Do Compressors still allow for Dynamic Playing?

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

  1. s3gle

    s3gle Member

    Apr 6, 2018
    Good question, the exact same settings from the same pedal into the same amp can give people or even just you the impression of either, increased or less dynamics. I believe this comes from minute variations in the pick hand, your ear for always on compression/vice versa, and time passing between sessions lowering your focus on such details--

    My point is, my cheap dyna copy has always been for getting into the early section of the pre's with something not as stringy and harsh as the raw pickup output. For example, the Strat's got 3 really similar bell tones on clean picking at the bridge, and the Jazzmaster or a Tele is a characteristic flatter, thinner balance that coasts through releases better. Whereas to BF/SS normally the pickup selector going dry is much more varied, and dynamic analysis is p much thrown out the window (for all settings). This is so the speaker blast has a good, rubbery brake to it, and isn't always so metallic feeling. Sorry for no technical relationship to this, other than I used to boost above unity with the gain and notice very little dynamic difference back down to it in a new chain.

    I will say that losing dynamics is key for alternating switchback runs on non adjacent strings, but that at volume the color/limiting effect of heavy compression (which I only use, and never change) will grind your "run", controlled feedback, physical mechanics in the magnet, etc, to a halt without some pretty intensive compensation in the hands. Again, sometimes that's really how I feel, and other days it is almost not noticeable.

    Do I think compressors are important, or give the artist too much ease with which to play some kinds of imitative music? No, not really, but I do think they will help people love the sound of their amp, to where they may be surprised by what that does to their manual techniques (for the worse, usually. I go through this regularly) End of the day, comp is the electric sound that suits a mellow approach to performance pressure, and I'll use it often probably when I'm playing well. Technically though, reducing "dynamics" at the pedal's position in chain is what its being measured for, and functionally does. After postamp, in the room however- recognizing this from click-clacking the player against the sound isn't what I'd call reduced in their ability to control ranges on the instrument. Using a Route 66 comp for many years
  2. StompBoxBlues

    StompBoxBlues Member

    Sep 20, 2005
    under the stars
    I got as far as this post, I know previous posts were hinting at the point you made so well, that it tames highs (of course depending on how it is set) but also raises the low volume up.

    I noticed some years back it being a “thing” on vocals. There were a roach of songs where you could almost hear the licking of lips, spittle, I mean you had an ear to someone mouth.

    and someone upstream also mentioned that popping country type sound.

    in my mind when I first started getting into compressors, I liked to think of it simply as an engineer at the mixing board that reacted to the sounds according to your instructions. So if you told him, “make sure no sounds get very much louder than the norm” he would be a very quick guy to bring the fader down when som sound started getting loud...or you could tell him to do it only when the sound had gotten loud for a while. This is attack.
    Then you tell him how much to lower it, that is compression ratio. But you also tell him if the sounds get quiet, raise them up. Even things out, etc.

    maybe it’s weird, but all controls on compressors really can be pictured as a very flexible minded engineer, following your basic instructions about what to do with the faders in any given circumstance. So when reading the controls on any given compressor just think “what would this actually be as an instruction to the tiny engineer at the mixing board in my pedal as to how to adjust the fader and when, and how much?”

    so for the OP, you want to tell the engineer to be kinda slow to react and lazy. Don’t move the faders all that much, and only listen to general levels, don’t try and control it all.

    but I’m no expert. It was also good advice to just start with compress ratio at min and work your way up, trying in small stages play a while and just listen see what you think.
    I do think, many complain about OD compressing signal, so if you have it before OD into like a TS-9 it might get too compressed.

    But I’ve also learned a good deal from some of the great responses here, other ways to think of it, or use it!
    Last edited: Oct 16, 2019
    mindsfinest and Atmospheric like this.
  3. slayerbear17

    slayerbear17 Member

    Aug 13, 2010
    I used the Donner Ultra Comp to tighten up my sound on a 6505+ and holy smokes am I ever loving this thing. I still have the dynamics in my playing, the comp is set very lightly.
  4. StompBoxBlues

    StompBoxBlues Member

    Sep 20, 2005
    under the stars
    You hit on another point I meant to make.
    We guitarists tend to want a pedal to DO something, something we really notice. I think this is the problem, and one I struggled with a while back.
    a guitarist, used to od, fuzz, vibe, phasers, wah, etc, most often are really affecting the signal to where you can’t miss it.
    So we get our first compressor, and we dial it until we hear it really affecting the sound. Can work if you want that sound, but it takes feel and real listening to make an adjustment, then play a while, turn the pedal off, on again, and notice that IT IS actually “doing something” but it just isn’t a huge noticeable effect.
    Which would be the only way to keep dynamics as the OP wants to do.
    And using it for a while, you will get used to it, and think “why do I even have this pedal? I like my sound, but is it doing anything?”.

    You might be hard put to when playing with a band to be sure if the pedal is on or off when not looking at it.

    It is a subtle effect. Which if you used to other pedals, is unusual. You could turn it off, on again, and notice maybe less cut through the mix when off, or slight difference,but then you might think “yeah, but a boost would do that too...and be less subtle about it” but of course the compressor is doing more than a boost would it’s just not obvious or when you get used to the new sound, doesn’t seem to be helping overall as much as it really is!

    Used to do as the OP (and maybe most of us) wants, keeping dynamics means one has to listen more closely to the overall “feel” and sound. Which in itself maybe is a very good thing too!
    Last edited: Oct 16, 2019
    jrw32, mindsfinest and eigentone like this.
  5. Atmospheric

    Atmospheric Supporting Member

    Dec 5, 2005
    Newberg, OR
    It’s probably worth mentioning that while I find some amount of compression essential for a good live mix, I don’t particularly like the sound of it when not playing in a band mix (i.e., just working on sounds alone in my studio).

    I’ve also never been cared for compression down chain, especially post-dirt. I know others have good results doing that but I never have.
  6. vibrostrat43

    vibrostrat43 Member

    Aug 25, 2011
    League City, Tx
    You can definitely still have plenty of dynamics with a compressor. The only reason you can get cranked amp to sound relatively the same volume with your guitar's volume rolled back is due to compression. I've never heard anyone say that a great amp cranked up lacks dynamics, and yet they are often very compressed. The picking dynamics end up varying the amount of breakup rather than the amount of actual volume which is due to compression and due to where the compression is happening in your signal chain (within the amp/after or in combination with your dirt).

    My recommendation is to put it after your overdrives to retain that kind of dynamic. You also don't have to set them to squash everything to within an inch of it's life and can be just fine with it first in your chain to even out picking dynamics a bit. That kind of setup is great for rhythm guitar to get a bit more consistency in your level of breakup between strums, but it can still be left to breathe plenty.

    I do heavily recommend getting one with a mix control as allowing in clean, non-compressed, signal mixed with the compressed signal can really open up the benefits without destroying dynamics.
    jrw32 and mindsfinest like this.
  7. eigentone

    eigentone Supporting Member

    Jun 26, 2015
    Yes, and because there are several things which can effectively compress a guitar signal (pedals, distortion, amp) a little more compression in a different place isn't always an obvious effect. Especially on a cramped stage. That compressor may feel or behave more like a Boost with all the other stuff going on in the guitar/effects/amp setup.

    Like reverb or echo, it can be really subtle in an ensemble. Or not. Depends on how you use it.
    StompBoxBlues likes this.
  8. CharAznable

    CharAznable Member

    Aug 26, 2008
    Leesburg, VA
    Trey Anastasio was a very dynamic player in the early Phish albums and used compression
  9. mindsfinest

    mindsfinest Member

    Jun 15, 2019
    These responses have been a big eye opener. I seriously appreciate all the advice. Most have said how a compressor complements dynamics and I am really eager to try one for myself. I like the idea of having a mix control so that your dry signal can also be heard to an extent. I am also really interested in how it could effect the tone of my strat. People have mentioned controlling high frequencies which is something I never considered a compressor would do and something I would find useful on my bridge at times.
    RockDebris likes this.
  10. RockDebris

    RockDebris Member

    Feb 8, 2015
    And I'll add to those who say compressors can really complement to dynamics, which on a technical side some people may find counter-intuitive. I think when a lot of guitarist start messing with a compressor, they do it playing solo in their own space, trying to figure out what it's for. Of course, doing that way, you can already hear everything you play without a compressor, and the adjustment made by a well set compressor are subtle, so the effect isn't obvious. Then turning the knobs to make the effect more obvious in a solo situation can lead to a negative view. But it's in the mix with a band that those subtleties have impact. In other words, having the quietest playing or sustain raised by +2dB alone in a room is no big deal, but having it raised by +2dB in a band mix is a fairly significant event. Once you can hear your soft playing, and your loud playing still sits right, you'll gravitate to playing more dynamically.
    junu, mindsfinest and StompBoxBlues like this.
  11. candid_x

    candid_x Supporting Member

    Jan 1, 2007
    I took dynamics in this case to refer to volume peaks and dips, not to do with stylistic playing.
  12. FOTM704

    FOTM704 Member

    Apr 15, 2017
    I bought a VERY dynamic/touch sensitive amplifier and found my 2 knob compressor took the life out of the amp. I upgraded to an Analogman with mix knob and I've been super happy ever since
    candid_x likes this.
  13. Gibson Dog

    Gibson Dog Silver Supporting Member

    Feb 1, 2018
    Los Angeles
    I didn't read through all of these but I'm sure you've gotten mostly the same answers I would give.

    If you're using a Compressor correctly it increases dynamics not the other way around. That being said it's one of if not the hardest pedals/effects to get right for your situation but be patient it's definitely worth it.

    Personally I love the DryBell Unit 67 (I will never not use one of those as long as I'm alive, they have a really cool black anniversary model now) If you contact them tell Martina I said hi - they're some of the nicest people you'll ever deal with.

    The Origin Cali 76 is insanely great!! No wrong or bad choice between those two the DryBell is a little easier to dial in.
    Last edited: Oct 22, 2019
    Ramhead likes this.
  14. Javiceres

    Javiceres Member

    Jul 20, 2016
    Yes you can :)
    The degree and fashion of those dynamics depend heavily in the particular compressor AND the settings you choose.
    Also it’s worth noting that parallel compressor with their mixing the compressed and dry signals allow for very expressive playing while yielding the goods of compression such as longer sustain. Again depending on the settings.
    Oh, btw, it also depends on where in the chain is the compressor used.
    An ideal setting would be using one after the mic preamp of the mic that’s recording your guitar for example. But you can use them even as the first pedal in your chain and have really nice results.
    Have a nice compressors’ world trip. ;)
  15. Acrobattico

    Acrobattico Member

    Oct 5, 2019
    You definitely can, with sustain knob around 10/11 an level just below noon or so. Experiment with attack knob if you have one. And if sometime you can try your amp at high I mean HIGH volume, engage/disengage the pedal, and hear what natural compression do, that way you can recreate that tone with a compressor at home level.
  16. cardinal

    cardinal Member

    Feb 26, 2008
    People seem to be conflating different things?

    OP wants to preserve the difference in volume between playing softly and playing aggressively? If so, I think that's exactly what compression is intended to avoid?

    Others are talking about preserving the difference in tone between playing softly and playing aggressively but still being able to clearly hear the soft playing. That is where compression helps by preventing the loud parts from getting too loud, right?
  17. supersoldier71

    supersoldier71 Member

    Jan 27, 2010
    Fayetteville, NC
    I recently got a Boss CS3 mostly on a whim. I got it home and started tweaking and it didn’t take too long to figure out what I’d use it for.

    As others have mentioned, I use it to add sustain to clean stuff.

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