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compression and clean tones


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  • 4 weeks later...

You have hit on a very interesting question my friend. Compression is hard for beginners to hear and adjust properly. It takes some time and patience to figure it all out.


Why does one use compression? Usually it is to increase the perceived amplitude or loudness of the sound. This is handy for clean tones which are not usually as loud as distorted tones or heavily driven amps.


Let me answer some question to the best of my knowledge. From my research compression should be pre amp and early in the signal chain.


how should one set it up?

First, put it early in the signal chain before the amp and turn it off. Turn off all other effects as well... Now you should hear only a clean guitar sound. Turn off any reverb as we'll. if you hear distortion, choose a cleaner amp model or turn down the drive setting on the amp until it cleans up. Start with the simplest compressor so you can hear what it does. Pick an Mxr brand type with only two controls -output and sensitivity control knobs. This would be the red compressor on the pod hd 400.


Set you guitar volume to about 5. Set the compressor level( or output) to about half (12 o clock position)

Set the compressor sensitivity to zero. Turn the compressor effect off first to hear the clean guitar sound.


1. Turn the compressor on now. With sensitivity at zero the sound will probably be lower than when the effect was off!

2. With compression turned on, increase the sensitivity gradually and play and listen as you do so.

3. You should hear the signal getting louder and smoother... In other words making weaker sounding notes louder, and harder hit notes More consistent sounding.

4. If you increase sensitivity to the extreme you can make the hardest hit notes and the weakest ones all appear to have about the same Apparent loudness. Be careful this can make things extremely loud.


This is a compressor in action at the most basic level.

Use the volume or level knob of the compressor to taylor how loud you want the final compressed sound to be.

You may want to turn on a distortion pedal, and then turn off the compressor and compare the relative volumes .

Set the compressor level so the clean and distorted sounds are complimentary in terms of volume.

I like the distortion to be a bit louder for lead solos. Also you are playing single notes for the most part so it will be harder to hear the solo if it's not louder.


It is possible clip or distort the signal which sounds bad. If this happens reduce the compressor level.


Another drawback is that it can really kill any dynamics in your playing if used to excess. That means if you want to play softer and gradually get louder it is almost impossible with too much compression.


Once you understand what the compressor is doing you can begin to use more advanced compression parameters to control things like

The ratio, attack , and decay


This is a very complex subject and beyond the scope of this forum. There are many u tube videos with excellent people explaining more about compression techniques.


I hope this helps and that it was clear enough to understand. My apologies if it was too simple an explanation, but if you struggle with something you have to take it to bare bone basics to figure it out properly.

Good luck!

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Very good post wilson very detailed. However; I see a couple uses not touched on. 


1. The simplist use for compressor is to add sustain to the signal. In fact on the Boss compressor (Blue Comp on the POD) there are two knobs. Sustain and Level. The "Sustain" knob is really adjusting the Threshhold, the ratio attach and decay in the original pedal were hard set.  Of course the compressor squashes the signal too so it's a balancing act between how much sustain and how much compression you want.


2. To squash the crap out for the signal as pure effect.  Very high settings on a compressor can give you some interesting pumping type sounds. So it can be used with high settings as it's own effect. Post or Pre amp, both will produce slighly different results. High setting also means the amplified signal picks up little things like fingers sliding over the strings more. Some of the time, like Funk Bass lines, that can be desired.


3. Signal boost with some compression for lead solo work as Wilson meantioned. Although as Wilson pointed out the old days this would have been pre-amp, if I have a compressor setup for this purpose, then I would go post. Why post? Simple I don't want it to affect my input gain. I just want a touch of compression to even out the notes and to make it louder for lead lines. Setting it post would be done very much like the way it would be done in a studio where the guitar line was recorded and maybe a bit of compression was added later. I have no disagreement with setting pre either. It's just a different sound and it causes the pedals after it to react differently. Some say better, I just say different, depends on what sound your after.


4. As a pure gain booster that also has some compression.  Set it pre, turn up the level high and hit the front of the amp hard.  Yep could do that and #3 with a EQ or clean boost instead and I would use either of those if I had them or just didn't want the compression as well. But double use out of one pedal (or DSP slot) is always a good thing, IMO.  

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I hope this helps and that it was clear enough to understand. My apologies if it was too simple an explanation, but if you struggle with something you have to take it to bare bone basics to figure it out properly.

Good luck!


That was a Great description Thanks!!

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Compressors can also "flavor" your tone in good ways and bad. The Studio Compressor in the HD500x has a bit of a bass "bump" to my ear, and I found it a bit too much on my clean/chorusy (think 80s meets EJ clean) tone. So I swapped it out for the one of the others. Much happier now, but YMMV.

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the tube comp is supposed to be an LA-2a I think.. which means its not really designed for "before the amp" use...


one thing that i really like for clean tones is to run 2 comps, a pedal (like the mxr or cs-1) in front of the amp with sustain on about 50 (match the level to the un-compressed sound by turning it on and off to check it) and then the tube comp after the amp threshold set on around 60 (watch the level setting on tube comp its all gain, so start from 0 and only add more if you need it..)


There is a consideration for the use of the preamp volume with a comp after it, if you change that you will be changing the level going into the comp so bear that in mind (and set it before you put the post-comp in place), it may change the sound... if you need to make your patch louder you can use the tube comp out level to add more without changing the sound


This simulates how the sound would be treated in the studio, especially for clean tones where you can lose detail and fullness in a mix without the post compression..

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