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Linus27

Compressors - Do I need One?

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So, in 30 years of playing, I have never used a compressor pedal or felt the need for one (possibly ignorance) but I keep seeing or reading more bassists are using them. Is it becoming an essential bit of kit? Is it something you plug in and use turned on all the time. Just wondering if I am missing a trick and should of purchased one years ago.

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I've been playing longer than that and I have never used a compressor either.

If you have been happy with your sound then I'd say you haven't needed one.

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I've tried them, could never figure out what they do, I know what they're supposed to do, any sound difference is minimal in my experience

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My view... what problem do you currently experience that would be solved by using a compressor? If you've been playing for 30 years without one I suspect you don't need one.

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1 minute ago, Trueno said:

My view... what problem do you currently experience that would be solved by using a compressor? If you've been playing for 30 years without one I suspect you don't need one.

Well, I'm not aware of any problems but I was just wondering if there's something I'm missing, as in I would get one and it would be like a massive revelation and wondering why I never tried one before. Maybe it is something I just have no need for.

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15 minutes ago, Linus27 said:

So, in 30 years of playing, I have never used a compressor pedal or felt the need for one (possibly ignorance) but I keep seeing or reading more bassists are using them. Is it becoming an essential bit of kit? Is it something you plug in and use turned on all the time. Just wondering if I am missing a trick and should of purchased one years ago.

What's your signal chain from bass to cab? You may well already have something doing the job of a compressor in there without knowing it. Definitely so if you have anything with valves in it.

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I personally won't leave home without one, compression has become an essential tool for me, and like you I've been playing and gigging for 30 odd years. 

Compression is a very decisive issue among bassists, some love it as I do, some people hate it and most people are probably indifferent to it. But as with most things there's no real right or wrong answer, just what works for you.

However, I do think compression is widely misunderstood by some people who expect to hear it as an obvious effect - it isn't. Effective compression is subtle and not always obvious, until you turn it off that is! Some people when experimenting with compressors assume that they are not doing anything so tend to set them until they can hear the squash working, the trouble is by that time you have completely squashed the life and dynamics from your bass tone, which seems to be the main complaint from those who do not like them.  Less is more with compression. Properly set up they do not kill your dynamics, but allow you a more controlled bass tone that sits better in the mix than an uncompressed one, in my experience at least. 

Edited by Osiris
Corrected a typo!
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2 minutes ago, Linus27 said:

Well, I'm not aware of any problems but I was just wondering if there's something I'm missing, as in I would get one and it would be like a massive revelation and wondering why I never tried one before. Maybe it is something I just have no need for.

I always understood it was good if you play both fingerstyle and slap... but I've never slapped, so I don't know. I quite like having a bit of dynamic range "in the fingers" so to speak, but I doubt if the audience would ever notice... in my case.

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4 minutes ago, Trueno said:

I always understood it was good if you play both fingerstyle and slap... but I've never slapped, so I don't know. I quite like having a bit of dynamic range "in the fingers" so to speak, but I doubt if the audience would ever notice... in my case.

yes, I should add I play with a pick which could be why I don't notice them doing much

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Some really good contributions in this recent thread if you fancy a skim through - I found it very helpful. 

Lots of really good points were made in that thread, but I'm going to call out and draw your attention to @51m0n's posts in particular, as being just excellent! This one below from him pulled a lot of thoughts together and I've quoted it in full, because it's so worth revisiting:

"And he we are again, what are transparent compressors good for in a pub band?

Not about to try and teach anyone to suck eggs, if you know this stuff, sorry for the post, if you are not really interested please skip it, if you want to know why a compressor might help you in a live situation when it apparently 'does nothing' or 'kills my dynamics' then feel free to have  a read. It's like a very cut down compressor 101 chat I gave once, which some of you are still scarred by.....

Originally compression was supposed to be a transparent tool to prevent an engineer from having to ride a fader throughout a take or a mix.

All it was supposed to do was keep that level more even - as often as not by just slightly modifying the envelope of the input sound, hence the attack and release control.

And with VCA compressors they pretty much achieved it. But before VCA compressors there were Vari-mu compressors (real tube compressors), Optical compressors and FET compressors.

All these types have pluses and minuses, they all have different attack and release curves all of which do more than just transparently alter volume and help out an engineer.

On top of these types of compressor there is tape compression and and amp/driver compression - no driver is completely compression free when you push it hard, no amp is compression free when you push it hard, all overdrives and distortions and fuzzes are also compressors, just totally not transparent ones. The best ever compressor you will ever experience is the pair you have strapped on to the side of your head all day. Yes your ears/brain are simply the most powerful compressor you can buy. The quietest sound you can hear is equivalent to your ear drum moving the width or a single molecule apparently, whilst the loudest sound you can hear before deafening yourself pretty much instantly is hundreds of thousands of times louder (you need to look into the way sound pressure level measured in micro pascals and decibels work as units of measurement).

That amazing set of compressors on the side of your head has an unfortunate side effect, without a direct reference you are almost totally volume blind, small changes in volume are beyond you to describe, you can not reliably perceive them. Unless they are compared to a level that has not changed and is not changing. Obviously bigger differences are easy to perceive but the differences that can make or break a mix, if you aren't listening to the the mix happening at the time, nope, not  a hope.

So a deliberately transparent compressor you can't hear working on your signal in isolation, until you are doing way to much with it, and that's about when you feel your dynamics disappearing, because you are doing huge amount of compression in order to hear anything much at all. In a mix way less compression would be 'enough' to change the envelope of your signal to make your instrument be easier to hear, but you aren't in a mix so in order to hear anything at all you put way too much compression on.

Thing is, a studio engineer has the time and choice to select the right type of compressor for the particular part of a track he/she wants it for and then set it up just so.

What it does to an instrument in a  mix then is help prevent 'masking', this is where the envelope of the signal drops in such a way, either because of the player's technique or their instrument or their preferred tonal choices that some other instrument makes it hard to hear when it plays at the same time. Near the end of a mix when two instruments are masking each other I have found that a change of as little as 0.1dB can sometimes make a real difference to the way a pair of instruments sound in a mix.

Back to live then.

If you are trying to use a compressor to help you be heard in a mix you need very very little for it to make a difference.

If you are using compression for a definite effect then you may need bucket loads.

If you like your tone as it is but feel you sometimes 'disappear' in the mix and are constantly turning up, then a transparent compressor, set just right, could be the answer to the fight.

But you need good critical listening skills, you need to do this 'in the mix' unless you have great metering on the pedal to help you out otherwise you probably will put too much compression on the sound in order to hear it happening.

Compression is difficult to master when you are in the safe space of a mix down with no distractions and lots of time to experiment. In order to make it 'easier' to use many pedals have no 'confusing' metering and not all the required parameters to really control the compression. This is a double edged sword, no metering and 'doing it by ear' are nigh on impossible with a transparent compressor unless you are setting it up in situ in the mix. On the other hand a full featured compressor is waaay to complex for an average bassist to get the best out of, and also remember that little detail about setting it right for a particular song? Well you cant with an always on compressor, so you have to set it to help you a little bit all the time, and that's another skill.

Ultra low ratio (1.5 to 1 even), very low threshold, slow-ish attack (50 to 80 ms) and fast release (less than 30ms) giving not more than 3dB total compression on the loudest parts is probably a good target for a general touch of compression type of setting on bass live IME. No you can't really hear or feel it if you are just playing solo (don't be concerned if when playing normally the 3dB light doesn't light up at all, you are still getting some compression if your threshold is set right). In the mix you will be easier to hear, whether you are a loud or quiet band. Not because of tonnes of compression but because your individual note envelopes are changed just a smidge so that the post transient part of the note envelope is a touch louder than before.

Hope that makes some sense, probably not though :)"

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1 hour ago, BigRedX said:

What's your signal chain from bass to cab? You may well already have something doing the job of a compressor in there without knowing it. Definitely so if you have anything with valves in it.

Erm .... A lead 😊 Literally that is it. I've never been a big fan of pedals so bass, lead, head and speakers.

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4 minutes ago, Linus27 said:

Erm .... A lead 😊 Literally that is it. I've never been a big fan of pedals so bass, lead, head and speakers.

What's your bass amp? Does it have valves in it?

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1 minute ago, BigRedX said:

What's your bass amp? Does it have valves in it?

No, just a Markbass LMIII and 2 x Markbass N.Y. 112's. Previously to that I had an EBS Reidmar and their classic 112's. 

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1 hour ago, Osiris said:

I personally won't leave home without one, compression has become an essential tool for me, and like you I've been playing and gigging for 30 odd years. 

Compression is a very decisive issue among bassists, some love it as I do, some people hate it and most people are probably indifferent to it. But as with most things there's no real right or wrong answer, just what works for you.

However, I do think compression is widely understood by some people who expect to hear it as an obvious effect - it isn't. Effective compression is subtle and not always obvious, until you turn it off that is! Some people when experimenting with compressors assume that they are not doing anything so tend to set them until they can hear the squash working, the trouble is by that time you have completely squashed the life and dynamics from your bass tone, which seems to be the main complaint from those who do not like them.  Less is more with compression. Properly set up they do not kill your dynamics, but allow you a more controlled bass tone that sits better in the mix than an uncompressed one, in my experience at least. 

I've gotten embroiled in this subject more than once, but Osiris says everything I would right here!

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38 minutes ago, Linus27 said:

Erm .... A lead 😊 Literally that is it. I've never been a big fan of pedals so bass, lead, head and speakers.

you might benefit then, I forgot to mention I use a bassdrive sim which slightly overdrives the signal which acts as a compressor, forgot about that :facepalm:

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Yep, pick player, through a driven Sansamp, into an Ashdown ABM with valve pre, not much need for compression on my part, am sure I`ve got all I need with these.

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Few of mentions of plec/fingers- totally irrelevant I'd say!

The attack control can affect how apparent compression is- a slow attack will leave the enhanced pluck of a plec in place, but a fast attack will clamp it down and have a more noticeable effect.

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11 minutes ago, tandark said:

If I play almost always with a pick, am I stupid by looking at compressors?

No, nobody is "stupid" or "wrong" for looking, and nobody "does/ does not need" one universally.

Compressors have a threshold which is the point at which the compression actually kicks in. You could theoretically set this threshold (if your pedal has such a control) quite high so that it only compresses notes that are abnormally loud. Or set the threshold low so that every note is being compressed, but maybe only use a small ratio (amount of compression. There are compressors that are very subtle and do more to add a bit of fatness (especially ones with a blend control) and there are compressors that are very squashy and are almost more of an effect (the common example is a Ross compressor and the sound of clean Telecaster guitar riffs in classic country).

In short, some compressors are more utilitarian, some are more of an effect. Unfortunately there's not a universal, "best for beginners" compressor because everyone is different: it depends on your bass, playing style, tone settings, amp, etc. as to whether you'll find a compressor does something you need, want, or like.

If you find that you get a bit over excited and pop a few notes that are just way too loud, then a compressor or limiter can help with that and can be set in such a way as to not affect your average riffage.

While tubes do compress your signal a bit naturally, and overdrive is a form of compression, that does not mean there is a 1:1 correlation between "me have tube amp" or "me use overdrive" and "me no need compressor." 

Live sound guys put compression on almost every signal from my experience, and definitely put a limiter on every signal. Finally, you haven't heard a record made in the last few decades that didn't have liberal amounts of compression on every single signal.

Edited by jposega

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14 minutes ago, tandark said:

If I play almost always with a pick, am I stupid by looking at compressors?

I refer you to my above post!

You can still use one to give yourself a more consistent position in the mix, you can enhance or reduce plec attack, you can affect the sustain of your notes, all sorts!

Comps are for reducing dynamic range (for the purposes of good), and for modifying the envelope of the notes. Anything can be compressed, and usually is on a recording. From voices to drums to chicken squawks, it can all benefit from, or at least be altered by, compression. The notion that they work on fingerstyle and not plectrums is... well, I don't want to say it, but... it's a little daft.

Edit: Bit of crossover there with jposega- the ol' typin' an' postin' switcheroo!

Edited by Jus Lukin
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18 hours ago, BigRedX said:

What's your signal chain from bass to cab? You may well already have something doing the job of a compressor in there without knowing it. Definitely so if you have anything with valves in it.

 

17 hours ago, Linus27 said:

Erm .... A lead 😊 Literally that is it. I've never been a big fan of pedals so bass, lead, head and speakers.

 

17 hours ago, Linus27 said:

No, just a Markbass LMIII and 2 x Markbass N.Y. 112's. Previously to that I had an EBS Reidmar and their classic 112's. 

I love the simplicity of this. I've been gigging for the past three years with just bass, lead and Markbass combo. It just works, right?

Then I discovered the slippery slope of pedals via this 'evil' :) forum and I suspect my 2018 bass tone is about to be corrupted forever with multi-fx and dedicated  pedals providing additional dirt, octave down, chorus, tremolo, delay, EQ, synth, compression and HPF and LPF. Lol!

It's a LOT of fun for sure (and hey isn't that what it's all about at the end of the day?) but whether band mates and audiences end up (i) giving me that look or (ii) notice any positive difference remains to be seen!

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Ive been gigging for nearly 20 years. Id never used a compressor.

Then recently i joined a tribute band where the bassist i was to try and be plays constantly all over the neck rather than just in the low pockets (which had been my previous playing style).

It became immediately obvious to me that my higher lighter strings where much quieter and needed balancing out.

Compressors had always confused me due to their 4 or 5 dials and undescript titles.

As luck had it i bought an amp that had a one dial compressor on and it was a revelation. Just using a tiny bit balanced my sound and tightened nicely with no loss of tone.

Id describe compression as the effect that shouldnt be needed. The kind of 'how you should sound' using just bass and amp - a nice and rich balanced volume and sound. Certainly not anything anyone would notice on hearing your tone for the first time, apart from yourself as you know how your sound is without it, but definitely a real improvement tool to use.

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Mmmmm.....an Interesting topic. 

 

The other day I actually used the amps built in compressor, at a venue I play at regularly. I couldn't really hear the difference but the drummer, who knows nothing about compressors, turned to me and said ' You have a great sound tonight, I can hear every note'.

My impression of compressors, is that you can't hear them working until unless you set the threshold low enough that they start squashing your sound, which then kills your dynamics. But obviously I've been using them incorrectly (the very few times I have used them in the past). 

Edited by gjones

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