Panning for metal rhythm guitars

How do you guys (that do any metal recording anyway) pan your rhythm guitars. Most CD’s I listen to have 2 guitars recorded, panned hard left and right.

I have tried that (panned 100 each side), but it seemed there is a lot of middle “empty” space. 75 seems better, any less and it doesn’t sound wide enough.

I tried putting a third guitar straight down the middle, but it just seemed to clutter things up.

What do you think?

The more guitars you have the less lows you need in them. The lows add up. You ideas about panning are about right. Try four guitars (hard left and right, and not quite so hard left and right), and run all four through a subgroup with the lows rolled of below 100 to 200. There will probably be a place that works to clear things up without killing the fatness too much. Find the rolloff frequency with the whole mix going. This is not a solo guitar rolloff. They probably will sound thin when out of the full mix. The idea is to make room for the lows of the kick and bass. You may need to cut a shallow dip in the upper mids as well to make room for vocals and the snap of the drums.

I’ve only mixed one three song demo that was metal (or something similar), but the band was happy with the results, so… this is what I did:

- filter out the low frequencies (at least anything under 100 Hz, maybe even 150 Hz)
- Pan the two rhythm guitars about -40 and +40 (in nTS’ pan settings)
- Put a decent, room-sized reverb to an aux bus. (This is my ‘main’ reverb for song instruments - usually I have another aux for a very short vocal recerb and maybe a third, cathedral sized one, for backup vocals and special effects).
- Hard pan the aux sends for the rhythm guitars to the opposite sides compared to the track pans.
- Open the guitar aux sends just a bit to give them some sense of room, space and bigness.
EDIT: - Of course, eq the guitar tracks to fit better in the overall mix.

Err, maybe if the center is empty that is a good thing. You could fill it up with bass, drums, vocals, leads. Finding space is often hard. If you find space, use it.

The reason I suggested four guitars might help you decide if you need more than two.

If the guitars are playing the same thing, of similar. Two guitars sound like two guitars. Three guitars still sound like three guitars. Four guitars will start sounding like one guitar again. It’s along the lines of not being able to pick out the single voices in a choir because there are some any of them. It depends on the sound you are going for.

Sometimes all you need is a very little reverb or delay with chorus on the effect and with the effect slightly panned away from the dry signal to add some spread without adding any more mud. Use this kind of effect to bring back some of the depth that might get lost when rolling off the lows. (fine line stuff)

I do not recommend hard paning guitars for metal. This can work for a single acoustic guitar or similarly “small-sounding” instrument that needs some depth. But with hard rock, you really are wanting to reign (sp?) it in a bit. As well, If you have a metal band that has two guitarists, this can be especially dangerous. This is because, although it may seem that the two guitars are playing the same thing, they might have some harmony part somewhere, or one may drop out, or there are distinctly different rhythms between the guitars, etc. If you add just a bit back in the other speaker (80-90%), It will save you some complex pan drawing that will end up sounding odd anyways. While I agree w/phoo to an extent about multitracking the guitars, I really warn against trying to multi track metal more that maybe twice. Past that, it becomes nearly impossible to distinguish the finer parts of the 32nd notes that frequent punk, hardcore, and metal. I would rather recommend cloning the tracks with different chorus-type delay settings on them. Phoo’s 4 track idea could be recreated by recording two tracks and cloning both. Pan one and it’s clone to the left, and the other and its clone to the right in the manner phoo described. Then add a tight chorus to the hard-panned parts. Now you have 4 parts, but have cut down on recording times and the notes will be more distinct due to the cloning. Just an idea.


you could also do this with cloning one part 4 times with varying settings of the chorus, but that seems for pain than it’s worth…

Thanks for the help guys. I just wanted to get an idea of how people generally pan the guitars.

I’ll try reigning them in a bit at around -50 and 50 and see what happens, although I think I tried that before and it sounded not as wide as I wanted. 75 seemed ok, as it put a little of both on each side and gave more depth to the center that I was needing.

You’re not listening on headphones while making these decisions, are you ? Or sitting too close to the speakers ?

What teryeah said. DON’T try setting up your soundstage wearing cans! Been there…done that…BAD mistake! Even if you don’t have proper reference monitors, use your PC’s speakers and a “natural” distance from them to get a good idea of what the stereo field sounds like. Maybe some guys can do this with cans. I can’t. I always make a mess out of it with the phones on…


Quote (gtr4him @ Oct. 04 2004,15:41)
Even if you don't have proper reference monitors...

This is pretty interesting, IMO. My living room stereo is nuthin fancy; Sony CD player into old NAD amp (no EQ/filters on) into a pair of B&W 601's + B&W sub (ASW-500 ?), with the sub very carefully balanced. I have played A LOT of music on this setup and this is sort of my benchmark.
Now, if I bring the same music downstairs to my den, and play it through my DAW (EGO-Sys Waveterminal 2496 soundcard into Mackie into a newer NAD into my Tannoy Reveals), everything sounds noticably smaller and drier.

What's my point ? Check how your mixes sound on as many different rigs as possible, panning and anything else. You may be in for a surprise or two :)

Another trick is to go ahead and pan the guitars hard left and right and use a little stereo reverb on each guitar to diffuse the soundfield. You shouldn’t overdo it because you will lose that in-your-face quality that a metal recording should have. This is less effective than Mwah’s suggestion but it may be all you need.

There’s nothing wrong with a sparser sound if you and the band are happy with it. Helmet, for example, has a more organic sound where the guitars are panned hard left and right and the rest of the instruments are quite distinguishable in the center. There’s been a move in the last few years toward a metal “wall of sound” but it doesn’t have to be that way.

I’ve recorded several metal/hardcord bands and we usually end up with 4 guitar parts panned hard left, hard right, medium left, and medium right because that wall of sound is what they are after. The current style seems to be to drop tune the guitars to get a really heavy bottom end. If this is the case, you can’t roll off the lows because they want them there. What I have done with some success is to scoop out the frequencies around the mud region; about 250 hz. You need to sweep the eq to see where the most effective frequencies are. This leaves the lowest frequencies intact. This interferes with the bass guitar but you can’t have everything…

Metal bands have bass guitar?


:laugh: :laugh: :laugh:

Very funny…

Actually, you’re right. Sometimes they don’t have bass guitars. I record a guy who does doom/metal stuff and on the last project we didn’t put in a bass track. We decided to see what would happen if we rolled off the mids and highs on one of his guitar tracks (he uses drop tuning) and then use the pitch shift plugin to drop the sound down an octave. Bingo; instant grunge bass guitar track.

So there.

Pantera did, Metallica did not on the …And Justice for All album :D