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Compressors: I don't get it

Discussion in 'Effects [BG]' started by premiumplus, Sep 28, 2009.

  1. premiumplus


    Aug 11, 2009
    I guess I am just an old guy. I never liked compressors much when I was playing guitar, and I don't like them much for bass either. Shouldn't we just control our dynamics with our musical chops rather than rely on a device to limit the peaks? I don't even understand their use in extending the sustain of a note. Even the good ones (analog ones, anyway) just get noisy and hissy as the gain comes up to compensate for note decay. Any useful compression would be added at the mixdown stage in recording, wouldn't it?
    Are there any recordings that come to mind where compression was used as a creative tool? It's not my intent to put down the use of compressors, its just that I haven't found a niche where they are useful to me. Yet.
  2. [​IMG]
  3. Mr. Pickles

    Mr. Pickles Supporting Member

    Nov 11, 2006
    Dutchess County, NY
    Paging Bongo...:ninja:
  4. Febs

    Febs Supporting Member

    May 7, 2007
    Philadelphia, PA
    Pretty much the entire Beatles catalog.
  5. CyberSnyder

    CyberSnyder Gold Supporting Member

    Jun 19, 2003
    I Endorse Alien Audio Basses
    Tony Levin
  6. Eublet


    Jul 28, 2006
    No, compressors aren't just useful in mixdown. They are extremely helpful when used lightly to aid in tracking to begin with.

    For guitar playing, compression is the only way to pull off certain styles. It's as essential as an overdrive pedal. For bass, it really depends on what you are after. Still, a compressor can be invaluable in adding that little bit of edge to really get the tone and feel you are after. Technique by itself only takes you so far. Of course, ignoring technique and using compression by itself will only take you so far as well. The combination of the two can be extremely effective.
  7. Eublet


    Jul 28, 2006
    +1. Much of the things he's recorded just wouldn't be possible without the liberal use of effects and a pretty heavy handed compression. Anyone who curious just take a listen to Peter Gabriel's Sledgehammer.
  8. bongomania

    bongomania Gold Supporting Member Commercial User

    Oct 17, 2005
    PDX, OR
    owner, OVNIFX and OVNILabs
    These two articles in my FAQ particularly address the OP's question:

    The "hissy as the note decays" thing is a symptom of using the wrong comp for the job. It's avoided by choosing a comp that has an input level control or threshold control with enough range to correctly match the output level of your bass; choosing one with the proper ratio needed for the results you want to achieve; as well as ideally having a low-noise makeup gain stage; and also not having a noisy input signal to begin with.

    It's true though that most pedals don't meet most of those standards. There are some that do, and more commonly people just try different ones until they find one that (almost accidentally) happens to suit their signal and intentions.
  9. TheVoiceless


    Jun 11, 2008
    New Jersey
    I never used one live until I joined a loud heavy metal band. It really helps me cut through the mix. I can't say that it doesn't kill some of the tone, but I may not have it set up correct. But for what I am doing it works for me. I also believe that you can get some compression from EQ'in and technique. But I got over that whole idea that some how using a compressor is cheating.
  10. groooooove

    groooooove Supporting Member

    Dec 17, 2008
    Long Island, NY
    a good comrpessor should add tone, not kill tone.
  11. LaBassGuy

    LaBassGuy Supporting Member

    Aug 26, 2008
    You are missing the point. How do you control your dynamics? By adjusting how hard or soft you play. But sometimes you want to play "hard" without an increase in volume. Think of compression as a vocalist who pushes away the mic when singing loud, so as to control the volume. Certainly, singing loud with the mic pushed away will produce a different tone than singing soft with the mic close--even if they both have the same volume.
  12. JimmyM

    JimmyM Supporting Member

    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    Nobody says you have to use a compressor if you don't want to. I don't use one anymore. I know many bass players who don't. As a matter of fact, I know way fewer bassists who use one than don't. There's more to it than squashing dynamics but the rule of thumb is if you don't think you need it, you don't.
  13. Eublet


    Jul 28, 2006
    Not only that, but think of lapel or headset mics where the user can't push them back. Compression is a must. They're also used for de-essing vocals.

    A good compressor that is properly setup will not alter tone. That's not to say that tone alteration isn't a valid use of a compressor. But compressors do alter dynamics. That's what they are made for. Being able to control how much that happens is what makes a good compressor good, and a bad one...bad.

    And like Bongo said, most people just keep trying different pedals until they fine one that works for them and their bass. If they never find one that works for them, then they assume that compressors in general "suck". That's the furthest thing from the truth. Being able to control threshold on a compressor is absolutely necessary at a minimum. Otherwise you're just gambling on how the pedal will react with the output of your bass.

    A compressor is not a necessary component for a bass player, so there is no need to really think you have to have one. A lot can be controlled with technique to the point that many players are happy without them, even if they know how to use a good one properly. But no one should kid themselves into thinking they don't do anything when properly applied. In fact, they are essential for some things if you really want to take a certain style to it's full potential.
  14. LaBassGuy

    LaBassGuy Supporting Member

    Aug 26, 2008

    Before I got into compression, I knew exactly what I needed it for--to squash the pop when I am slapping and to generally even out the tone during slapping. I know exactly the sounded that I wanted: the natural compression you get from tube amps and the rich harmonics that it produces. But if you are buying it because some mf review says it is a 'must have,' then you should just skip it.
  15. premiumplus


    Aug 11, 2009
    That's why I asked about it. Aside from overdrive/fuzz pedals, compressors seem to be the most used bass effect. Quite a few amps even have them built in, and I just wanted to understand why. I've got a couple of compressors, an old CS-9 Ibanez, and a Boss unit, Monte Allums modded. I just wanted to spark some discussion about them and see what you guys use them for...I appreciate the talk. It's not my intention to rile anyone up!
  16. scottbass

    scottbass Bass lines like a big, funky giant

    Jul 13, 2004
    Southern MN
    Really? All I ever use is chorus - and I only use that about twice a year. But then again I am just a sample of one and can't really guess at what effect is used "most"...
  17. Jared Lash

    Jared Lash Born under punches

    Aug 21, 2006
    Denver, CO
    I think you'll find people use compressors for different things. A lot of people seem to like the Diamond Compressor for a slight evening of notes and tone enhancement. I like to use a compressor with fretless (the Demeter is good for this) to add some "fattening" of the tone and helping the dynamics - taming some of the louder mwahs and helping harmonics be more present.

    I've got a Retrospec Squeeze Box that is fantastic for giving an old school tone and thump.

    But the biggest reason I've owned compressors is because I love envelope filters and the ones I like most (the "wettest" ones) put out big volume spikes that I want to protect my cabs from (and avoid nasty looks from the sound me from).

    As a side note, my gig on Saturday featured a very nice FOH system using dbx 1066 for my bass signal. It really made a difference in terms of the punch and snap of my sound and reigning in the slaps and pops that have a tendency to get loud when I'm amped up and/or have a few drinks in me both of which were in play that night. ;)

    That said, for the jazz-pop band I play in doing my girlfriend's songs I don't use any compression at all and we generally don't play places big enough for a sound system so I'm compression free without any issues, especially since I don't really use effects, play all fingerstyle and am going for a clean, even tone rather than digging in at times. It all depends on what you're trying to do.

    Hope that helps.
  18. We use an older-model rack compressor for laying down bass tracks in the studio. If we didn't, the peaks just get out of hand.. which creates a lot of headaches when the mix down process starts in earnest. Yes, I agree... that 'hiss' can be an issue, but not after you've fooled around with the input/out ratio long enough to preclude that.
  19. There should really be a compressor sticky. This same thread seems to appear about every two weeks.

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