Compressors - why are they so common with bass?

Discussion in 'Effects [BG]' started by AdamX, Mar 24, 2017.

  1. AdamX


    Mar 3, 2017
    I noticed that a lot of bass players use compressors. Why is that? Is it certain styles of music that use it?

    Just trying to learn.
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  2. DDXdesign

    DDXdesign formerly 'jammadave' Supporting Member Commercial User

    Oct 15, 2003
    Three different reasons as far as I can tell:

    1 - Fattening of the tone; lots of optical compressors do this great fat thing with your tone. (1B would be 'adding some grit', as with a tube compressor or Accountant or something like it)

    2 - Brickwall smacking-down of volume spikes, e.g. from slaps/pops or errant finger hangups

    3 - General control over the signal to keep it all "even" sounding. The most simplistic reason, but a very common one.

    Most players use them for some combination of these reasons, though.
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  3. FunkBear


    Jan 2, 2009
    Jammadave explained it pretty well. Some people say compressors kill dynamics but that is only if you set them up in such an extreme way. Out of mine I feel that it fattens my tone and cuts out harsh signals while still preserving my dynamic freedom. I feel that it helps me sit in the mix better.
  4. RattleSnack


    Sep 22, 2011
    Dynamics correction is the main reason. Every other reason is side effect, but also valid reason to like compressors.

    Properly set compressor does not "kill dynamics", it changes it to better suit the song. Trouble is, comps are not easy to set, mostly because you need to listen to global picture (all of the band) to understand what is best to do. That's why I leave compression to sound man.
  5. If you draw a line across a sheet of paper and play with uneven finger/pick control of your notes volume such as digging in or not playing hard enough on some notes or too hard on others the compressor will bring everything closer to that line in otherwords controlling spikes and sag, that's the way it was explained to me. However I barely notice any difference because I'm that good...Well...not really.
  6. Chasarms

    Chasarms Casual Observer

    May 24, 2001
    Saint Louis, MO USA
    A compressor can also give you more consistent dynamics across the frequency range of the instrument. They are great once you dial them in to achieve the results you are looking for.

    I disagree with allowing the sound guy to set your compression unless you have great, great trust in him and he has a lot of experience with what you are trying to achieve dynamically in your playing. Bad compression can really destroy you.
  7. el murdoque

    el murdoque

    Mar 10, 2013
    I tried several. The last one I had was the Aguilar TLC.
    At some point I realized that I had it set so subtle that I was not able to discern by ear whether it's on or off.
    So I sold it.
  8. Clef_de_fa

    Clef_de_fa Guest

    Dec 25, 2011
    Well guitar player use distortion a lot more than bass player and in a way, distortion do compress the signal so they kinda have compression all the time
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  9. Some also like to use it as an effect as well. I keep a Boss CS-3 around for just that and it can sound pretty gnarly. The other uses are the ones stated above. Comp preference is probably one of the most personal choices we can make to augment our rigs. Here's a primer:
    Compressor Reviews
  10. Wfrance3

    Wfrance3 Supporting Member

    May 29, 2014
    Tulsa, OK
    If you are new to pedal-type compression, this might help - The result I get from my compressor, (Cali 76cb) is a tighter tone, and more punch, which, both are similar things.
    This is a great learning resource:
    Compressor Reviews

    There are a bunch of different settings on compressors. Some have individual control knobs, some have multiple functions covered by a single knob.

    So, back to the Cali; it has a single knob for attack and release. Fast attack and slow release works pretty well for me. It has input and output, so I boost the output a little to make sure the signal is god and strong. Those are things you find on many different compressors that are out there. One thing in the Cali you don't find on lots that are out there is high pass filter. Compressors can take away some of the low end. The high pass brings that back as much as you want. It's a knob so dial it in to taste. Another highly useful knob is the blend. It will give you back as much if your uncompressed tone as you want. Again, it's a knob, dial to taste.

    So... my net result is a nice warm, punchy, fat tone. The compressor evens it out and raises the quieter high strings to the vol level of the perceptively quieter low tones. And vice versa depending on how you set your compressor and how aggressively you play.

    Cali is also super quiet, so there is that as well. Not all compressors are quiet, so watch out for that.

    Hope this helps!!
  11. veryvery


    May 23, 2016
    People use compressors to hide their lack of technique.

    I kid, I kid. Thank you, I'll be here all week.
  12. RattleSnack


    Sep 22, 2011
    In theory, yes. Reality is different. Sound guy holds all the strings to bands sound, and crappy compression is least of my worries. Anyway, monitors always get unaffected sound, so it is hard to get idea of FOH.
    If you are in position to control your compression and to do it well, good for you.
    Last edited: Mar 24, 2017
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  13. A little bit goes a long way IMO.

    Before you know it you've killed off the bottom end.
  14. AdamX


    Mar 3, 2017
    Thanks for the replies and the link to reviews.

    Something I've noticed in my short time playing bass is that if I alternate i-m with the same type of attack I use on a classical guitar, I get a percussive sound when my finger first hits the string. To be honest, I don't really like it. It's a problem I'm trying to deal with. Would the compressor make this effect better or worse?

    Might it be just the opposite - that a compressor would put more demands on your technique? Lacking actual experience, I could so it working out either way depending on the player/situation.
    Last edited: Mar 24, 2017
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  15. NortyFiner

    NortyFiner Drunken Sailor Gold Supporting Member

    Mar 23, 2008
    Portsmouth VA USA
    That's more a difference in instruments and technique than anything to do with compression. Bass strings are much more "solid" than guitar strings, and so can have a more percussive quality to them depending on your attack. But compression can help you even it out and take some of that edge off if you want. Practicing with an envelope filter will help you adjust your playing touch, since they respond dynamically to how you play. QUACK! Yep, that's too hard...
  16. JRA

    JRA my words = opinion Gold Supporting Member

    my experience.
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  17. The trick for some of us is to have that edgy percussive quality and evenness at the same time.:)
  18. Wfrance3

    Wfrance3 Supporting Member

    May 29, 2014
    Tulsa, OK
    People use compressors to hide their lack of technique.

    I kid, I kid. Thank you, I'll be here all week.

    I agree - At first I was one of those. Not saying my tehnique is flawless or anything, but, knowing this very real application of compression helped me appear less flawed. So, now my deal is play with compression, practice without. It has made my playing better in the long run.
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  19. J Posega

    J Posega Cat Dad and Dingwall Enthusiast Supporting Member

    Jul 16, 2005
    Los Angeles, CA
    If you listen to recorded music, everything has a compressor on it. It's important, to me as a bass player and audio engineer, that a bass players performance be pretty even and level.

    Bass, with drums, drives the song and keeps the rhythm together... it provides the groove. Fluctuations in volume make the groove uneven. That said, I never aim to squash the bass signal live. I want dynamics, but I want to control any big peaks or flubs.
  20. NortyFiner

    NortyFiner Drunken Sailor Gold Supporting Member

    Mar 23, 2008
    Portsmouth VA USA
    Hence the wide love for transparent OD, dirty boosts, etc. :)
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