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For bassists, there are several advantages to using a compressor in a live setting. Low frequencies carry the most energy in music, and as a result, loud bass can easy overwhelm a mixer and reduce the available voltage required for other instruments. By using a compressor, you are sending a more controlled and manageable signal, which any sound guy will appreciate. Bass guitars also have a tendency to produce uneven output voltages from string to string and fret to fret, which a properly set compressor can help manage. A smoother sound is achieved thanks to this consistent output. Increased sustain is another benefit, achieved by raising the overall average levels when combined with a long release.

To get the most out of a compressor, obviously it needs to be set properly. These parameters will give you a good starting point. On most compressors you will have attack, release, threshold, and ratio controls. Some compressors also have an adjustable knee (how steep the gain reduction curve is). For starters, try these basic settings: a relatively fast attack of approximately 25-50 milliseconds; a medium to slow release, somewhere in the neighborhood of 500 milliseconds to one second; and a ratio of 4:1 (4 volts of input gives you 1 volt of output). Set the threshold so that you see a fairly constant gain reduction of 2-3dB. This setting will tame attacks and provide a fairly good sustain. A rule of thumb for setting attack is as follows: to tame attacks, set a fast attack. To accentuate attacks (for slapping and popping) set a medium release (100-500ms). It’s best to use your ears and listen to the attack without changing any other setting until you hear the attack you want. For more sustain, use higher ratios and longer releases. Don’t set your ratio too high or you’ll lose your dynamics. Finally, use a hard knee to tame attacks.

Where you put the compressor in the signal chain depends on your application. If you want to control input level to your bass rig, console or recorder, put the compressor right after the bass and before the preamp. If you’re using it for speaker protection, connect it between preamp and power amp. Avoid using it in the inserts of the console. If the FOH engineer reduces your fader level, you’ll still be hitting the compressor just as hard, which means you signal will become even smaller.

 

The MXR Bass Compressor is a great option for live performance.

 

 

 

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