A review of compression
For us guitarists, the word compression is one of those terms thrown around in the audio field that seems to have multiple meanings. From stompbox pedals to plug-ins to classic analog outboard gear, its fundamental use is to control the level of an audio signal and its dynamic range. But before leaping forward into some of its studio applications, let’s take a step back for a brief review.
Simply put, dynamic range can be thought of as the ratio (measured in dB or decibels) between the softest and loudest parts of an audio signal (when speaking of music). Just think about the sonic difference between which parts are loud and which are soft—I’m oversimplifying here, but you get the point. This can apply to individual instruments, like drums, bass, vocals and guitars, or to the full stereo mix. When people bitch about the Metallica disc having no dynamic range, it means that the stereo signal is squashed as loud as it can go, which for the most part fatigues the ears after a brief time. Everything is loud. This is generally done at the mix stage but the mastering engineer can also do it (though they hate to). Compare that to Led Zeppelin II, which you have to turn up to hear loud. I don’t mind twisting my volume knob, do you? The dynamic range on that disc effortlessly goes from loud to soft, and I can (and have) listened to it countless times. It seems to make for an easy listen.
Back in the studio, when we think about applying some compression to our recorded guitar parts, it involves tweaking the Threshold, Ratio, Attack and Release and Makeup Gain functions (among others). Threshold can be described as the level above which the signal is reduced, usually set in dBs. So, if your guitar signal spikes on a few notes above your threshold setting, that signal will be decreased. The Ratio is measured as the input/output ratio for the audio that jumps above the threshold. So at 3:1, that guitar peak that jumps 3 dB above the threshold will squash to just 1 dB above threshold. When a compressor has Attack and Release adjustments, these help control how fast or slow the compressor “hits.” Usually both set in ms (milliseconds), they control the amount of time the compressed signal squashes its signal and gets itself back below threshold, or to 0dB.
But what happens to your volume if your loud parts all get squashed when compressed? You can then use Makeup Gain to boost the overall level by a fixed amount, again measured in dBs. I often think of the volume fader as a compressor, which you can choose to ride manually versus compressing a signal to achieve a smoother overall sound. If you want to keep a mix sounding “airy” or “open,” try using no compression and just riding the fader for the whole mix. However, compressing guitars can really help add character. An excellent distorted/edgy guitar compressor is the Universal Audio 1176. Both in plug-in and hardware form, it provides an almost indescribable sound that works perfectly on guitars—squashing the stray peaks just right while adding a nice beefy thickness. Watch out though; sometimes it can be too much. When compressing a doubled or tripled part, I will set up an Aux (auxiliary) bus and use a single UA 1176 (or Eventide Omnipressor for extreme sounds) while sending all the guitars to it. This helps even out the overall guitar sound, and the compression settings will usually react favorably because the signals should be similar (since it’s a double). However, if the parts are different, sending them to the guitar compression bus doesn’t always work. This is because while the compressor’s attack and release may be reacting to one sound, a part with different peaks and valleys may begin to “confuse” the compressor. In these cases, I will usually apply a separate compressor directly to the track itself, or if you’re short on processor power, set up a second, lighter guitar compressor bus.
With acoustic guitars, I’ve found that the character of the Sonnox Dynamics or Waves Renaissance compressors work great because they almost invisibly affect the signal. With acoustics, I tend to like retaining as much Dynamic Range as possible, and compressors such as the ones above allow the compressed signal to still remain clean and crisp. You can easily set a nice 4:1 ratio with a relatively fast attack and release and then adjust the Threshold so that only the highest peaks reduce themselves. The point is that different compressors work in different ways and provide different sonic characteristics. Clearly, they are also affected by what type of guitar signal you put into them and how it was recorded. Strong aggressive compression will help punch guitars through a dense mix, while a light soft compression will retain more dynamic range. The only way to know what works best is to try out as many as you can and see what sounds right to your ears.
Rich is a producer, engineer and mixer who has worked with artists ranging from Al DiMeola to David Bowie . A life-long guitarist, he’s also the auther of Pro Tools Surround Sound Mixing and composes for such networks as Discovery Channel, Nickelodeon and National Geographic.
Looking for more great gear for the guitar player in your life (yourself included!)? Check out this year's Holiday Gear Finds!
D'Addario XPND Pedalboard
DR-05X Stereo Handheld Recorder
Wampler Pedals Ratsbane
Flare is a dual-function pedal with a tube-like booster and a 1970s-style ring modulator effect that can be played separately or together.
Flare’s ring modulator is based on the iconic tone of the original Dan Armstrong Green Ringer. This vintage classic was made famous by Frank Zappa who loved the unusual modulations created by generating a harmonic octave over notes. Messiah’s version offers two control knobs: a “Sparkle” tone attenuator and output Level control. Its taupe-gold body, purple and green knobs and stick-figure rock ’n’ roller holding up a flame convey an appropriately rockin’70s vibe.
In a unique twist, Messiah’s Flare pairs the ringer with a warm tube-style boost instead of a fuzz. Flare feeds the booster into the ringer for an extra punch, while preserving the Green Ringerspirit. The ringer side also turns any fuzz into an octafuzz, and it has the ability to quiet signal background noise fed through it.
The booster side features a single Boost knob to control the MOSFET circuit, making it very tube-amp-friendly with a warm, organic boost and gain of up to 32dB.
The pedal is a distinct improvement over the 1970s pedal that inspired it. “Most ringer pedals don’t track well,” Tom Hejda, owner of Messiah Guitars. “The player can’t rely on repeating the same effect even with the most consistently played notes. We carefully matched the components, so our ringer follows your every move, producing that slightly dirty octave you expect on demand.”
Messiah developed this vintage octave pedal with flexible features so that people who love that messy, dirty Zappa-esque sound can get there with ease but there’s also something for those who have not fallen in love with fuzz or the Green Ringer alone. Flare offers an array of sonic options while retaining simplicity in the controls.
Each Flair Pedal Includes:
- 3 control knobs: Boost, Sparkle, and Level
- Two effects – Ring Modulator and Boost – can be used together or separately
- Space-saving top side jacks
- Durable, cast aluminum alloy 125B enclosure with fun artwork
- Easy to see, illuminated True-bypass foot switch
- Standard 9V pedal power input
Flare Pedal Demo
Messiah Guitars pedals are designed with an explorative player in mind. Like their custom guitars and amplifiers, Messiah’s pedals are hand-crafted in Los Angeles for a long life with guaranteed quality.
Flare retails for $199.00 and can be purchased directly at Messiah Guitars or you can hear it in person at Impulse Music Co. in Canyon Country, CA.
For more information, please visit messiahguitars.com.
This feathery little guy is a joy to play because of its incredibly quick response to your right hand - much faster and more expressive than your typical auto-wah pedal.
If it looks like a duck, acts like a duck, and QUACKS like a duck, then it must be a duck. That's how we came up with the name for our new envelope filter. This feathery little guy is a joy to play because of its incredibly quick response to your right hand - much faster and more expressive than your typical auto-wah pedal. Trevor explains how this is possible in the launch video, as well as gives a demo on Le Canard’s operation.
The attack control determines how quickly the filter responds to the envelope, and the decay sets how quickly the filter releases afterward. The range controls which frequency spectrum the filter does its magic on. Add to this relay-based full-bypass switching with failsafe, and you've got one crazy little quacky beast. It is so expressive that you'll want to give up on your rocker-wah forever.
The MayFly Le Canard envelope filter features:
- Super fast responding envelope follower. Touch it and it jumps!
- Range control to dial in the character of the filter
- Attack control to control how fast the filter moves on that first touch
- Release control to control how slowly the filter slides back to baseline
- Full bypass using relays with Fail SafeTM (automatically switches to bypass if the pedal loses power)
- Cast aluminum enclosure with groovy artwork
- MSRP $149 USD ($199 CAD)
Introducing the MayFly Le Canard Envelope Filter
All MayFly pedals are hand-made in Canada.
For more information, please visit mayflyaudio.com.
Outlaw Effects introduces their next generation of NOMAD rechargeable battery-powered pedal boards.
Available in two sizes, NOMAD ISO is a compact, versatile tool that offers the convenience of a fully powered board plus the additional freedom of not having to plug into an outlet. NOMAD ISO is ideal for stages with limited outlet availability, quick changeovers, busking outdoors, temporary rehearsal locations, and more.
NOMAD ISO builds upon the legacy of the ultra-convenient and reliable NOMAD rechargeable pedalboard line originally launched in 2018. The brand new NOMAD ISO editions feature eight isolated outputs (1 x 9V DC, and 1 switchable 9V/12V DC) for even more versatility and clean, quiet power. With an integrated lithium-ion battery pack boasting 12800mAh capacity, NOMAD ISO can fuel a wide array of pedals, and will last over 10 hours* on a single charge.
Each NOMAD ISO pedal board includes adhesive hook & loop pedal-mounting tape, eight (8) standard DC connector cables, and one (1) reverse polarity DC cable, giving you everything you need to build your ultimate "off-the-grid" rig. A rugged, road-ready padded gig bag with shoulder strap is also included, to safely protect your gear while you're on the move.
NOMAD ISO S
NOMAD ISO S: MSRP $309 / MAP: $249
Dimensions: 19 ¼" x 5 ¼"
NOMAD ISO M
NOMAD ISO M: MSRP $349 / MAP $279
Dimensions: 19 ¼" x 11"
More info: https://www.outlawguitareffects.com.