Compressor Pedal Dials? EVERYTHING you need to know!

Did you know the compressor pedal brings clarity to your tone? This pedal can really transform your tone to make you sound like a guitar god!

What are the dials on a compressor pedal? There are FIVE main dials on a compressor pedal. This include:

  • Threshold
  • Ratio
  • Knee
  • Attack time
  • Release Time
  • Makeup
  • Multiband

In this article, we will cover each of these in grave detail… let’s begin!

1. What Is A Compressor Pedal?

So the simplest explanation that we can use to describe the compressor pedal is that it helps to adjust the frequency and volume of the signal, making the loud parts less intense so the overall volume will seem cleaner and more consistent.

In that way, the loud sounds will be softer, whilst the softer sounds can be boosted. Overall, creating a more balanced and even sound.

This feature is widely used across all styles and genres. It is used a lot in rock, metal and you may even see it being used in fingerstyle. This is because when we play along with the piece there will be many differences in the volume. In a recording setting, we want everything to be at the same amplitude, and therefore nearly equal in volume. 

2. Why is Compressor Pedal Important?

Using a compressor pedal can be important for both live performances and recording in a studio.

Using a compressor pedal during a live performance will give you a more balanced tone throughout your set. This is important because without one the dynamics of your output signal can vary massively in volume. This will ensure the audience does not get shocked by an uncomfortable loud change in volume. This is especially helpful if the venue is small or the gig volume is supposed to be within control.

The Compressor effect is always used in a recording setting. If you have not got one set up in your gear then it will definitely be applied by the producer to create and more even sound so it fits perfectly in the mix.

3. How to Use a Compressor Pedal?

In addition, compressor peddles can be used improperly. This is when you apply too much of the effect and it starts to take all life out of the instruments and completely ruins the tone. The sound will become too flat and the guitar will no longer sound real. It will sound almost pixelated. 

If you know how the controls work then you will be on your way to mastering this pedal!

4. What Are The Controls On a Compressor Pedal?

  • Threshold
  • Ratio
  • Knee
  • Attack time
  • Release Time
  • Makeup
  • Multiband

5. Threshold

A threshold is a benchmark where you start applying the compressor pedal to lower or even out your dynamics and volume. It’s the level where any signal above the threshold will be compressed. So basically, it all depends on you, whether you wish to adjust your volume or which part of it you want to reduce the signal and make it less intense. The higher the level the less amount of signal you need it to be compressed then you only care about the extremely high tone and loud parts. By contrast, the lower the level the more available signal that the compressor pedal can work on.

6. Ratio

Just like its name “ratio”, this is how people adjust and measure the proportions of how much the compressor will reduce the volume and sounds from the threshold level and it’s measured in decibels (dB). And it’s the ratio against the parts of sounds that are untouched, unaffected, and not adjusted. One example for further understanding, if the ratio is 8:1, it means that for every 8dB of the signal above the threshold level, the compressor will only reduce the volume and allow 1dB to come through the signal chain. So that would make 1:1 the uncompressed signal overall.

7. Knee

You are probably wondering what is a knee? Why does it sound like a part of your body? Actually, there’s a reason why it’s called a “knee”. Technically, thanks to this part, it helps the compressor to switch between the non-compressed and compressed dynamics. There are two types: “soft” and “hard” knee. With the “hard” knee, when the signal first hit the level of the threshold. The compressor pedal immediately processes on that sound in full and faster. Therefore, it’s quite easy for you to hear and feel that change. On the other hand, the sound will come out very smoothly, gently, and slowly so you hardly recognize, feel or hear it as it gradually approaches the limit rising above the threshold. Some would prefer the “soft” knee better because it’s not desirable when the compression is too obvious to hear.

8. Attack time

You must be wondering what happens after the signal reaches the threshold and exceeds it? If the knee is the point stand right before the signal begins to be compressed, then attack time must have something related to that order?

The answer is yes! Attack time is the time for the compressor pedal to process and fully complete its job compressing the signal. You can’t just expect that right at the moment the signal hits the threshold level and crosses the knee point on a graph that it can be immediately compressed. The compressor pedal needs reaction time – attack time. There are faster attack times (ranging from 20 to 800 microseconds) and slower attack times (between 10 and 100 milliseconds).

9. Release time

There’s an attack time kicking in the sounds to the compressing part, and now we have the release time. It’s a completely different thing. Release time refers to the time it takes for the sound to switch back from being compressed to the non-compressed state. And it can be longer than the usual attack time. There are also fast and slow release times.

Fast release time is used when you feel like making some natural sounds or can take advantage of the loudness to make everything seem more intense. However, with the immediate effect of switching back and forth from the two states, it can cause the sound to be a little aggressive and create a pumping sound.

Slow-release time is all about making the sounds and dynamics smoother. Since it’s slower, it retains some of the dynamics, holding on more to the signal, creating the distant effect making it sound like it’s further away and drifting  from the listeners. However with longer release time, sometimes your sound can be flat or it can be less sharp.

10. Make-up or Output level:

Make-up output or we can also call it make-up gain is used to control the level of signal after it has been compressed. Since the compressor’s function is to turn all the loud parts down, some of the sounds coming out of your compressor can not be as high as when it entered. So the make-up gain (or output) will turn the overall level of the signal back to its original volume.

Or you can think of it as a gain staging process where making dB level of the sound consistent during the entire process. First, the signal coming through the gain reduction step through your compressors then you can’t just leave it like that for the rest of the performance, you need to push the overall level back up so that the signals fit in the mix is  suitable without sounding off or dull. And don’t worry if you find this function “make-up gain” or “make-up output” pretty difficult with too many details and additional steps to follow, some of the compressor pedals have the automatic makeup. They will turn the output up with prior settings, along with how much gain reduction you want it to be.

11. Multi-Band

Since the beginning of this article, we have come to explain the main feature of a compressor pedal, which is to turn down and lower the parts that exceed the rest with high volume and sounds. So maybe you haven’t thought of this: What if we can have different adjustments for one overall sound and mix?

Compressor pedals are not just about “full-band”, which means you can divide and set up your frequency range into many categories like low, mid, and high bands. With only one signal, you can have three different compressors. 

So with three different filters, each type of frequency (low, mid, high) will go through its own compressor and then all are recombined later. The biggest advantage that you can think of is that when trying to turn down the volume of some of the loud parts, it won’t affect or trigger a gain reduction in the other parts/bands and pull the whole mix down. And by contrast, in some cases, only the low-frequency sounds will be adjusted, leaving the mid and high bands untouched. Moreover, if you feel that the final outcomes of the whole mix after coming through the compressor pedal can cause a little dissatisfaction then you can change the level of the three compressor bands according to your style and needs.

12. Where to put the compressor pedal in your signal chain?

With the compressor pedal, there are two ways that you can choose to put it in the signal chain: at the beginning or at the end. Compressors, gain-type effects are advised to be set before the modulation effects. By doing this, it helps to transmit a stronger, more intense signal to the rest of the signal chain.

And some prefer placing it at the end of the chain to boost the signal and sound right before reaching the amplifier. But you should consider carefully when trying this because after the signal has come through the previous effects, now with the compressor pedal, it can make the output once again increase. Therefore the option of putting it first is still  recommended.

13. Recommended Compressor Pedals

  • Keeley Compressor Plus
  • Xotic SP compressor pedal
  • Boss CP-1X compressor pedal
  • Fender The Bends compressor pedal
  • Wampler Ego Compressor
  • TC Electronic HyperGravity Compressor

Conclusion

In this article, we discussed the compressor pedal and what the dials do.

If you have any questions then please leave them in the form below and ill reply ASAP!

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