I have a conference coming up and I am contemplating whether to run my guitar rig in stereo or not. Both my amplifiers will have microphones on them. My delay and reverb pedals have modulation, so if I ran them in stereo I'd get a fairly good sweep. I have never played live with a stereo set up before. For the songs I am playing I need maximum presence and width. I just don't know if running stereo will make anything better or maybe having a stereo setup might even be worse due to both of the amplifiers sounding different.

L: Fender Hotrod Deluxe (6L6 driven) R: Goodsell Super 17 (el84 driven)

Does running stereo (with stereo effects) give you a bigger sound? Or is it a waste of time?

I will be playing outside with a fairly big sound setup.

  • Are you in a band or solo guitar? The only real benefit I can think of for running in stereo is if there is a vocalist that will be panned center. If the guitar is the primary instrument, I would not want it to be stereo. Also, this is a good thing to discuss with the engineer. – Todd Wilcox Nov 6 '16 at 3:28
  • In a band. Got two keyboardist who will be running mono. – jazzboy Nov 6 '16 at 21:30
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    Just to play devil's advocate from the comments and answers: live stereo can be done, and it often is done, even at open air massive scenarios. You do need the correct system design and optimization (great book), and sound guys that know what they are doing, though. Mono is safer and cheaper, but panorama is not unknown in the live world. One of my favorite festivals of all time ran a stereo setup in an open air 30,000 seat scenario, listened to Portishead in several different positions, and it sounded fantastic. – Jamm Nov 7 '16 at 4:56
  • I would only split the signal if you plan on altering the output of each channel. For example, one signal plays clean, and the second signal gets over-amped and reverb. That would make a pretty awesome sound, in my opinion, but that is just me. But, if you need only one sound, keep it together and let your board split the signal between the channels as determined by the sound guy to make a solid sound. – Sensii Miller Nov 10 '16 at 19:29

This is a familiar question for keyboard players; our instruments are stereo by default[note], so we have to decide whether to run in stereo or mono all the time.

The biggest issue with stereo is that speakers aren't very good at creating a uniform stereo image. There will be a sweet spot, where you can hear both parts perfectly. Outside of that spot, you'll won't get balance, or, in the worst case scenario, you'll get phase cancellation. Which will make you sound like garbage.

Stereo sound is undeniably better when you're listening through a nice pair of headphones, or monitors. My keyboard has far more nuance and detail in stereo. But the limitations of live sound make stereo a non-starter in most situations.

I would talk to your sound guy, but don't be surprised if he'd prefer to run you in mono. In the majority of situations I've seen, it's the best way to give the majority of the audience good sound. If he's not running the keys in stereo (assuming you have them), I doubt he'd want to run the guitar in stereo. I could be very wrong.

I've included some links to relevant discussions below. They discuss the pros and cons, and my general conclusion is that the extra complexity is not worth it.




[Note]: Todd rightly points out in the comments that there are quite a few classic keyboards that only have mono outputs. Stereo by default is a weak generalisation, but it doesn't really affect the answer.

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    On keys, it's nice to be monitored in stereo, so I think I sound good, but FOH needs to be mono. On guitar, outside (which I hate) mono is the only way/ – Tim Nov 6 '16 at 18:59
  • Thanks Endorph! I've listened to the same soundy at a different conference run both electric guitars and keyboard as stereo and it sounded really good. So it shouldn't be an issue with him - that co detente was also outside but it could of been my ears playing games. Yeh good advice! – jazzboy Nov 6 '16 at 21:36
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    Good answer, +1. Not totally related, but "our instruments are stereo by default" caught my eye, because when I think keyboards, I think Fender Rhodes, Wurlitzer 200A, Hohner Clavinet, Hammond B3, Yamaha DX7, Moog Model D and Little Phatty, and other classics that are mono. Some classics and many updated classics are stereo (Moog Voyager, Prophet 6, Oberheim OBX), but a lot of keyboard amps are mono. So it might depend a bit on what we think go when we think of "keyboards". – Todd Wilcox Nov 7 '16 at 3:22
  • @Todd Very true, it was a pretty broad generalization. I must confess I was thinking of your workstation/stage piano/performance synth type board. Although I might count a Leslie as a stereo output ;) – endorph Nov 7 '16 at 3:46

Sounds like you're panicking over not being "big" enough. Don't. If your songs don't need stereo in a small room, they don't need it in a big one. How many of the audience will be positioned to hear both sides in balance? Is the PA system stereo anyway?

  • Yeh PA is stereo. Probably just under a thousand within both L&R pan. It's is all setup up outside where people sit/stand on grass. – jazzboy Nov 5 '16 at 23:22
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    I'm really surprised an engineer would set up an outdoor PA in stereo. Or an indoor one for that matter. Most people will be closer to one side of the PA than the other so really it's hard to imagine more than a minority of the crowd getting a decent stereo image. – Todd Wilcox Nov 6 '16 at 3:27

Particularly outside in fresh air, stereo is not going to be as feasible as mono. The point of stereo is separation and spaciality (if that's the word) and outdoors neither has much effect on the sound heard. There is very little,if no reflection of sound and if the wind blows then that's blown it anyway. To appreciate the stereo spectrum there are particular sweet spots where the sound is perfect - probably 10% as opposed to the 90% of places to listen where it's not good at all.

Listening on headphones or in a studio/living room is good for stereo imaging, but once in even an auditorium, that effect diminishes considerably.

Don't waste your time and effort on this occasion, the result will not be appreciated by the audience - most of whom won't be in the best place to appreciate the spaciality anyway. Go mono - maybe boring for you, but unless you're exactly positioned, even you won't benefit.

The p.a. will probably be stereo, but pan centre and it works well as mono, and it's only going to be some effects (ping-pong echoes, at al) that will suffer, but I believe they won't be effective anyway in an open air situation. As in, the members of the audience won't be in optimum position anyway - unless fortuitously lucky.

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