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Understanding Signal Chain

Do you understand your signal chain?  If the answer is no, you need to tune in and take notes.


Signal chain is simply the flow of signal from the musician through the instrument and into the amps or mics and onward to the mixing board/interface.   It is the single most important thing you can invest your time and money into to get the best tone/sound as possible. Understanding your signal chain can be useful at home, in the studio, and on the stage.   VOCALS This is an easy one.  The chain for vocalists in the studio is: Musician > Microphone > XLR Cable > Snake > Mic Preamp > Analogue to Digital Converter (Interface) A special emphasis should be placed on technique, microphone, and mic preamp.  Vocalists are lucky that their signal chain is so short.  The shorter the chain the easier and cheaper it can be to maximize the components involved and achieve the highest possible quality.   GUITAR/BASS For tracking, the chain is: Musician > Pick > Strings > Pickups > Guitar Electronics > Guitar > Instrument Cable > Pedals > Instrument Cable > DI box > XLR Cable > Mic Preamp >  Analogue to Digital Converter (Interface) A special emphasis should be placed on technique, new strings, pickups, and instrument cable.  It's impossible to place enough emphasis on technique and new strings.  The proper picking power and technique as well as a fresh set of string every single day of tracking can place you at the top of your genre.  When Reamping, the chain is: Digital to analogue converter (interface) > XLR Cable > Reamp Box > Instrument Cable > Pedals > Amp (Preamp and power) > Speaker cable > Speakers > Speaker Cabinet > Microphone > XLR Cable >  Mic Preamp > Analogue to Digital Converter (Interface) A special emphasis should be placed on the instrument cable, amp, speakers, speaker cab, microphone, and mic preamp.  When using something like a Kemper or an Axe FX to reamp instead of an amp/cab/mic combination, we eliminate a large portion of the signal chain making it much faster and easier to achieve a good tone and/or replicate the results over and over.   DRUMS For drum tracking in the studio, the chain is:

Musician > Sticks > Heads/Hoops/Shells or Cymbals > Room > Microphones >  XLR Cable > Snake > Mic Preamp > Analogue to Digital Converter (Interface)

A special emphasis should be placed on technique, heads, shells, room, microphones, and mic preamp.  Even the top of the line microphones, mic preamps, and converters won't outweigh upgrades to your heads, shells, and room.  Your source tone is much more important than how you go about capturing the sound.  

CONCLUSION

Many chains may look different or may be longer or shorter... but don't underestimate just how important every single component in the signal chain is.  Your attention to detail in this matter will take your sound/tone from good to great and give your mixing engineer the best possible source tone to create the best possible sound.  Make your list, target you weakest links, and replace/upgrade as many pieces of this puzzle as possible and you won't regret it. 

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