It may be a still relatively esoteric technique to most amateur or indie musicians, but did you know that re-amping could be the most cost effective technique to record killer guitar tones?
By: Ringo Bones
Lets face it, recording studios with very good acoustics costs ungodly amounts of money for the musician who has yet to achieve commercial success and given that most – as in a little more than half – of hard rock and heavy metal guitar based music in current mainstream FM airplay have god-awful guitar tracks when compared to classic rock tracks – even those during the hair metal era of the 1980s and early 1990s. But can the “ham-and-egger” musician this day and age even manage to record killer guitar tones like they use to during the golden age of hard rock and heavy metal on a shoestring budget? Fortunately, there is such an electric guitar recording technique and it is called re-amping.
Re-amping: Running final guitar takes off tape – or other digital recording media – into guitar amps miked in a live room and recording them back onto tape or other digital recording media is one of those electric guitar recording techniques that gives more bang for the buck and yet produces an inexplicably excellent result. Given that it is quite a simple and ingenious method to “fatten the tone” of anemically recorded guitar tracks, clean or distorted, it is quite a relatively esoteric technique and not-so-often talked about studio recording technique. I mean when was the last time a Billboard Top 40 rock guitarist ever mentioned re-amping during press interviews back when Ronald Reagan was still the elected emperor of the free world? It was probably Rollins Band guitarist Chris Haskett who revealed that he used re-amping to record the electric guitar tracks of his solo albums during an interview with EQ magazine that was published in their April 1998 issue.
Legend has it that it was the funk maestro George Clinton who was the first one to have used re-amping in the studio around the late 1970s. After not being happy with a drum sequence sound during a particular recording session – i.e. it had an “anemic tone” – George Clinton allegedly ran 24-outs to 24 separate loudspeakers placed on chairs in a live room and then miked the set-up in stereo and ran it back into tape. It was said that it not only “fattened the tone” of the drum sequence but also made it punchier. I first heard this particular anecdote about George Clinton’s studio recording techniques back in 1995, but many amateur hard rock / heavy metal musicians since the mid 1980s noticed that live miking guitar amps resulted in a more punchier and fatter tone as opposed to sending electric guitar signals directly into the mixing board and then to the recording device.
Back in 1992 while testing the stage mikes for our band’s live rehearsal, out of curiosity I got a Casio SA-1 “pocket keyboard” and placed a Shure SM57 Beta directly in front of its itsy-bitsy speaker and clicked in the “tuba” setting. Unexpectedly, it resulted in something akin to a cross between an electric bass guitar tuned 2-frets down and a very large pipe organ. The resulting tone is so beautiful that it preoccupied my band and I for almost half an hour and an inflated band rehearsal studio bill. On recording acoustic guitars, re-amping tends to make them sound as if the amps and recording equipment as if it uses 1930s era vacuum tubes – i.e. 6SN7s, 6SL7s or even Type 85 vacuum tubes.
Another advantage of re-amping is not only does it cuts down on your recording studio costs but also you don’t have to worry about blowing the vibe or the take, which, more often than not, happens when you over-obsess the mike placement during the actual recording session. It is almost like working with MIDI – the performance is already there. You have a little bit more leisure about guitar amp placement, and miking and tone so a that point you can do a lot of work very effectively in a small project room and make it bigger later.