Stereo Guitar Panning Question

Guitar in Mix

Sorry if this is more musical than computer-ical, but I’m thinking musicianship is nothing without technical-ship…

My early 4-track mixes sounded weak when I had a mono-guitar sound that overlapped vocals and drums and didn’t fill out the mix, ie - Power chords on a distorted guitar.

I have since discovered certain ways of getting a better stereo sound (panning 2 tracks, reverb), but have never really touched that full hard left & hard right guitar pan that appears on today’s mainstream-rock mixes. Anyone have a good mixing template or effect system (VST or otherwise) combination that broadens the guitar sound in an N-Track mix? Thoughts on reverb? I’d like it to fill out the mix but not block a center-panned bass & drums.

Also - if anyone likes a VST/plugin chorus/delay effect they feel is capable to give that Metallica Enter Sandman or Pantera clean chorus sound, let me know


Bottom line is there is no substitute for experience. Experiment. Listen and take notes - really, write your impressions down on paper. That said, here’s a couple of tips:

- Double track your rhythm guitars. Don’t use chorus to widen a single track of distorted rhythm guitar - sounds too swishy.
- Pan each rhythm track 50% - 100% left and right. Experiment. I personally perefer to pand most of my rhythm tracks 80%. To my ears, hard panning (i.e., 100% l/r) is an effect rather than a mixing style. Your ears may vary.
- Experiment with slightly different sounds for each rhythm track. E.g., scoop the mids out of one track or less distortion on one track etc.
- Try running more than one reverb. One longer “room” verb that guitars, drums and vocals will all be sent to to varying degrees and a short dense one for thickening up the guitars.
- A double-tracked lead guitar part or solo often has a thin sound. Either add a little delay to a single track or try tripple-tracking it - hey if you can play it twice, you can play it three times. I have a tune with a part that I ten-tracked.
- Lastly, and I always say this, go easy on the effects.

Play the part twice and pan them apart. Make subtle intentional variations in the part for extra credit. :)

PS: don’t pan the drums all dead center, just the bass drum and MAYBE the snare (though the snare can be just a tad off-center). All the other drums should be panned around a bit to creat a dimensional sound. Ideally each drum is a stereo recording, but that’s more likely the case with MIDI drums, for obvious practical reasons. (Well, if you’re recording a drum kit and doing it well, you’ll get plenty of material for building a good stereo image.)

Of course, a nice stereo image is very important for cymbals. When miked, it’s easy; when all you have is mono waves, you can use a little stereo reverb (carefully) to help out.

I disagree partly with Captain’s recommendation against stereo chorus to widen. What I find is that there isn’t a good software chorus for the job. However, the hardware one in my old Roland RE301 Chorus Echo works fabulously for that. I wish I could find software to do the same thing!

And note that the classic “clone and drag” technique is no different from using a delay plugin (with “expand mono track to stere” checked in track properties, and using delay only on one side). It’s an effect, and is subject to serious problems due to phase cancellation – when using this time-honored technique, BE SURE to frequently check your mix in mono, and if it sounds bad, fix it.

There are very, very few good mixes that don’t sound good in mono as well.

Frankly, if you do most of your mixing in mono and THEN concentrate on stereo imaging, you’re probably ahead of the game. This is actually a lot harder than just mixing stereo, and it forces you to solve problems from day 1 rather than letting stereo imaging bail you out. It forces you to do more frequency scooping to keep different parts separated – which is a good thing.

I use two methods:

(1) Clone track, pan each apart, move one track. Moving is best done in track properties where you can control the amount of movement.

(2) Voxengo makes a stereo plug that I like, particularly for acoustic. Make sure you change the track to stereo in the property box.


It’s at the bottom of the page.

Experiment away…

Also try the Voxengo Stereotouch plugin. It isn’t a doubler, but it does add width to the stereo image. The default preset tends to overdo things a bit IMO. So at least I reduce the delay2 setting.



Just had an idea I’d like to try myself. Here it is:

Record the guitar track.
Pan it hard left.

Make a copy in another track, delaying it slightly. Now add a pitch shifter to slightly detune the track (only a couple of cents). Pan it hard right.

Make another copy of the original track. Give it a slight delay (not the same as track 2). Detune it slightly less than the second track. Pan it about 3/4 left.

Repeat above, but vary slightly and pan 3/4 right.

This won’t get rid of comb filtering interference, but maybe would make it complex enough to be fat. Gotta try this when I get home tonight!


Well, this is really just a home-made chorus. Go on and try it. Speaking for myself, in the time it takes to set that up and tweak it, I could play the part three times. :D

When your pitch difference between the tracks stays the same (or when it changes in a constant rhythmic manner such as with a chorus plugin) you get a rhythmic swishing sound. This is particularly obvious when your guitars have a lot of distortion. Re-tracking the part randomizes the pitch and delay variations so you don’t get the swishing.

With all respect to Learjeff, IMO chorus and heavily distorted rhythm guitars don’t go well together. Whether it’s a plugin or a pedal, you’re still gonna get that swish. And if you’re playing metal, it’s gonna kill your dynamics.

Seriously, just double track the part. If you can’t play tight enough to get the tracks to sound tight together then you need the practice anyway. :)

I agree about chorus & heavily distorted guitars, Captain. I’d rather make music frankly. :wink:

Pitch shift, when done correctly, doesn’t necessarily cause swishing. However, there aren’t many good software implementations. You have to do it off line, and even then you will probably find you get timing problems. My suspicion is that the FFT methods that software use just aren’t as good for the purpose as the old dual-bucket-brigade method my MXR PSD used.

Retracking is best in any case. Especially with well chosen subtle variations, when appropriate.