Nine Ways to Use a Compressor Pedal

Are you confounded by compressors? Easily misunderstood and often underutilized, this squishing and squashing effect can be a real asset to your rig if used right. As Dan & Mick uncovered this week, however, there is no single right way to use a compressor. In their tour of all things compression they prescribed eleven — distilled down to nine in practice — strategies for how a compressor can add to the dynamics of your sound and enhance the versatility of your rig.

1. That Country Picking Sound

As Dan summed up, “compression is an effect that we hear with country stuff all the time.” Simply put, the recipe of a Fender Telecaster, compressor pedal, and Fender Amp is unmistakably associated with quick runs populated with popping western licks and lazy bends. For this use, keep a close eye on the “attack” onset on your compressor pedal as you’ll want to ensure the front end of your first notes isn’t lost when you step into a blazing solo.

2. Fabulous Funk Chops

Moving from the country ranch to a ‘70s night club, compressors play a key role in twangy funk progressions. Though this style of music was pioneered with refined types of studio compressors, dialing the right pedal can get you most of the way there. For example, the Origin Effects Cali76, which is based on classic Universal Audio studio compressors, allowed for more control over the onset, curve, and decay of the compressed signal so it sounded less like an effect and more like something native to the instrument. For this use the result is more about a change in feel of the instrument as the pedal responds to your funkified playing than about an overt effect.

3. Enhanced Sustain for Lead Playing

Things to consider here include both the position of your pedal in the chain as well as having a compressor pedal that has a clean blend options, such as the JHS Whitey Tightey or Wampler Mini Ego. As Dan commented, “for this sort of thing you want to set your compressor so you keep all of the front of your note.” With the blend option, you determine the mix of original signal that is carried through as well as the amount of compression it will experience. From here, experiment with pedal positions before or after your overdrive to find your best lead sound.

4. Compression as a General Fattener

Inspired in part by the ThorpyFX Fat General, Dan & Mick recommended trying a compressor as an always-on type pedal that will broaden and build up your playing across the board. In short, as Mick described, “here we’re talking about a subtle compression that evens things out rather than one that overtly squashes your sound.” In this use, the compression evens out the diversity of your tones, enhances clarity, and adds in a bit of punch to everything.

5. Simulate the Sound of a Squashy Tube Amp

As your amp warms up and cranks up, part of the natural breakup you’re hearing is due to some inherent compression that happens as the headroom ceiling decreases. In this case, Dan recommended trying putting the compressor after all of your effects run into an amp with loads of clean headroom. Then, use the compressor to push the amp hard in the front end for a variation of tube induced, springy overdrive. For fans of overdriven compression in the power amp section, try tossing your compressor in the effects loop for a saggy-style of drive.

6. Stacking Compressors to Ease Your Slide Playing

Chances are you’re familiar with the concept of stacking overdrives, possibly delays, and for the ambient players in the room, doubling up on reverbs. Few, however, tag-team two compressor pedals. As Dan recollected, this pedal hack was born in the studio and is ideal for slide playing. In short, “whatever the first compressor misses, the second one grabs.” So double-down and streamline your slide playing!

7. Sweeten Modulation Effects

Regardless of the type, modulation effects are all about movement and harmonics. A compressor, then, becomes and interesting element to add into the mix. As Dan demoed, the compressor plus a chorus retained the washing warbles of the effect yet honed and focused it for a more sophisticated and refined effect. Here, placing the compressor first will allow your modulations to happily modulate without being confused by any erratic and inadvertent dynamics of your picking.

8. A Boost for Solos

Since many modern pedal-based compressors come stock with level knobs, dialing this in to push your amp over the edge is an ideal way of launching to the front of the mix when it’s your time to shine. As Dan recommended here, the best strategy is to “turn the compression amount down but use the level or volume knob to act as a boost… then add back in a tiny bit of compression and you have a fantastic solo boost.”

9. More Bass is More Better

From time to time, Dan & Mick venture into the low-tone range of that four stringed instrument known as a bass guitar. For compression, the opportunity was too good to pass up as, in Dan’s words, “compression is just awesome on bass.” For guitarists posing as bassists, compression is ideal. As Mick commented, “if you’re a rubbish bass player like us, some of that compression will even out the transience of your playing. The effect is a massive help when you’re called of the benches.”

For all your compression needs, wants, desires, and dreams, be sure to stop in to see us at Riff City in store or online.

TPS Episode Rig Rundown:

Guitars: Fender American Vintage ’62 Stratocaster, Fender Custom Shop ’52 Telecaster, Gibson Custom 1958 Les Paul Standard, Fender Classic Series Jazzmaster Lacquer, Gibson Memphis 1958 ES-335, Danelectro 59X12, Supro Jamesport.

Pedals: TC Electronic PolyTune 2Mini, MXR DynaComp, AnalogMan Small Compressor, Keeley Aria, Origin Effects Cali76 Stacked Edition, Wampler Mini Ego Compressor, JHS Whitey Tightey, Effectrod PC-2A Photo Optical Tube Compressor, ThorpyFX Fat General, Boss CE-2W Waza Craft Chorus, Catalinbread Topanga Reverb.

Amps: Victory V40 The Duchess and V212-VCD cab/Celestion G12M-65 Creamback Speakers, 1961 Vox AC30 with Celestion Alnico Blue speakers.

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