Since David Gilmour washed his sound in succeeding waves of delays, delay has become an integral and unavoidable part of a guitarists rig. No guitarist does or should go without this vital effect. Now call me biased, but I love delays; messing with them and coming up with new sounds to make my playing sound way better than it actually is. Ok seriously, it’s bad, but whether you are completely new to the guitar or you can play anything by Guthrie Govan in your sleep, a delay effect could really help streamline and hone your sound to get it up there with the best. In this column we’ll look at various usages and importance of delay from a guitarist’s point of view. Now this isn’t a sermon. If you find you have your sound without a single echoing note, then good for you. As the prime lobbyist for delay pedals and units, however, it is my duty to tell you that not using delay will at some point be a punishable crime in various courts across the world. No seriously, go buy one.
First, let’s look at some styles of playing guitar and the ways in which delay is commonly used while playing such styles. This is just to tell you how delay is usually used. But don’t get that in your head. Feel free to play around with your sound until it pleases you.
The Bluesy Soloist:
For this kind of guitarist, delay is an effect that is permanently on but not in a huge quantity. Just enough to fill up a little more space than a single guitar’s overdriven tone. Even with overdriven tones, guitars can and often do end up sounding too dry and incomplete. The delay here is a tool to fatten up a guitar sound. The repeats are set at a low amount and the delay time is variable according to taste. Even the wet delay tone is set pretty low. In this way your searing leads will be stand out like a naked man at a funeral, but with some added overtones that make your lonely six string sound bigger than it actually is.
The Hay Eating Country Guitarist:
Actually just two words will suffice: Slap-Back. Slap-back delay is a short time delay with little repeats. However here the wet signal is pretty loud, or at equal level to the dry signal. In this way the quick and twangy leads can give you a rhythmic flow. This setting also helps you cut through the mix. However, slap-back delay warrants a particular style of playing that accents the echoes without making the licks too mushy. This is a pretty niche and decadent setting, however, and rarely complements most styles of pop and rock. So unless Johnny Cash is a regular on your playlists, you may want to give this one a miss.
The PhD in Prog:
Here is where the delay effect is more used as an instrument and effects and textures become paramount. There is rarely a clean guitar sound without any delay on it. Delay is used both as a rhythm providing tool (think Run Like Hell by Pink Floyd) or as a tool to provide space and atmosphere to a part. Here the delay sound is completely variable and depends on the guitarists creativity or taste. Often times some amount of modulation is also added on to the delayed signal to provide more depth. Sometimes a pitch shifted delay is also used to provide Van Halen like Cathedralesque sounds to one’s clean tone. To provide spacey yet weird effects and textures players often mess with the delay time knob to get DJ-scratching sounds. One can even use an expression pedal to achieve these sounds easily. Setting the repeats at a very high level can yield ever expanding overtones to notes that provide a very psychedelic vibe to songs. All it takes is to spend a couple of hours with a delay pedal to get the signature tone of choice.
The Edge of Rhythm:
You must have heard Where the Streets Have no Name by U2. Well the kind of delay used is called a dotted eighth which plays in between each rhythmic note to give you a double time rhythm. This style of playing has been used by a number of guitarists over the years and is a catchy as hell way to give your rhythm playing some edge (pun intended). Most of the work by Wes Borland (Limp Bizkit, Black Light Burns) also features this style of playing. Here, the delay time is set as a quarter of the base tempo of the song and the picking is done in double time. Hence, in one bar of a song, the notes fill up the half and quarter spaces. Confused? Well, just try jamming to your own delay notes and your brain will automatically catch on. Also try muting the base note to get a more pronounced rhythm.
Delay Sounds and Pedals:
Delays can be of various tonal varieties and each type can either make or break your sound. If you love tone and like to find that perfect sound, then go on reading.
Yes yes, every one fights about the whole digital versus analog thing. But digital delay has its space and is often a great tool to make each note stand out clearly. Analog delays darken each successive repeat to a proportionate degree. Digital delays make exact copies of each note and hence the delay tone is clear and crisp. This kind of delay is especially useful while delaying distorted tones as they do not add to the mush of the distortion. And hey, if you like the sound then go for it.
Best of Digital Delay:
- Boss DD-7
- TC Electronic Nova Delay
- TC Electronic Flashback Delay
- Eventide TimeFactor
- Line 6 Echo Pro (Rack Unit)
Analog delays all try to emulate the whole classic, vintage delay sound heard on everything Mr. Gilmour has ever done. Yep, everything. As said before, each successive note is darker and loses tone. This adds a great amount of warmth to a guitar tone. In fact, most analog delays are perfect for filling up space and adding some beauty with the imperfectness of the echoes. These delays hold great sway over the music world. But most analog delay pedals are very simple units and give you just the bare minimum in terms of delay sounds. Yet still, every well known guitarist has at least one analog delay on their pedalboard.
Best of Analog Delay:
- Way Huge Aqua Puss
- EHX Deluxe Memory Man
- MXR Carbon Copy
- Catalinbread Echorec
- T-Rex Replica
- Wampler Faux Tape Echo
These pedals offer many presets and an inexhaustible amount of delay types. Known as delay modelling pedals, these can allow you to have many styles and types of delay on tap and are a great buy for live gigging. These delays use digital processing to provide even analog sounds. For live venues, you wont be able to tell the difference between a modelled analog delay and an actual analog delay so these are manly convenience based pedals that do everything. Often, these delay pedals will have some weird and experimental kind of delays that will definitely send your creativity through various trips. Disclaimer: you will spend days and days exploring these kinds of pedals and will eventually get lost and settle on the simplest setting on offer. Ok maybe not. It all depends. These can be used in a studio situation as well, you just need to know how to use them well and efficiently.
The best of all-in-ones:
- Line 6 DL4
- TC Electronic Flashback X4
- Vox DelayLab
- (Don’t look further than these. You will get everything you need and more from these)
Tape Delay Units:
These were made famous by (I cant believe how many times I have to take this dude’s name) David Gilmour. These are not pedals but true-blue tape echo units that provide an echo to a guitar or anything, using an actual mechanism that uses a tape loop to provide the echo. This is the actual baseline of delays and all other kinds of delays came from these. However, these are horrifically expensive and unless your album has been the best-selling album in the world for decades (big up to Dark Side of the Moon), you would rather avoid these. But no denying these are insanely cool and their mechanical set up provides room for tweaking a delay sound using a screwdriver and common tools. The amount of sonic creativity available here is insane. If you got the cash then definitely get one. Not only will it give you some of the coolest delay sounds available, they will reinforce your knowledge about delay sounds and sound in general.
Best of Tape Units:
- Maestro Echoplex
- Fulltone Tube Tape Echo
- Binson Echorec
- Watkins Copycat
Well I hope this helps you make the right delay choice, because like I said before, no delay is no choice at all.
This is the ONE that prophecy spoke of! The chosen ONE that will bring balance to the force! The ONE that sees the Matrix! The ONE with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord!! I could go on and on, but the simplicity of this audio interface deserves more than just pop-culture references. This thingamajig is the travelling musician’s gift from God. From Apogee rather.
Apogee is known for its quality, and the ONE does not disappoint. Considered to be the younger, cooler, more “hip” sibling of the highly acclaimed Duet, it was thought to be only an interface for beginners. Pfft! Apogee only proved that the ONE is no rookie. This baby gives absolute pristine studio quality of sound from each one of its inputs (i.e. the External Mic, the External 48V Mic, the Internal Mic as well as the Instrument input) while easily competing with the lucidity of the Duet or the Quartet.The only place it falls short is the sample rates it can operate up to, which is 48 kHz, rather than the 96kHz of the Duet. Simply put, it IS a simpler piece of machinery. It comes with Apogee’s Maestro software, a USB cable to connect to your machine and a breakout cable with an XLR input and quarter-inch jack. And that’s all you need!
The ONE has been custom made for Appleproducts, which is one of the best parts (or worst, if you’re an Android person) about the interface. Once connected to your Mac/MacBook it makes the task offirst-time recording much less frustrating as compared to any other interface. And for the seasoned travelling/touring musician who needs to compose and record his/her entire album on the go, this is ACTUALLY POSSIBLE now with the ONE and only ONE…and only…ONE… and only…
Sooo if you’re a songwriter, in a room by yourself, or on a long (empty-ish) flight even, all you’d need is your laptop and the ONE to record all you want through the inbuilt microphone (easily my favourite feature), and VOILA! You have that studio-like clarity and a great sounding song about how bad in-flight entertainment is getting.
Lastly, being in India, EVERYTHING is capable of being a victim of humidity. The ONE, given it’s size and portability even gives you the advantage of being able to pack it up, put it away and save it from dying a slow and rusty death (which is exactly what happened to my previous audio interface goddammit!). Look at us, exploring environmental issues and all. Let’s just give this thing a SEXBOMB rating already, yes? But before that,
What we Liked:
- USB bus powered. (No batteries or adapters to carry around)
- One knob to rule them all. (No more fumbling through an arsenal of buttons and faders!)
- Tremendously powerful inbuilt studio-quality condenser microphone.
- Unboxing to actual recording takes all of 5 minutes.
- It is no bigger than your iPhone (possibly lighter too).
- It’s CHEAP!! (Relatively)
- It is possibly the best single channel audio interface out there.
What We Didn’t Like:
- One drawback is the length of the USB cable provided, which may leave you restrained if you have a Mac with USB inputs too far away from you. Well, in that case, shit happens.
Verdict: This is THE ONE.
Rating: 5/5 (SEXBOMB)
Alternatives: Tascam makes many a portable interface, but quality-wise and feature-wise NONE match this ONE.
Being around guitars long enough help you develop a fine eye for ignorant guitarists. Everyday, you meet and greet boys who have grown up looking at Eric Clapton, Robert Cray, Jimi Hendrix, Slash, John Mayer etc. playing guitars like Fender and Gibson. On account of this, these boys assume that such brands manufacture paramount guitars. Heck, after an hour or so of detailed discussion of specifics, I’m asked, “BRO, HAVE YOU EVEN PLAYED A FENDER STRAT?!”. Yes, I have. While I’m not saying its good, bad or ugly; I’m saying that today, there are several other brands who have come to improvise the Fender Stratocaster style. One such brand is Godin. Based in Montreal, Canada, Godin guitars introduced the “Progression” in fall of 2009. The Progression is one of the few guitars today that stands out in a super-saturated strat-style guitar market.
Featuring a Silver Leaf maple center and Poplar wings, the progression also boasts of a rock maple neck with an option of either a rosewood or a maple fingerboard. You know a guitar is Canadian to the core when its entirely made out of maple. Apart from that, it has three single coil Godin GS-2 pickups, 5-way switch with one volume pot, one tone pot and what Godin likes to call an “H.D.R”. The “High Definition Revoicer” is what sets apart the Progression from the rest. This tiny black button re-voices and augments the frequency range of each pickup and allows the player to go from a passive to an active pickup signal. Right there, you get 5 active tones and 5 passive tones. So this is the only thing that makes it different from any other Strat? NOPE. The stock fitted Godin GS-2 pickups are unlike any other single coil pickups in the market today. On looking closely, the magnets on the GS-2 are what can only be described as “a giant opera singer” or “King-Kongs mother”. Kidding aside, the magnets are bigger, better and produce a beautiful definitive SPANK which is always by appreciated by a true strat lover. Not just that, the guitar neck is unlike any other. The Godin Ergocut shaping technique bevels the edges of the fingerboard and frets back in towards the center of the fingerboard providing an extremely comfortable feel. Might take some getting used to, but well worth it once you’ve gotten your hand around.
As for the sound, the Progression is no stranger to a clean tone. While it replicates a nice tone on the bridge, it contrasts the same on the neck pickup with a swollen mellow tone. When using both neck and middle pickup, its the perfect for all chordsy yet riff congested patterns. However, the neck and middle pickup position is not very appealing but does a lovely job of adding that extra bite or texture to your sound. Extra bite? Who’s complaining? If completely driven with amp overdrive or other overdrive pedal units, the progression feels somewhat out of place at loud volumes. With a tiny little adjustment of the volume pot, all of that changes. The drive beautifully compliments the clean guitar tone which only makes you feel like the guitar gods are watching over you. A few minutes of carefully checking every detail of the guitar, its not hard to tell that Godin took out the time to fine tune the guitar to its finest. The guitar deserves all the praise given to it on account of its high grade hardware. Everything, from action, string tension to pickup height, the progression is extremely easy to adjust to your liking. Keeping tone, hardware and construction in mind, this guitar is a definite winner in the strat race. If you’re looking for a high gain-metal crushing-gut wrentching tone, this guitar is not for you.
Its for everyone who knows what a strat is capable of. From jazz to blues to even rock players will tell you that its a guitar you should watch out for. At Rs.66,375 its an expensive choice but is well worth the money and is a great alternative to a US manufactured Fender Stratocaster. So what are you waiting for? Check out this guitar today at Bhargava’s Musik and experience a strat like never before.
What we liked- Well…Pretty much everything.
What we didn’t like- The ergocut neck takes some getting used to.
Verdict- 4/5 (Kickass)
Alternative- Fender Deluxe Strat or a custom shop guitar.
I’m going to say the only bad thing about this pedal at the start: it’s a horrible shade of brown. The highest end of high end delay pedals; this is a digital pedal by day and ninja analog pedal by night. It isn’t really overloaded with features and it doesn’t have much variety in sound, however, the idea here was to do one thing, but do it completely right. Trust me when I tell you that this delay is the clearest, the warmest, the most refined and one of the easiest to use delay pedals. Despite being a digital delay pedal, it can emulate the analog delay sounds with (literally) a flick of the switch. (Want to know the difference? Click here)
It has the basic features of any delay pedal, including a tap tempo. It has an Echo knob, which controls the volume of the effected signal (the volume of echoes), a Level knob, which controls the output volume, a Repeats knob, which controls how many repeats are going to happen, and finally a Tempo knob, that controls the speed of repeats. It has one footswitch to switch the pedal on/off and another footswitch for tapping in the tempo, which has a LED light that blinks along with the tempo. It also has an input gain control built on the side. It has two small switches on its body. One is the heavenly ‘Brown’ switch that makes your delay sound supermushy and smooth at the same time. The other is the ‘Subdivision’ switch that lets you split your delay into ¼ note triplets. It is powered by a 9 volt adapter. Oh yes…and need I mention it has true bypass? (When it is off, it won’t affect your signal even slightly)
The sound quality here is so mind-blowing, that the pedal can make you believe that you are somewhat, almost, perhaps- David Gilmour (just for a second…don’t get too excited). The absolute crystal clarity with the Brown switch disengaged and the melting waves of warm tube delay with it engaged are two very pristine and high quality sounds. This is one of the few pedals that actually don’t even remotely touch your clean guitar sound. It is built with a quality that adds absolutely no unwanted colour to your sound.
My favourite mode is with the Brown switch engaged. You get such a characteristic and virtually analog sound that fits in with any style of playing. You can even sit alone for hours, tripping on the beautiful, all encompassing delay (think Run Like Hell by Pink Floyd). The depth of the repeats and the darkening of the delay at each successive repeat are very distinct and lend that old-world charm to your most futuristic delay sounds. You can choose to leave it on the whole time and hear the way your tone becomes more powerful, or you could use it for quick, easy and powerful tone sculpting; either way you wont go wrong with this pedal.
Granted it is very expensive (Rs 28,025) and perhaps out of reach for the amateur player, it is a one time investment that will be totally worth it. So if you got the moolah, then don’t even bother looking anywhere else.
What we liked- 1.Stunning delay sound, 2.Ease of use, 3.Tap Tempo, 4.Choice between analog and digital delay sounds
What we didn’t like- 1.Price! 2.Lack of other modes like reverse echo, 3.Lack of modulation, 4.The colour
Verdict- Rob a bank if you have to and get this. You won’t be disappointed, if you want the most beautiful sounding no-nonsense delay pedal that will last you a lifetime. Available at Bhargava’s Musik stores in Mumbai
Rating- 5/5 (Sexbomb)
Alternatives- Way Huge Supa Puss, Roland Space Echo (Who am I kidding? These others will do the job but won’t sound as pristine as the replica)
Small, shiny, hot pink and made of metal are terms people usually associate with pre-teen jewellery and not a pedal with a face melting distortion sound. But then in this case I guess your schema for pink things got challenged when Suhr decided to make the ‘Riot’.
It’s a compact box and rather heavy for a pedal that size. To its left and right you have your 1/4” input and output jacks. It’s got an LED smack at the centre of the pedal and a nice clunky footswitch below it. Above that is the Tone (set your Equalizer) knob. To it’s left and right is the Dist (set your gain and general amount of mayhem) and Level (volume control) knobs, respectively. In between those two is a three-way Voice selector (that lets you select a midrange voicing of your choice). To the front it’s got a 9V Jack and a FX Link
Riot has a versatile, sensitive distortion and is a pedal designed for clean channels. When you first plug it in and turn it on, the volume jump and it’s very aggressive distortion might startle you. If you’re looking for a distortion sound to mess with, then this is probably your best bet. The Voice switch really has a pretty strong impact on the sound and isn’t just there because it’s fun to toggle with. Going from a nice mid range focused sound to ‘Holyshit!Wherearemymids?’ it drastically changes your sound. The distortion too is really diverse, providing you with a wide spectrum of sounds to play with. Works great for holding down nice sustained chords that ring or even playing some hot leads. The pedal cleans up pretty nicely as well, with the volume knob on your guitar. Sort of like a loud angry hobo that turns into a dude in a tux as you roll down your volume knob. The tone knobs make it go from super mellow to really tinny and screechy and everything in between.
So the FX Link allows the pedal to be remote controlled from any kind of interface like a pedal board, loop switcher, external switch closure etc. So you can power up in the On and Off state as well as the FX Link state.
Another cool feature is that it has a battery monitor that alerts when you have a low battery situation, instead of crapping out on you mid solo like some others do. When the battery is low (4.5V) the LED will blink thrice. Once it’s too low to function the pedal will go into True Bypass mode and your sound will be unaffected.
At around Rs18000-19000, it is nothing but expensive, but it won’t be a purchase you’ll regret.
What we like: Versatility, great sound, some added extras in the specials section, Voice selection.
What we don’t like: Price, Volume increase is huge, Y-U-NO-3-band-eq? (This one is just whining.)
Verdict: A pedal that takes you from ‘squeaky-clean goodness’ to ‘World Mud Wrestling Championship levels of dirty’ just by pressing a switch? AND some added extra features? Sounds fuckin’ great.
Rating: 5/5 (Sexbomb).
Alternatives: Okko Dominator, CMATMODS Brownie and other pedals that mostly guitar collecting uncles have heard of/can afford OR buying a bunch of classic tube amp heads.
—- Hartej Sawhney—-
Every guitarist today will tell you that an all-tube amp is what you need… and you would agree! So, why do you still play on a tiny 10watt solid state Marshall MG10 in your room, hopelessly convincing yourself that it’s giving you the tone you want? Here’s the truth, you’re an Indian musician… You can’t afford a tube amp and neither can I. Because of this, you fill up your pedal board with a plethora of pedals and processors assuming that maybe that’ll ‘fix’ your sound. Before panic takes over, relax… Your sound isn’t broken, it’s just not constructed right. You need a real amp. A tube amp. Hence, Orange amplification came up with the Micro Terror. The Micro Terror is a 20 watt single channel hybrid amp head. Hybrid implies that the amp has a tube preamp and a solid state power amp. It’s the 21st century…If we can have hybrid cars, we can have hybrid amps.
The Micro Terror has an ECC83/12AX7 preamp tube for that classic gain reminiscent of David Gilmour or Jimmy Page driven tones. Equipped with a volume, tone and gain knob, the amp also has a 1/4-inch jack headphone output and 1/8-inch jack aux input to jam to your favourite backing track, drum loop, mp3 etc. Measuring 6.5 inches in width and weighing 0.85kg, the Micro Terror is housed in the same steel casing as the other terror series amps. Built portable and strong. Sounds like a good option for a tiny little practice amp for home, right? Yes and no. While Orange has designed a cabinet with a single 8-inch speaker, the Micro Terror with a minimum 4ohm impedance output, can drive an 8ohm or a 16ohm cabinet without ANY hiccups. So, is Orange seriously suggesting that you use the amp on stage whilst plugged into a 4×12 cabinet? Of course they are.
I plugged in a Godin Progression(Strat-style) guitar into the amp which was plugged to an Orange PPC108 cabinet. With the volume knob pointed at 2 o’clock, tone at 12 and gain at 8 . I was welcomed to a lovely old school blues tone. Just the perfect amount of drive to deliver the much desired Buddy Guy sound. But, one must admit… When not accompanied by another instrument, the PPC108 felt bland and left me with the undying urge to crank up the gain all the way. The result of pushing the gain to its absolute limits was well received Sounding much like a ZZ-top track tone, the beautifully voiced Micro Terror was now ready to be plugged into a PPC412 (4×12 cabinet). Toying around with the controls, it was realized that the amp wasn’t meant to be clean. Sure, you could clean it up by tweaking the volume pot on the guitar or reducing the gain on the amplifier itself, But its easy to tell that it aches to be abused. It sang clean beautifully but, it took me no time to realise that it wanted to scream. Oh and it did…What came as a shock was how loud the amp could get! Screaming with character, the Micro Terror is the next best thing to its older brother (Tiny Terror) at a fraction of its price.
At Rs.7870, it’s hard to suggest any other amplifier in that price bracket. While we dont suggest that it replace your all-tube live amp, we do suggest that it play the part of an awesome back-up amplifier and an imperative part of your guitar bling-bling.
What we liked- 1. Compact, portable and strong. Perfect to carry to live performances. 2. Affordable 3. Looks so cool, you could hang it around your neck and wear it as an accessory.
What we didn’t like- 1. Lack of control. Provision of a 3-band EQ would have made a guitarists decision easier.
Verdict- Its an amp head you cannot go wrong with. Its pocket friendly, easy to use, portable and can deliver that Terror series voice we crave for. Grab one today..they’re not hard to find. Orange amplifiers are available at Bhargava’s Musik stores in Mumbai.
Rating- 4.5/5 (Okay…bit of a pickle. a 5/5 is Sexbomb and 4/5 is Kickass. I guess this rating makes it Kickbomb…or something.)
Alternatives- Absolutely none (why even bother?)
—– Rohaan Talsania ——
Flangers usually make me think of Van Halen and long-ass frizzy hair. Swirly tonal modulation on high-gain distortion makes for nice riffs. However, that style of playing is too passé now. Flangers for the modern player need a little versatility, and the Vortex has oodles of it.
This little box doesn’t have as many knobs and dials like some other spaceship sized flange boxes but it can do everything you expect from a flanger and much more. It has four knobs: Speed, Depth, Feedback and Delay Time. The Speed knob controls the speed at which the flangie thingy goes up and then goes down like a stoned roller coaster (Speed of modulation). The Depth knob controls the depth of trippiness (how deep and how effected the signal gets). The Feedback knob works two ways. It is at zero when at the 12 o’clock position. Turning it left makes the flange go high and then low (negative feedback) and turning it right makes it go low and then high (positive feedback). The Delay Time knob is a difficult one to get a hold of. In simple words, this knob lets you control if the entire flange wave gets completed or not. Turning it all the way left lets the modulation be complete (all the way up and all the way down or vice versa) and turning it right wards reduces the time of modulation (all the way up and halfway down or vice versa). All this “up and down” nonsense is getting to me now. If you know what a flange does then this paragraph might make sense to you. If you don’t know what a flange pedal is then what the hell are you doing reading this?
Anyway, it has a flicky switchy thing in the middle that lets you select between three flange modes. These are: Flanger, Toneprint and Tape. The Flanger mode is the normal digital flanger mode with TC Electronic’s flanger voicing. The Toneprint mode lets you download certain ‘Toneprints’ from TC Electronics’ website. Toneprints are different voicings to a pedal created by famous guitarists. In essence you can have a bunch of different pedals in one. The Tape mode is an analog flanger emulation mode.
So now to the sound. The Flanger mode sounds great, albeit with a slightly cold and digital tone to it. But that is the charm of it. With a twiddle of the knobs you can get airplane-wooshing sounds or subtle vibe sounds. Setting it midway gives you that Van-Halen or Alice in Chains flange sound to perfection. The Tape mode is my favourite, though. It can go from classic Hendrix kind of flange tones to a tremolo sound when put on the highest speed setting. The tape mode can even emulate a chorus sound if you fiddle around with it a bit. The warmth of the tape sound is very evident and it also has a fade-out effect midway the complete flange cycle.
All in all the flexibility of this pedal is unparalleled in most other flanger pedals. The fact that this pedal can do flanger, tremolo and chorus sounds all in one very pedalboard friendly box is a benefit to be considered.
Rating: 4/5 (Kickass)
Alternatives: Electro Harmonix Electric Mistress, buying three different Boss pedals.
No, I didn’t hear this question. I actually asked it a year ago. And one of the middle words was slightly different. Then I did what every self-respecting person with a hunger for knowledge does: I googled it. I saw a plethora of different forums with many answers as to what a compressor does. A lot of them are very illuminating and can explain exactly what a compressor does. This article, however, is only marginally about what a compressor is, despite the misleading title. I think what most musicians want to know is whether they need a compressor or not and this is my attempt to answer that. I am a guitarist, so I will talk about compression for guitarists and bassists, but at the same time I will also explore the need of compression for vocalists and on music production for drums.
So now for a quick look at what a compressor really is. Very very simply put: a compressor increases the volume of soft sounds and lowers the volume of loud sounds. Technically put: it lowers or “compresses” a sound’s dynamic range. How this translates into English is: the more subtle aspects of a sound or chord you play come in to the lime light. While playing guitar, the softer pick scrapes and strums can be highlighted. How hard you play the guitar starts mattering less and less. In a similar fashion, for vocalists, a compressor could bring about a clarity and sibilance to voice by highlighting the softer ‘ssss’ sounds and lowering the loudness. It makes your sound more controlled and within a controlled range; it can be set to emphasize certain parts of a sound. End of lesson.
Okay so now lets look at compression on music production for drums. Drums are one of the most dynamic instruments. They can be real loud and real soft depending on usage. Even within a drum set, each item has different loudness levels. Usually the snare seems louder than the kick but this also depends upon how the drummer plays it. Putting a compressor on drums really makes the sound of drums huge. The bass of the kick and the ring of the snare get pushed to the forefront and make the entire set sound bigger and more powerful. So if you want to go for a gigantic drum sound (probably something akin to the start of Smells Like Teen Spirit) then push up the compressor and enjoy.
For guitarists it is more of an effect to use when needed. Typically, funky stuff on the guitar could do with compression to bring out the rakes and scrapes. But other than that compression could be used to great effect to fit in your guitar sounds in the full band scenario. In essence one mustn’t drown the vocalists in a wave of distortion and generally be a douche on stage. At the same time all the little harmonics and subtle nuances get to shine. Now on this matter, solid experimentation is required. If you like heavier genres of music with lots of gain, harmonics and loudness then a compressor could be really useful. Even with certain aspects of country, blues and funk a compressor takes your tone up a notch. Be sure to ensure you enjoy the sound of a compressor though. For bass guitar a compressor is more of a tonal option. Some bass sounds are great without compression, but a compressor may reduce the boominess and add a little punch to your slaps. Most bass amps come with a limiter option which works like a compressor in limiting your loudest sounds. It is advisable to have a compressor handy for unknown stage situations.
Finally, lets look at compression for vocalists. The need for vocal compression depends solely on the style of the vocalist. Compression on vocals is likely to distort vocals if applied to a large extent. Like every effect on vocals, compression needs to be subtle and just applied to make the vocals darker or brighter based on they type of compression. It can vary from song to song and is best to let an engineer handle this.
Well, I certainly hope things are clearer; the loud is softer and the soft is louder etc. Go try a compressor out and you may be surprised. It may be a bit subtle to grasp but small things make big differences, especially when the soft is louder…
A lot of highly exciting things have happened in music technology and have been happening for a very long time. Watch Sound City: a beautiful documentary about the legendary Sound City studios, which had to shut down because it couldn’t compete with the advent of modern recording technology. It is a tragic story for some but to some it is the onset of new and exciting ways to make music. In essence some like the rawness of music and some like the sophistication. What I am talking about is the struggle that every musician faces at some point: the question of digital versus analog sound. Through the course of this article I want to explore both approaches and clear up a few things along the way.
So, most musicians know that analog sounds are warmer whereas digital sounds are clearer, and in this regard it is each to his/her own. The kinds of music one wants to play usually determines which kinds of sounds one uses. To give a few examples, Jack White is a firm believer in the analog way of doing things, whereas Trent Reznor has been using digital tools to great effect for very long. Listen to their records and you will see the difference as clearly as possible. Many musicians believe that an analog sound has a closer relationship to the musician. The rawness of having just a musician and his talent to help him is the attractiveness. Digital on the other hand can provide you with great levels of finesse and help you to hone the rawness into clear sounds.
Both ideas and schools of thought have their own power and can be used very beautifully by any musician. One needs to identify the right method of using them. Now before we proceed any further, lets just be clear on a point: any kind of a sound, be it analog or digital is just like an instrument- you need to know how to play one.
In guitars, for example, the popular way to get effects in to your sound is by using a digital signal processor. Or as some people call it: Multi-Effect pedals. Many musicians, especially in India, love using them. They are convenient and can do just about anything there is to do with guitars. You don’t need an amplifier; you can just plug in and go. They have a wide variety of sounds ranging from the bizarre to the usual. Now these processors have a certain kind of sound and one needs to use those sounds as a tool for the music one makes. Many a time I have heard from a whole bunch of musicians that “digital is shit” and other such sentiments. This however is not really true. It only depends upon what one decides to play. If I wanted to play Nine Inch Nails or other such industrial or electro stuff, there’s nothing like digital processing to give you highly complex and many-layered sounds. I wouldn’t play the blues like that though.
The choice, at some point, becomes a bit genre specific. However, one must also understand that genres in today’s world, don’t mean very much. No one is really afraid to experiment around genres anymore and the album Odd Soul by Mute Math actually goes out and slams my previous statement about blues and digital sounds to the ground.
Experimentation is really the key here. I am a convert from digital to analog, but both sounds never cease to impress me. Now there are digital processors that can sound indistinguishably analog and analog processors that can do some really wild stuff. Your sound could be found by just a little experimentation and research. And of course one mustn’t be afraid to mix and match as well.
I’m pretty sure you can distill this article into the phrase: ‘Try Before Buy’, but I’m also sure you knew that already.