; high impedance (15,000 ohms); shock mount in lower portion of mic
Along with microphones Shure released a bunch of accessories for the 555 microphone line. The On-Off switch accessories were designed to allow radio announcers and recording studios to quickly turn the microphone on or off. The A32A Elastic Isolation Unit would help reduce vibration during recordings and radio shows.
- A32A Elastic Isolation Unit
- A83A Microphone”ON-OFF” Switch
- A80B Microphone”ON-OFF” Switch
- A84A Microphone push button “ON-OFF” Switch
- A85A Microphone push button “ON-OFF” Switch
- A72A Call Letter Plate.
These new accessories all had a really nice Satin Chrome finishes with Bakelite nobs and made the microphones really stand out.
- 55AV – $46; cardioid, low impedance (50 ohms); increased high frequency response for voice clarity in paging and two-way radio systems
- 55BV – $48; cardioid, medium impedance (250 ohms); increased high frequency response for voice clarity in paging and two-way radio systems
- 55CV – $48; cardioid, high impedance (15,000 ohms); increased high frequency response for voice clarity in paging and two-way radio systems
- 556A – $75; supercardioid; low impedance (50 ohms); shock mount in lower portion of mic
- 556B – $75; supercardioid; medium impedance (250 ohms); shock mount in lower portion of mic
- 556C – $75; supercardioid; high impedance (15,000 ohms); shock mount in lower portion of mic
- 55 – $55; cardioid; add three-position impedance switch (low-medium-high)
- 556 – $85; supercardioid; add three-position impedance switch (low-medium-high); add Cannon XL connector
This was the end of the line for the Fatboy or Fathead. (produced from 1939 – 1947)
- Introduced the A88A Grip to Talk Accessory
- 55S – $72; cardioid; add impedance selection switch (Low-Medium-High); “S” designation meant “Small”
- 556S – $100; supercardioid; add Cannon XL connector; add impedance selection switch (Low-Medium-High); shock mount in lower portion of the mic; “S” designation meant “Small”
- 55SW – $85; cardioid; add on/off switch; “W” designation meant “sWitch”
- 55S Gold – $93; cardioid; gold plated 55S
- 55SW Gold – $95; cardioid; gold plated 55SW
- PE55SH – $112; cardioid; factory set to high impedance; add plastic carrying case
- 55SH – $100; cardioid; replace Amphenol connector with XLR connector; eliminate impedance switch; internal high/low impedance choice on XLR connector
- 55SH Series II – $189; cardioid; low impedance only; new mic element
- Super 55 – $311; chrome case with blue foam; supercardioid; improved frequency response; low impedance only; no switch
- Super 55 BRC – $354; black case with red foam; limited production run; supercardioid; improved frequency response; low impedance only; no switch
Shure OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer)
From the 1940s to the 1980s, Shure had an OEM Sales Department. This department sought out opportunities to sell Shure products to other manufacturers that needed a microphone or phono cartridge as part of its own product.
Examples of Shure OEM products over five decades:
- 1940s – Western Electric public address systems supplied with Shure OEM microphones. Stromberg-Carlson MC-31 and MC-32.
- 1950s – Wollensak tape recorders supplied with Shure OEM microphones. Stromberg-Carlson MC-41
- 1960s – General Electric two-way radios supplied with Shure OEM microphones.
- 1970s – Dual phonograph turntables supplied with Shure OEM phono cartridges.
- 1980s – HME, Swintek, and Edcor wireless microphones supplied with Shure OEM mic elements.
OEM products were based on standard Shure models but with minor variations. These variations included, but were not limited to, unusual connectors, different cable lengths, uncommon product colors; obscure mounting methods, bulk packaging to save shipping costs, distinctive name plates with logos, and unique model numbers.
The 55s also had a letter designation that sometimes would be with them called “DY”. The DY stood for Dynamic Mic Element. The DY model designation was used when another manufacturer that packaged the Shure microphone, packaged it with one of their products such as a tape recorder, a two-way radio, or a public address system.
Examples of this are
- 55C – DY11
- 55S – DY12, DY12R, DL14A
- 55SW – DY12S
Check out others here
Here is where the problem comes in sometimes when trying to dig up historical information. The Shure historical records about OEM products became incomplete because the OEM archival documents were not kept by Shure. Eventually, every OEM product becomes obsolete as companies go out of business, exit certain markets, or update their products lines. When a Shure OEM customer stopped buying a Shure OEM product, the documents for the OEM product were sent to the customer because that specific OEM model, though manufactured by Shure, was “owned” by the OEM customer. For example, General Electric two-way radio mics were branded as GE products – manufactured by Shure. When GE stopped buying Shure OEM microphones, the microphone documents were sent to GE for their product archives.
Here is a link to the Vintage Shure Catalogs from 1933-1984
Here are some historical moments and the Shure 55 was there to witness and record the events.