Recording Rock n Roll: The Second Night

The second night: Re-amp, re-amp, re-amp

If the first night was all about the drums, the second night was focused on the guitar.  I had no idea how to re-amp a guitar or what that was going to mean, but I sure learned.

Re-amping a part means, of course, running the track through an amp and then miking the amp and recording the track again.

“Why not just double the track?” I asked.

“You’ll see,” Jason said.

What’s so neat about 3 Egg studios is that there is a spot on the patch panel for speaker cable, so we could have the cabinet in the live room and the head in the control room, right next to the board.

Here is how we set up the re-amp.  We used a tt to xlr cable to connect the patch bay to the direct box.  Then we used a quarter-inch cable to connect the direct box to the head of the amp.

(A tt cable is short for “tiny telephone.”  It’s a kind of cable used in patch bays.  Patch bays work the same way as those telephone switchboards you see in old movies.)

“Why not just use a tt to a quarter inch and go directly from the patch bay into the amp?” I asked.

“That’s a very good question,” Jason said.  Good questions make him happy.

It turns out that there would be what’s called an impedence mismatch if you just plugged the soundboard into the amp.  The electrical signal that comes from a guitar is tiny, and it also has high impedence.  That’s what an amp is used to dealing with.  A line level signal, though, coming from the board, is a big and strong electrical signal.  You could turn it down low enough so it wouldn’t hurt the amp, but you wouldn’t get a very good sound.  Also, you could blow out the amp!  So the direct box takes that great big signal and turns it into a little signal like what comes from a guitar.

We had three mics on the amp in the live room.  Closest to the amp was a Sennheiser 421.  Behind that there was a Brauner, and then back even further was a Geffel.

“It’s German mic night in the live room,” Jason said.

The first re-amp we did was with a type of voodoo head, a tube amp that is designed to be unclippable.  We used a mxr distortion pedal on it.  It gave us a bigger signal, with a wider dynamic range.

Jason pointed to the track on the screen.  “Look at the wave,” he said.  “Now do you see why we’re not just doubling the track?”

The wave looked different.  It wasn’t just bigger.  It was definitely hitting different parts of the frequency spectrum.

The second re-amp we did was our first attempt to fill out the bass frequencies.  Remember, this band is just drums and an acoustic guitar.  We used a different head, Voodoo again.  This one is more like a marshall plexi.  If the other tube amp was designed to be unclippable, this one was designed to always clip.  It’s a distortion beast.  We cut the highs on the guitar signal, then turned up the bass on the head to give us that growl we were looking for.

Now it was getting late.  Our good friend and sonic genius Fred had given up on us for awhile and gone out.  He came back just as we were trying to figure out what we should o on the third pass.

“It’s missing something,” Jason said.

Adam wanted the third pass to be loud.  Loud!  He suggested putting two cabinets in there but Jason said it couldn’t be done.  Freddy went in to the live room and turned on the flashing lights.  It gave the live room sort of an eerie deserted club feeling.

After talking about it for awhile, we decided to crank everything and just reset the mic’s.  We took out the brauner and switched to a royer.  We moved the 421 back a little, and moved the Geffel from a high spot in the room to a spot just where Freddy said he felt his kneecaps shake.

It took awhile to get the levels right—that was Jason and Freddy working a kind of late night bizarre sonic magic, mostly gain staging.  Then we sat back and watched the live room flash and throb with the loudest guitar sound we could possibly record.

It was close to six when we left.  Next up– vocals.


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