Do Compressors still allow for Dynamic Playing?

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

  1. Vaibhav Joshi

    Vaibhav Joshi Member

    Jun 13, 2019
    There's an in between land where they fit in.
    I play fingerstyle & didn't like the Dyna Comp type compressors.
    But they help normalise the difference b/w the pick & fingers to some extent & help your touch become audible.
    Again relative to your taste, too much dynamic range can get in your way as well.

    However what I like is the natural compression that amps/pedals provide.. turn your guitar signal down & turn up the amp.. it adds compression & harmonics in a natural way.
    Also, the comps with blend control should be very handy. A parallel dry signal is very helpful.
    For legatos also they can be useful to get some pull offs come through. But when playing at home, I haven't felt the need for them.

    I want to use it for recording though because my double stops didn't come through when I tried without it & I play cleans-low gain.

    Surprisingly, everything in your chain changes the dynamic range a little & I've found myself reducing my already minimal signal chain. Right now, I go guitar > Amp.
  2. BlueRiff

    BlueRiff Member

    May 19, 2016
    I've tried these things live about 4-5 times - high end ones with blended clean and compressed - using compression minimally. I HATE compressors as a guitar effect - only in recordings or maybe being applied overall to a live sound. I'm sure many live players I see use them and sound great. The feel (picked sting to amp response) is awful to me so I probably don't know how to use them. I figured if its so hard for me to get a great sound and feel from them - I shouldn't be using them.
    HeavyCream and Tone_Terrific like this.
  3. Abram4235

    Abram4235 Member

    Jun 24, 2015
    It's not just volume that is evened out. It's also the attack of the note and the sustain. So when I use a compressor (cali76CD) it actually makes things more lively sounding. I set the attack low and release high and mix in the dry signal as well. So the notes sound like they have a "pop" to them and each note sustains longer. I set mine like this FWIW:


    I dont use it as much as I used to but ill use it when strumming clean chords or for quiet clean playing so I can still be heard in a mix.
    Silver Hand likes this.
  4. Kreso

    Kreso Member

    Nov 10, 2007
    Too far...
    So far this has been one of the most useful and constructive threads on this forum! :D
    I also used to dislike compressors and just recently discovered how useful they can be, so this is really insightful.
    Abram4235 and buzzp like this.
  5. Mark Robinson

    Mark Robinson Gold Supporting Member

    Sep 9, 2002
    Redondo Beach, California
    My not so secret weapon for years is a Carl Martin Compressor. Full featured, with a good manual, and now they have made the unit less tall, and able to be powered without the 120V cord. It has way less noise than most stomp box compressors, in terms of hiss, but it isn't noise free.

    I use mine as a clean boost, and treble detail enhancer for both clean and dirty sounds, mostly, but it also will squish and sustain if you set it that way. It also stacks with other overdrives to amazing sustain utility.
  6. Daytona57

    Daytona57 Member

    Sep 26, 2017
    Diamond compressor, optical, compression, 3:1 ratio. It has a tilt EQ, compression and volume controls. It is very simple to operate.

    The Diamond compressor is very flexible and can be used for acoustic, electric and 4 string bass. Picking dynamics are retained and more sustain is available. The volume control can be set for different guitar pickups.

    I prefer to place the Diamond compressor after overdrives as a final control of the signal path for volume and tone, before going into the amp.

    Sociophile and awallace like this.
  7. Judas68fr

    Judas68fr Member

    Jan 24, 2014
    An amp set 'at the verge of break up' acts as a compressor as well. When you play soft it's clean, when you hit the strings hard it breaks up, and limits the volume spike while doing so.

    The compressor will allow you to let some things through (using the attack setting), and increase your sustain (release). So unless you go nuts with extreme compressor settings, it will still allow for dynamic playing, just in a little more controlled fashion.
  8. Pill's_Ghost

    Pill's_Ghost Member

    Jun 27, 2019
    Abingdon, VA
    I've been down this road as well.
    I began trying out compressors while looking for a subtle effect that would be more of an enhancement to my sound. Something that would help fill out and sustain chords, give a little extra sparkle and sumptin' sumptin'yet not completely flatten out the dynamics.

    I was playing a maple necked single coiled Strat exclusively at the time and needed something to fatten it up a bit and smooth those highs.

    I went through 3 cheaper compressors, each sort of promising to get what I was after but none delivering. I found with all the cheaper ones it was a big give and take. When I could finally dial in the compression enough to make the difference I was after they would always squash and sort of sterilize everything, if I pulled back the compression enough to get my dynamic tone back the effect would pretty much dissapear. So basically no real subtlety to be had.

    I was about to give up on compressors when I decided to spend a little more and at least try a more serious offering before I wrote the effect off completely. That's when I noticed the huge difference between say a $30 compressor and a $100 compressor which was a mix knob. None of the cheaper compression pedals have them.

    It basically came down to the Exotic SP and the Pigtronix Philosopher's Tone. I ended up with the Philosopher's Tone after seeing a demo and endrsement from Dweezil Zappa for it. (Also everybody has the Exotic SP on their board and I like being a little different).

    Long story short, I set the Philosopher's Tone to all very conservative settings, plugged in, strummed a chord and it was like... ahhhh... that's the stuff! It's difficult to describe but it just seemed to make everything sound better without sounding different, squashed, or noisy. The ability to control the compressed tone and dry tone via the mix knob is certainly key to a good compression pedal in my opinion. I have my mix usually at 1/4 to 1/3 up and that's enough to bring the magic yet stay out of the way.

    Moral of the story: don't be cheap when it comes to compression. Most other effects pedals have some really decent offers on the cheaper side, but not compression. It's ironic that you really have to pay more to get what is essentially a really subtle effect.
  9. EastHastings

    EastHastings Member

    Jan 19, 2016
    One thing that surprises me is how few comp pedals include an attack knob. It's one of the most important controls for a compressor, yet a ton of pedals still don't include it. People are always asking for a blend control, but I've found I don't need it when I can set a longer attack.
    stratmaniac likes this.
  10. A. Deafman

    A. Deafman Member

    Sep 19, 2019
    Ottawa, Canada
    An amplifier with any amount of gain tends to compress the signal, so I shy away from comp boxes. But they can be useful in context of a band mix, when sonic conditions are less than ideal.

    I find also the way some amps "sag" (due to the rectifier or other factors) tends to clamp down on the attack of a guitar signal such that a separate compressor may or may not be useful depending on what you like to hear.

    The compressor-as-effect, like in some chicken-pickin genres, can sound cool.
  11. RockDebris

    RockDebris Member

    Feb 8, 2015
    Absolutely, you can play with dynamics. Compressors are a lot more about what can be heard in a mix. There’s soft playing and then there is whether or not anyone heard it. If you were in the studio mixing a song, the engineer may bring your volume up, but it didn’t change you dynamics. Whatever the tonal change was by playing softer is still there.

    compression on guitar is also about sustain. In a mix, a clean guitar playing single note lines needs adjustment. The “hold” volume of a note drops so fast after the attack, in a mix you’ll have problems even if the guitar has great natural sustain. Either the attack of the note is ear shattering loud and the sustain is heard, or the attack is well placed and there seems to be no sustain.

    additionally, Much of the cherished characteristics of a cooking tube amp is compression. Some people are right that they don’t need compression if they are getting all of it they need by the parameters of the gear and gig performance levels.

    a lot of what a compressor is used for rely flies under the radar, just as in listening to recorded material and loving the guitar tone and not even knowing all the manual adjustments being made over time or even automatic adjustments made with compression.

    But then there is the compressor used a as an obvious effect, such as funk rhythms where every string rake is heard to enhance the groove.

    all in all, I’m very glad you started a thread based on questioning your past assumptions and not sticking to a rigid belief anymore. Compressor are not cheats. They don’t rob you off your playing dynamics. They can be used very poorly by people without much understand why or how to use them. Even people who know how they work may not necessarily understand the application of them.
    Last edited: Oct 16, 2019
    mindsfinest and Fantastic cook like this.
  12. mude

    mude Supporting Member

    Oct 14, 2002
    I have also used a compressor to push the front end of an amp harder (boost) and to increase sustain.

    awallace likes this.
  13. Terry Hayes

    Terry Hayes Member

    Oct 3, 2003
    There is no law that says a compressor has to be on all the time either. I use mine for specific things but rarely do I leave it on for extended periods.

    It is great on country stuff as I can use the bridge pickup without things being super bright. Plus, as others mentioned, it makes things "pop" which is very nice to enhance the attack when chicken picking.
    Abram4235, mindsfinest and candid_x like this.
  14. Godspeed64

    Godspeed64 Member

    Jul 12, 2008
    I use a late Attack and a quick Release precisely to maintain my dynamics.
    jrw32 and Abram4235 like this.
  15. vtgearhead

    vtgearhead Silver Supporting Member

    Aug 24, 2016
    Burlington, VT
    Long time audio systems person here. My main gripe with guitar compressors is how so bloody few of them provide threshold and/or gain reduction indication. If you have great ears, you can probably dial in by ear, but for my $0.02 worth it's optimal to KNOW what is going on rather than infer. Shame on all major modelers for not providing any indicators. Everyone is guilty. Of Line 6, Atomic, Fractal and Kemper, won't someone step up and implement gain-reduction readout? I get that it may be difficult to show this dynamically on the built-in display, but what's the excuse for not providing it in the PC / Mac editing program?
    Zappatalist likes this.
  16. MkIIC+

    MkIIC+ Silver Supporting Member Supporting Member

    Apr 30, 2018
    Phoenix, Arizona
    Using a compressor to shave off some high decibel peaks and modestly reduce the potential for hearing damage is worth the price of admission.
    Abram4235 and monty like this.
  17. candid_x

    candid_x Supporting Member

    Jan 1, 2007
    If you compare the sound of a powerful pop FM radio station with a PBS station, both broadcasting with 100k watt transmitters, the PBS will be dramatically more dynamic. The pop station's priority is more reach, in ears and geography, which they get by compressing the chit out of the signal at the highest output. Recording studios do the same thing. It's very easy to kill a mix with too much compression, but they'll redline faster with no or little compression. So pop and rock are typically mixed with more compression than say chamber music or jazz.

    It's the same for a guitar rig. You've mentioned how distortion compresses, but also pine cabs compress more, as do some amps more than others. All this needs to be considered when determining how and when to use a compressor. Another use is to eliminate feedback with PA systems.

    Compressors are a great tool, which are easy to overuse.
    monty likes this.
  18. Lucidology

    Lucidology Member

    Aug 14, 2006
    Monterey, CA
    Simple answer ... Yes ...
    Even would go so far as to say they help in the use of dynamics ...
  19. eigentone

    eigentone Supporting Member

    Jun 26, 2015
    Absolutely. Most compressors have one or multiple parameters to control where the compression kicks in (threshold) how much it affects the amplitude (ratio) and controls which allow you to customize the attack and/or release times. It's really not an all or nothing effect -- that would be a limiter with a very low threshold. A compressor with a high ratio (eg 10+:1) serves as a limiter. Keep the ratio and threshold low and you will maintain some dynamics.

    You can totally dial in a light compression as follows: high threshold, low ratio (2:1) and slow attack. The other modifier is the makeup gain. Compressors are often also used as boosts. So your preamp may be what's clipping if the output from the compressor is too high.

    I think compression is overused these days -- like too much salt and/or sugar in an otherwise nice dish. That out of the way… one example where compression can be nice is for cleaner tones where you want less drive but you still want a little more sustain like a driven tone.

    But the best thing to do is just play with them a little more. If you get an effect you really like, then maybe buy a compressor. If you just don't like the effect enough to add it to the board (like me) then it just doesn't make sense to buy it. And if you just want it for recording, there are many studio and plugin compressors available. Not that a compressor before the amp is the same as one after the mic.
    mindsfinest likes this.

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