John Abercrombie’s Stereo Rig
On a record that came out recently called
Ray’s Way by drummer/producer Ray Levier
(Origin), I was able to record and mix two
great guitarists, John Abercrombie and Mike
Stern. Interestingly, both had stereo rigs on
the sessions. Stern used a pair of Yamaha
G100s and some Yamaha and Boss effects to
get his well-known tone. Abercrombie used
his standard setup, which I was able to ask him
about afterwards. So this month, instead of
me doing all the talking, let’s let J.A. take it.
mixed way back. That splits the signal into
two amps. This is something I’ve been doing
for about twenty years now.
For Ray’s session, I brought my old Polytone
and split it with a Roland JC- 77. I also use a
JC- 120 sometimes as well. Those are my two
amps of choice when I record. In the past I’ve
had different setups, but this is the rig I’ve
been using for a long time.
What does stereo give you as a player?
Tell me about the stereo rig you used
on that session.
Well, the home setup is different from the
one I used on the recording. The main thing
that splits the signal into two amps is a really
old multi-effects processor made by Boss,
called the SE- 50 Stereo Effects Processor. It’s
a half-rack unit that gives me mostly reverb—
but I also use a tad of chorus and delay,
It’s what you would imagine. It’s just the spread
of the sound, and hearing yourself surrounded
a little more, rather than coming from one
place. I figure, we have two ears, so why not
have two amps? I like to hear from both sides.
If one amp is missing, I really do feel something
Have you tried another
lacking. When I do have to play mono, it takes
me a little time to get used to it. I think playing
through two amps not
only creates the spread
of the sound, but it cre-
ates a certain feel on
the guitar that seems to
make it a little easier to
play. I can play lighter
when I play with two
amps… the other advan-
tage is that you can turn
them up without getting
distortion. I think that was
the first reason I used
that setup, and I got the
idea from Pat Metheny
a long time ago. I asked
him, and he said he was
tired of playing through
one amp and always hav-
ing it overload on him.
Basically it’s like having
method to split them,
or do you feel this
No, this is the method.
But for a while, I had
a little preamp/power
amp setup. I had a
Walter Woods power amp and a Mesa/
Boogie preamp and I would connect all that
gear, but I still used the SE- 50 as my splitter.
That was the main thing that gave me stereo.
That rig was probably the ultimate sound; it
was very warm and rich. I actually lost that
in a fire some years ago and never really
thought about replacing it just like that.
But when I traveled, I couldn’t take the rig on
the road all the time, because of the schlep
factor, and also when things broke down in
the middle of Europe it was hard to get it
fixed. So now I just take the reverb, a small
volume pedal, a little distortion box, in case
I want to get exciting, and that’s basically it.
It lets me travel really minimally and get my
sound out of basically any amps—as long as
there’s nothing wrong with them!
Do you always go hard left and right at
the mix stage with your sound?
Not always, but I sort of prefer that—or more
left and right than not. It’s been recorded
several different ways, and I’ve actually heard
records where I am a little more to the left
or right. But if it’s my own recording, I like
to have it a little harder left and right—but it
doesn’t have to be all the way.
Guitar-wise, do you always play the
Most of the time (and what I used on Ray’s
record) I play a small guitar made by Brian
Moore Custom Guitars. They make beautiful
instruments, and the one I play is like a Les
Paul-style guitar with f-holes and a spruce
top, which gives me a light, airy type of sound
compared to a pure solidbody. I have lots of
guitars, such as a Sadowsky archtop, a 335-style
made by Rick McCurdy, and of course Teles
and Les Pauls. But overall, to get my sound, I
can just take a guitar, some multi-effects and
some cables, and I’m in business.
Rich is a producer, engineer and mixer who has worked
with artists ranging from Al DiMeola to David Bowie . A
life-long guitarist, he’s also the auther of Pro Tools Surround
Sound Mixing and composes for such networks as Discovery
Channel, Nickelodeon and National Geographic.