Do Compressors still allow for Dynamic Playing?

Discussion in 'Effects, Pedals, Strings & Things' started by mindsfinest, Oct 16, 2019.

  1. mindsfinest

    mindsfinest Member

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    I am looking at compressors for the first time after playing for over 20 years... I think I have been put off by my ignorance about what they actually are and what they do.

    My thoughts and my ignorance:
    I have always questioned why you would want all your notes to be of similar volume. We control dynamics through our picking strength. If I hit a note hard, I want it to be loud and if I then finger pick a section softly, I want it to be quiet. This is what gives our solos dynamics and feel. So why would I want to compress that and remove a key aspect of making the guitar such an expressive instrument.
    Clearly, I am missing the point of a compressor as so many fantastic guitarists use them from David Gilmour to Slash.

    (I appreciate overdrive/distortion and tube amps all have a degree of compression in themselves. I also appreciate that a compressor can add sustain to single coils.)

    Question:
    Can you still play with a degree of dynamics with a compressor on, so that pick strength still shines through?
     
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  2. amz-fx

    amz-fx Supporting Member

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    If all of the notes are the same approximate volume, then the compressor is set incorrectly (unless you want that as an effect).

    The threshold control can be adjusted so that only peaks are reduced in volume to make the audio more even, but without losing the dynamics. If the threshold is set too aggressively then you run the risk of squashing the volume too much.

    Also, some compressors, such as the Keeley Compressor Pro, have a ratio control. This control can be set from 2:1 to 4:1 for an overall smoothness of volume but without sacrificing dynamics.

    regards, Jack
     
  3. dargiles

    dargiles Member

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    Short answer: yes. Especially if you find a compressor that also has a blend control, so your clean signal is on top (or below) your compressed signal.

    But compressors by their very nature are very complicated tools. They don't just make all your notes sound the same volume. Some compressors are actually squashing your sound from the lowest dynamic to the highest, others are limiting your peaking volumes to bring them to a more reasonable level (subjectively speaking), others are grabbing notes that are really low in the mix and just lifting them up to a more audible level. I think guitarists hear the word compressor and immediately jump to that classic country twang where every note just pops. Well that's certainly one way to use them, but not the only way. Sometimes they're great for solo boosts, eq, etc.
    Try this, set your compressor up with the compression/ratio/whatever knob set to off. Nothing happening in the pedal except whatever the volume knob is set at for unity gain. Then just start rolling some compression in, bit by bit. I guarantee you'll get a feel for it and find a sound you enjoy or at least one you can think of a practical use for. Remember, when you introduce a compressor into your signal chain, you now have to essentially play to the feel of the guitar, amp and compressor, for lack of a better explanation.
     
  4. mindsfinest

    mindsfinest Member

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    Thank you. So effectively you still have a degree of dynamic range between two points and everything else gets reduced to the max and min of those points?
     
  5. mindsfinest

    mindsfinest Member

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    Sounds like a really need to try one in person to get a proper feel for it. Can compressors do both, limit the peaks and limit the lows?
     
  6. FbIsNotE

    FbIsNotE Member

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    The "attack" control determines the point that the compressor starts to change anything.

    Not all compressors have an easily accessible attack control so choose carefully.
     
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  7. dargiles

    dargiles Member

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    The vast majority of compressors on the market are attempting to do ONE type of compression/limiting and no more. Sooooooo I guess the easiest way to put it is a dynacomp is not doing/for the same job as an orange squeezer, and neither are doing/for the same job as say a cali76. I'd say you should try a few out and see which fits the bill but take some time with them. Or just find your very favourite compressed guitar sound ever (that might just only have a hint of compression going on) and check out what gear that guitarist was using. In general there are some incredible and affordable options out there but you really won't know which is the one for you until you dive in and just hear the sound you like.
     
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  8. 71strat

    71strat Member

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    Best off mucking with the lows with an EQ.

    My favorite Limiters/Compressors are.

    Roger Mayer RM58, but is VERY $$$$. Used at Electric Ladyland, Altantic Records, A&R, Record Plant, and many many others. This is a real deal Limiter/Compressor. Will run both Line, or Instrument level.
    Same goes for the 615.

    Mayer 615. Smaller version of the RM58

    API Tranzformer GT. Also has Post EQ. API are highly regard in the studio, and have been since at least 68.

    Effectrode PC 2A

    [​IMG][​IMG]
     
    Last edited: Oct 16, 2019
  9. britishampsrock

    britishampsrock Member

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    I use my compressor after overdrives, so I can still be somewhat dynamic in my playing by hitting whatever drive I’m using first. Also, my compressor has a blend control, I keep it at about 1/3 of the way up, so I still have a lot of uncompressed signal coming through. It helps to add some extra sustain without getting too squashy.
     
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  10. JELIFISH19

    JELIFISH19 Member

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    And keep in mind that compressors deal with volume. So if you hit the strings hard, the volume reduces. And if you play softly, they'll almost bloom. You still have dynamics, it's just not in the sense of loud and quiet. It's a different feel. You can still tell when someone is playing loud and with a compressor, even with a lot of compression. Quieter notes won't be as squashed as louder notes. They don't kill dynamics, they introduce a different kind of dynamics.
     
  11. Atmospheric

    Atmospheric Supporting Member

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    I find that in a band mix, compression allows me to be more out front in the mix. If I want to lay back, I turn down my guitar volume. I don't feel as much like I have to muscle notes out there for them to be heard. That causes me to play more relaxed and not tense up so much, which tends to make my playing more fluid and musical.

    With comp first in chain, it functions as a re-tapering of the guitar volume control. This is most noticeable if your guitars are equipped with treble bypass caps. With the guitar volume turned down, the sound is clearer and brighter (due to the bypass cap). The comp ensures that the volume remains at a usable level. That actually makes the guitar volume control more dynamic for me because I can use more of its range.

    Also comps raise softer sounds to be more noticeable in the mix. While picking harder might not cause the sound to be louder, picking nuances are brought to the forefront. My pick attack has always been something uniquely personal about my playing. Compression has a way of making it even more noticeable.

    I've tried dozens of comps over the years, all the usual suspects, cheap and spendy. I currently use a Wampler Mini Ego. They can be had for ~$100 used and punch way above their weight class.
     
    Last edited: Oct 16, 2019
  12. ChrisP

    ChrisP Member

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    I don't have a lot of experience with compressors; I've only used the Boss CP-1x and the Keeley +. I had them at the same time and kept the Boss. *ducks*

    At high settings I can get the chicken pkn squash and that is cool but I mainly use it for boosting clean tones and it *just*sounds*better*. I hate to be so vague but at even a very little boost in level and almost NO compression it just sounds more present and sparklier. There is just no reason to not have it on when playing non-grind (it has it's applications there as well but I don't use it w/grind)
    It does remove some dynamic range but it works great in a mix, or even alone, and I don't find that it makes me play any differently.
    I read ALL about comps before I bought one and I had the exact questions you did.

    For the record, I bought it so I could increase sustain for clean-ish tones D.I. at church but I mainly use it for a volume boost. It *really* excels at that. I have a clean boost (Bad Bob Booster) and I actually prefer the Boss and I _love_ my BBB.
     
  13. JesterR

    JesterR Member

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    Yes, but if you need some opposite thing, then you use compressor. Pretty straightforward. Every effect has it's own place to use it. Same with compressor. And, of course, as with any other effect, you can decide how drastically it would change the sound.

    Like with overdrives(which, by the way technically also compress your sound): you can have a bit, or totally squashed. More transparent or some nice coloration. Different pedals, with different schematics and controls gives different results:

    I like my Wampler compressor for mix feature, and I like my MXR compressor for some tasty coloration from dyna comp schematic.
     
  14. drbob1

    drbob1 Silver Supporting Member

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    Compressors are a deep, deep rabbit hole. Just to scratch the surface:
    1. Controls. Most folks here are familiar with the Dynacomp as it's the cheap and easily available, and widely copied compressor. It's controls, compress and volume, really confuse people because they're not doing what you think they are. So, here's what controls can be and can do. Note that lots of compressors have only a subset of controls.
    -input gain-sets the floor of the signal, what the Dynacomp compression knob actually does. As you push this higher, the compressor circuit begins to affect more and more of the signal, until, yes, it is all once level.
    -attack-sets the delay between a note hitting the detector and the compression circuit engaging. This is important for the attack of a clean note. Usually this is the highest peak in a signal, and if you clip it off, your sound is going to be more "saggy" and smooth.
    -threshold-how loud the signal is before the compressor starts to affect it
    -knee-this is usually a switch for hard/soft and describes, once the compression starts to work, how aggressive it is on notes that just reach the threshold. Soft knee starts gently, hard knee kicks in hard right away.
    -compression-after your signal gets louder than the detection circuit threshold, how actively is it squashed. 2:1 means that for every volt the signal goes up the output goes up 1/2v. Ratios can go up to infinity to one, in other words the signal is "limited" to the threshold and can't go any higher. This is the difference between a limiter and a compressor.
    -release-once the compressor starts to do its thing, how long before it lets go. Set this quick and you may hear the compressor grabbing and letting go (pumping) which is an interesting effect but not usually what a guitarist wants. Set long it smoothly does its job.
    -makeup gain-since you're reducing the loudest part of the signal, the overall level is going to be less, in other words it's quieter, so you want to be able to put back some of that volume.

    2. Technology. This gets pretty deep. All compressors have a way to react if the signal reaches the threshold. The amplifier part (which turns DOWN the signal, weird behavior for an amplifier, I know) can be:
    -VCA-These tend to be pretty straight and clean in their behavior, more clinical, less mojo. Often have a full set of controls. Modern ones can use a "feed forward" design that detects spikes before they're amplified and, in effect, can start to limit before the signal crosses the threshold. But guitar players aren't gonna use that. OTOH, the OTA chip that the Dynacomp and most guitar pedals use, is closely related to this and, as you know, can be downright nasty.
    -LDR-using a light and light sensitive resistor to "turn things down" these tend to be very smooth and filled with mojo. Often very simple controls, like the LA-2A with its two knobs.
    -Tube (often called variable-mu, where the actual gain of the amplifier is adjusted by the detector). These tend to be massive and expensive. Is there one even built in a pedal (Lightening Boy used to have the option-mu, but it was only built for a year)
    -FET-more similar to the first type but with a bit more of a characteristic sound. This would be the 1176 and derived pedals. They tend to be more expensive.

    Here are some links that might help do a better job than I:

    http://www.ovnilab.com/articles/comptypes.shtml
    https://www.uaudio.com/blog/audio-compression-basics/
    https://www.4soundengineers.com/audio-compression-overview-how-does-compressor-work/
     
  15. FracStrat

    FracStrat Supporting Member

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    @jnam has a Really Nice Write-Up On Reddit explaining Compressors ……
    Personally , I use them for both Limiting and Sustain ……
     
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  16. tonedover

    tonedover Supporting Member

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  17. strumminsix

    strumminsix Supporting Member

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    Depends on the player and compressor. Most volume 10 players with 2 knob compressors probably cannot keep dynamics.

    Compressors which are acting more like limiters with a player who understand how compressors work, and who will adopt their approach with the new tools, yes, very much so.
     
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  18. Silent Sound

    Silent Sound Member

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    A lot of how a compressor effects your dynamics will depend on how the compressor works and what settings you're using. Some compressors, set up in certain ways, will make everything virtually the same volume. Others will just blunt the quick initial transients. You're ear will still hear the difference between a hard pick attach and a soft one, because the pick attack effects more than just the initial transient. And others still will leave the initial transient alone, and compress and then boost the tail end of your notes.

    So you can't really say anything about how a compressor will effect your dynamics without also stating which compressor and what settings you're using. It's kind of like asking will a new coat of paint change the color of my car. The answer is yes, sometimes, but not always, and even when it does, maybe not enough to notice unless you pay really close attention.
     
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  19. Sociophile

    Sociophile "Ignore" Button Aficionado Supporting Member

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    Yes, you can still have dynamics with a compressor on. Optical compressors and compressors with a mix knob are the two most obvious ways to maintain dynamics and not totally squash your signal.
     
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  20. mindsfinest

    mindsfinest Member

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    Thank you for all the replies, learning a lot here!

    The Cali 76 compressor seems very well respected and keeps coming up when googling top compressors. I will try and find out more of how this one works, then compare to the other options people have mentioned above.
     
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