Reamping kits, like this one from
Radial Engineering, include
you need to get started reamping your signals.
Reamping has become a fairly common
technique for getting great guitar sounds
when recording. For the benefit of those that
are unfamiliar with reamping, the idea is to
take an already recorded “dry” or “direct”
track—typically a guitar track—and send that
previously recorded track to a guitar amplifier,
which is mic’d and recorded to a new track.
This allows you to change the guitar tone after
the fact, when you have a better idea of what
the context of a production will be.
Reamping isn’t a new concept. Studio engineer
John Cuniberti built and marketed the
original red Reamp unit in 1994, and since
then, reamping has become one of the “secret
weapons” of many mix engineers and producers.
But what happens if you take that concept
and apply it to tracks other than guitar? Most
of us have heard at least one song where the
vocal track has some distortion applied to it—
examples include the Breeders’ “Cannonball”
and “The Big Picture” by King’s X.
There are many songs that have this distortion
effect on a vocal track, and there are a
few ways to get it done, but we’re going to
talk about doing it by reamping the track.
It’s pretty simple: Record your vocal track as
you always do, whether that means some
compression and EQ, or completely dry and
unprocessed. Then take that vocal track and
run it into your guitar amp, and voilà! A gritty,
dirty, distorted vocal track. Just put a mic in
front of it and record it to a new track.
You might say, “But I have plug-ins that can
achieve the same thing. Why would I want
to hassle with reamping?” There are two
reasons for taking the reamping route: First,
without getting into a debate about plug-ins
versus their hardware counterparts, nothing
else is going to sound like your favorite amp.
The second is bragging rights. How many
times have you been asked by your buddies,
“How did you do that?” How cool would
it be to say that you used your Marshall,
Fender, Orange, or Mesa/Boogie to get that
effect, and then go on to explain with authority
what reamping is? Put simply, it’s a really
cool way to do it, and in my opinion, a lot
more fun than simply inserting a plug-in. Plus,
you’re getting extra use from the gear you
have, and you can apply the tones of your
favorite amp wherever you like.
The Next Step
If you want to take the concept further, how
about applying your guitar effects to a keyboard
track? Suppose you have a vintage
delay pedal that sounds absolutely killer, or a
tube reverb tank that has a reverb tail to die
for? With reamping, you can send a keyboard
track to your guitar effects chain, and morph it
into something totally new and different from
the original track if you so desire.
You could use reamping to use your guitar
compressor stompbox as a compressor for
your drums, for instance. Reamp your drum
tracks out to your guitar compressor, then
bring it back in on a new track using a mic
preamp and a direct box. The sound you
get will depend on which compressor you’re
using. It might sound great or it might not, but
it’s certainly worth trying.
If you have stereo guitar effects, you can
apply those to your other tracks in a similar
way. Stereo delay, for instance, can really help
thicken up a vocal track, and if you have a
good-sounding stereo delay for guitar, you
may be surprised how it can give life to a
lead vocal or backing vocals. If your recording
software offers a pitch-to-MIDI converter, you
could even convert your vocal line to MIDI,
assign it to a piano instrument, then send that
out to your guitar amp, mic it, and have something
really different doubling up your vocal.
If you’re not into reamping yet, you really
should consider adding the technique to your
bag of tricks. It’s a huge lifesaver for its originally
intended purpose—to re-record guitar
tracks with new tones—and if you ever have a
guitar track that just doesn’t sit quite right in
the mix, but is otherwise great, reamping may
save the day.
Chris McCown is a Sales Engineer at Sweetwater. He has
been a guitarist, drummer, and bass player since 1985, and
began mix engineering in 1994. He is a consultant, producer,
and has worked with bands and solo acts since 2002. You
may reach him directly at Chris_McCown@sweetwater.com