Production Lesson #3 – Thoughts on Reamping Practices for Electric Guitar & Bass

Unlike my previous production lessons this one is part educational and part opinion piece. I recently got into a brief discussion about reamping with fellow WordPress author sha1n on his blog, BrainDumps (you can see the original article here.) And since then I’ve been pondering the impact modern reamping practices is having on the way guitar parts sound in current music.

What is Reamping?

More and more guitarists and producers are now capturing electric guitar performances through simply DI’ing the parts straight to the desk. This isn’t something new, especially for bass players who do this regularly live and in the studio. This is often done for the sonic qualities this gives a track.I’ve covered this in detail in the last lesson which you can find here.

Reamping is simply the process of sending this Di’d signal out of the desk and through an amplifier to then be recorded with a microphone back into another channel. You will also see people use a reamping box to change the impedance and level of the signal back to that of a guitar (well worth the investment if you like this technique as it reduces the noise floor). Now I’m going to try to be objective and look and the real world advantages and disadvantages of this method.

Advantages

  • Recording DI’ed parts allows you to track relatively quietly. If you live in a shared building were tracking guitars for extended periods isn’t an option then this is ideal.
  • Young producers and engineers often don’t feel confident in their skills to properly mic up cabinet. By reamping it allows you to experiment with mic placement an other hardware on the signal, safe in the knowledge that if you change you mind at a later date you can always reamp.
  • If you are tracking parts for song that requires an amplifier or effect you don’t have with you. I’ve had artists record a DI’d part when we didn’t have access to the perfect amp in that moment and I reamped them at a later date.

Disadvantages

Electric guitars alone are not a complete instrument, a high percentage of the overall sound (probably around 75% in my opinion) is the reaction of the preamp, power amp and speaker to the guitars signal. Each stage changes the signal introducing certain amounts of compression, gain and changes in overall attack. The player navigates these factors often unknowingly in a live setting, adjusting their performance accordingly. Even when tracked beautifully this can lead to a very sterile sound when reamped, as the performance isn’t taking into account the factors.

Another concern (as sha1n pointed out) is the loss of artistic control from the artist. Now if you trust your producer and have a clear picture of what the track then you can trust them to dial in your sound. Personally I would rather dial in my own tones especially if I then need to play those sounds again live.

The Compromise 

Now I know if you are a longstanding user of the reamping method I doubt this lesson/article will change you mind, so I propose a compromise. If you can mic up a cabinet when you record you performance then do it. But as a safety net record a DI’d signal for reamping if it needs it. I’ve seen producers do this a few times and the performance will sound more natural when it comes to reamping later anyway.

If you need to record silently then perhaps track with some kind of amplifier plug-in instead (bear in mind that monitoring plug-ins tends to introduce latency which can mean you may need to nudge the audio after). Even if you use the actual amplified signal try reamping the signal with a different tone and blend them to get a bi-amped or even tri-amped sound. A lot of players use multiple amps live and it’s a key to their tone but recording two amps in the moments (without bleed) isn’t always possible.

One of the best pieces of advice I can give to anyone when recording is to commit to a sound early on. If you wrote the track then chances are you’ll have a pretty clear vision of what you want. If you are producing someone else’s music then it is essential sure you get some reference tracks and really talk about the tones wanted. Whilst you may occasionally find the sound you dialled in isn’t usable in the final mix (hence the back-up DI) you will actually find the tracks will require a lot less equalisation and editing later.

I’d love to know what you think about this topic? Have you ever tried either method? Have any recording preferences? Till next time have a great day!

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