This well-established, simple technique opens up a new world of sonic possibilities.
[Originally published February 14, 2022]
Welcome to another Dojo! This time I’m going to show you how to reamp your guitar and explore some creative ways you can re-amps other tracks as well (soft synths, vocals, drums, etc.). In my earlier column “Why Guitarists Shouldn’t Diss DIs,” I mentioned the benefits of using a DI for creative recording. If you have a DI box, dust it off! You’ll need it when I show you how to get more out of your DI-recorded guitar and bass tracks by reamping them into your pedals and amps to capture new perspectives and even add some new reverberant spaces. Tighten up your belts, the Dojo is now open.
To begin, you’re going to need a reamp box such as the Radial JCR Studio Reamper ($229 street) and most likely a TRS-to-male XLR cable (like the Hosa HSX-003, $11 street). I like passive re-amp boxes because they don’t require external power and are easy to move around. Some would argue that passive models loose signal strength, which is true, but how many boost/overdrive pedals do we guitarists have? At least one, right? Put one after the reamp box and before your amp. Boom. Problem solved, and you can drive your amp even harder. Otherwise, you’re going to shell out more dinero for active reamp boxes, which isn’t really necessary, and I like the inherent lo-fi nature of this process.
Reamping is a two-part endeavor. The first part involves using a DI box to record the guitar directly into your DAW. If you’re unsure how to do this, I recommend going online and reading my Dojo article mentioned above. It’s very easy and straightforward. The second part involves routing the DI-recorded guitar track out of your DAW and into your reamp pedal. Depending on your interface, you might need the TRS-to-male XLR cable previously mentioned.
Look at Fig. 1 and do the following: Plug the XLR end of the cable from your audio interface’s out into the input of your reamp box. Now use your regular guitar cable and connect the output of your reamp box to the input of your amp. Place a microphone in front of your guitar amp, plug that into your interface, and record-enable that track. When you hit playback, the DI track will play back through your amp, and you will be recording the amp. You’re now re-amping! You can make new recordings each time you change amp settings or mic positions.
For even more craziness, check out Fig. 2. You can add any (and all) pedals (even entire pedalboards) into the signal chain. Get creative. But wait, there’s more!
You can also route any track’s output in your DAW to your reamp box and really start going berserk. Try your lead vocal, the background vocals, keys, and drums (especially drum machines) and listen to how it sounds. Reamping also gives you the ability to manually tweak pedal knobs and make dynamic parts that are really changing as the track plays. Try playing with the times and feedback amount of your delays. Fun!
Finally, depending on how much you are driving your amp, you could keep it clean, move the mic further away from the speaker, and start capturing more of the sound of your room. I like to do this on drum machines. It puts them in a real space. Specifically, your space. No reverb plug-in can get that! As always, I invite you to come by my website to hear and see these concepts in action. Until next time, namaste.
The emotional wallop of the acoustic guitar sometimes flies under the radar. Even if you mostly play electric, here are some things to consider about unplugging.
I have a love-hate relationship with acoustic guitars. My infatuation with the 6-string really blasted off with the Ventures. That’s the sound I wanted, and the way to get it was powered by electricity. Before I’d even held a guitar, I knew I wanted a Mosrite, which I was sure was made of fiberglass like the surfboards the Beach Boys, Surfaris, and the Challengers rode in their off time. Bristling with space-age switchgear and chrome-plated hardware, those solidbody hotrod guitars were the fighter jets of my musical dreams. I didn’t even know what those old-timey round-hole guitars were called. As the singing cowboys Roy Rogers and Gene Autrey strummed off into the sunset, the pace of technology pushed the look and sound of the electric guitar (and bass) into the limelight and into my heart. Imagine my disappointment when I had to begin my guitar tutelage on a rented Gibson “student” acoustic. At least it sort of looked like the ones the Beatles occasionally played. Even so, I couldn’t wait to trade it in.
By the late 1960s, everybody had to have an acoustic guitar. America's youth had gone through the Greenwich Village folk boom and entered the West Coast Laurel Canyon scene. Young women who wanted to be Joni Mitchell and Neil Young-inspired men floated on down to local musical instrument emporiums to pick out their badge of artistry. In Europe, folkies blended traditional troubadour tunes with blues and rock, creating a genre that survives to this day. The most fuzzed-out psychedelic combos proudly displayed their introspective acoustic side. Everybody had an acoustic guitar. Of course, country music never forgot. Except for a short interlude of microphone-hugging country crooners, Nashville kept the strum going.
So, what makes the acoustic guitar so indefatigable? First and foremost is the beauty of its sound. Like the violin or the piano, the unadorned guitar has a purity of sound and purpose that is moving in a way electronic instruments are not. In concert, the connection between the musician and the sound the audience hears is undeniable. It’s a tightrope walk, where technology cannot fool the listener. The fewer links in the chain, the closer the bond between performer and patron—and that’s the experience people crave.d
Before you write off the seemingly fragile, hollow-bodied cowpoke guitar as the electric’s poorer cousin, think again.
Another more practical aspect is portability. Although buskers have more recently turned to elaborate amplifier and looper setups for street concerts, not much beats a great singer accompanied by an acoustic guitar. Certainly, I can’t imagine dragging an amp and a synthesizer down to the beach to jam some Bill Evans while friends roast s’mores. Okay, maybe. But the simplicity of a naked guitar in a dorm hallway or in a coffee shop can be a refreshing break from the relentless attack of electronic pop culture. In a world of autotune, backing tracks, and the layered-to-death ambush of modern music, a fingerpicked guitar is like a walk in the woods on a spring day. The fact that it can be easily taken anywhere makes it the instrument of choice for so many.
Another strong argument for the acoustic axe is its supremacy as an accompanist. Being a singer-songwriter doesn’t leave a lot of viable options. Although Chet Baker managed a career as a crooning trumpeter, playing a horn while vocalizing requires additional backup. Singing while playing the violin isn’t much easier. The piano is probably the most versatile sounding accompanist, but as much as I like Diana Krall, Ray Charles, and Elton John, their instrument of choice forces them to bring the party to the piano, not the other way around. You can argue that the electric guitar is a contender. Unfortunately, the slight portability downside of needing an amp and its tendency to drown out vocals makes it the second choice, whereas the acoustic guitar checks all the right boxes.
This all isn’t to say that an acoustic guitar lacks the ability to deliver impressive soloing performance. Some of the most inspiring and emotionally vibrant instrumental music is delivered on acoustics. The roster of players currently burning up the fretboard in every genre is immense—possibly the most in history. The acoustic guitar’s forte is to bring passionate and thoughtful melody to any song. This secret weapon has been applied to recordings from artists as diverse as the Beatles, Kiss, and Dream Theater. In the rhythm department, the acoustic steel string has been responsible for the foundational power of the Who, Alice in Chains, Pink Floyd, Guns N’ Roses, and countless other “heavy” bands.
So before you write off the seemingly fragile, hollow-bodied, cowpoke acoustic guitar as the electric’s poorer cousin, think again. They might not be as loud, or as flashy, but they pack an emotional wallop that often flies under the radar. Many decades down the line, I wish I’d paid more attention to what that first student guitar had to offer me. Maybe I’d have kept it, too