In the summer of 2017, I had the honor of mixing front of house for Matchbox 20. It was the first time they’d toured in many years, so we were all very excited to be back out there. We spent a couple weeks doing band rehearsals and I discovered I had a bit of an “operational challenge” on my hands in trying to find a slick way to deal with guitar sounds that at times needed to be panned out to each guitar player’s respective side on stage and at other times needed to be big and fully stereo sounding, such as a song intro or a guitar solo.
It got me thinking that there are several ways to approach treating guitar rigs in regard to number or microphones or DIs (direct boxes) used, placement in the stereo field, and dealing with one, two or more guitar players on stage. Here are some methods and solutions to these various scenarios.
With a single guitar player, the standard practice is to place the guitar input(s) equally balanced in the stereo mix. The way this is done is often determined by the guitar player’s rig and whether the system is set up as mono or stereo… or a combination of the two.
Some guitar players will only have a single amp that requires a single mic or DI, while others will come with a full-blown stereo rig including FX pedals and/or amp modelers designed to produce a full, rich stereo sound. Still others might combine a mono “dry” signal with stereo “wet” FX sources. Let’s look at each of these scenarios and how they can be spatially placed in the stereo mix field.
With a single, mono input, options are limited, but there are some techniques that can be used to create a simulated stereo mix from a single input. First, let’s look at simply placing a mono guitar input in the stereo mix.
If there’s just one guitar player but also a keyboard player or another main instrument on the other side of the stage, you can do simple 30 to 60 percent panning of these two inputs, in order to locate their instruments in the mix as you see them on stage. This opens up the middle of the mix for lead vocal, kick and snare drum and bass guitar.
Be warned, however, that if there’s only a main left and right stereo house system, and the seating area is very wide, panning too much from center can sometimes cause certain seats to be unable to hear the instrument on the other side of the stage well. If there are two guitar players with single mono guitar systems, it’s easy to pan each one out from center a bit to add some separation and stereo feel.
But what if there’s a stereo keyboard rig and only one guitar player? One technique that works quite well is to “create” a simulated stereo guitar source from a single input. This can be done in a couple of ways, depending on the type of console, with either an analog model or a more flexible digital unit offering input delay and FX.
With analog consoles, using a “Y” cable (1 x female XLR to 2 x male XLR), you can split the mono input into two console channels, and then pan each of these channels out from center to open it up in the stereo field. With these two identical inputs we must still “alter” one of the inputs in some way (with EQ or delay possibly) to create a feeling of stereo, because simply panning the same signal equally to both sides is still mono. The same can be done with a digital console by assigning a single input to two console channels and then panning each as described above.