Guitars can sound very different, depending on many factors. The guitar, strings, and amps can play a huge difference. Another major decision you must consider for your guitar’s sound is having a stereo or mono setup. Which is more suitable?
Many factors may determine if mono or stereo guitar sound is better for you. These include:
- Musical Genre
- Budget & Available Gear
- Desired Sound Output
- Sound Preferences
This post explores whether you should use stereo or mono guitar sounds. We also examine how mono and stereo sounds differ and how they work on a guitar.
Want to see the latest guitar accessories that are popular right now? Just click here!
How Are Mono And Stereo Audio Different?
Mono and Stereo audio differ in sound source, sound separation, effects, listening environment, and spatial perception. Stereo is generally better than mono, but mono audio can be useful in some situations.
In digital or electronics, audio is delivered using speakers. These speakers beam out sound based on the electrical signals from a source.
The source could be a microphone, a music player, or a musical instrument such as a guitar. Depending on how you set the sound up, you can opt for a mono or a stereo audio setup.
Mono audio is usually delivered through a single outlet. This means Mono audio is usually delivered from a single speaker. Stereo is a little complicated, using multiple speakers.
Aside from the major difference above, there are also several other differences between mono and stereo audio:
In mono audio, all sounds are mixed and played out from a single source. In a band setting, for example, you may be using several microphones to record the sound of guitars, bass, and drums. However, the sounds come out from a single speaker.
In stereo audio, you can play out the sounds from separate speakers. This means you can dedicate separate speakers to play the sounds from different instruments. Using the setup above means one speaker for drums, one for guitar, and one for bass.
All sound sources are blended and played out in mono audio from a single speaker. This means the speaker positioning options are very limited.
However, you can experiment with the speaker’s positioning with stereo audio. You can place one speaker in front and one at the back. Some prefer to place them on the left or right. Feel free to experiment and see which works for you.
You can experiment with spatial perception in stereo audio but not mono audio. In mono audio, since all sounds come from a single source, the sound will always come from a single speaker.
With stereo audio, however, you can play with spatial perception. You can have the speaker produce sounds that pan from left to right, front to back, or have different speakers function at different volume levels.
These adjustments produce depth in sounds and change the spatial perception of the listeners.
Depending on the listener’s environment and position, mono or stereo sound may work for them. For example, stereo audio will work very well if your listener sits and stays in a static position while listening.
You can use a stereo setup to generate special perception, giving the listener a more satisfying listening experience. Mono setup can also work, especially if the listener only has one speaker.
However, if the listener moves around a lot, then a mono setup may work the best. This is because if the listener is close to another speaker, they may hear only one sound output, reducing the quality of sounds they can pick up.
How Does Mono And Stereo Sound Work With Guitar?
A guitar could be set up with different sound systems to produce mono or stereo audio. Mono audio is more straightforward, usually using one speaker. The stereo sound may require multiple speakers or pickups, a mixer, or using stereo sound processors.
One good thing about the guitar is its flexibility. Depending on your preferences, you can set up the sound for your guitar to be mono or stereo.
It’s the more straightforward of the two. In most cases, you are already using a mono sound setup for your guitar without realizing it:
On Its Own: Suppose you rely on your acoustic guitar’s sound without external speakers. In this case, it is a mono sound. The sound comes from your guitar, which is a single source.
However, it is likely stereo sound if your guitar amp has multiple speakers inside. Different speakers inside the amp may be responsible for different sound ranges.
To produce stereo sound from your guitar, you can rely on many methods to do this. Some require physical equipment, such as speakers, while some are digital. These include using software to process the sound into stereo.
Two Or More Amplifiers: The most basic way to set up a stereo sound system for your guitar is to hook it to two or more amplifiers. This means you will have two sound output sources, making it stereo.
However, to hook your guitar to two amps, you usually need a mixer to help process and direct the sounds to these speakers. The mixer can also control the speakers’ sound, allowing you to do sound separation or spatial perception effects.
Two Or More Guitar Pickups: Another way you can have stereo audio for your guitar is to have two or more pickups on your guitar. A pickup captures the vibration your guitar strings make. Then, it converts it into electrical signals for the speakers to play out.
Suppose you have two more pickups on your guitar. In that case, you can set them up to capture different sound ranges (e.g., one higher-pitched and one lower-pitched sound) and send it to different amps. This allows you to set up a stereo sound system.
Stereo Effect Processors: You can also use software to produce stereo sound. Some software allows you to split mono sound into several streams. You can then direct these different sound streams to different speakers, producing stereo audio.
Should I Use Mono Or Stereo Guitar?
Your decision to use a mono or stereo guitar may depend on many factors. These include, but are not limited to:
Some musical genres may require a more simple, straightforward sound. Some, however, will need you to be much more high-tech in your sound selection and setup.
For example, a mono setup is often good enough if you play primarily in popular music genres, such as rock, blues, or pop. In rock, for example, your audience may be moving around during shows, making a mono setup more useful.
Stereo setups are often more useful with modern and experimental genres such as ambient, world, or progressive rock. This is because a stereo sound system can generate a more immersive and spacious sound that complements this music.
Depending on the size of your venue, you may consider mono or stereo sound. Mono sound setups usually work well in small venues, as a single speaker can cover all the areas. Small areas also make stereo setups with multiple speakers less viable.
With larger venues, however, stereo sound is usually much more suitable. Larger venues usually will require multiple speakers to start with. This also allows you to explore stereo sound effects for a more satisfying listening experience.
Budget & Available Gear
In most cases, mono sound setup requires much less gear. This means it also requires less budget. As a result, mono sound systems are much more common than stereo in amateur, casual settings.
To set up a stereo sound system, you may need at least two or more amps, with a mixer to allow you to adjust the sounds. A more high-end setup may use multiple amps, pickups, and more, costing much more.
As a result, stereo setups are more common in professional settings, such as with a professional band or in established musical venues.
Desired Sound Output
Suppose you prefer a more natural, raw sound. In this case, you should be better off using a mono sound setup. This is because the mono sound does not allow you to modify or alter the sound much. What sound your guitar produces is usually what the amps will play out.
However, if you are the kind that likes to tinker and adjust sound output to your preference. In this case, go stereo. Aside from producing sounds from multiple amps, you can also adjust and play with the sounds to your heart’s content.
Some of these adjustments include panning, reverb, delay, or flanging. These effects usually produce a more satisfying listening experience for your audience.
Can All Guitars Use Stereo Sound?
In most cases, yes. This is because your guitar’s sounds can be processed in stereo in many ways. The difference would be the ease of doing so. Guitars with pickups are easier to set up to produce stereo sound.
You may wonder if all guitars are capable of producing stereo sound. In most cases, the answer is yes.
This is because as long as the guitar produces sound, a system can be set up to capture and reproduce the sound as stereo.
The main difference, however, would be in the ease of doing so. Some guitars can be configured to produce stereo sounds easier than others.
If your guitar comes with pickups, it can produce stereo sounds easier. This is because the pickups can capture the strings’ vibration and then send it to a mixer.
You can then connect multiple speakers to the mixer. You can direct which speakers to play what sounds from here, generating a stereo effect. The process can be even easier if the guitar has multiple pickups, although this is not common.
If the guitar does not have a pickup, you must capture the sound using a microphone. This usually means additional work in setting up, which would be less easy.