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Guitar compressor position & options

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Guitar compressor position & options

Postby paulreso1 » Tue Dec 31, 2019 1:00 pm

I've started to play finger style jazz and blues on the electric guitar having played acoustic guitar for decades. When recording I sometimes want to use a wee bit of compression and have a question about where best to place the compressor....in front of the amp in the form of a guitar pedal, or after the microphone recording the amp; or after the mic preamp and before the interface. I know I can use a software compressor, but the luddite in me prefers to use real stuff with real knobs

[I have a BOSS compressor pedal that I use for sustain when playing country style, but I really prefer the guitar response without that compressor in front of the amp ]
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Re: Guitar compressor position & options

Postby Wonks » Tue Dec 31, 2019 1:33 pm

Guitar pedal compressors help you to get the sound you want when playing. So if you like the sound of a compressor on your guitar, then use the pedal when playing and recording. You've normally got limited control options (though some 'boutique' pedals do have as many controls as a rack-mount unit). I like units with a mix control (basically a limited form of parallel compression), so you can blend in the compression effect to keep some of the natural guitar attack.

Rack/software compressors are really there to get the guitar to sit right in the mix. But they can be used as an effect in their own right if you want.

Stand-alone rack compressors require line-level signals, so they will always need to come after a mic pre-amp. You can get channel strips that combine a mic-pre with a compressor, such as the UA 6176, which combines a valve mic pre with an 1176 compressor in one unit. But that does limit you to using that particular compressor, which may not be the best one for the sound source.

Some audio interfaces (AIs) do have insert points, so you can run a rack unit as an insert effect when recording. Otherwise (on a lowish budget) you could use a mixer with insert points as the mic pre, and run the output to a line input on your AI.

Or you could record the guitar first, then set up the hardware compressor as an insert effect on the DAW, using outputs and inputs on the AI.

But the reality is that software compressors are now so good that there really is little point in using an outboard unit, unless maybe if you are in a really top-notch pro studio with the very best in everything, where you may just about hear a small difference (and not necessarily for the best). And software gives you far more choice in trying out different compressors.
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Re: Guitar compressor position & options

Postby DC-Choppah » Tue Dec 31, 2019 9:58 pm

My preferred place is in the effects loop of the pre-amp.

One compressor goes right at the beginning of the EFX loop and adds 'click' by squashing the dynamic range and adding make-up gain. Good for fingerstyle jazz, and Nashville sound. I use the Dynacomp.

Then at the end of the chain is another compressor, its job to add sustain. So as the sound decays the compressor brings it back up. Good for singing solos.

You definitely want to have these in the chain as you record since they change the way you play. They are part of the instrument and the performance.

Make it so what you hear is what you record. So don't put the compressors on the mics.

Use your software compressors for mixing later.
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Re: Guitar compressor position & options

Postby zenguitar » Wed Jan 01, 2020 2:44 am

I would suggest that you use your DAW to experiment with a range of different software compressors and amp sims. Record a guitar part direct and then spend some time with amp sims and VST compressors to get a feel for how all the compression controls work. Explore the back catalogue of articles on compression here on the SOS website to learn the principles and all the different things that compression can do for your guitar sound.

Once you’ve worked out how to get the sound you want, you’ll be able to make a shortlist of FX pedals that offer the style of compression and controls you need.

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Re: Guitar compressor position & options

Postby CS70 » Wed Jan 01, 2020 6:44 pm

paulreso1 wrote:I've started to play finger style jazz and blues on the electric guitar having played acoustic guitar for decades. When recording I sometimes want to use a wee bit of compression and have a question about where best to place the compressor....in front of the amp in the form of a guitar pedal, or after the microphone recording the amp; or after the mic preamp and before the interface. I know I can use a software compressor, but the luddite in me prefers to use real stuff with real knobs

Hm, why do you want to use compression? I mean, there's nothing wrong with it, but the question is a bit odd. If you put the compressor after the amp you won't hear it (unless you monitor your playing from the desk or the DAW? Which would be unusual) and you will be basically recording blind (or better, deaf :D): the signal that you'll capture will be different from what you hear.

Compressing after the amp is something that can be generally left at mixdown, there's little benefit nowadays to do that during recording - and I'd be surprised if a jazz line would need any.
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Re: Guitar compressor position & options

Postby Sam Spoons » Wed Jan 01, 2020 7:19 pm

paulreso1 wrote:I've started to play finger style jazz and blues on the electric guitar having played acoustic guitar for decades. When recording I sometimes want to use a wee bit of compression and have a question about where best to place the compressor....in front of the amp in the form of a guitar pedal, or after the microphone recording the amp; or after the mic preamp and before the interface. I know I can use a software compressor, but the luddite in me prefers to use real stuff with real knobs

[I have a BOSS compressor pedal that I use for sustain when playing country style, but I really prefer the guitar response without that compressor in front of the amp ]

I don't like compressors in front of the amp, I've tried (and still have a couple) but the only sound they work for me for is funk which I hardly play these days. I know they are supposed to be a staple of country pickers but I just can't make them work for me.

More importantly CS nailed it the he said "You definitely want to have these in the chain as you record since they change the way you play. They are part of the instrument and the performance.

Make it so what you hear is what you record."
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Re: Guitar compressor position & options

Postby paulreso1 » Thu Jan 02, 2020 11:48 am

Thanks for all these replies - they are very helpful. I am taking from them that if compression is needed/wanted to help the guitar sit in a mix better (or to even out the dynamics a little) it is best done in the DAW with software based compressor(s). On the other hand, if compression is intrinsic to the performance , the only sensible place to put it is in front of the microphone (either in the front end of the amp or EFX loop). As I mentioned, I use the BOSS compressor/sustain pedal for sustain for some country music songs.


The question of why use a compressor at all is a good one, and I'd prefer not to use one if I am honest (apart from when needing sustain). Having played acoustic finger style for so long, I have been finding the responsiveness of the electric guitar when playing finger style to take some getting used to ...I talked to some experienced folks who suggested that using a compressor could help. On reflection, perhaps I'm better off focusing on adapting my right hand picking technique to the electric guitar

....anyway, thanks again to all who were kind enough to reply and share their experience
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