Lately I’ve become a huge fan of recording DI (direct-injection) guitar tracks in Pro Tools 10. This is done by plugging directly into the recording interface (in my case an Mbox II), and allows the ability to change amp emulations on the fly once you’ve recorded a performance you’re satisfied with – allowing insane amounts of tonal flexibility.
As long as you’re satisfied with the basic performance of the track itself, you can go back and choose from a world of amp, microphone and speaker emulation combinations. This allows you to tailor your tone specifically to the needs of the song. You can also mechanically or manually double your tracks and apply alternative amp/speaker sim combinations to add depth and dimension to your parts. Unless your part calls for a specific effect or amp tone recorded in the traditional manner via microphone (or DI with added cab sims), the added flexibility and enhanced creativity are hard to beat.
Another beauty of recording dry tracks and applying plug-ins is that you can do so while recording too – you can still hear that huge Marshall-style emulation you want to use while you’re laying down the part to get the feel of the performance right in your headphones. You’re NOT however, married to that particular tone; it can be easily replaced if need be. Let’s say that upon playback, it’s just not happening for you like you imagined it would. It doesn’t sit in, or it doesn’t jump out of the mix the way you’d envisioned, whatever. Maybe now instead of that Marshall-y tone you’d like something more in the neighborhood of a Soldano, Recto, Bogner, or EVH 5150 III-ish vibe on the track, and you’ve already got the emulation for it.
Maybe now you think a combination of tones would be best, but you don’t really have the time, gear or energy to re-record it, and besides, that original performance was perfect and you’d hate to wipe it… so don’t! Go back and re-amp it! You can even keep that track, bounce another one without the plug-in, call up your new amp choice of doom as a new plug-in on that track, and get to blending! With so many amp emulation choices available, from Avid Pro Tools’ Eleven to Line 6 PODfarm, to Acme Bar Gig Head Case, to Peavey ReValver and IK Multimedia Amplitube 3, freeware like Poulin LeCto, Legion and so on, the possibilities are staggering!
A lot of these programs include cool-sounding versions of most standard effects too, like compression, distortion, flange, chorus, reverb and echo. I’ve also heard of some producers keeping a reference dry DI track of each part up their sleeve in case they find it still needs something later in the mixing process. And that’s also where one of the coolest benefits of all comes into play: that keeper DI track can also be used to re-amp through a real mic’d amp later to record ‘real’ amp tracks to further add to the desired wall of sound. You don’t even have to do this later: you could do it simultaneously using a direct/re-amp box like the Little Labs Redeye 3D Phantom. Again what’s not to like about this level of flexibility? You’re only limited by your imagination, the variety of sims you own, and your system CPU’s capabilities as to how crazy you can go with this. Don’t be afraid!
Initially, being a fan of recording my Mesa-Boogie Mark III directly in conjunction with a few presets I’d written in PODfarm and Recabinet speaker sims, I was resistant to the idea – I thought “I already know what amp sound I want, why would I ever change it?”. That was… spectacularly short-sighted on my part, as was printing tracks running PODfarm as an app when it just as easily have been run as a plug-in! So while I’ll still be recording my amp tone directly when possible, aside from printing a few tracks here and there for effect, I think I’ll be printing a direct guitar track for each part and adding amp sims after.
For the sake of argument, er…discussion, I’ve done some very basic example clips using both a clean and (what is to be the) dirty DI track. I’m using my Sunburst Warmoth with the Classic Stack Plus STK-S6, S4, and S9B set for the ‘clean,’ and the Bomber Charvel with the TB-16 59/Custom Hybrid for the ‘dirty,’ put through each amp sim I currently have at my disposal in my DAW – Pro Tools 10 came bundled with Eleven Free and SansAmp PSA1, and I combine this with the full versions of Line 6 PODfarm and the newest addition to my virtual amp stable, Acme Bar Gig Head Case. In each example you’ll hear the direct track, and then different amp and (mostly Recabinet) speaker sims applied to show the wide variety of tones available.
Here’s the reference clean track:
Here’s that same track with PT Eleven Free DC vintage Clean “Memphis Tweed” applied:
And finally (for the cleans) let’s try a Line 6 PODfarm Adrian Belew preset. This is a good example of some of the built-in effects:
Pretty cool, huh? Now let’s get dirty! Here’s the DI track I did with the Charvel/KnE “Bomber” guitar with the 59/Custom Hybrid in the bridge slot:
Again, pretty basic, but you get the idea. Now with PT Eleven Free DC Mod:
Sure, it’s crunchy, but let’s try SansAmp PSA1 “Metal Rhythm 4″ :
Here it is with a cool one I found in Head Case called “Prometheus”:
And again with PODfarm‘s “Solo 100″ mod:
Those few examples are barely scratching the surface here, but hopefully you’re getting the idea that the tonal possibilities are ridiculous! Not to mention you can layer tones in this manner using multiple tracks to create a ‘composite’ sound that is HUGE! The variance in tones allows the tracks to occupy different sonic space in the mix, making the part sound fuller. What have you got to lose by trying it?