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more... Premier BlogGearHow-TosGear BlogRecording TipsJuly 2014The Recording Guitarist

Recording Guitarist: Doubling Down on Riffs

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An original ReAmp—a “reverse direct box” that lets you route tracks from your DAW through amps and stompboxes. Nowadays the circuit appears in everything from the $99 Radial ProRMP to the $1,900 Millennia TD-1 preamp.

It’s no secret that the massive sounds of our favorite riffs often result from replicating a part across multiple tracks. But that technique raises countless questions:

· What’s more effective: capturing a single performance with multiple mics/amps, or doubling it with multiple performances?

· If doubling a part makes it sound bigger, is it even better to quadruple—or octuple?

· Should the tracks be panned wide to fill the stereo soundstage, or positioned close together to better mimic a single instrument?

· Do added effects heighten the impact, or just muddy the waters?

Oh, you already know the answer: It depends.

THE END.

Oh, still here? Dang—thought I could get off easy this month. Naturally, musical context dictates the best approach. But you stand a better chance of recognizing it if you can envision each option. With that goal in mind, I borrowed some tracks from my brilliant bandmate, drummer Dawn Richardson. I added a bass part, improvised a riff, and started layering.

Track 1a is a rough mix of drums and bass alone, and Track 1b adds a single guitar track, panned dead center.

Okay, not a riff for the ages, but it’ll do. I recorded directly into Logic Pro, but ran the signal from my DAW to an amp using a ReAmp—the “reverse direct box” invented by John Cuniberti, Joe Satriani’s longtime engineer. These days Radial licenses the circuit and includes it in such products as the $99 Radial ProPMP. With a ReAmp you can send recorded tracks from your DAW to instrument-level gear such as amps and stompboxes, and then re-record the results. It’s one of best purchases a recording guitarist can make.

The Track 1b version, routed through a funky homemade germanium overdrive and a Kennedy-era Fender Tremolux, doesn’t sound bad, exactly, but it feels “smaller than life.” The upper mids are overbearing, though they might sit better if they weren’t panned center, near the midrange-y snare.

Via the magic of ReAmping, I re-recorded the riff, this time sending it to two individually miked amps. Track 2a has both parts panned together, but slightly to one side, away from the snare. Track 2b has a slight stereo spread, and Track 2c pans them far left and right. Track 2d adds a third track just left of center, and Track 2e is similar, but with the left/right tracks much quieter. (It may help to listen on headphones.)

Which choice is best? Duh—it depends!

Track 2a has a nice bluntness. Track 2c sounds fullest, but without a strong musical object in the center of the stereo field, it’s like a frame with no picture, though it might sound good surrounding a vocal. Track 2d works better as an instrumental, and 2e is a compromise that feels like a single track, but carries more weight than the original Track 1b.

Phase for days. When you double tracks, be mindful of phasing issues. There’s not much of a science to it, or at least, there doesn’t have to be: Just flip the phase-reverse switch on one of your doubled tracks. Sometimes one option sounds clearly superior, and sometimes it’s a toss-up. (Analog mixer channels almost always have a dedicated phase switch, but on a DAW, you may need to search for the function among the plug-ins. In Logic Pro, for example, there’s phase-reverse button within the Gain plug-in.)

Don’t be surprised if you need to turn guitar tracks down as you pan them left and right. A track that’s barely audible when fighting for attention in the center of the stereo field can be overbearing when shunted to one side.

Digital deception. So far, we’ve heard only one guitar performance, just routed through multiple amps. Before we move on to actual doubling, let’s explore a lazier option: faking doubles within your DAW.

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