Benefits of Compression

Discussion in 'Effects [BG]' started by Robot Freak Out, Nov 12, 2004.

  1. Robot Freak Out

    Robot Freak Out

    Oct 20, 2004
    I've noticed alot of bass players run through compressors when they play live. I'm curious, what is the benefit of doing this?
  2. hey there

    in my opinion, the benefit of compressors (and the reason i use one) -

    - musical instruments create dynamic peaks. When playing your bass the signal level (loudness) of your playing will vary, and at points can be very high. A compressor takes these high points and lowers them. You can then add make up gain to bring the volume of the low parts up, so you have a bass sound at a more constant sound level. Obviously this is just a very basic description.

    You can set your compressor up to only attack the signal at very high peaks, to protect your ears and your equipment. I only use my compressor as a device to prevent me from blowing up my cabs in extreme circumstances (in case something goes very wrong in my bass's/cables/etc.'s electronics).

    You can also set the compressor to an extreme setting so it in effect 'squashes' your sound, and can make it sound 'trumpety'. Some people like to use this as an effect. People also use it to add sustain and fatness to the sound (created by the low signal levels being brought up in level).

    It's most obviously used in slap and pop playing, where the dynamic peaks in the playing is significant.

    This is just basics, and someone more experienced/intelligent should be able to explain more clearly and accurately.
  3. Joe P

    Joe P

    Jul 15, 2004
    Milwaukee, WI
    I guess my case is a little unusual; but I use heavy compression all the time - it's definately a part of my sound. It couldn't be just any compressor though; I hate compressed sound when the release is too slow - I recently played through some new Fender amp at a music store that had a built-in compressor that was preset with a slow release, and I don't know how anyone can like a sound that surges in volume like that! It was awful.

    For now I'm running a four-knobber Boss footpedal compressor taped to the top of my amp head (I don't think it's made for bass; I think it's for guitar). This is certainly not the best thing I could be using - but considering that except for the bass, my whole rig is borrowed from from bandmates, I'm not complaining. I think it cuts out a tad of the lowest frequencies, but since I use it full-time, I can just compensate with the tone controls on the head. The pedal does have an attack control, which I turn up pretty far - this adds punch to attack transients, and keeps everything from sounding blatently squished. I'm very pleased with the sound I'm getting (Hartke 140W head and 4X10 aluminum cone bottom, all driven with an older US-made Peavy Foundation).

    I know that the first thought to some bassists may be that I'm neglecting proper dynamic control, and letting the compressor compensate for bad technique or whatever, but that's not the case. I carefully control my plucking dynamics, but for the sake of the TONE instead of volume dynamics. I can dig-in right over the pickup (even dragging my fingers across the pickup cover sometimes) for a sound that's somewhere between a pop and plectrum sound; I can play very lightly for a rounder tone, or I can lightly flick my finger back and forth over the string using just the pad, and not the fingernail; I can play harmonics, including the more odd and surreal, quieter high-pitched pings; I can fretboard hammer very lightly if I want, which provides a sigificantly different tone than the vowely sound you get from smackin'em down - light tapping also allows me to hammer cleaner without using a velvet damper near the nut (my version of a 'scrunchy') -- these are just a few examples; I'm very conciously developing my sound and style around the benefits of compression.

    It gets more interesting when I'm playing double stops (harmonies) - I'm able to use plucking and tapping dynamics to adjust the blend, including sounding two notes, and then damping one of them near the bridge with a finger so that the other note seems to blossom up out of the hamony - the compressor turning up the gain (and hence the non-muted note) for me as the muted note decays-out.

    I'm planning to start using a volume pedal in the future to offer me more control over volume dynamics, but in a rock band situation like I'm in now, I pretty much need to hold my place in the mix, so I wouldn't be using a very wide range of loudnesses anyway.

    I might think of more to say later. This has really been on my mind, and like I said: I'm quite conciously trying to develop a unique sound and style for myself, with compression right in the middle of it!

    I'm looking forward to getting some recorded examples of what I've been talking about posted somewhere, so I can get some valuable feedback from you guys (and, I must admit, so that y'all will know that I'm not just blabbin'! How do you know that I'm not an awful player with delusions of grandure?)


  4. johnvice


    Sep 7, 2004
    Too humble, Avast. This explanation is great!

    I would point out that this is using a compressor as a limiter. That is, making loud passages softer. I generally prefer a limiter (or a compressor set in limiter mode) to do this, which means if I pluck the strings softly, this dynamic will be reflected in my volume. Conversely, if I give the strings a hard slap, the volume will be attenuated.

    The often-overlooked side of compression is making quiet passages louder. I find this function useful when playing with harmonics, as I usually want to make them a bit louder. Conversely the attack on plucking a harmonic is relatively louder so it needs to be attenuated.
  5. Larzito


    Aug 1, 2000
    Dallas, Texas
    johnvice, tell us how to make quiet passages louder. Or quiet strings (G string fingerstyle) louder. What is the difference in a compressor and a limiter and how do you use each?
  6. Joe P

    Joe P

    Jul 15, 2004
    Milwaukee, WI
    Uh... OK.

  7. adam on bass

    adam on bass Supporting Member

    Feb 4, 2002
    New Braunfels, Texas
    Endorsing Artist: Spector, GK, EMG and D'Addario
    If used correctly it can also add sustain.
  8. A compressor compresses the dynamic range - meaning that it brings the peak levels down and the noise floor up. The quieter sections will seem louder in relation to the rest of the signal levels because the loud sections will be being attenuated.

    A compressor has a ratio as to how much the signal is attenuated once it goes over a certain point (the user defines the threshold). A limiter stops the signal level dead at that point like a brick wall, it basically has an attenuation ratio of infinity.