The question “should you record a guitar in mono or stereo?” is one that many guitarists often ask, but rarely have an answer to.
They may know their guitar well enough to know whether they want to record the same track in mono or stereo, but are not familiar with the inner workings of audio formats.
There are times when the situation is such that only one format is required, such as a mono tape of an acoustic guitar played on the radio.
In this article we will try and explain what these differences are and why you might prefer one format over the other.
To begin with, let us take a look at what mono audio means
Mono means “one channel” – that is how much sound is allowed to enter on to the track.
Stereo, on the other hand, has a maximum of two channels (or channels, to be more precise).
If the mono tape is being recorded using an internal or “dry” compressor, this can often cause the recording to become uneven.
So what do we mean by uneven?
This basically means that the recording sounds bad.
If the guitar player attempts to play using an external compressor, he will likely hear himself sounding distorted.
If he tries it using a midi device, the result is a bit sloppy and a little dull.
When trying to mix the tracks back into one another using a computer, you will likely notice that the mix becomes thin and lacks depth and overall quality.
The pros and cons of mono and stereo recordings
If you are only using your guitar for playing gigs or practice time, the benefits of recording in mono are obvious – you can simply pan the guitar up or down without worrying about losing quality in the process.
If you are a serious guitarist with a real passion for music, however, and planning on recording and performing live shows as well as recording albums with your band, the pros of recording in stereo are particularly helpful.
In a nutshell, the mono recording process means that all the tracks are recorded within a single sound mixed down to just one track.
If one mono track is left and the other is also left, the mix is balanced.
What this means for the guitar player, is that he is able to hear himself and the band clearly as separate entities, with separate signals to feed into his guitar.
The main disadvantage of recording in mono
The main con of recording in mono is that the instrument picks up “noise” much more easily.
The instrument pickup may pick up other sounds such as footwork or vocal chords and then produce their own sound.
This means that the guitar part may appear to come out a bit flat compared to the rest of the tracks.
For some guitarists, this can be enough to discourage them from using their own guitar for live performances.
The pros of mono recording would include the fact that the clarity of the recording is much better.
Since the music is compressed, the quality is usually much better than the quality of compressed recordings on CD or DVD.
The guitars sound is also more clear and does not seem distorted when recorded in mono.
The mono tracks also have a life of their own, unlike the pre-recorded guitar tracks on CDs and DVDs.
What to do if you are a beginner
If you are a beginner guitar player who has no intention of learning how to play guitar masterfully but still wants to get some gigs up and running, then I would suggest practicing your guitar in mono.
Start with a very simple recording using only the strings of the guitar and an acoustic guitar.
The trick is to make the recording as simple as possible so you can concentrate on perfecting your skills.
As you become more experienced you can move to using more tracks and more instruments, but the key to success with a guitar is to start with simple recordings.
With some practice, I am sure you will be able to master the guitar in mono.
Can you make a mono recording stereo?
Is it possible to record a stereo on a disc which can be played on an iPod or similar device and then transferred onto a CD, or can you make a mono recording onto a disc and then play it on the radio?
In other words how do you get your mono onto a recordable CD?
I’m not sure if there’s actually a term for this but in my mind I would call it mono.
Mono means “one track”, so technically it can only have one track on it.
Why would someone want to record in mono?
Well, let’s say you wanted to take a tape recording of yourself playing a solo guitar and transfer it onto a CD.
This is achievable, since most home computers come with audio software which can be used to “record” onto a disc.
However what would happen if you wanted to transfer this same recording onto a CD?
Well, as things stand currently it’s quite impossible.
The current technology simply isn’t good enough yet to record a mono onto a recordable CD.
What’s more, if you were to record a stereo onto a CD, then you would need two devices – one for the stereo and one for the recording.
This seems a little silly isn’t it?
Especially, when you think that any “proper” stereo system can easily produce two tracks on a single device.
But despite this obvious flaw, it’s not completely impossible.
What are your options?
There are two options open to you here.
Firstly, you could try and hack the audio onto a CD – which is actually what many people do.
Unfortunately this rarely produces the desired result and often leads to a botched up recording.
Another problem is that even if you do manage to get a recordable CD to listen to, the quality will be highly compromised as most CD players weren’t designed to play mono.
The second option is to create a track that has all the parts of the mono recording placed onto a single track.
You may think that this is easier said than done, but with the right tools and guidance it can be done quite easily.
How to create mono recordings
One of the best ways to create a mono recording is with the aid of virtual instruments.
By now you’ll have probably been playing around with recording software.
One tool that I find very useful is called Fruity Loops Live.
This software allows me to record my music directly onto a mono track, without worrying about having to edit it on another computer.
With this amazing piece of software you basically drag and drop everything into place, and it makes it all playable.
There are some other methods you can use if you really want to avoid editing your work in another program.
One such way is to use virtual instruments, like the famous Kick drum.
They are inexpensive, easy to obtain and can be used within any digital audio workstation.
Use a converter
Another way of achieving a mono recording onto a PC would be to use the converters.
These can be purchased and are useful for both recording and mixing mono tracks.
They do a little more work, but in exchange they produce great sounding stereo tracks.
If you’re after something a bit more professional, then you can always hire a professional to record your music for you – but this can end up being quite expensive.
What issues you may face
Recording onto a PC isn’t always as simple as you might imagine.
One common problem is compatibility issues with hardware and software.
I recently recorded a session while travelling on the train.
Each time I restarted the recording my computer was offline, and no matter how many times I refreshed the page my recording wasn’t saved.
Luckily, I have a USB microphone/headphone combo device that I keep in my bag at all times, which makes using external hardware extremely convenient.
As well as compatibility issues with equipment, you also have compatibility issues with your computer.
Many programs won’t recognize the mono format and will try and force you to open a recording in the traditional format.
This can be very frustrating, as the sound quality is often very poor.
Choose the right software
To improve this problem, you can get software designed to convert mono recordings to stereo.
These can be downloaded from the Internet and work very well.
A mono recording onto a PC requires some thought if you want to get the best results.
Even if you do open your recording up in the correct program, there’s a chance that it won’t play correctly.
Another issue is the loss of track cord activity.
If you’re recording in a room where there’s a lot of noise, the resulting recording will be very weak.
However, if you do your research and set your budget at the highest end possible then a mono recording should be perfect for your needs.
Are guitar amps mono or stereo?
This is a question many beginning guitarists often ask.
Mono amplifiers are great for solo performances and when you only need to play one guitar at a time, such as a lead guitar or rhythm guitar.
If you use multiple amps on the other hand, say for backing tracks, then you’ll need a stereo amplifier.
The most important thing to know about guitar amps is what kind of signal you need to hear on the guitar.
You need a minimum and ideal level of audio clarity for your guitar sound.
Some guitars are designed to handle lower signal levels, while others need higher signal levels.
What types of audio formats your guitar can play?
For guitarists who are used to playing with more high-powered guitars, the answer might be “mono.”
A mono amp allows you to run both pickups through one speaker, thus giving you a single signal to play.
A mono amplifier will use one amplifier head and one preamp input for both pickups.
One drawback of running two amplifiers is that switching back and forth between them is not always easy.
Stereo amplifiers usually use separate channels
They are designed so that each channel can run separately without affecting the others.
True stereo guitar amplifiers are often found in recording studios and work best when there are three sources for guitar sound.
There are even some true stereo units that are designed specifically for use with microphones.
Another type of true stereo unit is the “stereo push” model.
This type of unit allows you to send a signal that is already recorded directly to another input on the guitar.
In order to receive the signal, the guitar must have the capability to process the signal.
True stereo push models are sometimes used for recording demo tracks because it’s easier to hear a live guitarist rehearse live rather than trying to use a microphone that requires line-in.
What is guitar amp simulation?
Guitar amp simulation has been around for years and has experienced a resurgence in recent years due to the advent of digital sound processors.
Some processors are designed specifically to process audio signals and convert them to true stereo sound.
Simulations can be used with traditional guitars as well as many popular source units.
Some processors even have knobs that allow the user to control the sound of the instrument.
If you’re still asking, “are guitar amps mono or stereo?”, the answer is “no”.
Even though two guitar pickups will likely produce a stereo sound, chances are that each pickup will also reproduce a mono sound.
However, if you want to hear two guitars sounds at the same time, you should use two separate amplifiers.
There are times when it’s not necessary to play two instruments at the same time.
For example, if a performer is only playing one instrument and needs a foot pedal for another instrument, an amplifier that has a mono mode is appropriate.
When you don’t need two amplifiers
Other times, there may be no need for two guitar amps.
Some professional guitarists like to use three guitar amps so that they can mix different techniques and guitar parts.
Even though the cost of three guitar amps may be more than a single one, the additional equipment will make the musician’s sound much more professional.
On the other hand, a true stereo will require three separate audio channels.
Even if you don’t plan to play three instruments at the same time, using three amplifiers will give you the best sound.
There are times when one guitar part can be recorded separately but a mono mix is required to ensure that the finished track sounds well.
The music genre plays an important role
As you can see, answering the question, “are guitar amps mono or stereo?”, can depend on the type of music you plan to play.
If you want to listen to your guitar recording with other people, stereo gear is most likely needed.
However, if you want to record your own guitar tracks, then you should use two amps and use the output of one to play the recorded track.
Whether you should choose an amplifier model based on whether it’s mono or stereo, though, will depend largely on your budget.
Stereo amplifiers can be more expensive than those designed for mono signals because of the additional signal required for stereo recording.
However, many guitars enthusiasts find that the additional harmonic distortion that stereo units cause is worth the extra money.
It’s also important to consider how the guitar will be used.
Some guitars will require a direct signal to be recorded so it makes little sense to invest in an expensive guitar amplifier when you’re only likely to use it once.