Fake it till You Make it: Turn One Guitar Track into Several


Has this ever happened to you? You’re mixing a rock record, one that needs to sound as huge as possible, but you run into a huge roadblock: there’s only one guitar track to work with—for the whole song.

This has happened to me. Quite often, actually. See, in my mixing practice, I tend to work with acts who’ve recorded rather quickly and cheaply. They expect me, in post, to turn their one-take recording into a credible-sounding rock anthem. Here lies the rub: credible rock anthems typically don’t sport one solitary guitar track all the way through.

So it’s on me to make the magic happen. Luckily, it’s doable. Depending on how the guitar was recorded, it’s not only doable—it’s fun. So, to get you started, here are some of the techniques I’ve used over the years to turn one lemon of a guitar track into… multiple lemons.

Before we get going, I want to offer some pre-production advice: if you have a relationship with the band or their recording engineer, try to get a DI’ed signal of the guitar track. By all means, let them go for their amped sound first, because there simply is no substitute. But see if they can split that signal in tracking so you have something dry to work with. It might save your mix.

Anyway, onward.

Double and Delay

Many of your favorite rock productions feature double-tracked guitars panned hard left and hard right. If all you have is one guitar part, you can approximate this effect by copying the audio over to a new track and delaying it (say between seven and 30 milliseconds, for sake of argument.) This will instantly give you a wider sound. This technique works with amped and DI guitars, but be aware: phasing issues can occur with sloppy implementation. For my own tastes, I find this technique works better with a DI, because then I can affect the signal however I want (amp emulators, modulation) and fool the ear more successfully into thinking two different tracks are happening.

Now, dependent on the material, the result might start to sound artificial after a while. Here’s where a little editing can be your friend, because you can separate regions of the track and nudge them backward or forward ever so slightly (two to five milliseconds at a time in either direction) to create more sophisticated variances. I recommend nudging regions over automating a delay plug-in, for automation can lead to weird hiccups that don’t sound natural (they might sound cool, but they won’t sound natural). Just be sure to use crossfades to hide your edits.

Double and EQ

This technique is similar to the one above, but instead of delaying, I apply EQ differently to each separated track. For instance, I might low-pass everything above 700 Hz on the left while high-passing everything below 600 Hz on the right (I might also implement curves that don’t conform to a specific or complementary scheme). I experiment, aiming for results that sound stereophonic and full, yet avoid the “double-tracked” vibe.

Wherever the frequency overlap is, that’s where your image will be centered. So, if you’re cutting everything above 700 Hz in the left and everything below in the right, you’ll really feel that band between 600 and 700 Hz in the center of your stereo spectrum. Use this to your advantage.

I don’t implement delay in this process—unless I want to: there is nothing to stop you from using two approaches simultaneously. It’s your call, so long as you meet the goal of creating an interesting and appropriate sound.

Note that this technique can work with both amped and DI’ed guitars, though you should be more careful/subtle in EQ’ing an amped signal.

Steinberg RND Portico 5033 - EQ Plug-In

Double and Modulate—or Just Modulate

Here’s where we get to have some real fun, because depending on the source material—and the arrangement—the sky’s the limit on manipulation. For example, if the song has additional tonal elements, such as keyboards or vocal harmony, you could slap a mono spring reverb onto a double and pan it to set off the guitar.

If you’re working with a power trio—and you’ve gotten a DI off the guitar—you can use modulations to add all sorts of textures to a double. For instance, I love creating a lush organ-like sound by taking the copied track, pitching it up one or two octaves, adding a suitable reverb, EQ’ing it to taste, and laying it in the mix very low. This is a great way to add the illusion of harmonics similar to an organ’s drawbars. It’s quite useful to add shimmer to sparse passages.

Of course, you don’t need to mess with pitch; you can add interesting delay, chorus, formant, or filtering effects to beef up an otherwise threadbare section.

For this approach, I do recommend automation—what works for one phrase might not work for another, and also, shifting parameters on a specific element (e.g., delay time, chorus depth) can keep things from sounding predictable and stale.

Serato Pitch 'n Time LE 3.0 - Time Stretching and Pitch Shifting Plug-In

Creative Editing

If you’re working on a song with a consistent tempo and a repeating structure, then you might get away with the following: copy the second verse to a new track, fly it over to verse one, and pan each part left and right. This creates “real” double-tracked guitars. For the next verse, swap the panning, and that might just spice things up enough. Provided the conditions are right, this trick might be your safest and fastest bet to beef up a thin, single-tracked guitar sound.


This works great—if you have the time, the interface real estate, the mics, the pres, and a good room. Say you have only one amped track, but you need the sound to be wider for the chorus. Maybe it’s a very spare arrangement, something not appropriate for heavy digital processing. In this case, route the track through your stereo monitors, set up two microphones, and tweak various parameters (placement, mics, pres, etc) until you get a sound you like. Then hit Record and mix the result back into the track appropriately.

Antelope Zen Tour Portable Thunderbolt/USB Audio Interface

If you’re working with a DI’d track, in a way you have more freedom. You can simply re-amp the track, or you can emulate whatever amplifier you wish. Simply process the track however you like and then repeat the miking process outlined above. This technique might just help you inject more realism into the sometimes lifeless and flat sound of amp emulators. At any rate, it’s another tool in the box.

Whichever technique you use, the important thing to keep in mind is implementation: combine any or all of these techniques for different sections of a song, and you’re going to have a more sonically pleasing production—something for which clients will keep coming back.

Since B&H sells such items, this might be a good time to list some appropriate tools for the job.

Plug-ins: AmpliTube 4, Softube Amp Room Bundle, Waves GTR3

Mics: Shure SM57, Sennheiser MD 421, AKG C414

Reamping Interface: Antelope Zen Tour

If you have any other techniques you’d like to share, please do so below, in the Comments section.


Nice article and mixing tips! Thanks so much for some great ideas! Really loving how B&H has such helpful content to read over from contributors like yourself.