Last modification: 01/19/08 19:26

Reamp Notes - "Breaking The Law" (w/Andy Gavin)

"We still have these big, clunky amplifiers that you have to put all kinds of garbage in front of and then have to run through boards and more crazy stuff just to get what you've got on a record.
 It was a mess, getting a good sound from a Marshall, and I just got fed up with it." - Tom Scholz


[This article was written in 2010 and man, how things have changed since! It's like a little time capsule, but it's definitely not representative of my signal chain today. That would sound more like this. - Dallas]


It was in the mid 90's when I bought my first REAMP device from a tiny ad in the back of Guitar Player magazine after reading about how Quiet Riot singer Kevin Dubrow used one to posthumously add wah to one of Randy's tracks on their 1993 release, "The Randy Rhoads Years". Although it sounded like sacrilege at the time, the idea of sending a prerecorded guitar signal out to a different sent of guitar pedals or amps after the fact was a really compelling idea, for which we have former Record Plant engineer and Joe Satriani producer John Cuniberti to thank.

Alas, my little purple box sat on the shelf unused for many years partly because this was decade of the amp modeler, beginning with Line6's AxSys, Yamaha's DG series of amps and a little plugin from Cakewalk called AmpSim. ;) So, it was awhile before I felt like I'd exhausted what could be done with amp modelling and wanted to get back into the analog domain, exploring the limits of distortion in order to try and nail that last bit of tone.

Anyway, let it be said that this rabbit hole runs deep.

Mixing Outside The Box: REAMP Hardware Guitar Signal Chain

Line6 TonePort UX8 [audio interface from PC]
    John Cuniberti REAMP [impedance-matcher]
        MXR M-108 [10-band EQ pedal]
            Barber TonePress [parallel compressor pedal]
                CAL Holy Fire [overdrive pedal]
                    BOSS GE-7 EQ [7-band EQ pedal]
                        ENGL E-530  [tube guitar preamp]
                            ART HD215 [15-band stereo rack EQ w/shelving]
                                Line6 TonePort UX8 [audio interface to PC]

Michael Wagener (of Ozzy & Metallica mix fame) has a nice little side business reamping guitars for hire (see video), reflecting the fact that commercial guitar tones have reached almost superhuman levels of gloss. I spent a week with him watching the master at work and as a former amp builder, he has a tremendous amount of experience creating tonal palettes thanks to some very complex signal chains and a  huge rack of gear. So what's his secret? Honestly, there isn't one - it's more like there's one for each step, with each link being a best-practices (and best-of-breed) solution in terms of flexibility & tone. All the little things add up. But two particular things didn't seem to count for much were power amp distortion and speaker cone breakup. Call it heresy if you want, but regarding metal guitar tones it really is all about the preamp and everything supporting it. There may be a gentle amount of power-amp warmth to be had from running speakers in their comfort zone, (but not that loud - ribbon mics) but the days of Van Halen pushing his Plexi into full melt with a Variac are over.

And so it goes with this distortion chain. If you were to break it down, the bulk of the weight is being carried by the ENGL, a twin-triode rack preamp designed for studio and live use. Everything else is like a satellite revolving around it, pre and post-conditioning the guitar signal so the preamp can perform at its best. And this means pretty much revoicing everything, from the character of the guitar's pickups, the character of its distortion, the dynamics of the signal, the sustain, the gain staging of the pedals, and the EQ of the cabinet emulator. There's a million ways to get this wrong, and only a few ways to do it right - and it doesn't hurt to have a signal generator and a spectrum analyzer handy either, along with along with a stack of reference mixes.

Mixing Inside The Box: DAW Guitar Signal Chain

URS Saturation Native -> [virtual tube pre]
    SONAR External Insert -> [hardware FX loop]
        iZotope Ozone 4 -> [EQ and gating]
            Line6 GearBox -> [virtual mic ambience]
                Waves S1 -> [stereo width adjustment]
                    PSP oldTimer -> [glue compression]
                        PSP VintageWarmer 2 -> [tape saturation & limiting]
                            BBE H82 Harmonic Maximizer -> [x2, mid & presence boost]
                                Waves Doubler -> [split harmonizer, just a touch]
                                    SHEPPi Spatializer -> [virtual room ambience]
                                        TAL Tilt EQ [bass lift]

Being a studio process, there's nothing preventing one from conditioning the guitar signal even further inside the box using precise studio tools. Michael, for example, might throw a Distressor on the clean guitar signal prior to hitting the amp (something you can't do in a live situation) and then saturate it even more post-amp with the mic pre and with a bit of simulated tape. How many layers of saturation and EQ does it take to achieve muscular tone? Probably a half dozen or more, many of which are quite gentle and not what a guitarist would typically think of as "distortion". And then, since we're not using real cabs here we need some light touches to simulate mic ambience, which is something for another discussion. ;)

Ok - give this a try. It's the whole song - I think the two guitar parts are about right. Well - apart from my inconsistent playing! <g>

Something I noticed without the benefit of an amp or any effects was the balance of the guitar... The bass strings are SOOOO much louder!
I usually use a tubescreamer, which takes away much of the bass and gives a mid boost. The guitar was a 2008 Les Paul Standard with a
Seymour Duncan Custom Custom pickup at the bridge.


I'd like to mention that this example represents just a single virtual amp over a pair of single-tracked guitars. It's not unusual to layer up multiple amps together, double or triple track the guitars, break out multiple cabs and room mics, etc., etc. But do you have to? It's amazing how full things can be with just the basics if you really make the effort to try get everything right at the source. But you can go farther, in fact Guitar Edge has a lovely article touching on several of these aspects that can be found here.

Hang on, I think I spotted Dale Gribble over at just now. Tell him I said hi.

Dale sez: "The truth is out there. Boil up some Mountain Dew, it's gonna be a long night. SHASHASHAA!!!"

EXAMPLE 1: Original Stem Mixes

Backing Track + DI Guitars = Audio Example

EXAMPLE 2: Reamping The Guitars

DI Guitars + Reamp =  Reamped Gtrs

EXAMPLE 3: Mixing The Premaster

Backing Track + Reamped Gtrs = Unmastered Mix

EXAMPLE 4: Mastering The Result

Unmastered Mix + Mastering  = Final Master

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