View post (In a Nutshell – Compression)

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ren
Registered User
Joined: 02/03/05
Posts: 1,985
ren
Registered User
Joined: 02/03/05
Posts: 1,985
02/25/2010 5:15 am




The world of effects is a vast and complex one, a world that remains a mystery to many but that we guitarists must master if we are to find our own sound. From phasers to tremolo, from chorus to whammy... the possibilities are endless, and this complexity is compounded with each additional link in the chain. Effects are available in many guises today, with rack-mounted devices and software on our computers; however, we will concentrate on good old fashioned pedals.

This time we'll look at the compression pedal, used extensively by guitar players and in music generally – it is perhaps more of a 'utility' effect that is used almost constantly by some famous players. It may not be as obvious as a roaring overdrive or rockin' wah, but compression is important to guitar players nonetheless.


The Science

Compression, put simply, is a volume control. It flattens off the highest and lowest points of the sound wave resulting in more even volume throughout – boosting quiet parts whilst capping louder sections. This is useful to guitar players as it means we can use the whole dynamic range without either losing subtle inflections in our playing, or blowing the listeners' eardrums when it's time for the solo.

For a reasonably plain-English but more technical rundown of compression, click here .



In Use

Compression is used in the industry generally to smooth audio signals, in live performance situations to level out volume and help overcome background noise and in recording to give balance to a piece. In use as a guitar effect I find it offers more 'edge' to the sound – a sparse, brittle quality that I find helpful to give character to clean passages. Compression also has the happy side effect of increasing sustain, which can again be useful to the guitar player. It doesn't necessarily lend itself well to layering with distortion though, as all harmonics are levelled out and the result can be quite messy. Attack and release settings can usually be tweaked on the pedals to change the speed at which the pedal reacts to changes in signal. Personally, I tend to pull the attack up pretty high which makes the signal boost faster in reaction and results in a more aggressive tone with more pick noise. That might not sound like a good thing, but it works for me.


Products

As with most other guitar pedal effects, there are a huge number of compression pedals available today. The big name products that are considered the standard by which others are judged are the Keeley compressor, MXR Dynacomp, and the BOSS CS-3 Compression Sustainer. Each have their pro's and cons and it's very much a personal preference / brand allegiance decision. When I think of a compressed guitar sound in the context of modern guitar playing, I think of John Frusciante of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. His sparse guitar tone is easily achievable with most if not all compression pedals, so other factors like cost and design probably come in to play a little more here than they perhaps would with distortion or Wah. Guitar tone in the Country music genre is often heavily compressed, and to my ear the Keeley's voicing is a little more at home here than the BOSS so if Country is your thing check out the Keeley.

Were I to make a recommendation for the 'must-have' pedal on your pedalboard, my vote would go to the BOSS CS-3. I find it easy to use and adjust and much like the rest of the BOSS range, it's pretty much indestructible and has coped for years with the abuse I offer it... but as ever your ears must be your guide.

So that's compression in a nutshell...

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