Universal Audio’s EP-34 Tape Echo plug-in
(based on the original Echoplex tape delay
units) simulates a vintage tape delay and
offers opportunities for creative panning.
If you want your recording to sound
professional, it’s essential to create space
for your guitar in the mix. One way to
achieve this is through creative panning.
Well-placed instruments can make the difference
between a muddled mix and one
where everything is heard clearly. Let’s
examine a few panning ideas you can use
on your next production.
Think of the stereo mix field as a
canvas for sound. And on your mixer—
whether it’s a hardware device or a virtual
one on your computer screen—that canvas
spreads from approximately 7 o’clock
(hard left) to 5 o’clock (hard right). That’s
all you have to work with—you can’t go
outside of that box (unless you’re working
in surround sound). When you mix
a piece of music, you have to fit every
instrument in there.
With that in mind, the vocal, bass, and
kick drum usually occupy the 12 o’clock
position or thereabouts. You can build the
rest of your mix around that core. Let’s say
in addition to the vocal, bass, and kick, you
have some stereo keyboard pads. Don’t just
settle for leaving them hard left and right.
Think about moving either the left or right
pan position to create some space—to the 9
or 3 o’clock position, for example. I’ll often
do the same thing with drum overheads—
pan them in tighter to make room for other
instruments and sounds.
In that empty space, you can place a
reverb signal for your guitar. (Hey, that’s
what we really care about—our guitars!)
For example, when I’m working with a
mono guitar amp plug-in, I’ll start with a
pan position of, say, 10 o’clock. Then I’ll
take a send from that to a reverb on a stereo
auxiliary track. From there, I’ll do one of
two things: I’ll either pan the track to the
hard right 5 o’clock position, or if the plugin
has panning within it, I’ll do it there
and leave the stereo panners intact. Either
way, this puts the guitar direct sound at 10
o’clock with the reverb at 5 o’clock. This
opens up the stereo soundstage and makes
for a nice big guitar sound.
Sometimes, however, I’ll do just the
opposite. I’ll create a mono auxiliary track
for reverb and pan it directly on top of the
guitar position (say, 10 o’clock again). I’ll
do this primarily when using guitar plugins
that have no reverb, such as Amp Farm.
Reverb plug-ins like Audio Ease’s Altiverb
have samples of real guitar springs in them,
and by panning them in mono on top of
the plug-in, I’m simulating the sound of
a mic’d guitar amp. The same techniques
apply to delay or echo, not just reverbs.
Guitar-centric plug-ins such as Universal
Audio’s EP-34 Tape Echo or Roland
RE-201 Space Echo tape delay both have
panning ability built into them. When
using the EP-34, I will often take the echo
pan knob and twist it to one side or the
other. It can create some really cool echo/
delay effects this way and help punch a
guitar through a mix.
Offering separate controls for the reverb
pan and echo pan, RE-201 Space Echo
goes even a step further. When sending
guitar tracks to the 201, I’ll often pan both
the reverb and echo to the opposite side
of my guitar. However, you can generate
some cool sounds by panning the reverb
and echo to opposite sides of each other.
Sometimes, as in the Altiverb example
above, I’ll pan them right on top of the
guitar track itself, simulating running
the guitar through the 201 and then into
the amp. Every situation will be different
depending on the rest of the instruments
in the mix.
When panning a mic’d cabinet or amp,
I’ll first solo each mic (usually that’s both
a ribbon and a dynamic) and listen for the
tonality of each (ribbons are usually warmer
and softer, whereas dynamic mics are
often edgier). Then I’ll pan them accordingly.
With mic’d amps, I find myself panning
a bit wider in the stereo field (unlike
the 10 o’clock position of the mono guitar
plug-in). Sometimes I’ll pan the dynamic
mic hard left at 7 o’clock and place the
ribbon at around 9 o’clock. If I’ve used a
room mic with this combination, I’ll often
pan it to the complete opposite side at 5
o’clock. That is my “natural” reverb and it
can make for some huge guitar sounds.
When panning electric and acoustic guitars
in the same mix, I tend to place them
opposite each other. This helps differentiate
their tonality and create space for each
instrument. Obviously, the more guitars
you have layered, the harder it is to cut
them through a mix. With densely packed
guitar productions, I’ll make more use of
panning hard left and right, trying to give
myself as much of the stereo field as possible
to work with.
Each production will have its own panning
needs. But to get that guitar to cut
through the mix, try tightening the pans
of the other instruments around it, and use
the hard left/right positions for effects such
as reverb or delay. Take the time to experiment
with different pan positions, and
make sure that guitar is the loudest thing in
the mix. Wait, did I say that?
engineer and mixer who
has worked with artists
ranging from Al Di
Meola to David Bowie.
A life-long guitarist, he’s
also the author of Pro Tools Surround
and composes for the
likes of Fox NFL, Discovery Channel,
Nickelodeon, and HBO.