Record­ing Tips

ROB LONG GOES DEEP ON ONE OF RECORD­ING’S MOST USE­FUL GUI­TAR CON­CEPTS.

Australian Guitar - - Contents - Rob Long is a multi-in­stru­men­tal­ist and pro­ducer work­ing @FunkyLizardS­tu­dios in New­cas­tle

Re-amping is sim­ply the process of play­ing a pre­vi­ously recorded track back through an amp, speaker or FX unit(s), and re-record­ing the sig­nal back to tape or into a DAW. The pur­pose is to en­hance the sig­nal in some way, in or­der to add colour, char­ac­ter or warmth to a track, or even to in­tro­duce an ‘or­ganic’ el­e­ment into the tex­ture rather than re­ly­ing 100 per­cent on dig­i­tal em­u­la­tion.

Re-amping is noth­ing new. Abbey Road’s fa­mous Stu­dio Two re­verb cham­ber was de­signed to add nat­u­ral re­verb to tracks by play­ing them through a speaker and re-record­ing them into the mix. With the rise of the home stu­dio, this tech­nique has de­vel­oped fur­ther and be­come even more pop­u­lar over time, largely due to the added flex­i­bil­ity and con­trol in lim­ited sur­round­ings.

The most com­mon sce­nario is when an elec­tric gui­tar, bass or key­board track has been recorded cleanly through a DI or mic preamp with no amp or FX. The clean, dry sig­nal is then fed through a DAW out­put into a gui­tar amp, which is then miced up and re-recorded. As you’ll soon see, there are many more creative ap­pli­ca­tions for the tech­nique – it’s just an­other creative tool to be ex­plored!

The first ques­tion is usu­ally, "Why go through all that trou­ble when you can just play through an amp and mic it up to start with?" Firstly, even at the high­est level, it’s not al­ways easy to nail the per­fect gui­tar sound dur­ing track­ing – the fo­cus is of­ten more on get­ting the right take down. It may not be ap­par­ent how the sound is go­ing to in­ter­act with other el­e­ments in the track un­til much later, such as dur­ing mix­down. Thus, re-amping can be­come part of the mix­ing process, which is all about fi­nal­is­ing the sonic qual­i­ties of the track and get­ting ev­ery­thing to work as a whole.

Fur­ther to this, you may not ac­tu­ally own a great gui­tar amp, amp mics, preamps, or a room in which to crank it all up. Home pro­duc­ers of­ten record drums else­where and then bring them home to work on. Mix­ing is also com­monly done in a pro­fes­sional en­vi­ron­ment. Re-amping later in a pro stu­dio could be the

an­swer for peo­ple who want to get their parts down in the com­fort of their own time and space, then worry about get­ting the per­fect tone in a more equipped and ver­sa­tile workspace fur­ther down the track.

Tim­ing re­straints can play a part, as can the player's fa­tigue. Peo­ple of­ten reach their peak per­for­mance in three or four takes, but some­times, all the mess­ing around in find­ing the ‘per­fect tone’ dis­tracts and in­ter­feres with the ac­tual per­for­mance side of things. Thus, it’s of­ten best to sep­a­rate the two pro­cesses. You might just be a night owl who likes to shred at 2am but doesn’t want to wake up the cranky pants in the next room!

Record­ing through a DI is fast and works well – you can in­sert a gui­tar amp plugin, dial up a tone that’s close enough, get your take down and edited, and then come back and re-amp it later to per­fect the tone. How­ever, you can have your cake and eat it too. It’s of­ten nice to play the take through a real amp with your fa­mil­iar sound and setup.

But why not cap­ture a dry DI tone at the same time? This can be tweaked later. For this method, you would need to split the sig­nal from the gui­tar – send­ing one sig­nal to the FX/amp – then an­other sig­nal to the DI.

We’ve got plenty of rea­sons for reamp­ing cov­ered – let's take a look at the ‘how’ of it all. RECORD­ING

Work out whether you want to record a clean DI track, or if you want to record both a DI and live amp track si­mul­ta­ne­ously. There are nu­mer­ous de­vices avail­able which will en­able you to split the gui­tar sig­nal in a 'tech­ni­cally cor­rect’ way. It’s im­port to get a clean, high-qual­ity sig­nal in if you want to get a qual­ity sound out. Ba­si­cally, you'll want max­i­mum level, min­i­mal noise, and to avoid ground hum. Most DIs will have a ground lift switch, which is far more use­ful than it may seem at first. RE-AMPING

Once you’ve got your tracks ready, you can set up for a re-amping ses­sion. Make sure you have your fi­nal edit done, as you don’t want to have to do this twice. Of­ten times, I’ll save up a hand­ful of songs and do them all at once for ef­fi­ciency. Now, it is pos­si­ble to go straight from your DAW into a gui­tar amp, but this will of­ten in­tro­duce noise and can sound a bit 'wrong’, as the im­ped­ance will be dif­fer­ent to a gui­tar and thus drive the amp in a dif­fer­ent way.

Us­ing a bonafide re-amping de­vice will pro­duce best re­sults. This is like a re­verse DI – it takes the balanced sig­nal from your DAW out­put and con­verts it to an un­bal­anced sig­nal,

with im­ped­ance to match that of an elec­tric gui­tar. This re­sults in a ‘nor­mal’ sound­ing tone with­out any ground hum.

Now you can take all the time in the world to per­fect that tone. You can tweak the amp and FX set­tings, ex­per­i­ment with dif­fer­ent mi­cro­phones and po­si­tions, change amps... There's a world of op­tions out there.

A word of cau­tion is needed re­gard­ing re-amping tones that were orig­i­nally played through an amp or al­ready have dis­tor­tion or over­drive on them. Gained up amps – es­pe­cially tube amps, dis­tor­tion ped­als and the like – all add har­mon­ics to the tone. By adding more har­monic dis­tor­tion on top of this, you can end up with a very un­nat­u­ral, noisy, hol­low mush which can sound al­most like white noise.

If you have the time and space, why not take the con­cept even fur­ther? Cre­ativ­ity is only lim­ited by your imag­i­na­tion!

As men­tioned, early stu­dio re-amping cen­tred mostly around adding am­bi­ence to sources – the cham­ber re­verb be­ing the best ex­am­ple. If you have ac­cess to a full range PA speaker and a room that has some nice, re­flec­tive sur­faces, try feed­ing a sound source back through the PA and mic­ing the speaker. Be care­ful not to cre­ate a feed­back loop, though.

The­o­ret­i­cally, any­thing that you’d nor­mally add room am­bi­ence or re­verb to could ben­e­fit from this. There are so many vari­ables – room, mic, speak­ers, the sound source, and so forth. But that’s the beauty of it – in­tro­duc­ing the el­e­ment of chance and vari­a­tion as a con­trast to us­ing stan­dard dig­i­tal plug­ins with pre­dictable re­sults.

Added live-room am­bi­ence can re­ally bring a mix to life. Rather than record­ing in a re­flec­tive room and not be­ing able to al­ter the tone later, you can take your time to blend the full, clean and tight punch of the closely miced in­stru­ments with the re-amped space in a way that suits the track.

Try work­ing with in­di­vid­ual tracks or a bussing com­bi­na­tion of tracks, and play around with it all to find what works for you. It could be the glue you’re look­ing for.

One pit­fall with re-amping is that there’s usu­ally some la­tency, or a slight de­lay be­tween the orig­i­nal track and the re-amped track. This is due to the added time it takes for the sig­nal to go out of the DAW, be con­verted to ana­logue, be pro­cessed and miced up, and then be con­verted back to dig­i­tal via the DAW in­put.

There are a few op­tions out­side of man­u­ally read­just­ing the track’s tim­ing to match the orig­i­nal. This will be es­pe­cially crit­i­cal when it comes to record­ing per­cus­sion or drums, where pre­cise tim­ing is im­per­a­tive.

Re­ally, once you’ve got the gist of the process, the fun is just be­gin­ning. Lash out and try some un­ortho­dox, tone-bend­ing ex­per­i­ments – record drums back through a dis­torted gui­tar amp or a wah pedal; try run­ning a snare track through a speaker while it rests on top of a snare drum and mic up the re­sult; or just lay a snare on a hor­i­zon­tal gui­tar cab, feed a drum track into it and mic the whole thing up!

What about some­thing wacky like vo­cals recorded through a speaker in­side a bass drum, or even a gui­tar amp sus­pended over a bath – that could be the an­swer to a rev­o­lu­tion in surf rock. You can blend the re-amped tone along­side the orig­i­nal, or re-amp it twice in two com­pletely dif­fer­ent ways – one more tra­di­tional sound­ing, the other more edgy.

Re-amping keeps the cre­ativ­ity alive well af­ter the in­stru­ments and play­ers have left the build­ing. Ex­plore it to cre­ate some­thing unique and take a trip from the of­ten ster­ile world of com­puter-based record­ing.

ABOVE: STACKS ON STACKS ON STACKS

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