Better Tone Through Reamping (Bonus Material)

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The following two interviews, the first with producer-engineer Dave Bottrill and the second with producer-engineer-guitarist Butch Walker, offer additional insights into and techniques related to the reamping process.

Do you do a lot of reamping in your work?
I do. The thing I do is, when I''m recording guitars and bass—obviously, when I''m recording guitars—I always take a DI as well. I do that because oftentimes in the process of building the sound of the record, there are circumstances that you weren''t necessarily anticipating, or the sounds weren''t quite right, but the playing was really good and the vibe was really good. Or maybe you''ve done a band track and you''ve been really focusing on the drums and bass and trying to get that down. But if the guitar player has got a [Line 6] Pod, or he''s using a little amp, and something is not quite right, then you take a DI of it. If it''s a great performance, you just stick it into the [Radial] JD7 [later], and reamp it in your amp setup once you''ve got that set up. It saves your ass on so many things because you get to keep great performances and not have to compromise the sound.

You use the JD7.
I use the JD7 all the time, it''s such a great box. For me, it''s one that splits out everything in the best possible quality without losing any level; you don''t load things down. It''s not like splitting out through a Y-jack or something like that—that always loads things down, that always deteriorates the sound. I try to have as little as possible between the guitar and the amp. But if I want multiamps, then the only thing I''ve found that doesn''t color the sound in a bad way is the JD7, and you get the reamping [too], which is even better.

Have you ever used amp-modeling software to reamp with?
I will use amp-modeling software, either [Line 6] Amp Farm or [Native Instruments] Guitar Rig. I''ll use those primarily for when I''m tracking with a band, so we don''t get any bleed. So the guitar players are normally like, “Yeah, okay, we know we''re going to get the sound later, but at least this is something.” I don''t tend to use those [modelers] for final takes.

What about bass? Obviously, you''ll routinely take a DI for that. Do you always go back through a bass amp, or do you have other things that you''ll do?
Sometimes on a bass sound, I will use some of the amp-modeling software for some grit. If it''s a clean sound and it''s a rocking track, and I think the bass needs to be a little more nasty or a little more dirty, then I''ll fire it into an AC30 model on Amp Farm or Guitar Rig. And I''ll use the DI as well. I won''t just put it over the top of the DI. I''ll use the DI and I''ll use it on a send, and I''ll send it out to add a little oomph to the bass.

What about keyboards?
Yeah, I love to reamp keyboards if I can. You get them down, then you listen to them and it''s like, “It needs a little more air around it” or “It needs a little more depth.” Sometimes just sticking it through an amp [can do that]. Especially, the cheesier the sound, the better it is going to sound through an amp. Like if you have those cheap Casio sounds, stick that through a great amp and all of a sudden it becomes a world of difference, and it''s an exciting thing to listen to instead of “Wow, what a cheap Casio sound.”

How about reamping vocals?
Often I''ll do that. I''ll take a vocal and I''ll stick it out through either a processor or an amp. And then bring it back and put it back through another piece of gear, either like a pitch changer, or the Micropitchshift [setting] on an [Eventide] H3000 or something, so that you get the distortion of the amp just on the outside. So you''ll have the clean vocal in the middle, then you''ll have the distorted, slightly pitch-changed vocal on either side.

So you''ll bring it back on separate tracks?
I''d mic the amp [which is reamping the vocal track] back through a mic pre, and then send that off to a stereo pitch-change processor. Then you have the distorted, slightly pitch-changed vocal left and right, and the clean vocal in the middle.

Have you ever had someone bring in drum loops or MIDI tracks that were kind of lifeless?
All the time.

How would you reamp those?
You''d either get a balance of the loop, or if it''s individual sounds, I like to try and make a loop out of it. Because if you''ve got a loop and you send that through a JD7 and reamp that into an amp, it kind of congeals together. It kind of blends it. Then you get the pumping of the amp, and either [you run it through] clean or you get the air around it from the amp and the punch from the amp. You can either add it to the loop or just replace the loop with that sound. In fact, we just did that. I''m doing a Placebo record at the moment, and the guys went out in Toronto, they went to a junk music store, and they bought this old wooden beatbox with, you know, “bon tempi” and rumba beats. We got that down on tape. We reamped it with distortion through some pedals, we got the actual bass drum to be a bass note. There''s only a few chords in the song, so we recorded the root note for each chord, and every time the chord would change, we''d change the loop. We edited it down so we had the loop in one key and then in another key.

So you were transposing it each time.
We were transposing the pedals, but not through software. We actually got a quick delay to have a pitch to it. It''s a very quick delay with a feedback through the amp, so it''s got this pitch to it. So we just changed the pitch and tuned it to the track. We got the bass drum playing the note of the root.

Do you ever have phase problems when adding a reamped track on top of the original one?
Yeah, you have to be careful, you have to watch the phase. Often what you can do, once you get it into Pro Tools, you can shift it so that it''s actually properly in phase. You always have to check your phase to make sure it''s good, and if it''s just slightly phasey, that''s just from the delay of the processing. Then you just move it when you get it into Pro Tools. You move it until it''s exactly right.


Do you routinely take a DI on a guitar track to reamp later?
You know, that seems like the most typical scenario, but I just never do it. I''m a guitarist, first and foremost, and I''m pretty discerning about what I want and what kind of sound I want. So rarely do I go, “I want to change that later.” Usually nine times out of ten, I can get what I want going in.

That''s when you''re playing yourself?
Yeah, for the most part. Rarely do I reamp the guitars, but what I will do, if I''m working inside Pro Tools, I''ll end up putting something additional on the guitar if I really want to crusty it up. You know what I mean? I''ll put a lo-fi plug-in or a guitar thing [amp modeler] on it. The one thing that I do like to do—and I suppose this is a bit of reamping scenario but not quite—I like to run a lot of things to tape echo, just to get the sound of tape onto it. If you''re not using tape, I just think the character and distortion of tape echo sounds really great. So I tend to put a lot of that on a guitar track or a vocal track. A lot of the time, after the fact, if it was recorded dry, I''ll send that signal out and back into the tape echo and bring it back in, and put it on a separate track. Or sometimes burn it back in and replace the existing one. What I''ll do is, I''ll set it to the shortest setting, and I''ll get rid of the dry guitar and use only the effected signal. And then I''ll time-align it, and I''ll nudge it back so it fits in the track where it was supposed to be.

So you''re taking only the delayed sound onto the new track.
Yeah, with only one repeat.

So you have to run the track through a reamping device to get it into an echo unit.
I use a line-level [output] and a mic pre a lot of times on my Neve—I got some 1084s—I''ll use the line level on those sometimes as my reampers as well. The Radial box [JD7] is pretty awesome. I got to give props to Peter [Janis, president and CEO of Radial] for making the coolest boxes on the planet.

What are some of the other instruments you do reamping with?
I do it with vocals, and I like to do it with bass and drums and with keyboards, too. I hate the sound of direct keyboards. Let''s say you''re using a synth and you''re running it like a Moog, or you''re using a Nord to use for like a Hammond or a Wurlie sound, for instance. I tend to really like the sound of it going through an amplifier, like a guitar amplifier, with reverb. Like an old Fender Vibroverb or something like that, so I can gain the amp back up. A lot of times I''ll run that signal back out into the amp and bring that back in as well. As I said before, it can be either a blend, to blend in with it and phase-align it, or you can just replace the original dry one with the effected one, it just ends up sitting in the mix a lot better. . . . It will give it a lot of character. If you''re doing a synth line or a Moog line, like an old-school Moog or something, if you use that [reamping] and distort it through a guitar amp, and use the verb or the tremolo on the amp, you can almost get a sound that''s unidentifiable, that''s indistinguishable, and has a lot of character to it, where you''re like, “What is that, a guitar?” “What is that, a keyboard?” You can''t tell.

Besides the distortion, the reason you find it fits better in the mix is that the guitar amp has sort of a limited frequency range so it''s not so big on the bottom and top?
Exactly. A lot of times that stuff just eats up too much headroom, and I can''t get vocals or drums to pop.

What about vocals? How do you reamp them?
Vocals are always fun. It works great with the tape delay to replace the original vocal with the slapback and then time-align it. And then you get this really gritty, low-fi [sound]. I use one of those cool new tape echoes that Fulltone makes. It''s really amazing. It''s basically a working version of my old Echoplex. And it has a distortion control, too, for variable, tapelike distortion. You can run your vocal through that. Once you align it, you''re not going to be able to get it dead-on with it; even at the smallest setting, you still get a few-millisecond delay. So after I reamp that back into Pro Tools, I''ll align it so it''s pretty phase coherent and decide if I want to blend in that distortion tape track with the lead vocal, which sometimes is great, because then you don''t lose all the sibilance and the punchiness of a well-recorded or compressed vocal. But sometimes it sounds great just to ditch the original vocal; it gives it an instant lo-fi sound. I like to use tape as much as possible, because I feel like I''ve been really neglecting it since the digital age took over.

I also like to use my Ampex ATR-102, which is a 1/2-inch mixdown machine. I use that to mix down mixes to anyway. But a lot of times I''ll run the vocal out to that, or the guitar out to that, when I want, and set it on the repro head, and run that back in to get a different kind of character, because that''s not 1/4-inch tape, that''s 1/2-inch tape. That will also give you a completely different quality of a tape sound. And just like the Echoplex vibe, you can mess around with it in Pro Tools to either time-align it so it replaces the original or use it as a slapback, and you can move it so you can set your own variable delay. You''re more limited: you''re only going to get one slapback out of the ATR-102, because it''s not a delay. Its own repro head gives it a few-millisecond delay, but once you get it back into Pro Tools, you can mess with it. It''s pretty cool. That way you''re getting the sound of tape all over your recordings if you''re limited on being able to use a tape machine for actually recording the tracks. Same thing with drums—if I''m looking to do something that''s a lot of more rock ''n'' roll, like the indie-rock stuff that I do, obviously it''s not based on high-definition recording and things being super pop and slamming. It sounds better sometimes if it sounds like it was recorded on a 1/2-inch tape recorder back in the ''60s or the ''70s. And a lot of time I''ll run the entire mix through it and individually track that way. That''s where I think reamping gives me a good slew of options.

Do you run each individual drum track out of the reamp and through an actual amplifier?
Yeah, for drums, depending if it''s going to tape and through an amplifier. A lot of times if I want to lo-fi the drums out, I''ll run them out through my combo amp and then blend that back in. I''ll actually put that back in. I''ll run the drums out like kick, snare, no cymbals, just all the skins, basically, and then run that back on its own individual track, and when you hear that blended in with your drum sound, it can be pretty mind-blowing. You can get a pretty crazy drum sound without all that nasty cymbal sibilance blowing up, because obviously you''re going to distort the amp. Cymbals going through a 12-inch guitar speaker don''t sound very pleasing.