The Yin & Yang of the Two Guitarist Band - 2022 Edition
Ahh yes, the modern guitarist of 2022. Stereo amps, or modelers…obviously, and a pedalboard that can cover any tone created within the last 6 decades with a few quick clicks: 2 fuzzes, an always on compressor, 5 drives, 3 modulation effects, 2 delays and a cavernous reverb or two that can make angels cry with just one simple minor 9th chord.
In the context of our own home or the studio this recipe is absolutely magical. The old phrase of “wall of sound” has now turned into “World of Sound” reaching far beyond what we ever thought possible with a simple six strings and a magnetic pickup. In my exhausting 14 seconds of memory research, I have found that players that make this type of rig their home such as The Edge from U2, Johnny Buckland from Coldplay, J Mascis from Dinosaur Jr., the list goes on… all tend to have one thing in common. Generally speaking (no need to recall a 480p YouTube video from Lollapalooza 2011 to prove me wrong) they’re the only guitarist in the band.
Is this a coincidence? Nope! Then why? The answer is simple, more does NOT always equal more. Imagine if U2 had two players like The Edge. As much as we’d be curious to hear it, it would likely turn into a jumbled mess fairly quickly. The power of the parts would be lost, the clarity gone, the overall space in the mix would be diminished significantly and you’d constantly be trying to make out which guitarist is playing what. This is simply my opinion but I’ll say it, big, wide, spatial guitar tones just don’t play well with others.
“I run a lot of chorus, delay and reverb into stereo amps and I love it! It’s MY sound!”
If this is you, there is a silver lining if you’re playing in a band with another guitarist. It comes down to communication and ultimately a bit of sacrifice. A short story about learning this lesson for myself: I played guitar at a church where I was playing with a different guitarist practically every weekend. I’d show up with my tele and AC30 and 9 times out of 10, the other guy on the left side of the stage would roll in some sort of Vox or Vox-variant amp and then pull a Tele out of the case. Even though we had worked out complimentary parts in advance, I was always struggling to hear myself clearly. This was because we were occupying virtually the same space in the frequency spectrum. I made a choice that, even though a Tele and an AC30 was what I considered to be “my sound” at the time, if everyone I was playing with was also a Tele/Vox guy then I couldn’t be. I started grabbing my trusty Les Paul and a Plexi and I’ll be damned! It worked! Nothing had changed but the guitar and the amp and instantly I was no longer stepping on the toes of my fellow guitarist. The mix cleared up out front and suddenly all the intricacies of the two separate guitar parts had room to breathe and be heard as separate entities.
“Hey, that had nothing to do with my 3 always-on delays and cloud reverb preset on my BigSky?”
It did not. However, the gist is the same. A good rule of thumb might be, whatever the other guitarist is doing, do the opposite (tonally speaking). Be the Yin to their Yang… or ask them to be the Yang to your Yin. Whatever you want to call it, just don’t both have 3 delays and a cloud reverb on at the same time for the love of God!
The best example of this 12 stringed YinYang that I’ve found is in the Premier Guitar Rig Rundown of Bon Jovi’s Phil X and John Shanks. It’s textbook. It’s perfection. John has this INSANE effects rack that’s as tall as he is, Wet/Dry/Wet rig on stage, like 6 or 7 amp heads in a switchable rack and an amazing guitar collection. Check it out, it’s one of the most glorious sounds I’ve heard. Then, march on over to Phil’s side of the stage and he’s rockin’ a modest pedalboard that could fit in a backpack and a Friedman/Marshall amp rig. Bone simple. All of his guitars have just one pickup. Amazing. This is the perfect example of how to be a two guitar band IF one of the guitarists is a pedal junkie/has a vast world of sound waiting to jump out of their pedalboard. These guys have communicated WELL! They thought about every detail of the set and ultimately landed on John saying, “Phil, hold it down in the middle and I’ll create all the space and spice on the sides.” It’s gotta sound huge. I can’t imagine, honestly.
To wrap up, I’m simply going to challenge you to really listen to the other guitarist in your band. Analyze their tone and think about what each of you are bringing to the table and if any of those elements are butting heads. Find the quirks and work together to fix them and make a cohesive guitar sound as a whole. It could be realizing that you’re both kicking on TubeScreamers when the songs get big and the mix is getting flooded with too much midrange. It could be that maybe one of you needs to turn off the reverb and stay completely dry while the other takes a modulation-enhanced shuttle ride to space. Here’s a weird thought! If everyone is stereo is anyone stereo?!? Try mono! Want to cut through a mix, that’ll do it! Remember, more is not always more. Sometimes less is exactly what’s needed. There is no wrong way to do it. Just communicate, communicate, communicate and be willing to let your tonal preferences take a back seat from time to time. Remember, It’s not about you and your toys…Unless, as mentioned before, you are The Edge, Johnny Buckland, J Mascis, etc. Then it is absolutely about you… and your toys.