In this post, I was given some tips on arranging electric guitars. However, I would like to do further reading on the subject (spreads, range, register, coupling, doubling, unisons, etc), and I can't find anything outside of the realm of jazz/big band and classical music. I am wondering: is there another stringed instrument (orchestral) that is similar enough to an electric guitar that I can use it as a proxy for an electric guitar? For example, if I study orchestration for "strings", would I learn a thing or two that can be applied to the electric guitar?

FYI, i'm working with a pop/rock setup--electric bass, two electric guitars, a vocal, and drum kit.


  • When you say “orchestration”, what other instruments do you want to have the electric guitar playing along with? Generally orchestration is a study of using different instruments together. May 4 at 2:14
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    One thing to bear in mind with electric instruments is that amplification/distortion/processing can all dramatically change the spectral space that the instruments take up and thus how you arrange them, even in a live performance context. In particular, EQ can give you a lot of flexibility to overlap in ways that otherwise would conflict too much. Compression, saturation, distortion and reverb can also expand a instrument to take up way more space than it could otherwise fill when played relatively dry.
    – Dan Bryant
    May 4 at 15:08
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    Finally, sometimes not knowing the rules leads to better music. Some of the great modern composers did not apply music theory or orchestration principles and made new sounds. Duke Ellington is one example. He frequently wrote lines for instruments that any classically trained arranger would forbid! But the results were great. Use your ear and be objective.
    – user50691
    May 9 at 12:50
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    @DanBryant I think this is one of the reasons I am so intimidated by electric instruments. You can make a single note sound fat and a full chord sound thin. it makes no sense! Too many options!
    – 286642
    May 9 at 18:29
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    @286642, everything. He broke the rules every time. I sat in on a Duke course in grad school at our music department and the instructor once worked for Duke
    – user50691
    May 9 at 21:49

Orchestrating the instruments in a rock band is pretty straightforward. Generally the guitars play above the bass. The challenges are not invading the bass territory and not drowning out the singer.

In terms of how to study it, the best answer is by analyzing the existing literature. Bands like Led Zeppelin (in recordings), Metallica, and AC/DC have very effective multi-guitar arrangements. Alice In Chains, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden also come to mind - “Fell On Black Days” by Soundgarden stands out in my mind in terms of its guitar arrangement.

Also the Eagles and some songs by The Beatles. Pop music in the 1980s and from today are less likely to have multiple guitar parts, so I wouldn’t look too closely there. Country music is another place with more lush guitar arrangements. Also Eric Clapton - I think “Layla” has five or more guitar parts.

  • "The challenges are not invading the bass territory" If you studied the music I listen to, it might seem that the challenge is "we keep running out of notes on the low end of the guitar". And no matter how poorly you arrange your guitars, the bass will still have an entire octave below the guitars, unless you use some unusual alternate tunings.
    – Edward
    May 4 at 20:57
  • @todd wilcox, any particular beatles tracks that come to mind?
    – 286642
    May 7 at 1:54

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