Wet/Dry vs. Stereo: an Introduction

There are few things more sonically satisfying than sitting between two amplifiers and listening to a panoramic guitar soundscape. Just when you thought you only needed one amplifier, you discover the glorious experience of stereo effects or that dusty old analog-delay pedal with a dry output.

Using a stereo or wet/dry rig is a fantastic way to enhance recordings or live performances. It adds extra depth and dimension while making every note seem more alive. However, there’s sometimes a bit of confusion when discussing stereo or wet/dry setups. Let’s take a look at the difference between the two.

Wet/Dry Outputs Explained

Maxon AD999 Analog Delay

When I was a young lad, I got my first pedal with a dry output, a Maxon AD999 analog delay. I noticed it had two outputs but had no idea what the second one was for. I only came to understand when I mistakenly had the cable going to my amplifier running out of the dry output. I thought the pedal didn’t work, and I was furious. After some tinkering, I discovered the delay signal would only be heard if the output cable was coming from the wet, or effect, output.

Wet simply means the part of your signal that is being run through the effect pedal. For example, the wonderful Electro Harmonix Deluxe Memory Man has a wet and dry output, allowing for one amplifier to receive a delayed signal and another to receive a dry, or clean, signal.

You can set one amp up for your dry tone and the tone of the other for the delay sounds. It sounds great, and it’s a lot of fun to experiment with.

Stereo Ins/Outs Explained

Since my first dual-output experience was one of the wet/dry variety, I was expecting the same results when I purchased a Line 6 M5. I liked the idea of having multiple effects available in case I needed them, and Line 6 stuff is very serviceable, especially the delays and reverbs.

Line 6 M5
Line 6 M5

When I ran two cables out of the M5 to two separate amps, I was delightfully stunned when I realized both amps were receiving a wet signal.

This is because a stereo pedal sends its sound to both amps. This is especially fun when you have a pedal with panning capabilities. For example, I use a Fulltone Supa-Trem 2, which features stereo inputs and outputs as well as a phase correlation switch.

This switch enables the pedal to bounce back and forth between amplifiers when being used in stereo, and you can select the degree to which the tremolo signal pans back and forth between amps. It sounds incredible, and it’s even more fun when I run my Line 6 Echo Park in front of it in Ping Pong mode.

The Echo Park is also a stereo pedal, and that particular mode bounces the delay signal back and forth as well. Mixed together, it’s a delicious soup of sound that turns simple chords into heavenly or haunting guitar symphonies.

Now that we’ve covered the essentials, let’s look at a few ways to achieve these sounds and some cool devices that can help you get there.

Using Multiple Amplifiers

The simplest way to achieve wide soundscapes is by using multiple amplifiers or amp simulators. It isn’t the most practical approach for live performances, but it can make a big difference to recordings or even performances where your amps aren’t mic’d up. Depending on the sound you’re going for, you can use stereo effects or effects with a wet and dry output.

It’s also worth noting that a stereo pedal will split your mono pedals into stereo as well. For example, I use an Earthquaker Devices Dispatch Master in my signal chain before the Supa-Trem. This way, the Dispatch Master’s effects are sent to both amplifiers and I have a glorious delay and reverb being chopped up by the trem, which is bouncing back and forth between the amps. It really tickles my eardrums, and I get lost for hours in the waves of sound.

If you’re looking to capture those sounds with a single amplifier, consider one of the following.

Gibson GA-79 RVT Amplifier

This will set you back more than a few bucks, but it’s kind of the OG of stereo amps. The GA-79 RVT has two separate preamps and reverb and tremolo that can be used when in stereo mode. It has two 10-inch speakers, with each speaker getting 15 watts.

Panama Stereo Conqueror Amplifier

Line 6 M5
Panama Stereo Conqueror

Panama has emerged as a contender in the amp world for players looking for cool aesthetics and great tone without getting a second mortgage.

The Stereo Conqueror is two five-watt Conquerors in a 2x12 angled enclosure. It’s a great choice for anyone looking for a stereo recording amp, or the player who wants to confuse the drummer at practice.

Swart ST-Stereo Head & 2x12 Cabinet

The Swart is a radical boutique take on the stereo tube amp. Like the Gibson, it has trem and verb. It is two amps in one, so one amp has the tremolo, and the other has the reverb. It also has a cool matching 2x12 cab with speakers set at a 45-degree angle in order to achieve that wide stereo sound.

The combinations are nearly endless when you enter the realm of wet/dry and stereo setups. It requires some fine tuning of both your gear and your ears, but if you have a sense of adventure and like achieving new sounds, make it a point to pick up a separate amplifier — even if it’s just a cheap practice amp — and start exploring your signal.

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