Steve Lagudi Blog Series: Guitars & Bass in a Live Setting – Compression

This is the 15th installment in guest blogger Steve Lagudi’s series on Guitars & Bass in a Live Setting – if you missed his previous blog post, you can read it here.

Steve posing happily with his newest piece of equipment

Let me continue on for a minute with dynamics. Bass is notorious for people using compression on it. Sometimes I don’t use any, especially when I am dealing with an analog desk in a venue and I only have a few compressors or none at all. If I have some comps in the rack that I don’t like, I won’t use it. I’d rather have no compressors than bad compressors. I am going to sound like a broken record, but how much compression to use varies on the material and the player. When I do compress, I like to use a 3:1 ratio, medium attack and medium release. Sometimes, when I am blending signals with say a DI and direct out from a head, I might compress the amp a little more to help tighten it up and control the low-end. As I mentioned earlier, I like to have the head or mic on the cabinet to give me the low-end – adding the compression to the low-end source really tightens things up down there, and will help make your mix work better with the kick drums.

Speaking of kick drums, a lot of engineers, including myself, will sometimes side chain the bass, meaning we can use a signal of the kick, which is known as a key input, so every time the kick drum is hit the compressor will start working. Why would we want to do this? Well the kick and the bass are sometimes sharing the same frequency area, and you might want to get the bass guitar to sorta “move out of the way” each time the kick is hit to maintain the definition. Using side chain compression helps you achieve that. It might take a little time for you to wrap your head around it and set up if you’ve never done it before, so if you have some studio tracks that you can experiment with, I would suggest doing that first. Once it is set up, you might really like what this does for the mix. You hear it on countless records and I know a lot of my fellow engineers do it live. So, if you’re always asking yourself how these engineers get the kick and the bass to work so great together, chances are this is what is being done.

Since the kick drum is a quick transient, the compressor will need to be set up for that. You want the compressor to give you that gain reduction quickly, but also you want the recovery (release) time to be quick as well so that you don’t even notice that the bass just got compressed. Be sure you set the attack to be as fast as possible. Start with the fastest it will go and come back on it slightly, chances are you will hear right away if it’s too fast. You will want to see a decent amount of gain reduction, at least 6 dB. Remember, you basically want the reduction to mirror the kick drum – the hit happens fast and is gone just as fast. It’s really that simple, yet gives a really great result.

Check back soon to read Steve’s final blog installment in this series!



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