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What's a compressor?

Discussion in 'Effects [BG]' started by Erich Zann, Sep 12, 2000.

  1. Erich Zann

    Erich Zann

    Aug 14, 2000
    I was wondering if anyone could tell me exactly what a compressor does. It seems to be something that almost every bassplayer uses. Is it something I should have? If so, can you suggest one that I should get? Does it have a place in a hard rock/metal band?
  2. I'm pretty sure they make the carrying distance shorter; The sound doesn't go as far but it still sounds loud close.
    Commonly used for practicing in one room while people who don't want to hear you in the next.
  3. er, um - try...


    - Wil
  4. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    A compressor is what engineers use to squeeze all of the life out of your bass sound! ;)
  5. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    Ermmm... possibly in an alternative universe. :)
  6. cb56


    Jul 2, 2000
    Central Illinois
    OH NO!!!!
    The anti compressor Nazis have found us AGAIN!!!

  7. Saint


    Mar 2, 2000
    DC - USA
    True. Of course, engineers frequently use compressors to plasticize whole recordings, too.

    I kind of look at a compressor like a scalpel:

    In the hands of great doctor it can be used with precision and restraint to enhance life;
    In the hands of Jack the Ripper...

    I guess the problem for us bassists -and maybe musicians generally-- there are far more madmen then surgeons out there.
  8. Some humorous replies here, but I don't think anyone has actually answered your question.he truth is, a compressor is used to even out your volume so that you have a consistent sound across the board. And yes, it is kind of tricky to get a balance without "squeezing all the life out of your bass". The thing is, a lot of producers tend to go a little too heavy on the compression for bass, and sometimes it sounds like you're playing with a 4 inch speaker inside a cardboard box, but used correctly, a compressor can greatly enhance your sound. A little goes a long way, is all I'm saying.
  9. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    On a more serious note there is another reason why a lot of people (Bass Players) I know, are anti - compressors. In a lot of cases beginners will use this to cover up a lack of technique and instead of learning how to create a consistent sound and volume through developing their technique, tend to take the lazy approach and "paper over the cracks" with a pedal. I would always recommenmd ditching the pedal and trying to do the same thing with your hands.

    I also think that music is about dynamics as much as anything else and this is an important part of playing any instrument - that is, learning how to play loudly and softly and when this is appropriate to the music.

    I resent this element of creativity being taken away from me by a pedal, I am also fearful that we will have a generation of bass players who only play at one volume level and see this as getting a more "professional" sound. I like music with tension/release, high/lows and loud/soft and I would hate for this to disappear.
  10. cb56


    Jul 2, 2000
    Central Illinois
    You can still play with dynamics or at different volume levels with a compressor if you use it right. Alesis and others have recommendations on how to set your compressor for bass on their web pages. In a perfect bass playing world we would all play everything exactly perfectly, never playing a wrong note always playing everything at the perfect dynamic level, never accidentally popping one string louder than the other. All I can tell you is THAT"S NOT ME. Does that make me a lesser bass player. Maybe yes maybe no. But I'm playing all the gigs I want. Anyway because I fear the sound man's volume slider on the sound board more than I fear compression I use just enough to keep any overly loud notes or pops down so I don't get turned down in the mix. Just my 2 cents worth.
  11. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    Errr.. a compressor's not going to help with a wrong note I'm afraid! If you're worried about the sound man just turn down and turn back up when he's not looking - no need for a compressor! Most of them go off for a drink/smoke etc once they've think they've got the sound right ;)
  12. cb56


    Jul 2, 2000
    Central Illinois
    A compressor won't help with a wrong note? Gee I thought it would.... Matter of fact last week I had to leave the stage in the middle of a song to go get a beer, strummed my open stringsas hard as I could, set my bass down, turned on the compressor and walked to the bar.... The damn bass played the rest of the song by itself and didn't miss a note!!!
  13. Doug


    Apr 5, 2000
    Buffalo, N.Y.
    Damn, technology has come far!! Gotta get me one of those! ;)
  14. eli

    eli Mad showoff 7-stringer and Wish lover Supporting Member

    Dec 12, 1999
    NW suburban Chicago
    My band has just finished recording our 2nd CD and we've been in the studio discussing mixes and balance.

    It's funny... I HATE actually playing with a compressor because it feels like it robs me of dynamic expression. I would NEVER use one live.
    But during mixdown, instead of turning down the bass track because of one or two too-loud notes, we just put some compression on it and bingo -- evened-out volume, and my track doesn't get cut back! So it's a love-hate relationship.

  15. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    Actually, I think studio-quality compression can be quite a good thing, as long as it's done at the mix-down stage and is used subtly. But as others have mentioned, it can really be annoying, when you've played a great take, with energy and dynamics and then the engineer/producer makes it sound bland and uninteresting.

    I don't think there are any pedals, though that can replicate the sort of subtelty you can get in the studio and I would never recommend using a pedal "at source" on bass, as it were. I have tried many compression pedals in the past and my experience is that they either do nothing (except as noise when you don't want it!) or get an over the top drastic effect that is completely unusable. People say they are essential for slap, but I find it far better to just cut the mids on your EQ and boost the treble a bit.
    Apart from the dozens I tried, I actually bought 2 or 3 of the things, but they have never worked live for me and while they can help a bit with home recording, even the mnost expensive I found weren't anything like the quality neede for pro-studio work - so I would always advise against - go for some other effect. if you must have a pedal. :rolleyes:
  16. JMX

    JMX Vorsprung durch Technik

    Sep 4, 2000
    Cologne, Germany
    I agree, most compressor pedals are unusable, but a good rackmount compressor like a DBX or Behringer does a great job in a bass rig. I never play without one...and if you take a closer look at the live rigs of most professional sidemen or artists , in most cases you'll see a compressor in one of their racks...go figure;)
  17. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    I think you are right in some ways, but the sort of rack we are talking about here is going to cost thousands of dollars and probably several times what most people have paid for their bass and amp! Undoubtedly a lot of pro sidemen have been hired to get the exact sound on the record and will also have been told not to stand out in any way and detract from the singer or the real "star" of the show. :rolleyes:

    I think you don't need compression and dynamics are part of what goes to making the real "live" sound of a band as opposed to just listening to a record. I think Steve Lawson was talking about this in another thread - that people grow up with "expectations" oh how things should sound from the records they hear and this includes compressing any dynamic range out of it - especially on bass.

    But if it's a live gig why not try to sound like a live band and not a CD?I would rather hear the bass as natural as possible and how that player actually sounds without any articial aids! I like the sound of live bands and if I wanted it to sound exactly like the CD I would stay at home and listen to that on my hi-fi. To me the excitement of live music is the dynamics and variations.

    I thik you have to integrate all the sounds and noises of the bass into your technique - finger sounds, volume variations etc. and not just try to smooth them out, with electronics. I think if everybody did this we would have a lot better bass players and a lot more exciting bands!
  18. JMX

    JMX Vorsprung durch Technik

    Sep 4, 2000
    Cologne, Germany
    Bruce, I'm with you in most of what you said...it's again a philosophy thing...I personally get a great dynamic and breathing live sound out of my live rig...
    One more comment about the price...I paid roughly 1000$ for my pro quality rack setup - and 70$ got me a studio quality compressor :) so it can be had on a moderate budget - but luckily we can make our personal choices
  19. eli

    eli Mad showoff 7-stringer and Wish lover Supporting Member

    Dec 12, 1999
    NW suburban Chicago
    I'm not one of 'em, but there is certainly a large and reasonable contingent of bassists who are not all that interested in glory but really just want to back up the song. THESE would be the type in whose rigs I would expect to see compressors. And those in cover bands, whose job really IS to "sound exactly like the CD".

    Idon't hate the SOUND of 'em, I hate the FEEL of 'em. But then it's not always about ME, is it?