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'Electronic Guitar: Stereo or Mono - EMusician

Electronic Guitar: Stereo or Mono

Three ways to create a wider guitar sound (and what to ask before you do)
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For a brief moment in the ‘90s, I employed a stereo guitar rig. It comprised a Fender Pro Junior amplifier, used exclusively as a preamp by bypassing its speaker (though not its power tubes), plugged into a Marshall load box that sent the signal to an Alesis Quadraverb. From there it was split and sent into a stereo MOSFET power amp, and then into two custom-built 1x12 cabinets.

The Quadraverb let me to run one side dry and the other with no original signal; just a slight pitch shift and delay. That kind of stereo rig is commonly known as “wet/dry,” with the processed signal emanating from one speaker and an un-processed signal coming out of the other to create a stereo spread.

Another method of creating stereo is to use a stereo chorus where both outputs include the effect, but are out of phase with one another, and each output signal is run into a separate amp. Or, you might run different delay times, blended with the original signal, into two separate amps. Those routing types are known as “wet/wet.”

A third method was common to Los Angeles rigs of the ‘80s. The “wet/dry/wet” setup places a dry amp in the center, with two entirely wet amps on either side.

STEREO ONSTAGE AND OFF

Any of the above combinations can sound magnificent onstage—at least to you. But depending on the playing situation, they can either fill out a trio or muddy up a quintet. This brings us to the Hamlet-esque question: To stereo or not to stereo?

In your home or within your personal space onstage, a stereo rig can surround you with an ethereal cloud of sound and let you revel in your doubled output power. However, in a band context—especially with one or more keyboard players and/or a second guitarist—you could easily find the presence and clarity of your musical statement receding into the sound created by the whole band. Alternately, you can create resentment as your massive washes of delay and reverb obscure the contributions of your bandmates.

Then, there is the audience to consider. In a small space, they might hear the effect of your stereo spread. But in a bigger venue, it’s trickier: Unless you have a mic on both amps running through a stereo P.A., which is properly mixed and panned by a qualified sound person, you are the only one who is going to hear your playing in proper stereo.

Even with the above advantages, if you are running a wet/dry rig, the audience off to either side will only hear either the wet or the dry signal. You could have both amp mics coming through both sides of the P.A., but then you might as well be in mono as far as the listener is concerned.

This is not to discount the inspiration you feel when playing in stereo. If it adds to your creativity and enhances your performance, it will benefit you, your bandmates, and your audience, regardless of whether they can hear the full effect.

SPACE CONSIDERATIONS

In the studio, some of these same principles apply. Will a stereo guitar obscure other instruments in the mix? Will a wet/dry mix mean the effect will be lost if you are sitting closer to one stereo speaker than the other?

If you are contemplating using stereo guitar, here are three examples of how to try it in a DAW before you record or attempt it live. Try A/B-ing them against a single mono-guitar signal. You may find you prefer the latter in the studio—and live.

Fig. 1

Fig. 1

Figure 1 is a wet/dry arrangement. The dry guitar signal is panned right, while a completely wet, slightly delayed signal is panned to the left.

Fig. 2

Fig. 2

Figure 2 is a wet/dry/wet setup. Here, one dry track is sent to the output and to two wet tracks. The free Musical Entropy Spaceship Delay plug-in is installed in the stereo channels running 100% wet and set for two different tape-emulated delay times.

Fig. 3

Fig. 3

Figure 3 is a wet/wet structure with a stereo delay set to two different times mixed into the dry signal. In a live situation, you might use a stereo delay pedal to split the signal or run a mono delay through a stereo chorus.