Compression pedal basic question

Discussion in 'Effects [BG]' started by Patrick Warneka, Jul 1, 2022.

  1. I am coming from commercial photography, to capture the most boring image ever just raise the lows to the middle and lower the highs to the middle, and boom, a photo with absolutely no life. Same with drums, no intonation, no life. (to be fair, Animal on the muppets, did make a career doing it.)

    In bass guitars, I'm supposed to shell out money for a compressor to lower my highs and raise my lows? Is there a sentence missing from every website as to why you would want to kill the very thing that gives music life???

    Or is the assumption that you always have a sound engineer in tow who boosts your bland clean tone?
    If I don't have a sound engineer laying around, do I need a compressor pedal?
    BlueTalon likes this.
  2. Killing Floor

    Killing Floor Supporting Member

    Feb 7, 2020
    Austin, TX
    Compression is used differently for bass than guitar. And there are several different ways to utilize it with bass. And nobody will make you use one in the first place. And if you ever record in studio there will be compression and peak limiting. And I heard Animal was originally modeled on Mick Fleetwood. I totally see that.

    I use compression to level up soft notes just a bit and as a set of "walls" to brush back really high peaks. It's really subtle and I doubt you'd know it's there but I know it and the sound mixer knows it.

    On my guitar board I use compression to goose up sustain without relying on dirt. completely different function and outcome than with my bass.

    Pro tip, there's no best tone. Just what you like. Just as there is no best photograph. (except for Shoji Ueda's Kako and a Flower but that's a different thread)
    HolmeBass, sergeykuimov, lomo and 7 others like this.
  3. Bassist4Eris

    Bassist4Eris Frat-Pack Sympathizer

    The way it was explained to me: if you play a bass note into a DAW, you'll see on screen that the initial attack is much louder than the tail of the note. By bringing the tail end of the note up a bit the bass sits better in the mix overall.
  4. Interesting. So the compression is aimed within each note, not high and low range of notes.
    I have some thinking to do.
    HolmeBass likes this.
  5. monti2889


    Jul 19, 2012
    In visual terms....a compressor limits the amount of over exposure. If you have a very dynamic pic of a sunflower on a bright sunny day...various shades of yellow could overtake the image. So, you would adjust the image brightness, and color hue to compensate. A compressor is how you can achieve that in the audio world.
  6. Correlli


    Apr 2, 2004
    Wellington, NZ
    Not sure if you need a compressor, but its an effect which is optional.

    Not my image.

    Last edited: Jul 1, 2022
    Eli_Kyiv, gzarruk, Aqualung60 and 9 others like this.
  7. Killing Floor

    Killing Floor Supporting Member

    Feb 7, 2020
    Austin, TX
    The key to compression is learning how to utilize it properly. You want attack on your notes for the dynamic, percussive effect. But you don't want that octave accent on your G string to sound like it came from a different amp. Also if your bass is made from wood there will be some notes that are naturally going to decay sooner, physics is boss. A compressor can level up those low hits or dead spots so it isn't a problem in your gig or recording. But in general most compressors don't color your sound. "most" but some do.
    Leonid Nidis likes this.
  8. Derek Williams

    Derek Williams Gold Supporting Member

    May 14, 2020
    Milton Keynes, UK
    For the photography analogy, a compressor is more like auto-exposure control. Especially when taking multiple photos with slightly different lighting conditions, and making them look more consistent. So it's the difference between manually adjusting aperture and shutter speed for each photo, or letting the camera do some of the work. It does make it more difficult to over or under expose a photo on purpose, but you can always just switch off the auto and do it manually for those tricky situations.
    scott sinner, Luigir and Riff Ranger like this.
  9. I appreciate the explanation. I have not shot in auto in 10-15 years because I knew exactly what I wanted in the photo. Applying that theory to the bass (and maybe you cannot) wouldn't the compressor be overriding your artistic expression assuming the sounds you make are exactly what you want? (I cannot do that).

    Now to shoot down my own argument. I have never released a photo without post-production being done on it.
    Is that what the compressor is doing? Post-production work in real-time?

    This is helping me understand the WHY behind the pegal.

    If the compressor can be thought of as Post-production, can someone chime in who feels they have had moments where they basically outplayed the compressor with their skill and needed to turn it off? Is that even a thing?
  10. Thank you. I don't have the vocabulary for my question. Why would a note sound like it came from a different amp? I get strings, wood all affects the sound, are you saying another pedal altered the sound and the COMP brings it back in to match? I honestly have about 20 questions just to grasp your post.

    let's say no pedals, only a compressor and one amp. the G sounds out of place?

    BlueTalon likes this.
  11. BlueTalon

    BlueTalon Happy Cynic Supporting Member

    Mar 20, 2011
    Inland Northwest
    Endorsing Artist: Turnstyle Switch
    I don't use one. Every time I have tried using a compressor (not many times, admittedly), I always felt like I was fighting my bass to get the dynamics out of it I wanted. I like being able to control how loud or soft I get, how much sustain I have, etc., using my fingers.

    Many here will tell me that I didn't know how to use a compressor correctly to achieve my tonal goals, and I freely admit that's probably true. I'd love to be able to sit down with someone who knows what they're doing for an hour or two, and have them step me through the process of dialing one in. But until that happens, I don't feel like I'm missing anything.
  12. Garagiste

    Garagiste Supporting Member

    Feb 16, 2013
    Brooklyn, NY
    If you like how your bass sounds now, you have no need for a compressor. I use one on gigs now but I don’t bother talking it to rehearsals. I like being able to play high up on the E string and controlling the boominess. The E and A strings are where I see the compressor light go on the most. I have a relatively high threshold set on my Markbass Compressore, so I need to really dig in or play on those boomy parts of the instrument for it to engage. Which works for me. However, if I had to choose between my High Pass Filter and the compressor, I would ditch the compressor.
    sergeykuimov likes this.
  13. Killing Floor

    Killing Floor Supporting Member

    Feb 7, 2020
    Austin, TX
    As you play up and down the neck and across strings some notes will be more pronounced because of several physical constraints. If you're playing in your home with no accompaniment you may not know or care and that's perfectly OK. But if you're performing or recording you may wish to avoid notes that are significantly louder than others or quieter. On its own the bass can be an expressive instrument. In a band mix you might want to contain it to make it suitable to a song. Gently pluck a note with your finger or thumb. Now same note with a plectrum. Now slap it with your thumb. Now pop it with a finger. You want those different techniques to be audible because they sound different, they contribute different dynamics to your playing. But you might not want them to be significantly louder. Or you might play softly and some notes get lost in the mix. A properly set compressor can level things without interfering with the tone.
    FWIW every song you hear in recording (radio/stream/record) has been compressed.
    wncBass, Blue Swede and nnnnnn like this.
  14. Slade N

    Slade N Supporting Member

    May 28, 2005
    portland, or
    Compression live isn't meant to kill dynamics but make them usable. If a singer whispers on stage and you cant hear it, the artistic expression is lost. If a singer screams and it overpowers everything the expression is lost as it too loud. Compression reduces the difference in volumes to make them useable and balanced.
  15. esa372


    Aug 7, 2010
    I had always heard that Animal was modeled on Kieth Moon... hhmmm...
    Killing Floor likes this.
  16. Killing Floor

    Killing Floor Supporting Member

    Feb 7, 2020
    Austin, TX
    Either way. We can hopefully agree he’s a top 5 puppet drummer all time.
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  17. "Every time I have tried using a compressor (not many times, admittedly), I always felt like I was fighting my bass to get the dynamics out of it I wanted. I like being able to control how loud or soft I get, how much sustain I have, etc., using my fingers".

    I can TOTALLY relate to this! No compressor for me (yet) either.
    matante, BlueTalon and Al Kraft like this.
  18. XLunacy


    Nov 28, 2013
    Compressors can be used to sort of fix bad technique, to some extent : it could compensates for a lack of consistency in the attack of successive notes for instance.
    However, you can't really "outplay" the compressor with your technique, since it's doing its job on the note after you've played it, which is the moment when you can't do anything about it anymore :) Pros use compressors, which proves it's not a matter of good technique or skill.
    As expressed by @Slade N , I do feel that even though a compressor reduces the absolute dynamic range, I think it expands the "usable" range of the instrument, especially if you play with a strong attack : without it you can only pluck so hard before your peaks start causing issues, but since the note still decays quickly the rest of the note remains relatively quiet.
    A compressor will give you access to that area by basically allowing you to pluck harder if needed :woot:
  19. 2112

    2112 Supporting Member

    Apr 30, 2005
    Compression helps a bass player reduce the effects of peaks and dropouts on their overall tone. Much as adjusting aperture (and shutter and ISO) helps a photog reduce the effects of peaks and dropouts on their exposure. Both can be useful in difficult sound/lighting conditions, and heavy-handed use of either can suck the life out of tone/exposure in short order.

    Skillful post-processing of sound or photos can improve the overall quality of the final output in either case, but a hand that's too heavy can do more damage than good.
    Last edited: Jul 1, 2022
    esa372 likes this.

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