- Learn what re-amping is and how to best prepare for it
- Learn some techniques for getting the most out of your equipment
- Learn how to polish your re-amp to make it fit perfectly in a mix
THIS ARTICLE WAS WRITTEN BY GEORGE TURNER, A MUSICIAN, PRODUCER AND MIXING ENGINEER OFFERING QUALITY RE-AMPING SERVICES FOR PRODUCERS AND MUSICIANS ON A SHOESTRING BUDGET.
What Is Re-Amping?
You might think of it as running a guitar DI through an amp after recording it so you can change the tone or the entire amp if you decide you don’t like what sound you got initially.
You’d be right if this is your idea of re-amping, but it can actually be any recorded signal, being played back through another piece of gear in order to change the sound. An example of this could be playing back a snare track into a big room and recording the reverb, as well as the obvious example of re-amping guitar tracks.
Why Bother With Re-Amping?
Here are some of the reasons why you might consider re-amping your guitar:
1. You Didn’t Get The Sound You Wanted When You First Recorded
This is a big one. It’s very easy to set up a guitar tone you like when recording, which sounds great in the room, but then when you come back to listen to it later in the mix you realise that it’s actually too bassy, too harsh, overly distorted etc.
Re-amping gives you the freedom to record with a tone that inspires you at the time of tracking, but you can then later change the tone as you see fit for the song.
2. You Want To Create Stereo Effects
Another potential reason you might want to re-amp is that you have the perfect performance of the guitar part, but you’re looking to get a bigger or more interesting sound. You can do this by simply re-amping the same part with different amps to build a sound that you like.
Note: This is not the same as double-tracking, if you use the same take re-amped left and right you will not get the wide sound associated with double-tracking.
3. You Don’t Have A Good Amp & Want To Send It Off To Be Re-Amped
Those who don’t have a professional guitar amp, speaker and microphone setup are usually those who will benefit most from re-amping. It’s useful to learn about the re-amping process in this case if you intend on sending your recordings off to be re-amped. This way you can make sure you’re going to get the best sound possible with the setup you have.
What Gear Do You Need For Re-Amping?
Here is a list of what’s required for re-amping. Bear in mind, some of these are optional and can depend on how you like to do things.
- Freshly Strung Guitar
- Audio Interface
- DI Box (optional)
- Re-amp Box (optional)
- Guitar Amplifier
The most expensive thing normally is the guitar amp which can cost thousands, but there are cheaper options out there that get the job done.
If you don’t use new strings then your DI will sound dull, and throughout the whole process of re-amping you will struggle to get a nice bright and clear sound.
The audio interface is one of the pieces of gear that is essential. You won’t be able to get your guitar signal in and out of the computer at a good quality without one. Click here for a comprehensive list of the best budget audio interfaces in 2020.
Do You Need A DI Box For Re-Amping?
You can get away without one. I would always recommend one, and I’m not going to go into technical details why you need one, but if your interface has an instrument input that you can plug your guitar jack into, then it can get the job done.
There have been plenty of times where I’ve been without a DI box and plugged directly into the interface, and you can still get really good results.
Do You Need A Re-Amp Box For Re-Amping?
Yes, you absolutely need one. The only situation where you don’t need a re-amp box is if you are running a digital re-amp through an Axe FX, Kemper, Helix etc.
The Re-Amping Process (From Start To Finish)
Step 1: Get Your Gain Staging Right
I hear a lot about gain staging. “You must hit this dB level!”, or “No that’s wrong you need to hit this dB level!”.
In reality, the only thing to worry about is that you’re clipping your interface.
As long as you have a decent level you’ll be fine; I try to get the level as loud as possible, but without risking it clipping – the loudest peaks hitting -6dB is a safe bet.
When setting levels you should do some loud heavy palm mute chugging as this will help you determine the potentially loudest parts of the take. If your signal isn’t clipping while palm mute chugging, it shouldn’t clip during your take.
For the performance of the guitar track you want to make sure you play it with power and precision. If your DI track has a poor performance, no amount of re-amping and fixing in the mix will make it sound good.
Step 2: Pre-Production
Ok now you’ve got your DI recorded, great sound, perfect take so now we re-amp right? Well you can but there is more you can do if you want to go that extra mile. Let’s take a look at some of the things you can do to take your guitar tracks to the next level.
If you get given a track that needs re-amping and the timing is significantly off (enough that it’s clearly noticeable), then you can go down the route of time alignment.
My one tip if you are going to do this is to make sure you don’t overdo it.
The reason why you get the width in double-tracked guitars is because of the differences between the two takes. If you time-align both parts to be perfectly in time with each other, you could in fact be making the guitars sound more like mono, and even introduce some unwanted phasing effects.
This step is one I would recommend everyone do before their re-amp. Even in the best guitar take you’re going to have noises where you don’t want them – before and after the take, or even in gaps in the middle of the take.
There are two main ways you can go about this, using a noise gate or editing manually.
You can use a noise gate how you normally would to take out all the noise, but I prefer to cut everything manually.
This way I have full control of what is being cut and what isn’t. This does take some time, especially if you have a lot of guitar parts but I think it is worth it for the end result.
Make sure that you are gentle with the fades in and out; don’t make the part cut in and out too quickly or it will sound unnatural!
(Pre) Re-Amp Effects
The last thing you want to do before starting to re-amp is have a listen to the DI and see if it needs any corrective EQ or compression.
I find that I rarely ever do this but in some circumstances, you can end up getting some frequencies that are just better being taken out before you start.
Typically I will use very subtle EQ changes such as slight high-pass filtering if there is too much bottom end, or very surgical cuts on certain frequencies if anything stands out that doesn’t sound good.
I will almost never use compression on the DI before re-amping because I find it just isn’t necessary.
The only time I would consider using it is if perhaps it’s a funk guitar part with extreme dynamics that could cause problems later in the process. Even then I will only compress very subtly as it can easily start sounding too squashed.
Here is an example of a typical EQ I might use on a DI…
Step 3: Re-Amp Setup
Now that everything is ready for re-amping we have to actually hook everything up.
All you need to do is:
- Hook up an output other than the main 1-2 from your interface
- Plug that into your re-amp box
- Go from your re-amp box to the guitar amp
Just be careful with your initial levels, keep them low until you confirm you’re getting signal, then you can start turning up.
Once you have a signal going to your amp you then just need to set up a microphone in front of your cab and record it just as you would with anything else.
You can also go down the route of using a load box and cab IRs but that takes additional gear and a good load box can be expensive. I’d recommend sticking with a cab and microphone because it allows you to experiment more with your sound.
Step 4: Dial-In Your Desired Tone
Through my experience of re-amping I’ve found that when searching for tones the amplifier doesn’t actually contribute to the sound as much as you might think.
The things I have found that make most of the difference is the cab you use and the microphone and microphone placement.
If you have a half-decent amp, you’re good to go as long as you have a cab to go through and a microphone. If you’re just starting out I’d always recommend getting a Shure SM57. They’re so inexpensive and can get you great tones – most of my sounds end up using an SM57. The great thing is, is that because they’re so cheap if it turns out you don’t like the sound of it, you haven’t even invested that much into it.
The amp settings you choose are all about balance.
You can pretty much get away with using any EQ setting you want, depending on the sound you’re going for. I know you hear everyone say this all the time but if it sounds good to you, then it is good – always use your ears.
But remember, how it sounds in the room while you’re tweaking isn’t going to be how it sounds through the microphone, so remember to keep listening to what you’re recording.
When setting the gain on your amp, the less the better.
Otherwise, it can get too distorted and compressed very easily.
The way I find the right amount of gain is to turn it up to where it sounds good in the room, then I start slowly turning it down just to the point where it starts sounding too clean, then just ever so slightly turn it back up maybe half a notch.
You will end up with a recording that you think isn’t heavy enough or is too clean, but once you’ve re-amped the double track and pan them left and right you’ll find you get a much better sound than if you turn the gain too high.
Microphone placement is one of the most important parts of the re-amp and can affect the sound massively, but it is also the part that you can’t teach. You can learn what placement affects the sound in what way but you can’t really learn what placement you should in what situation without experimenting a lot.
How Mic Placement Affects The Sound
The three things that affect the sound are where the microphone is positioned relative to the speaker, the angle it is to the speaker, and the distance away from the speaker. Generally the more centered you put the microphone to the dust cap on the speaker, the brighter the sound will be.
You can make the sound darker by moving the microphone to the side or by changing the angle. You can also adjust how much bass you get by changing the distance the microphone is to the speaker. The closer you put the microphone the more bass you’ll pick up.
I’d love to be able to tell you the secret mic position that will make your re-amp sound perfect but it just doesn’t exist. The more you experiment with it yourself the more you’ll understand how you can best get the sound you’re looking for.
This microphone is central to the speaker cone, but about 8-12 inches away from the speaker. This would pick up less bass than the other two positions. The microphone can be placed anywhere in between to give you limitless possibilities.
Step 5: After recording
Now that you have your guitar tracks re-amped and in your session, you could technically call it a day here.
However, I like to take a few extra steps such as cleaning up any unwanted sounds/frequencies from the re-amping process etc.
The first thing to do is listen to what you have recorded and think is this how I want my guitars to sound? Is there anything I can tweak that would make this sound better? This isn’t a massive step but it is important because with all the messing around with mic positioning and amp settings it is quite easy to lose sight of your end goal.
A lot of the time when re-amping you’ll get some nasty frequencies in the upper mid-range that need cutting out surgically. This is easy to do as you just make a very steep EQ boost and sweep around until you find frequencies that you don’t like the sound of and then cut them.
Other typical EQ moves for guitars include filtering the extreme low and high frequencies, and after that it should be ready to be mixed.
Here is an example of an EQ I’ve used after a re-amp. Some things to consider are the cuts in the upper mid range are more drastic than when we EQ’d the DI. This is because you will get a lot more upper harmonics and whistle tones that need taming after the re-amp. You might also think that cutting the mids like this are a bad thing because the guitar is a mid-centric instrument. This is true when playing guitar live and you need to cut through the band, but in a recording it can muddy up the sound very quickly.
One Final Tip
To finish things off I’d like to leave you with a tip that has really helped me when getting the re-amp sound that I want.
If I am trying to achieve a certain sound and have a good reference that I am aiming for, I’ll take that reference and import it into the session and then use an EQ match on the reference and the re-amp.
I don’t use this to actually EQ the re-amp but it is very useful at showing you visually what frequencies you either are lacking or have too much of. You can then use this information to tweak your mic positioning or amp settings as you see fit.
This might look confusing at first but all it’s showing is what your re-amp sounds like compared to the reference you used. You have to think opposite to what the curve is showing, for example, there is a massive dip in the mids on this curve, which is telling me that my re-amp has loads more mids than my reference track, and the bump in the bass/lower midrange means that i don’t have as much bass as the reference.
With this EQ you can try to fix your re-amp, but what I recommend is to go back to the source and see what you can change with amp settings or microphone placement because doing so will give you better results in the end.