What's Reamping, how to set it up, and 14 ideas on how to use it
Reamping is a simple yet powerful technique, that allows you to do a lot of things, from fixing a bad guitar tone, to adding interest to different instruments, and many more.
Keep reading to learn how to set it up, what devices you will need, and 14 cool things you can do with your re-amp box.
Reamping, What is it?
Re-amping is the process of feeding an already recorded signal into an amplifier, and then recording back to tape/daw the sound coming from the speaker(s).
This way you obtain a new 'version' of the original performance, in which you can dial in a new tone by changing parameters in the amplifier, cabinet/speaker, microphones, distances, etc.
Although the first thing that comes to mind is to use it with guitars, re-amping is a very powerful technique that opens a whole new world of opportunities.
What do I need?
The output impedance and signal level coming from your recorder/interface are quite different to those offered by the pickups of an electric guitar, so you´ll need an 'adaptor' if you want your amp to work properly.
This adaptor is called a re-amping box, and its function is similar to that of a DI: it adjusts the level and impedance of one equipment (the output of your recorder/interface) so other (the guitar amplifier) may work properly.
In it´s most basic form, a reamp box presents one input and one output, although it´s usual to see other functions as trim (to tame the output level in case it´s still too hot), polarity reversal, several outputs, etc.
Note: maybe you´ve read about using a passive DI 'backwards' as a reamper, that´s another option. However, as there are dedicated reamp boxes for less than 80 bucks, I prefer using one of them because they may save you a lot of headaches regarding levels, noises, etc.
Preparing for the reamp process
Although you may feed any kind of signal into the amplifier, if your plan is to obtain new guitar tones, you´ll obtain the best results using a 'clean' guitar signal, i.e. the signal from a DI recorded guitar.
The performance of a guitarist is heavily influenced by the sound of his/her amp so, even if you plan to use only the DI signal later, it´s a good idea to let the musician use a real amplifier while playing.
Connect the output of the guitar into a DI, record the output of the DI in it´s own track, and use the 'parallel' output of the DI to feed a real amplifier. By the way, if this is your setup, you could also record the amplifier, just in case:
Another option would be connecting the guitar directly to a Hi-Z input in your interface, and using then an amp simulator. In this case, make sure the latency introduced by the simulator does not negatively affect the way the guitarist plays.
I often record the DI signal from the guitar along with the real amplifier, even if a reamp session is not planned. This is a safety measure (maybe it could be used later to reinforce the main sound), but also because it can be useful: in case you need to do minor edits to some parts, the waveform of the 'clean' guitar is much clearer than the signal from the mics:
If the player uses stompboxes, from where should you take the DI signal, before or after the stompboxes? Well, this depends on each situation.
If the sound of the stompbox is the right one, and/or you won´t have it available later, record the signal from the output of the stompboxes: Guitar>Pedals>DI>Recorder. You´ll have less flexibility later, but possibly also less problems when trying to recreate that exact overdrive/distortion sound you had before.
In case the sound of the pedal is not ok, or if you´d like to try different stompboxes later, record the signal from the guitar, even if some stompboxes are introduced after the DI so the musician may play properly: Guitar>DI>Recorder.
Of course, if you are not sure about it, you could always record both the 'pre' and 'post' stomboxes signals, using a second DI.
14 Ideas on how to use it
Here are 14 different ideas on how to use your re-amp box. If you have any cool trick you´d like to share, please feel free to use the comments section!
1To fix a bad guitar tone
This is probably the most obvious. If you have a good performance, but the tone of the guitar is not adequate, you may replace or reinforce the original tone by re-amping the performance and changing the cabinet, amp, mics, position, etc.
It may also happen that, as a mix progresses, the guitar tone of a part is no longer appropriate. If you have the original 'DI' signal, you may 're-print' the sound.
2 To create stereo effects
You may take the signal from a certain performance and do a reamp with it, to create a 'new performance', and then open both L and R.
Some cool effects may be obtained, just be careful with the phase between both signals, and be sure to check the mono compatibility.
3 To obtain the perfect tone
If you plan to experiment with different amps, cabinets and mics, it´s usually useful to separate the process of obtaining a good performance from the process of searching for the right tone. This way, each time you may focus on each aspect, independently.
Record the 'DI' performance using an amplifier or simulator, and once you have the desired performance, feed it to all the amplifiers, cabinets and mics you need.
In this video you can listen to Eddie Kramer, one of the best Engineers of all times, explaining how he took advantage of the reamp process to obtain great guitar tones while recording Eternal Descent band:
Of course, reamping is not limited to guitars, you could also re-amp your DI recorded bass through a bass amp.
And if you already have a good sounding bass amp signal, a good variation is reamping the bass through a guitar amp, and then use this as a new 'layer' to the original tone. It will give you some grit and mids.
5 Drums destruction
Feed a send from your drums bus into an amp, and feel free to distort it. 'Print' the result into a new track, and use it as you would with the signal coming from a parallel compressor.
6 Anything destruction
As you´ve already guessed, you can re-amp anything. Open up your mind and feed any instrument into an amp, to use the result as a new 'layer' to reinforce the original sound. Pianos, Keyboards, Vocals...
Many of the guitar-y sounding pianos in Keane´s Hopes and Fears received this treatment.
7 Verb chamber
In fact, a verb chamber works in the same way: you feed your signal into a reverberant room using a speaker, and then record the sound in the room.
Ok, maybe you don´t have an echo/reverb chamber, but you still may use the concept:
Sometimes, you can give new life to some instruments (especially those 'electronic') by feeding it´s signal into a room, and then recording the room tone. Now you have the original recording, and some room mics to play with.
8 Stompboxes as plugins
With your re-amp box you may use all your guitar/bass pedals on anything you want.
In fact, in this case you don´t even need an amp: you could record the signal from the output of the stompbox back to tape/daw using a DI.
9 Snares & Kicks: analog sound replacement
This is a classic. Put your amp facing upwards, and place a snare on top of it. Now feed the amp with your snare sound (you´ll probably want to gate it before, so only the actual hits are sent to the amp).
Record the sound of the 'real' snare being 'triggered' by the original sound via the amp, and use it to reinforce the original snare.
You can also use this technique to obtain some new kick sounds, but you´ll probably need a bass amp instead.
10 Rotatory speaker fun
If you have a rotatory speaker at hand, feed it with whatever you like and record it back. Specially useful with 'sustained' sounds (pads, keyboards, etc.)
11 Good player, bad amp
In some cases, you may encounter in a situation where you have a great player at the studio, but the amplifier available is not so good. Let the player use the available amp, but also record a DI signal that you can use later to feed the appropriate amp.
12 No amp at all
Another possible situation is when you´re in a place where there´s no amp, or you can´t use one. For example, if you are producing in the move, you may record some guitars/bass parts using a DI and an amp simulator, and later go to a studio to reamp that signal and obtain some 'real' sounds.
13 To align several mics
When setting up several mics to record an amp, you´ll want to align them so they´re in phase. Instead of making the musician play, you could feed an already recorded part when doing so.
14 To hone your craft
You can also use a reamp box to 'study', for example feeding the same guitar part into an amp, and listening to the differences between positions of the microphone, distances to the cone, angles... Recording Electric Guitars: Where To Shoot At The Cone.