The Art Of Two: Dealing With A Two Guitarists In A Band

Deals directly with some basics of having 2 guitarists: arranging, writing, live playing and others. A couple of tips from personal experience.

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This article will deal directly with some basic aspects of having two guitarists in a band - the problems, opportunities, styles and variations. Just as a guide, it will be more useful for guitarists with a year or two experience who are in a situation like mine, so for people with a lot of experience things I list will probably be elementary. Nevertheless...

To start off the article, lets look at some of the more traditional uses of two guitars in a band, used very often in rock and metal (just an example). A typical division in this case is rhythm and lead, with the guitarists usually sticking to their respective roles. Therefore, this divides a band into 2 main sections - rhythm, with drums providing the beat, bass filling in the low frequencies, and the rhythm guitar responsible for the relative mid-range of the final sound. That left the lead with vocals and the second guitar responsible for melodies and those chaotic solos hair metal became famous (and infamous) for. This traditional setup is very common, as I said, in metal and heavy rock of which Metallica and Soundgarden are the examples. Note, I only use them as an aid to getting my point across. And, it comes as no surprise, that this approach, apart from serving as an accompanying part for the lyrics, is also used to fill in sonic space while the lead guitarist captures teh audience for his of fame.

When you are starting a band, and have a role for two guitarists, there's a question you have to ask yourself - "What roles are you aiming at for these instruments. Do you aim to create textures? Do you intend to make your guitarists sound differently or blend these two instruments in?" From my experience it is a good idea to separate the two guitars, because then your rhythm section will stand out, but also your lead guitarist's masturbation exercises or scorching, wailing blues licks won't get lost in the mix. For example, your general settings could be similar, but rhythm would keep its gain at about 5, signal dry and use neck pickup, and lead have gain of about 7, use bridge pickup, drench the sound in reverb and have treble slightly up. Yet again, that's only one example of how you could achieve such an effect.

The sonic soundscape described above is because of different frequencies the instruments cater for. Which brings me to my next point. The Great Wall. Not of China, but of sound. Sum 41 achieved this effect in Fat Lip - the choruses in particular. Here, rhythm and lead are still prominent, but their role differs in that rhythm is doubled by lead, usually one octave higher. This helps to achieve a "full" sound, as some bands, although they have two or three or 4,000 guitarists still manage to sound like a ukulele player instead of a guitarist in a death metal band. Using a second guitar to harmonize the main riff or chord progression helps you "complete the picture".

So this brings me to the end of the first part of this article. In the next instalment I intend to expand on the info above, and write about writing and arranging the musical parts in your band's songs. Feel free to comment and criticize, as this is my first article and it is by no means perfect, but please keep it constructive.

30 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Nehalem
    I agree with your points. My band has a problem with 2 guitars, and we are trying to seperate them with different tones. Interested to read the next installment
    Valhalla
    If you can explain the FREE BIRD solo, I will read all your articles from now on.
    Ace McAce
    Hey, my band has 2 guitarist but we alternate rhythm & lead through our songs. Try it, it works!
    Emenius Sleepus
    "Bilzzard_of_Ozz: you actually managed to write an article about multiple guitarists without mentioning Iron Maiden!" yep, I have done that. a)the bands I mentioned were just examples. b)learn to spell your name right. I think it's blizzard of ozz dammit
    Klown
    Good, but my band pretty much figured this out alone. Guns N Roses are a great example for a classic 2 guitarrist band. Tony Iommi did some 2 guitarrist stuff alone on some later sabbath albums, but they are great. just listen to some double solos.
    RandyFunk
    I think you missed some really important points. Two guitarists ought to be used to their fullest extent, and while one should certainly specialize in lead and the other in rhythm, it is important that they swtich on and off. Both should be at least moderately good at lead, and able to hold down a solid rhythm. Another VERY important aspect of dual guitars is harmonization. Harmonization can sound so incredibly pleasant and sophisticated, and it is using two guitars to the fullest.
    moonraker
    dude, this article kiked ass! it was really helpful, i'll be readin the next.
    Bilzzard_of_Ozz
    you actually managed to write an article about multiple guitarists without mentioning Iron Maiden!
    Skate_Element
    I could totally relate to your article. You made some good points, especially the stuff about tone division. Lookin forward to part II...
    Lezz
    Good stuff, we currently have 3 guitarists in the band and it's a bit of a nightmare at times, perhaps we should sack one
    Emenius Sleepus
    BloodBlooms: Good article. Keep in mind other styles of two-guitar writing. For example, I'm not sure how one would categorize duos like those found in Queens of the Stone Age, Smashing Pumpkins, and A Perfect Circle where both guitarists have varying roles and aren't confined to being "lead bitch" and "rhythm bitch". Good point, Blood Blooms - I personally think those guys are legendary, and most certainly the two guitarists in a band don't have to be limited to specific roles - feel free to experiment, that's what music is all about. Just ask Tool. Or Tom Morello... I am currently in the process of writing the next installment, hopefully you guys'll like it. Thx for all the feedback Very much appreciated.
    frigginjerk
    cool. i think the next article should feature info on dual leads, like in Judas Priest, or certain Aerosmith songs (Love In An Elevator).
    UseYourBrain
    Wasn't bad... waste of my time though(no offense) even though I am not an experienced guitarist I didn't find it usefull.
    Wizcid
    Nice article but I think in a lot of bands the duties of rhythm and lead are shared. Metallica is like that if you notice, both James and Kirk play solos and rhythm at different times.
    joyful womble
    in a band steve albini was in, in the credits in the album sleeve, intstead of saying 'rhythm guitar... who ever, lead guitar, whoever' they were down as 'vroom' and 'ching'
    Geldof the Grey
    Noel Gallagher once said on the subject of Oasis' other guitarist "He's out on his arse if he plays anything other than barre chords." So two guitarists can live peacefully...
    BloodBlooms
    Good article. Keep in mind other styles of two-guitar writing. For example, I'm not sure how one would categorize duos like those found in Queens of the Stone Age, Smashing Pumpkins, and A Perfect Circle where both guitarists have varying roles and aren't confined to being "lead bitch" and "rhythm bitch".
    OpeN WidE
    nice, my band already does a lot of that and it does work. Listen to this guy!
    page59
    yeah, i'll definitly be reading the next article, as this applies to my band.
    milhouseman999
    okay your article is great,but in my band, I am lead guitarist and my friend is rhythm and keep finding myself having to step down a level because its hard for him to keep up with me and it pisses me off because we all write a song and then I have to take 20 minutes to teach him the parts and he can't keep the rhythm even though he's the rhythm guitarist and its so frustrating.