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How useful is compression? Or ....

Discussion in 'Effects [BG]' started by Rockin John, Jan 14, 2018.

  1. .... do I really need it?

    In very nearly 50 years on bass I've never used any effects. I've never seen the need for any sound that's artificially(?) generated, preferring to put up with (if that's the right expression) whatever inadequacies the simple combination of me, the bass and the amp brings to the music. I play fingerstyle, preferring a lighter touch).

    For example, one of those inadequacies is differences in string-to-string volume: the lower strings usually being louder than the higher ones in the mix. Anyway, cutting the story very short, it was suggested to me that a compression pedal might help to even out the bass sound.

    To that end, for my general interest, I've listened to all sorts of compressor demos on Youtube and the like, and devoured threads on here and other forums. Frighteningly, I found it very difficult to tell when the compressor was on or off, on the demos. Conclusion: if I can't hear the difference how is it going to help the mix. I know there are all sorts of variables involved on these demos, but I've reached the point of total confusion.

    'Would compression be good and, if so, how do I choose the one to buy?' is what I ask myself. (I can afford any pedal, but that doesn't mean I'd get the most expensive!!).

    Wisdom, as always, much appreciated.


    [Edited to correct a typo]
  2. willsellout

    willsellout Supporting Member

    Aug 13, 2002
    Fort Wayne, IN
    Sweetwater Employee
    Well I also play with a fairly light touch with fingers. I don't need a compressor BUT I like having one to even string to string volume without killing my dynamics. I use it pretty sparingly in the front of my chain for that. Don't confuse compressor with limiter. I love my compressor but I definitely don't need a limiter. What I love about my particular compressor (FEA DB-CL) is the fact that it's a dual band compressor so I can keep it just compressing the lows, which you set the crossover for, and leave the rest of the signal unaffected and then I can click on the high band and really slice through the mix. I also use the high band as an effect to bring some clank to my distorted signal. I play a Thunderbird so sometimes it's a bit muddy, which my compressor really helps sort out.

    Do you need one? Probably not. Would you enjoy finding the right compressor and using it? Probably.
  3. Mushroo

    Mushroo Supporting Member

    Apr 2, 2007
    Massachusetts, USA
    Let's put it this way: when you turn on the radio or listen to a CD or mp3, it's 99.9% likely that the bass you are hearing is compressed. You might not have a compressor on your pedalboard, but I guarantee you that any engineer who records you in the studio or mixes your live show will use one.

    Bottom line? Heck yeah compressors are useful, and that is why they are a standard ingredient for live and recorded sound engineering. :)
    dwm74, Bolsyo, MDBass and 6 others like this.
  4. saltydude


    Aug 15, 2011
    boston CANADA
    In your case I’m going to go with no.
    50 years experience.
    Light touch finger style.
    I’d wager you have things under control.
    However it can’t hurt to experiment with some compression. If you think the effect sounds artificial then don’t use it. If you never try one you’ll never know but personally I think you’ll probably fine without it.
    Jim C, bassliner50, 10cc and 2 others like this.
  5. Aloe


    Apr 10, 2016
    Err, if you just want to add high end to fit in the mix, why not rolling the treble on your bass?

    Compressors are fun and really are a matter of taste. I've had very good compressors that were just not my cup of tea.
  6. willsellout

    willsellout Supporting Member

    Aug 13, 2002
    Fort Wayne, IN
    Sweetwater Employee
    Have you played a Thunderbird? You can roll the table all the way up and still not have it stand out. I keep it all the way up all the time.
    mattbass6945 likes this.
  7. eJake


    May 22, 2011
    New Orleans
    I have a similar style and find the compression that I've tried is mostly useless for my live situation. @willsellout has an interesting option of being able to control which frequencies compressed. I'm interested in checking that out.

    Most of my experience with compression comes from either onboard on an amp or mixer and compression on a DAW (the two are drastically different). My biggest pet peeve about onboard compression is that one knob CAN NOT control it effectively. Ratio and Threshold need to be individually controlled.

    That being said my pedal experience is very limited so if I could piggyback on Rockin Johns post and also ask what type of pedal would help someone playing a P or a J bass with a light touch?
  8. willsellout

    willsellout Supporting Member

    Aug 13, 2002
    Fort Wayne, IN
    Sweetwater Employee
    I really love the Diamond BCP-1 for light compression and tone enhancement. But really any good compressor can be used for folks with a light touch. You really just have to set the threshold where it's compressing where you want it to and go from there.
    Zooberwerx likes this.
  9. Zooberwerx

    Zooberwerx Gold Supporting Member

    Dec 21, 2002
    Virginia Beach, VA
    A decent compressor can't hurt. Given your stated issues, the Diamond would be my first choice, as well. Here's another tip I picked up the forum which will thicken things up in the higher register: add some soft OD, just enough to add a little "fur".

    Marc valero and willsellout like this.
  10. To be honest... you’ve probably never heard a professional recording or concert that didn’t have compression on the bass. Because it makes it more difficult to have bass loud in the mix without compression. Is is absolutely necessary for you to have a compressor? Not really. But it can be very helpful. I do think some basses benefit from compressors more than others. For example my Warwick thumb bass I don’t use a pedal compressor but pretty much every other bass I do. Tubes add compression and some tube amps are more compressed than others. So some tube amp users might think “I dont need a compressor” when their amp is in-fact filling that role. Most studios and some really good soundguys will have nice rack compressors and pres like LA2a, dbx, Avalon 737 or a distressor for the bass. One of the nice things about using your own compressor though is you can set it like you like want it and a good soundguy will add little to no compression on their end. Another benefit is pedal compressors can make a lot of pedals work better. Analog Octave pedals in particular. Some people like using them specifically to even out slap style playing. Some people use them to really squash the signal for synth tones to make a bass guitar sound More even like key bass.
  11. I see the point about studio and live sound compression from the soundguy. But the fact is that I've never set foot in a studio nor have I played with any setup that needs a sound engineer. That may sound bizarre to most guys, but my whole 'career' has been playing with backline and nothing more, in small bar bands. It's not by choice as such, just the way it's been.

    Having never used any effects, I can now see that an octaver might sound nice on occasional songs: there's a (crappy?) octaver on my Crate practice amp that's been fun to play with. From that point of view maybe compression would help. And if it'll help even out string to string volume there might be even more justification.
    Al Krow and JRA like this.
  12. I "technically" use two compressors,*

    One is a VCA that I have set up for serious slapping or heavy pick playing. it sounds VERY squishy and "pumpy", which is exactly the effect I'm going for there

    The second one is an optical comp, based on the DOD 280. It's one of those types that you really don't notice is on- it just sounds like the bass has a TON of sustain and a slightly less peaky sound without the typical artifacts of compression. I like that, and have it on about 80-90% of the time. Truly a box that you don't miss until you have it turned off.

    I run a line switcher between the two, just so I only have to hit ONE button instead of stomping on two in order to change it up.

    You've had the advantage of playing for so long (you've got almost 20 years on me), so you know how different amps can react. Some tube ones will give a natural compression effect, based on your volume level. There's a thought to consider.

    Out board comp can definitely level your string to string volume without sounding squishy or pumpy. Finding the RIGHT ONE is the trick here.

    *The "third" comp isn't really one at all; it's a Tronographic Rusty Box preamp pedal. The way I have it adjusted/set up, it adds just enough dirt to the signal that it has a natural, tube-like compression. I find that the only reason I need either one of the above comps in the path with this guy is to get a bit more drive into it. Otherwise, I don't miss a compy at all with it!
  13. St_G


    Jan 22, 2013
    Memphis, TN
    Pretty much the only time I don't think a compressor makes things better is when I'm playing an instrument whose own output is very compressed (which some pickups very much are).

    The vibrations of your strings are being converted into an electrical signal, which then passes through whatever knobs you've got on your bass, down a long wire (or through the air as rf) and into your amp where all manner of nonsense happens before it is converted to vibrations again by the driver in your cabinet. So I wouldn't worry too much about generating sound "artificially." That ship done sailed.
    tfer likes this.
  14. Wfrance3

    Wfrance3 Supporting Member

    May 29, 2014
    Tulsa, OK
    I have a Keeley Bassist limiting compressor. It’s the one I kept after LOTS of experimenting. In fact, I bought it twice.
    Been thru; pigtronix bass comp, SD studio comp, Cali 76, probably something else I’m not remembering right now....
    Anyway, they all have their little nuances. Some have the capibility to blend back in unaffected tone. A useful feature to be sure.
    The thing that landed me on the keeley is that it’s very transparent and quiet. Also, with the keeley, you have a boost(gain) that with the comp dialed out (off basically) the gain control can be a pretty nice and very clean, clean boost. So, my typical setting is a little comp, just to even out the string (voicing) and a bump in the gain to give the signal some life. It’s a pretty sweet little trick. It’s almost 2 pedals in 1.
  15. filwitheneff


    Feb 22, 2008
    Based on your original post, I think you would definitely benefit by using a compressor. You mentioned "inadequacies" in string-to-string volume, and a compressor can fix that. That's really the only reason why I use a compressor. My compressor of choice is a Keeley Bassist.
    JRA likes this.
  16. lfmn16

    lfmn16 SUSPENDED Supporting Member

    Sep 21, 2011
    charles town, wv
    You think electronics and amps grow in the wild? :D
    nolezmaj, CapnSev, eJake and 3 others like this.
  17. I'll put a third mention in for the Keeley Bassist. It has a massive range of different compression possibilities, from so subtle that it's almost undetectable, to super squashed sounding. It has two main drawbacks that I have developed work-arounds for.

    #1 The dials (on my version at least) move far too easily, making it easy to lose your "sweet spot" setting once you've found it. Solution: I wrapped a short rubber band several times around the post of each dial, making it possible to turn them but with a little more effort than most dials.

    #2 I hate blue LEDs, they are just way too bright in most situations! Solution: a little piece of electrical tape ;)
  18. Keeps the volume of my 4 tires perfectly balanced. Compress..
  19. two fingers

    two fingers Opinionated blowhard. But not mad about it. Gold Supporting Member

    Feb 7, 2005
    Eastern NC USA
    Well played.

    I hit bass strings like a hammer. In my 30+ year bass career I never used a compressor. The sound guy did.
    That being said I recently put together a pedal board and have one on it. It's an EHX Blackfinger. It has two 12ax7 tubes in it. I use it as a fattener and warmer. The compression is set so low that even I have to hit harder than usual for it to engage. And when it does I don't notice. But from what I gather, the best compressors work that way. You don't notice.
  20. micguy


    May 17, 2011
    If your lower strings are louder than your higher strings, I'd suggest adjusting your pickup(s) first - lower the pickup under the lower strings and/or raise it under the higher strings. Tha's the direct way to compensate for the situation you're describing.

    Yes, we all like to buy shiny new gear, but sometimes using your wallet shouldn't be the first course of action.
    Al Krow, JRA and Loring like this.

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