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A Crash Course in Re-Amping

Re-amping can be a great way to save a lousy guitar track. There are many scenarios where re-amping is desirable: You've recorded a thin sounding DIed track, your guitar amp plug-ins sounds awful or maybe you've recorded a separate DI line because the sound from the guitarist sucked. Whatever your scenario is, re-amping can be a really useful and cool trick to use for mixing and producing.

Re-amping can completely change the original sound to make it better, and the only real drawback is the time needed. When you're re-amping you will always have to record the entire guitar track again. It's not like a amp simulator where the sound instantly changes.

Just think of it like recording a guitar track without the guitarist present. Getting a good sound can be stressful when you have an impatient guitarist hovering in the room, anxiously waiting to record. But with re-amping you can allow yourself the time to get a great guitar sound if you've botched the first attempt: take the time to move the mics and tweak the amp settings.

Additionally, re-amping is useful for adding subtle depth, space and shape to an already great sounding track.


Image by: Derek K. Miller

Re-amping Signal Flow

Let's start by looking at the signal flow of a re-amping situation. It might seem somewhat complicated at first glance but once you understand the rule of simple signal flow, it'll be super easy.

We're taking an already recorded signal and bringing it back into your software via a microphone. We can split the signal flow into two separate sections:

  1. From the computer and out of the amp,

  2. and from the microphone into the computer.

Re-amping is where those extra outputs on your audio interface come in handy. Since we'll be taking an already recorded signal from your DAW and into your amplifier, you're going to need an output to get it out of your computer.

You're going to need to select an output from your interface but also route the track you're going to reamp to that particular output.

For example, I'm going to send a guitar track that I recorded DIed into the interface out into an amplifier. I don't like the sound of the DI'd guitar at all, it's thin and weak and basically lacks everything a good guitar sound needs.

Take a listen to the guitar track below:

Pretty bad huh? But that's OK, because we can actually fix it. My playing isn't super-bad (I could have done better) so I just need the sound to be better.

So now I'm going to route the signal out from the DAW using Output 4 on my interface. Any audio channel you have should have an input and an output. Usually the input was the input you recorded the track to begin with, in this case it was the first channel of my interface that I used, or Input 1.

The input is not something you have to worry about for this channel, but the output is. The output is usually set to the Stereo Out so that you can hear all of the tracks coming out of the same monitors while you're mixing, but this time we have to select a different one. I've set the output to Output 4 in my software so that's where the signal is currently going when I play the audio.


Now, theoretically, you're signal should be going out of Output 4. But you won't know this until you route the signal to a new speaker, in this case an amplifier.

Pause your audio until you've completed the next few steps. You don't want unexpected cracks and pops from a live audio signal while you're plugging in your cables.

  • Step 1 – Get a guitar cable, and plug it into Output 4 (or whichever output you've chosen) on the back of your interface.
  • Step 2 – Plug that cable into the input of your amplifier, or where you would normally plug your jack plug from a guitar.
  • Step 3 – Set the volume to 0 and start playing the audio from your DAW.
  • Step 4 – Turn up the amplifier and you should hear the recorded guitar track from your DAW coming out of your amplifier.

If everything goes according to plan you can now tweak the sound using your amplifier. I have a small VOX VTX50 that has a lot of different amp models with some pretty convincing sounds. In this case I've turned to the boutique clean sound to get a nice and smooth clean sound. Depending on your amplifier situation and re-amping needs, you might go for something different.

Now that we've got the amplifier playing along nicely, we can focus on recording it back into the DAW. Just think of it like recording any other instrument, or in this case a guitar track without a guitar player! Put up a microphone, plug the XLR cable into the microphone and into an available microphone input on your interface, create a channel inside your software that has the same input and arm it to record. Voilá! You're ready to record.


Microphone Techniques

The beauty of re-amping is that you can spend a good deal of time getting the exact sound you want. If you get stressed out by having a guitarist hovering in the room as you try to get a good sound for him then re-amping is a godsend.

Additionally, if you're recording yourself it's difficult to switch hats, between being an engineer and a musician. Trying to get a great guitar sound and then moving the mic around while you're simultaneously trying to control the DAW and play the perfect guitar part gets frustrating very quickly. And all with a guitar swinging around your neck!

So if you've resorted to just plugging your guitar in directly to avoid the hassle of dealing with microphone techniques, I can relate. However, you can still get a great guitar sound with re-amping, and all without the stress of having to do everything all at once by yourself.

Since we've got the track already recorded, we can focus on the microphone techniques. I'm using an Audix i5, which is a all around killer dynamic microphone, for the following examples, but use whatever you have at your disposal.

Now that I've got my hands free and sans guitar around my neck I can move the microphone around until I get a nice sound.

I started with the i5 at the sweet spot, halfway from the center and the edge, sort of where the dust-cap meets the cone.

Not a bad guitar sound at all. It's definitely way better than the thin DIed guitar sound we started with. But I didn't want to leave it at that since the smallest movement of the microphone can drastically change the guitar sound. And since we've gone to all the trouble of re-amping the guitar, a few microphone adjustments are definitely worth a try.

Next up was moving the microphone pointing at the center of the cone.

While the sound isn't bad, it's just a bit too bright for me. It has too much attack for a part that needs to sound smoother. Instead of going back to the original “sweet spot” I tried one more technique. This time I placed it at the sweet spot but turning it at a 45 degree angle into the cone.

That's closer to the sound I was looking for. By pointing the microphone off-axis I was able to get those smooth highs I was looking for.

With re-amping, the microphone techniques are endless. You can get very ambitious, adding more mics to the mix to get the exact sound you want. As long as you recorded your original DIed signal well then you don't have to worry about the re-amped signals being of worse quality. It's not like tape that gets worn the more you process or record on top of it. The sound from the DI isn't really going to matter in the end, just what you do with it. If you decide to use more mics, just remember to record them on separate tracks so you can process them independently. Re-amping isn't any different than recording a normal guitar amp, so just treat it as such.


Re-Amping to Add Depth

Re-amping isn't only used to salvage lousy guitar sounds. You can also re-amp sounds that you're perfectly satisfied with, but want to give it some depth or a different tone. Here are two different methods to use re-amping if you're just looking to experiment.

Mic Up Your Monitor

Imagine that you're mixing a song and one of your instruments just sounds kind of flat. It doesn't necessarily sound bad, it just doesn't pop like it should. It's amazing how much a microphone and pre-amp can change a sound, so try miking up the monitor and see if that changes anything.

For example, there is this bass track that is quite dry as it was recorded directly through a pre-amp without a cabinet. Therefore, the sound never came in contact with a microphone or a room of any sort. It's a fine bass sound, but it could be rounder and more natural.

If you don't have a bass amplifier handy, then miking your monitor is a perfectly acceptable substitute. I got this trick from Fab, a really great mixing engineer, at last year's AES convention. He said that if you have any problems making the bass sound more real and punchy, then miking a monitor can give you that “pushing of the air” that a speaker does.

You see, a DIed bass is a great sound, but there's no pushing of the air and no movement of the speaker. Sometimes that is just what is needed to give the bass(or any instrument) a little more width or depth.

Not too bad, but kind of dry.

By just miking up the cone of the monitor I get quite a different sound:

Listening back to it I realize there is a little too much bass to it. I would probably cut a little bit in the lows to let it sit better, but there's definitely a drastic change by just re-miking your speaker cone. This can be done with a variety of instruments, as experimentation or just for fun.

Creating an Echo Chamber in Your House

Many of you don't realize that you probably have one good room that can lend itself well to being a reverb. The bathroom. The combination of tiled floors with tiled walls gives it the perfect ambience to being a makeshift reverb chamber. Why do you think you sound so good in the shower? It's all the reflections helping you out!

Try re-amping some of your stuff and record it in the bathroom for a natural reverb. Those reverb plug-ins are great and all, but sometimes originality wins out.

I bussed two guitar tracks together, an electric and an acoustic guitar track and sent them to my clean amplifier. I positioned the amplifier in the doorway to my bathroom and then I placed a microphone in the bathroom itself, pointing at the tiled walls, facing away from the amplifier. I used a dynamic for the purpose of the example, but I would recommend a condenser, preferably in an omni configuration in order to get the full effect of the bathroom sound.

This is the dry guitar bus I sent into the bathroom:

And this is what the microphone picked up from the bathroom itself. A sort of a ambient miked, hard reverb sound.

And by just adding it a tiny bit of the “reverb underneath the recorded guitars I got that extra depth I wanted. Nothing big, since we don't want to drench everything in reverb, but just right to add a little depth.


Conclusion

Whew, I hope you got all that! There's a lot to re-amping. It's not just about salvaging crummy guitar sounds, although that's a great way to use it. It's also good for creating natural reverb, changing the shape and tone of your instruments using your monitor or adding depth underneath an already great sounding track.

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