Your Best Kept Secret Tone Weapon

We’re finally into week 4 of this month's focus on Why Guitar Tone Matters, and for many of you, this won’t come as a surprise, but today's topic is filled with many layers of Guitar goodness. We’ve already covered using Bass FX for guitar tone, the main 4 parts of your guitar tone in general, and blending guitar amplifiers and microphones to get the tone you’re looking for - but what if you wanted more options after you’ve recorded your riff? What happens if you commit to a tone in the studio and you end up changing your mind about it later on? 

Well, that’s exactly what we’re going to solve today. So, as always, let’s dive in! 

3 Steps Beyond

There’s really 1 main thing you need to make sure you do when recording any guitar takes in general in order to give you the best options available after the fact, and that's making sure you always record a DI track. We’ve talked a few times about why a DI Box matters and how it can greatly affect your signal in general, aside from the practical uses of it in the studio and live, specifically for bass guitar. 

But having a good DI Box will also allow you to go back and change the tone if you decide later down the line that you aren’t as happy as you once thought you were with the tone you got when tracking the artist in the first place, (but we’ll talk about that more later). In my studio, I actually have a few DI boxes that are their own standalone products, but I also have my trusty Focusrite ISA One preamp which has a great DI built into the design. 

The best part about the DI feature on the ISA preamp however, isn’t just that it sounds great, but that it also has the option to feed that same DI signal to an amp in another room, allowing you to record both the wet and dry guitar signal, and therefore giving you the option to commit to a tone or have the artist record while literally feeling the amp sound in the room, as well as the option of the DI guitar should you need it later down the line. You can do this same technique in a few ways though if you don’t have a preamp that can do this, and a lot of DI boxes have this as a built in feature anyway. Just to quickly play devil's advocate on myself, it’s worth noting that in my own experience, I know many guitarists that prefer to have the sound of the amp in the room as they play and record, mainly as more of a feel sort of thing as opposed to needing to commit to a tone there and then - but committing to a tone early on will also help you build structure to the sessions as well and push you to make choices in the moment; having a DI will allow you to change things later on if you decide to, as we’re going to discuss today.

As you can see, the DI section of the ISA One preamp is perfect for tracking a wet and dry signal for a guitarist.

A Reamp Box

So, a few of you may remember the blog from last year where we talked about impedances, and why they matter in order to get the best sound quality from your JZ microphone. But, impedance is also incredibly important when it comes to output impedances, such as when setting up either your guitar amplifier to a cabinet, or sending a signal out of your interface to a guitar pedal or amplifier. The main issue you find when reamping without the correct impedance is that there’ll be a lot of noise, and a general degradation of the actual guitar tone in general. This is simply down to the output of your interface having a much more different output impedance compared to the input impedance of your pedals or the amp head. 

This is where the use of a dedicated Reamping box comes into play. The easiest way to describe it is to say it’s basically a DI Box in reverse; just as a DI box will take something at line level and bring it up to mic level, a reamping box will do the opposite where it’ll bring the signal down to a level that plays well with guitar amps, and make the output signal you run into it from the interface closer to the output level and impedance of your guitar’s output. 

Reamping boxes come in many different forms, from rack mount options, through to mono and dual inputs and outputs in the more typical size you’d expect from a DI box. I personally have a few favorites, such as the Radial ProRMP, the Palmer Trave reamping box, or what I mainly use in the form of the ART Dual RDB. I chose the Dual RDB simply for what it says on the tin - where as the other options have one input and output, this option allows me to send 2 separate signals to 2 separate outputs, allowing me more options when it comes to workflow and trying to undertake a few different tasks at a time as opposed to one at a time. 

The new Palmer Trave looks like a good contender as a replacement for my current reamping box, and they already have a wonderful selection of DI Boxes which sound great too.

In order to reamp your guitar tone, it’s honestly very simple:

  • First route the guitar DI you recorded already to an output on your interface that’s not already taken up by your speakers outputs.
  • Connect that output to the input of the Reamping box, and the output to whatever signal chain you have for your guitar tone. 
  • Finally, place your microphones, dial in all your settings and hit record! 

The one main issue with reamping is that obvious, the signal takes time to loop around from the interface output, through the signal chain, and back into the input of the interface, so be mindful that you will likely hear a form of latency if you decide to listen back to the track as you record the new guitar tone. My best advice is to set up the guitar rig in another area, and make sure you adjust the settings of the guitar tone, or the placement of the microphones periodically while wearing headphones. 

Why Learning This Early Is So Important

I honestly can’t tell you how many times I have been saved by learning this skill early on in my recording days. It’s not that I’ve messed up the initial recordings, or that I’ve not been happy with committing to a tone I get in the session as we record the takes; it’s more that as an engineer as we all are, we have been training our ears and we know what we like when we hear it (given enough experience of course). Unfortunately, many bands and artists also think in the same respect but don’t have the knowledge in the same capacity an engineer will have after years of recording, and so, when recording slightly newer bands or younger artists, they will have a tendency to change their mind rather often. 

Because of this, I made sure I always had a DI track on hand and practiced my techniques with my own band's music on various Sunday mornings until I felt confident. But therein lies another wonderful reason to add this skill to your repertoire! If you saw anything from JZ Microphones recently, we had our biggest sale on the Vintage Series ever, and hopefully many of you will have yourselves a very lovely addition to your mic locker. 

For me, the Vintage Series is a preface example of why condenser microphones should always be a staple in recording a guitar or bass cabinet - especially the V11 or the V67, which both sound absolutely outstanding on basically every cabinet or speaker known to mankind. If you managed to grab yourself anything from the sale and you’re looking for ways to put it to good use, then reamping and dialing in guitar tones is going to be a perfect way to get started, so what are you waiting for? Go, and be creative until next time! 

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