Article first published in
"International Musician" in 1977.
Reprinted in "International Musician Legends" in 1988.
What does the term "stereo" mean to
you as a musician?
Do you instantly conjure up the feeling of two sources of sound coming from your hi-fi speakers or does it mean the bass sound of your guitar coming out of one amp while another bright sound comes through a second amp.
Total stereo for guitars and keyboards now means more than this basic split of two separate signals thanks to Mark Griffiths, a musician who has invented an idea that is so effective, yet so simple in principal, as to be ingenious.
The effect Mark has obtained is similar to that total stereo image that is produced by the sound of a drum kit when a drummer plays around the kit enabling the sounds of one instrument (i.e. the kit) to be panned across from speaker to speaker.
With his new wiring technique, Mark can turn a guitar into a total stereo instrument with different strings coming from different speakers at the same time. Mark, who regularly plays bass for Claire Hammill's band, "Transporter", produced an idea that caused Manfred Mann to invest a considerable amount of money in patenting the idea. Mark and Manfred are now hoping to interest manufacturers of keyboards and guitars into installing the technique in instruments when they are being built. In the following article, Mark explains his concept.
'Stereo' instruments heve all fallen into a small amount of catogories since their introduction.
To most mmicians who walk into their local music store to buy a stereo guitar, they are generally confronted by an instrument that has two p/ws, one close to the treble bridge end and one close to the bass neck end of the guitar body.
These are wired through a standard mono tone and volume circuit which can be split to a stereo socket. Thus these two p/w can be connected to two separate amps in order to obtain different tones either by way of the amp controls or effects pedals. Gibson and Rickenbacker are two well known makes which employ this method.
I think that Burns were the first manufacturers to produce a guitar with a 'splitsound' p/u arrangement. This method enables a guitarist to connect the bottom three strings of the guitar to one amp and the top three strings to a second amp giving the musician more scope than was previously available to vary the tone and aural positioning of the instrument. A few manutacturers are still marketing this type of instrument and p/u.
On the keyboard side of things, there is the well established Fender Rhodes Piano stereo panning device that pans the whole sound of the piano from side to side, on a stereo set up, at a rate that can be controlled by the player. The Oberheim synthesizer features a logic device which enables the player to prograrnme the instrument so that a pre-set sequence of notes can be made to sound from one side or the other of a stereo arrangement.
Finally, there are synths, organs, mellotrons etc. that allow for one sound or effect to be produced through one channel and a second different sound to be produced through the second channel.
The invention that Manfred Mann and I have Patented stems from my experiments with an English-made split-sound Shergold Marathon bass. At the time I owned a Fender Precision, but whlie wandering round the West End Music shops one day. I tried this 'split-sound' bass in Orange and immediately liked the feel and the action of the woodwork of the guitar which was frankly 100% better made than my 1975 Precision (which I stll own). The split-sound was amazing for the funky music that I was playing at the time, so I bought it there and then. The next time I played with the band, the sound that was so beautiful in the shop, just fell flat in comparison with the projection from my Fender (the downfall of all English p/us seems to be lack of projection). This left me only one solution : - to put the Precision p/us on the other bass. I made up a new scratchplate, changed the tone control for a double/ ganged one (as incredibly, with the Shergold design, there was no tone variation available when one switched to stereo). This arrangement did the trick and gave the bass good projection combined with a good fast action.
At this stage I began wondering about the feasibility of making a p/u that would produce a stereo 'picture' of the strings of the guitar without resorting to complicated and expensive electronic gadgetry.
I was very fortunate in achieving results at my first attempt. This meant ripping the Fender p/w out of the Shergold and replacing them with a pair of matching Vox bass p/w mouctod adjacently. I angled the p/us in opposite directions, connected them to the existing wiring and plugged the guitar hopefully into my stereo. Lo and behold! There was the E string sounding from the LH speaker, the A string Sounding from 1/3 of the distance betwean LH and RH speaker., the D string sounding from 2/3 of the distance between RH and LH speakers and the G string sounding from RH speaker. The magic stereo picture! With the p/u in the bass position on the guitar body, they were also sensitive to any bending of the strings on the higher frets, thus giving me in effect, a control at my fingertips on the instrument I was playing that could move the note I was playing across the stereo image.
The next step to consult the well known instrument maker and reparer Stephen Delft, who was impressed enough to give me some invaluable advice on the potential of the innovation and ways of patenting it.
In the time that has passed since then I heve developed and put into practice some alternative ideas that heve stemmed from the original concept. Manfred Mann is now using a Fender Rhodes piano that produces consecutive pairs of notes from alternate sides of a stereo set-up. Dave Flett of the Earthband can also be heard using a Fender Strat that also produces consecutive strings from alternate sides. This is particularly effective with lead guitar iines when bending notes, the note being bent can start on the RH and end up having moved across to the LH side of the stereo. (With ultra-light strings some notes can start R, move to L and return to R again!) I am using a Fender Precision in Claire HammiIl's band 'Transporter' which incorporates 'aiternate string' stereo (Jazz Bass p/u), 'split sound' stereo (Precision p/w) and Precision Mono.
I think that I should point out that the difference caused to the controls of these instruments by converting them to stereo is negligible:
The Fender Rhodes has an extra two-way mono/stereo switch mounted alongside the existing controls.
The Fender Strat remains the same apart from the substitution of a Gibson Humbucker (stereo) in the bass position.
The Fender Precision has an added three-way Strat-type swItch and a pair of Fender Jazz bass p/us added in the bass position. The volume and tone controis operate as standard.
All these instruments operate normally in mono with one amp.
It should be clear from this information that the added production line cost to an existing manufacturer to produce these types of stereo instruments is negligible. At present (as a custom conversion) the approximate cost to convert an existing instrument is around £60 for most instruments, and the process is completely reversible should the buyer not be satisfied.