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Double Tracking Guitars

double-neck guitar optional

Double tracking is a very common recording/production technique for almost any genre of music. When it comes to rhythm guitars, this technique is almost a standard method of recording with single tracking used only for solos.

This is also a technique that is often confusing for beginners.Double tracking simply means recording the same part twice and panning each to opposite sides. This creates a wide stereo spread based on the unique nuances in timing and dynamics of each performance. This is the guitarist playing a section of the song perfectly, then repeating it as closely as possible on a second track.

This isn’t the same as recording in stereo, using two mics, using a chorus effect or duplicating and delaying one side. Some of these techniques are ways of ‘faking’ or ‘automatic’ double tracking, but are simply no substitute for an expertly performed double track. There must be two separate performances for the effect to work.

How To double track guitars

  1. Record mono rhythm guitar, with either a microphone on a real amp or virtual amp. This track would be panned center.
  2. When a good take is achieved, and any punch ins are finished, go through the recorded track and tighten up any timing issues.
    Here’s how it sounds with the first guitar along with drums. The guitar is in the middle.
    [audio:] (warning heavy metal!)
  3. After editing, pan this guitar (and any extra mics for this performance) to the left.
  4. That was perfect, now play it again! Make a new track and pan it right.
  5. Repeat steps 1 and 2 using the same guitar, pickup selection, amp, microphone and any other variables unchanged. Making a change will increase the stereo width but will often result in an unbalanced tone.
    Here’s the same part with the doubled guitars.

This repeats for each section of the song and if there are multiple guitar parts written or two guitarists in the band, usually each will be double tracked. If there are two guitarists in the band, there could be some confusion. Guitarist 1 plays all his parts twice, guitarist 2 plays all his parts twice. In a simple song this would mean 4 tracks for the rhythm guitars. Often this gets up to 12 or 16 tracks pretty quickly. Guitar solos are usually right up the middle or ‘stereoized’ with other techniques to make them pop out.

You have to be careful playing the doubled part, if it’s too far off from the original it will make a unwanted ping-ponging effect especially in headphones.
Quad Tracking is exactly the same, but you record each part 4 times. Each take has to be perfectly in sync or it just sounds like a terrible mess.

Poor alternatives
So why can’t we just duplicate and delay/shift the recording a little for the same effect? Well, simply because it sounds like crap and I’ll show you.
This is what happens when you copy the original mono recording, delay the copy by 20ms and pan each hard left and right.

Similarly, why not use a stereo chorus?
Still sounds really bad compared to double tracking. I’m not saying don’t ever use Chorus, just don’t use as an alternative to the big wide powerful double-track sound.

I hope you have found this article useful.
Any questions? Let me know in the comments below.


  1. efabric
    efabric April 4, 2012

    Perhaps double tracking is a bit too wide with headphones ? Maybe 10-80 % panning is enough…

    • Jon
      Jon April 4, 2012

      It is pretty rare that you don’t want to use your full stereo width. If you have 4 simultaneous guitars you can pan one pair 75% L and R.

      Having these guitars panned wide gives more room for vocals and bass.
      A third guitar with different tone and low in the middle is fairly common also.

      In a metal mix, aside from cymbals/overheads there’s nothing else stereo.

      Sometimes you need to use stereo widening to push them out further to match other releases in the genre.

  2. Björgvin
    Björgvin April 17, 2012

    Ugh, that chorus example sounds terrible. I’d definitely take the ADT track over the mono or chorused track every day, although a real double is always preferred.

    ugh…that chorus….

  3. Brell
    Brell April 25, 2012

    If you’re recording 2 guitarsists, each guitarist is double tracked, would you pan the 1st guitarist left & right, and then the 2nd guitarist also left & right? Or would it be: 1st guitarist both tracks on left, and 2nd guitarist both tracks on right?

    • Jon
      Jon April 26, 2012

      I’ve done either in that situation or 50-75% panned doubles. It will really depend on the 2 guitar tones and song, if there is contrast or counterpoint.

      If the two guitarists have unique styles even playing the same part (Lamb of God for example) then panning each player to one side may be the best way.

  4. Sean
    Sean May 1, 2012

    Nice post. I tend to stick with only one double tracked guitar part. I like the clean and tidy sound, and uncluttered feel. When Ive tried several double tracks it winds up eating too much headroom as well as cluttering frequencies. Lately Ive even been sticking to one rhythm part and one improvised guitar part as a melody keeper, and play with panning to get the best feel. Its worked, but for serious drive the double tracked power chord is a must. Anyhow good tips. Cheers!

  5. Person
    Person February 16, 2014

    In my opinion the first ‘Poor alternatives’ sounds better than the first mono track. The best is obviously the double-play track, but the duplicate track isn’t that bad?? And the stereo chorus just sounds too rough.

    • Admin
      Admin February 16, 2014

      Duplicate track isn’t that bad but can sound really bad in mono. Just 1 of many tricks you can use to correct a poor decision in tracking.

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