Recording Guitar: To Reamp or Not.

In the beginning, electric guitars were recorded the old-fashioned way: by plugging a guitar into an amp and sticking a mic in front of it. Then re-amping came along. Re-amping is the process of recording a clean or direct guitar signal, and then applying amplifier simulation plug-ins to that signal later. It's popular among audio producers because it allows them the freedom to change the basic characteristics of the guitar's tone during mix-down. What could be cooler than that? Well....I'll tell you what.

Ain't Nothing Like the Real Thing
These days there are more ways to tweak a mix than you could ever have time for in a 1000 years, and nothing kills a song faster than tweaking a mix. Whenever I try to play it safe - create tracks that I can massage later - everything always gets worse. I get stuck in "analysis paralysis", tinkering with everything a thousand different ways like I'm George Lucas.

I'm not wired that way. I'm a vibe guy to the bone. I like to make decisions in the "now", while there is real energy in the air, while I'm in the zone and things feel right. I always try to get the sound I'm after straight out of the speakers and into the mic. If something comes up later, I will work with what I have and find a way around the problem. If there's no way around, I'll re-track.

Bear in mind, I'm only talking about core guitar tone here; the basic character and tone of the guitar, including overdrive and distortion. There are certain other things I always add later in the mix: a little more compression or EQ when necessary, sometimes reverb or delay. For things like chorus, vibe, or flange it really depends. When you track them live with a pedal in front of a real amp the two interact in a certain way that I don't think you can ever capture with plug-ins at mix time. Think of the flanger or phaser sounds on some of the early Van Halen tunes. I don't think you could get that tone by surgically adding a phaser in at mix time.

Get Off My Lawn
I think the idea of "real-time" decision making in audio recording is something sadly missing from much of today's music. No life, no character, no warts. It is music polished to a high gloss by teams of producers that have the talent and tools to make every beat and measure unattainably and artificially perfect. I prefer to take the opposite tack: make real music. Commit. Take chances, and move forward boldly instead of constantly playing it safe and hedging your bets.

Too much of what we hear on the radio today is audio plastic. It is music performed by machines. And while a machine might be able to create a more perfect Mona Lisa, it can never reach out and paint a mustache on her. That's what artists do.


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