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Mixing acoustic and electric guitars in 5.1


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How do you go about mixing guitars in film scores? In my case a romantic comedy with guitars, piano, strings, woodwinds, synths and percussion.

In the pop world it’s usually a mono recording panned hard left and hard right for a lot of things. Dry with a reverb send. And mono/stereo for other more solo stuff.

- Do you pan hard left+right in 5.1 or is it more centered?
- Do you place it on a scoring stage with an ir or do you mix it more in a pop music kind of way?
- Do you record some stuff 4 times and pan it to the fronts and surrounds? Or just the “usual” 2 times?


"Whatever sounds good and serves the music" etc etc...

The pop technique is perfectly valid and probably the best starting point, especially with rhythmic acoustics. Double tracked, hard-ish panned left and right. I often use the Ghz Panpot tool which does panning with level, frequency, phase and delay in varying combinations and give the impression of width without being absolutely hard panned. I'd avoid hard panning anything that doesn't have a friend who can live in the opposite speaker to retain that L/R balance, much like in a pop mix.

Something to bear in mind is that theatrical 5.1 has to cover a large audience space, so you'll have as many people sitting around the perimeter near to the surrounds as you do in the middle sweet spot. For that reason I tend to avoid putting anything that'll pull focus off to the sides/rear with rhythm, dryness or brightness, and that often encompasses guitars and other plucked stuff.

Also bear in mind that cinema installations often apply a small delay to the rears/sides (much like aligning a PA system), in order that people in the cheap seats don't perceive the surrounds as arriving before the front speakers. That can upset rhythmic perception if you do decide to put those elements hard in the surrounds.

You could absolutely quadruple track and pan all around, but probably more effective with ambient guitars or some nice floaty charango/mandolin arpeggios than hard strummed acoustics.

Reverb/delay etc of course also effective for getting full room coverage with guitars, but don't make it sounds substantially wetter than you'd accept on a stereo mix. To that end, always spend time monitoring the stereo folddown as well and make sure there are no odd phase cancellations going on and that you're happy with the basic musical balance.
Most times I would record and pan normally as I would with regular stereo production. Nothing different. (95% of people will listen to the final product in stereo anyhow so it has to be solid in stereo....).

Mixing time, the LS/RS are there for extra reverb or sometimes delay without introducing extra problems when collapsed to stereo. (for surround placing I really like to use Penteo instead of actual DAW panning)

You could record 4 signals and place a close stereo pair in LR and a stereo pair of room mics in LS/RS, but you need a large-ish room to place the latter, for my taste, to obtain a worthwhile effect and it works more nicely with ambient-y "long" sounds (where all sorts of experiments can be done) rather than with rythmic playing such as a strummed acoustic or most regular Pop/Rock parts.
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