How To Record Electric Guitar In Stereo | Decibel Peak

how to record electric guitar in stereo

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One of the things that fascinated me about the Gibson ES-355TD was its ability to split the bridge/neck pickups into two different channels (stereo). If you don’t have one of these rare electric guitars in your possession, don’t worry because we’ll be learning how to record electric guitar in stereo using different techniques.

If you’ve been meaning to learn how to record electric guitar in stereo, there are actually many different techniques for you to consider. We’ll be looking at several possibilities including splitting your signal, using two microphones and we’ll even consider rewiring your pickups to mimic the Gibson ES-355TD. However, you’ll want to keep reading to find out how to make the most of these stereo recording techniques.

Recording electric guitar in stereo by splitting your signal

One of the easiest ways to learn how to record electric guitar in stereo is to split your signal. To be honest though, you could easily achieve this by simply duplicating the signal once it’s been recorded inside your DAW.

The only reason you’d want to split would be to create two different versions of the original.

For example:

  • One of them could be recorded through an amplifier
  • One of them could be recorded through your amp DI
  • One of them could be recorded straight into your audio interface
  • One of them could be recorded through your instrument DI

Take your pick, you could combine any of these options together!

Using DI boxes is my personal favourite way of achieving this. I usually use my DI box’s throughput to send an unbalanced version of my signal to my audio interface (and on rare occasions, to my amplifier).

In other words, it’s like having two guitar players for the price of one!

If you wanted them to sound identical though, you could simply duplicate the track.

However, the whole point of learning how to record electric guitar in stereo is to make it sound more interesting than it does in mono. We’ll be talking more about this later, but the first step is simply to create two different sounds from the same performance.

Does that make sense?

Once that’s been recorded, you’d simply need to pan one track left and the other one right.

Personally, I’m not huge on panning things hard left and/or hard right. I prefer finding the “sweet spot” where both sounds are separate, but still sound like they’re fusing together. The last thing I want to do is exaggerate the panning (that’d sound unnatural).

Now, we’re moving onto the next technique!

Recording electric guitar in stereo by using two microphones

Since most amplifiers aren’t stereo, it isn’t very common to record electric guitar using conventional stereo recording techniques. However, we can take what we learned in the previous section and apply the same principles here.

In other words, the results would be much more interesting if you used more than one type of microphone for the recording process.

For example, you could combine your favourite dynamic (moving-coil) microphone with another condenser microphone positioned farther away. You could even use a pair of matched condenser microphones like the Samson C02 and position them differently.

Regardless of what you choose, there’s MUCH room for experimentation here!

The only thing you’ll want to be careful about is creating phasing issues with your microphones.

The best way to avoid that is to place them relatively close to each other OR

You can also use some stereo recording techniques such as…

  • XY
  • ORTF/NOS

Either way, it’ll be close to impossible to get a natural stereo spread because electric guitar amplifiers are MONO. You’ll need to exaggerate the spread yourself by panning each channel away from one another.

Remember, the idea is simply to create two versions of the same performance.

At this stage, you just want both tracks to sound slightly different.

Recording electric guitar in stereo by rewiring your pickups

Using the Gibson ES-355TD as our example, we now know that it’s possible to wire electric guitar pickups to output two separate channels. However, 99.9% of electric guitars don’t come wired this way by default.

Luckily for us, there have been many attempts to modify such guitars!

The original concept was simply to have the bridge/neck pickups outputting signals at the same time using two different channels. That means that we’d be working with two different sounds originating from one performance (that’s the idea, remember).

However, I read this article and found out that it’s also possible to modify the pickups themselves so that one of them captures the higher strings while the other captures the lower strings. Does that sound similar to anything?

The stereo spread of a piano/keyboard performance works exactly like this!

The lower keys are on the left while the higher keys are on the right.

Electric guitars aren’t naturally made this way, so we’re using “trickery” to emulate the same effect as recording an actual piano/keyboard performance.

However, you won’t actually need to rewire your pickups if you want to achieve these results. I’ll be talking about how I’d personally approach this type of effect in the next section.

It’s only interesting for those of you interested in replicating the Gibson ES-355TD.

I recommend having a guitar technician take care of that for you (I’m no expert when it comes to wiring pickups and all that fun stuff).

Recording electric guitar in stereo using effects

Regardless of the method you’ve decided to work with, you should now have two different sounds for the same performance. Right? Okay, so we’re ready to start having EVEN MORE fun with these individual signals.

Let’s start with the technique we just finished talking about.

If you want to emulate that piano/keyboard sound without altering your pickups, it’s MUCH easier than you think.

All you’ll need to do:

  • The left channel should filter the high frequencies (LP filter)
  • The right channel should filter the low frequencies (HP filter)

You can achieve all of this by simply using your favourite EQ plugin!

Once that’s done, just make sure your tracks are both panned left/right and that’s it!

Another effect you can create is similar to the “double tracking” effect used for vocals. By manually repositioning one of your channels by a few ticks (forward/backward), you’ll be creating an “out of phase” sound.

The Beatles used this technique to record their vocals all the time (they pioneered it actually).

Similarly, you can also slightly detune one of your channels (by a few cents) to replicate the sound of a synthesizer. Oscillators are often slightly detuned to “thicken up” the sound, but remember, it’s all about subtlety here.

So, you’ve now got three ideas to start working with!

You can even share some of your own in the comments section!

Is it better to record electric guitar in stereo?

Recording electric guitar in stereo can be really exciting, especially if you’ve never considered doing it before, but it’s not always appropriate. Anything that takes up more space in your mix will undoubtedly be emphasized.

In other words, it really depends on what kind of mix you’re shooting for.

If you’ve already got a piano/keyboard track taking up that kind of stereo space, you’ll most likely have some clashing with an electric guitar recorded in stereo. If it were a solo performance, it’d obviously be foolish NOT to record electric guitar in stereo.

It also depends how many guitar parts you’re working with.

For example, most pop/rock tracks usually have at least two electric guitar parts.

Learning how to record electric guitar in stereo would be most beneficial for jazz musicians since the electric guitar can often be the main instrument. These types of mixes are also less cluttered, so the results will be much better.

However, there’s always room for experimentation in every genre!

By combining different versions of one performance, you can end up creating an entirely different soundscape. It doesn’t even need to be in stereo, you could simply layer these different versions to create entirely new sounds/textures.

On that note, I’m sure you can’t wait to get started! If you ever have any questions, feel free to leave them in the comments and I’ll get back to you as soon as possible.

If you’ve ever considered learning how to record electric guitar in stereo, you should now have everything you need to get started. It’s not as difficult as it sounds, but remember that you’re working against nature here. The electric guitar is naturally a mono instrument, although that may change in the future! By using the techniques we discussed today, you can essentially create an entirely new palette of sounds to work with. It’s almost like a hybrid of electric guitar and synthesis. If you’d like to keep learning more about recording electric guitar at home, I invite you to check out the other articles I’ve written on the subject. You can also grab yourself a FREE copy of my ebook if you’re interested in computers and making music (a winning combination nowadays). Thanks for reading, have fun!

Sources:

http://www.ultramagnetics.org/

http://levysounddesign.blogspot.com/2011/01/stereo-pickups.html

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2 Responses

  1. That is cool! I never knew that you could do a split in stereo like this .I do not play but my brother does,he has a band and often plays bars. He has been home for the past few months because of covid so getting him a DI box to practice with. His birthday is coming up so this will be great.

    1. Hey ccav99!

      I think getting your brother a DI box is a great idea! It’ll allow him to do stuff like this and more.

      I actually wrote an entire article on selecting DI boxes if it helps. Check out it here.

      Thanks for dropping by, take care!

      – Stefan

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