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Electric Guitar into Helix - Compression - Advice - Training?


musiclover7
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Up front.. this could get a touch winded. 

 

Short version: I struggle with compression as a musician. I am looking for advice on applying compression to electric guitar, strategies, what you listen for, etc..  particularly tailored to the line 6 helix and the compression effects that exist there-in..  If you don't want to strain your eyes, feel free to offer me some feedback on that alone, and thanks in advance for doing so.  Feel free to read on if you don't mind a little eye exercise.

 

Longer version:  Well, to be honest, I struggle with most effects, levels, settings.  I am the sort of musician who works with the sound that is happening in the moment, and who will be more apt to bend my playing to match it, rather than bend the sound to match my playing, though this is mostly because I don't always know how to do the latter.  I have written songs on broken guitars that made peculiar noises that were I guess at the time inspiring.  I have fussed for hours on end with expensive gear, and been worse off at the end, than I was when I started.

 

When it comes to working with effects, or with sound in general, I consider myself a novice for this reason.  I have a lot of time in, but I am one hell of an indecisive mofo, and so it can be difficult for me to compare two tones and say... "uh.. that one, that one sounds better."  I am exaggerating here.  I'm not a moron.  Obviously if you give me two completely different tones, I am going to have a preference (well, most of the time anyway), so I am speaking mostly about tones that are subtly different.  That said, I've had folks who seemed to know things twist nobs for me while I was playing, and I have 'felt' things improve greatly.  That's what I am aiming for, but most of the time I feel too blind to get there.

 

Compression is a hairy mystery for me.  I get what it does on paper.. I've watched videos on youtube explaining it.  I hear what happens to my guitar when I apply it.  I just never feel like I am using it correctly.  I don't really have a solid strategy other than -> fatten up my sound and bring the nuances OUT.  This seems to work somewhat, but I just feel like I am failing with it, perhaps particularly in the helix, hence the post.  Here I am, 3 months in, rethinking everything.  Starting from square one on my main patch so to speak. 

 

Here's what I think I know.

 

- I like the Studio Compressor the best (mainly for acoustic guitar, but I also like what it does to my electric.  It seems like the choice to make if clean, rich tones is what you are after.  I tried the deluxe, and found it less clean, and the Red Squeeze was too big for my taste, but I could be using it all wrong...

 

- I tend to .. actually, lollipop, that's maybe all I really know.  Other than this, I am twisting knobs and hoping for the best...  I throw a looper in front of things, loop a 10 second run, and then tweak away.

 

Well.. rant over..  I appreciate any advice!  I am willing to pay to get smarter!  Thanks for reading!

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This probably isn't really a helpful comment for you, but, personally, I'm not a huge fan of using compression with electric guitar live. I've owned probably at least half a dozen compressors over the years, and it's just never been something I've found all that useful when playing live. If anything, I find it to have more detrimental effects than not using it. There are few of my Helix presets where I use it in limited ways, but most of the time I don't use it.... That's just me. Recording, well, that's another thing altogether. I find that I use it a lot of different ways. In a full multi-track mix I actually like creating a separate guitar buss and applying compression there to help glue everything together. It's kind of a cliche, but the trick is to not overdo it...

 

But getting back to live use... I read an interview with the Edge once where he was talking about how he hates using things like noise gates because they never feel right to him. I put compression and noise gates in the same category in that they are messing with the dynamics of the guitar (a noise gate is technically an expander, kind of the opposite of a compressor). Overdrive and distortion introduce some amount of compression, but that always feels more natural to me than actually using a compressor.

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That may actually be helpful. Maybe I am leaning too much on compression. I wind up using it a lot like a boost, for soloing, or whenever I just want some added oomf. I don't play with distortion or overdrive as a general rule, though I have found some uses for the minotaur pedal in the helix, with low gain settings. Thanks for the reply. I will take anything I can get.

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I find compression invaluable for adding sustain, particularly on legato phrases on clean presets.  I hate having a note die before I ask it to. No question it can kill dynamics when set incorrectly though.

 

Here is an interesting link for compressor settings: http://anythingpeaceful.org/sonar/settings/comp.html

A video for smoothing out lead guitar and making an acoustic pop a bit more in the studio: http://therecordingrevolution.com/2012/08/01/2-ways-to-compress-guitars/

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I hear lots of love for the studio comp, but for me (electric only so far), my ears often end up liking the deluxe one more.

 

Compression on overdriven tones is a No in my book. You want all the dynamics you can get to come through the squash that's inherent in all that clipping.

 

I do like some compression on many clean sounds, for general fatness, and to bring out the details in your playing. It also helps even out volume differences between pickup selections -- series/parallell/hum/single/etc.. I sometimes go with a little more gain than is absolutely clean, and maybe some sag, in addition to or instead of compression.

 

 

As for your general discomfort with all this audio tech, there's no substitute for playing with it! Try stuff! There are no wrong answers! And there's no shame in using simple, straightforward patches if that's what ends up sounding best to you. Helix is a wonderful playground for guitar and bass processing experiments, you're in a good place.

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The main controls are Thresholdand Ratio. When audio peaks rise above your chosen Threshold setting, they are reduced. Anything under the Threshold setting is not reduced or affected. Ratio determines the amount of gain reduction that happens after the audio rises above the Threshold setting. For example, a typical 3:1 Ratio setting means that, if the audio rises 3 dB above the Threshold setting, the compressor will hold that level to only 1 dB above the threshold, thus reducing the peak by 2 dB. Very high compression ratios yield an effect called limiting, which we’ll explore in further columns.

The other set of adjustable controls found in most compressors are AttackRelease, and Makeup Gain. Attack determines how fast or slow the actual compression takes place, and Release governs how quickly it lets go of your signal. Makeup Gain lets you raise the overall output level after you’ve compressed the audio, thus maintaining a robust signal even though you’ve reduced its peaks.

 

Best therefore is the studio for this job. 

 

Otherwise try the SAG of the amp.

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The key with any FX is to work with JUST that effect and try all the possibilities.

I personally don't often use comp on electric guitar except I DO use a very subtle studio comp at the end of every single chain, just like I would in a studio.

But when I do use comp on electric, it's usually early in the chain, and I use it occasionally to squash the HECK out of the signal.

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All good stuff folks!  I'm learning.  I tell you what, this stuff is subtle.  I think more often than not, I get carried away with the gain stage of the compressor and really just wind up using it as an over-all boost with a slight nod off on the loudest notes.  This works though.

 

Shancgriffo...  Definitely try putting a looper at the start of your chain, loop a 5-10 second chunk of sound, and tweak it till it sounds good.  It sort of feels like cheating, but that is sort of what this kind of high end gear is for ain't it?

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