Episode 012: Smash It with a Compressor

A compressor smoothes out your bass sound, or squashes it flat. Learn how to get the sound you want.

Music: Jahzzar, Please Listen Carefully; spinningmerkaba, Urbana-Metronica (wooh-yeah mix). Image: David Pacey.

Show notes

  • What is a compressor?
    • Squashes signal that gets past a certain level
    • Considered a must-have effect for bass, vocals, some other instruments too
    • Dave, do you use one? What kind?
      • Yes – Recent convert (back story)
      • Aguilar TLC – Level/Threshold/Attack/Slope
    • Paul, do you use one? What kind?
      • Not when I’m practicing but almost all the time otherwise!
      • Sometimes it’s the one built into my multi-pedal. I used to have an MXR pedal. I have an Alesis 3630 on an old amp in my office. And I have a Markbass tube compressor pedal I use sometimes.
  • Think about it as turning down the volume when the signal gets loud
    • This also means you can turn up the entire level without worrying about the signal going past a certain point
    • Loud peaks get less loud, and quiet parts get less quiet
    • Evens out your playing, but can that be a crutch?
  • Controls
    • Some compressors have a simple control… more or less, one knob
    • Most pedals or other units have multiple controls, let’s go through them
    • Threshold
      • This is how loud things have to get before you start clamping down
      • Affected by how loud your bass signal is to start with
    • Ratio
      • How much to clamp down once you pass the threshold
      • 2:1 means for every 2dB the signal would have gone up, it will only go up 1dB. 3:1 is even more clamping, and so on. (1:1 would be none.)
    • Attack
      • How fast should the compressor jump on the signal once it passes the threshold?
      • The faster the attack, the more the “pop” of a transient or peak will be smooshed out. Slower means more attack but at the risk of jumping out
    • Release
      • How fast should the compressor let go of the signal once it falls?
      • Longer release means more sustain, shorter release is more natural
    • Knee
      • Hard knee means the compressor pretty much follows the threshold setting more precisely
      • Soft knee means it starts to react before the threshold, but is fully on by the time the threshold is reached
    • Level, Output, or other makeup gain control
      • Allows you to compensate for the squash in volume by turning everything up
  • Indicator light or meter
    • You can use this plus your ears to play with your compressor and listen to what happens as you play
    • Try to use a consistent attack and playing style so you’re making a fair comparison
    • Some meters use a “GR” setting, for Gain Reduction

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.