Reamping: Getting The Right Tone (The Second Time Around)
Have you ever recorded a guitar track and then realized the tone just wasn’t quite right? I’ve done this a number of times and the result is a product that just ends up bugging you every time you hear it. There are a few extra steps you can take when recording to ensure complete tonal flexibility without having to replicate a perfectly good take. These steps will set you up for reamping, which is an excellent a way of alleviating some of that stress and keep you moving forward with your recordings. I first learned about it from an audio engineer friend named Michael E. Smith. After he demonstrated the mechanics of it, there was no turning back for me. The whole concept is relatively simple in design but highly effective in a recording situation, especially when you’re unsure of which amp tone you will end up using.
Your first step will be to open your DAW (Pro Tools, Logic, Ardour, etc), and create two tracks. Assign two inputs from your interface to those two tracks. One track will be used for your actual guitar amp tone which should already be mic’d up. The second track will be used for your completely dry, unadulterated signal. Recording your guitar amp/processor on the first take is not a necessary step but it will usually feel a bit better to play with a sound that you might end up using as opposed to only a dry signal (i.e. no distortion or effects). You can use a regular DI (Direct injection) box for this. Labels may vary depending on the unit you’re using but there’ll usually be an unbalanced input (high impedance), a thru output and a balanced output (low impedance) at the very least. Plug your guitar into the high impedance input, send the thru output to your guitar amp and send the low impedance output to your interface. At this point you’re ready to record your tracks. As a general rule of thumb it’s always good to set this up even when you’re not planning on reamping because you’ll always have the tone flexibility without sacrificing your take. The below diagram (Fig. 1) will illustrate the correct signal path for this setup:
Now, once you’ve gotten a take that you’re satisfied with it’s time to decide whether you like your amp’s recorded tone. If not, that’s where the dry, unadulterated signal comes in to play. This step is where you can run into problems if you don’t have a re-amp box (Check out companies like Little Labs and Radial for good reamping gear). Remember the DI inputs/outputs discussed in the last paragraph? Well, a re-amp box is the opposite of that. Instead of a taking a high impedance, unbalanced signal and converting it to a low impedance, balanced signal, it’s converting from low to high. The reason for this actually has to do with how a guitar amp is designed. An electric guitar’s output is an unbalanced (high impedance) signal and so that is exactly what a guitar amp is expecting to receive. If you don’t convert the impedance (i.e. use a standard DI box to reamp) it may ‘work,’ but you won’t retain the quality of the sound and it can actually cause unwanted distortion in your track. Impedance conversion is essential for reamping to work correctly.
Once you have your re-amp box, you will assign the output of the dry track to an output on your interface and route it to the input on your reamp box. Then plug the output of the reamper into your amp. Controls and labeling will vary depending on which box you end up getting so be sure to check the documentation before using it. A few of them have a volume control so you’ll want to be sure to have that set prior to reamping. Check out Fig. 2 for the signal path:
At this point you’re ready to mic up your amp again, run your track through it and start tweaking to find the perfect sound for your tune! The really cool thing is that after you’ve recorded your take you can let your inner tone geek out and not have to worry about playing. Now your neighbors can hear that perfect solo over and over again while you tweak the tone. Everybody wins!
Do you have more reamp tips? Be sure to share in the comments below!