I just finished mixing a tune for my upcoming record. It’s a heavier song, mainly driven by a pair of fairly distorted electric guitars.

As is my custom, I mixed the song for a couple of hours, then I emailed the first version of the mix to a few friends to get their opinions. [Side-note: I cannot stress enough how important this is. I’m always really excited about the first “draft” of a mix, but there are always glaring issues that I just don’t hear until a friend points them out. My mixes are MUCH better after receiving critique from friends.]

Jon over at Audio Geek Zine wrote back. He always gives me really good, helpful ideas. And he’s honest, which I actually appreciate. [Another side-note: Don’t ask for opinions if you don’t handle criticism well. ;-)]

One of the things he said was

Lead guitar is kinda ragged and too loud. Too much distortion, don’t think you can change that at this point though.

After listening back, I realized he’s absolutely right. When I was recording the lead guitar part, I was “in the moment,” rocking away with everything cranked. However, as it turns out I could have achieved the same amount of energy with less distortion.

My only option at this point was to either accept it and deal with it or go back and re-record the guitar part. I chose to deal with it. Luckily, I was able to deploy some secret ninja EQ tactics to tame the lead guitar into submission.

However, had the guitar part been completely un-salvageable, I would have been stuck, and I would have HAD to play the part again (or worse, have a guitarist come in and play it).  If only I had recorded a copy of the dry guitar signal, I could simply re-amp it, dial in the correct tone, and be done with it.

Why Record the Direct Signal

I’m not saying you have to use guitar amp plug-ins to get your tone. Guitar amps are amazing, and you should definitely record them. However, try your best to also capture a copy of the direct, unprocessed guitar signal. You don’t even have to listen to it. It’s just nice to have it there in case of emergencies.

A few examples of why you’d want to have the direct signal:

  1. The guitarist loves the guitar tone, the producer and everyone else hate it. By recording the direct signal and re-amping it later, you can keep the guitarist happy (he doesn’t have to know), and you can make everyone else happy after the guitarist leaves.
  2. The guitar tone is great, but you want to try a different stylistic approach. Perhaps the guitarist’s tone is too bright, and you’d like to darken it up. Or maybe you just want to double the guitar part, but play it through a Vox amp instead of a Fender. With the direct signal, you can.
  3. The guitarist doesn’t have the right amp. Here’s a fairly common scenario, the guitarist is really good, and his performance is great, but he doesn’t own a really good amp, or at least not a good amp for the style of the song. You can record him, capture that performance, then re-amp through your buddy’s really nice amp a few weeks later. Just borrow your buddy’s amp for a weekend.

There are plenty of other scenarios, but you get the idea.

How to Re-Amp the Signal

It’s really as simple as it sounds. First off, you can just use an amp plug-in. Done.

Otherwise, you can route the direct signal out of one of the analog outputs of your DAW and through your favorite amp. The best way to do this is to run it through something like a Radial X-Amp, which converts a line-level signal back down to a high-impedance guitar signal (which is what the amp really wants to see).

However, you might still get results by just running the output directly into your amp. It’ll take some extra tweaking, but if you don’t have an X-Amp lying around, it might still work.

Don’t Go Crazy

While re-amping is cool and gives you lots of options, don’t over-do it. Having too many choices and options can kill your productivity. If you can, get it right at the source.

We live in an imperfect world, so in the off chance that you don’t get a great guitar tone on the first try, re-amping might be your hero.

What do you think? Leave a comment and let us know. You guys have been slacking on the comments lately. 😉

[Photo by jdtornow]