This video episode shows how I created a really cool vocal reverb out of a guitar amp and a reamp box. It’s the first episode of the new weekly Creative Sound Lab format. The article below continues with the same concepts from the video, but in text form.
Each episode of Creative Sound Lab is posted right here on Creativesoundlab.tv after it is first announced to the email list. If your not on the email list yet, your missing on additional resources that complement each article and weekly episode. For this episode I’m providing all of my subscribers with a really nice, 7 page, PDF so that you never get lost trying to hook all this stuff up. It has a summary of the concepts, pictures, and step by step instructions that you can keep saved on your computer for when you need it.
This effect is about creating a big and bold vocal reverb. I’m thinking of a type of effect that create the feel and mood of a song, and work really well with stripped down arrangements that leave the vocal out front. We will use the effects that are built into guitar amps (or your reverb pedals) that will cover your the vocal like a warm blanket on a cold day.
Here’s what we’ll cover:
- How to set up your guitar amp or pedals, and them capture those sounds back into your DAW
- How to best mix these sounds in your mix (because they will be huge sounding!)
- BONUS: How to convert this effect (any amp or pedal) into a stereo vocal effect…very cool.
This past August I did a session with Double Shadows, which is usually an electronic duo with very busy programing and electronic orchestration. But today they wanted a stripped down version of “Fingertips”.
I had noticed that the amount of space that was there really left the vocal out front and a little lack luster. I remembered a few years ago that I heard a stripped down St. Vincent song called “Actor Out of Work” where they used a big lush reverb on her vocal. The sound of that vocal effect stuck with me, and I decided that “Fingertips” was a perfect place to give it a go.
But I don’t own a spring or plate reverb, and I wasn’t about to pull up a plug in to get the sound. I’ve actually auditioned UAD’s plate reverb on 2 different occations and I didn’t find it convincing. I remember Altiverb has a few IR responses for some plate reverbs, and I remember those sounding real nice. But for me that’s an effect that thousands of others have too. It’s not uniquely me.
So reached for one of my amps that I know has a great spring reverb in it. I cranked the reverb to “10” and backed the gain of the amp down as much as I could so that I would get the most reverb and the least original sound.
But why all the hassle of setting this stuff up? The short answer: It mixes better. The sounds that you capture with a real effect seem to blend and mix easier than an effect that you dial in with a plug in. With a real effect you can also record the room, if you wanted your reverb-y guitar amp blended with a room sound, and if needed you can make alterations to the tone with microphone placement and any available tone controls on the amp itself.
How to set up your guitar amp or pedals, and them capture those sounds back into your DAW
- Pick a guitar amp and place it in a different room from where the vocalist is singing.
- Use a re-amp box such as those made Radial or Little Lab and connect a line output from your interface into the input of your guitar amp.
- Set up a microphone (I used a chopped sm57) on the guitar amp, give it some gain and add it to the channels that are being recorded (vocal, acoustic guitar, ect).
- Think of the guitar amp as an imaginary member of a band. Create a headphone mix for the amp, and send it just vocal via the line out you connected to the re-amp box.
- Add the guitar amp, which is all reverb at this point, back into the performers headphones so that the performer can adapt the way they sing to the sound of the effect. The performer will hear their voice, guitar, and the reverb you are creating in real time in another room.
- If using a reverb pedal, you can still create a headphone mix of just the vocal channel to feed the input of the pedal, and use the re-amp box to convert your line level signal to a guitar-like signal. Then instead of using a microphone, use a DI box to a preamp. This can be in the room as it doesn’t make any physical sound.
How to best mix these sounds in your mix
- Add some delay to your captured reverb track. Chances are that your verb is huge, and adding 60-80 ms of delay can help keep the dry vocal from being overtaken by the reverb.
- Pan the effect. If your using this effect for a back ground vocalist, or other things that you plan to have off to the side, you could mirror the “dry” sound with your “wet” reverb track on the other side.
- Be mindful of how loud your vocal reverb actually is. Overtime you’ll get used to hearing it as you mix, so always error on the “less is more” side. Some really dig how the vocal reverb covers up the vocal, and others like it as a subtlety. Use your judgment but don’t be afraid to be ballsy either.
BONUS: How to convert this effect (any amp or pedal) into a stereo vocal effect
Some may think that a mono reverb effect is kind of a drag. I guess I could see what they mean. But I kinda like the retro sound of a mono effect that because apart of the, also mono, vocal track. In case you want more out of your vocal reverb, here is a super easy way to create a stereo version.
- Record the song with the mono set up outlined above.
- Walk over to your guitar amp and change the length of the reverb by just a touch.
- Set up in your DAW to play the vocal track back out on that line out to your guitar amp.
- Leave the microphone alone. Leave the microphone preamp alone. The only change your making is the length of the reverb.
- Hit record to play the vocal track back out, and record back in on a new track the altered vocal reverb.
- Hard pan the two versions of the vocal reverb.
- Extra bonus: Add tremolo to both the “live” and “playback” passes of the vocal reverb. Change the tremolo speed just slightly for a trippy effect.