Q: I’ve had a nagging question that I’ve been debating with colleagues for months: print reverb or delay? Is there a clear cut answer?
A: There are basically two schools of thought when it comes to the question of whether or not to record with effects or dry. Most engineers and mixers favor dry, since it’s easier to add effects than it is to take them away.
The primary argument being that if a guitar is recorded with reverb and or delay, it can cause problems later on as the mix builds, particularly if there’s too much of either. This can create the illusion that the guitar is placed too far back in the mix and makes it difficult, if not impossible, to bring it forward without covering up other things in the mix.
The reason for this is because delayed reflections of sound is one way our ear/brain determines the distance that sound is from us. When we add reverb to something our brain instinctively hears it as being further back in the mix.
On a rhythm guitar, specifically a distorted power chord as found in metal and hard rock, reverb can make the guitar sound as though it goes on forever and causes it to loose definition, or in technical jargon; makes it sound mushy.
The other big reason is that it becomes very expensive in a commercial studio to bring back a guitarist to redo his tracks should the amount of reverb and delay on the guitar pose a problem. If it’s your own studio and you have lots of time, then it’s not that big a deal, but it does mean going back to square one at a point in the process when you near to a finished song. (That can be annoying.)
The other school of thought regarding printing reverb and delay to tape (or hard drive) is to consider them as part of the overall sound of the instrument and deal with it that way. This approach became popular in the 80s when studios had more foam on the wall than a padded cell and washing everything in reverb became the sound of the day. (Once people realized that the wash of reverb and delay was to bring back the sound of a reverberant space, that trend went the way of all fads.)
All in all, since reverb and delay processors are mathematical simulations of sound reflection, and not true room sounds, we can see how one might consider them an effect to be printed like distortion or chorus.
The problem is that reverb and delay, whether real or illusory, can cause problems in a mix. Of course, in recording, nothing is set in stone, and while most people tend to lean towards recording without reverb and delay, sometimes you must: