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Q: How can I record an electric guitar in stereo?

A reader needs to know how to give an electric guitar a sense of size and space. So how can he do that?


Imagine you are at a concert. Imagine the guitarist. Imagine his Marshall stack, Fender Twin or Mesa Boogie, as you please. From your position in the audience, how wide is the speaker cabinet?

Perhaps as wide as the width of a pencil held at arm's length. So how much stereo spread could you possibly want on that?

OK, recording is different and we don't have to copy what happens in live performance. You can make a single electric guitar as wide as you want it to be. Here's how to do it, in seven different ways...

Double track the guitar, pan one track hard left, the other hard right. For this to work well, the playing has to be a little bit dissimilar rhythmically, but not too much. If you have a guitarist who plays so well you can't tell he has been double tracked, put him in line quickly for the Guitar Hall of Fame - he's a god!

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Put a short delay on the guitar, pan the original hard left, the delay hard right. This doesn't make the guitar fill the space between the speakers, it puts one signal on the left and the other on the right, with nothing in-between. It's not a bad sound though, well worth trying.

Put an effect like a phaser on the guitar, pan the original hard left, the phased version hard right, as above. Nice. Floydy.

Use two phasers, as above. Two completely separate phasers work best. Even better if you have an MXR Phase 90 and an MXR Phase 100 (Whoops - prices instantly up on eBay!)

Use a pitch changer, original-left, pitch-changed-right. You only need a few cents of pitch change - eight or ten is normally enough.

Double track the guitar, but varispeed one track as you record. If you know how to do this, don't tell anyone and keep it your secret. It's that good.

Rewire the pickups to give a stereo output, so that you can pan the bridge pickup one way, the neck pickup the other. This technique actually can give a guitar that fills the stereo sound stage all the way across, rather than localizing separately in the two speakers. Worth trying at least once in your recording career.

OK that's my seven tips done, although I do still have a few more up my sleeve.

Anyone care to offer some alternative methods?

P.S. The guitar in the pic is a Gibson ES-355TD SV, which is indeed a stereo electric guitar.

By David Mellor Thursday March 17, 2011