Every home producer knows that a bass guitar signal needs to be compressed. Many have no idea why, and just apply a factory preset or randomly mess with compression settings to try to find a bass guitar sound that they like. You might get lucky and come out with a clear, perfect bass signal. But chances are very good that you won’t unless you know what you’re doing. For these reasons I decided to write a short guide on how to compress a bass, and a bass guitar in particular.
Here’s a look at bass guitar compression, why it’s necessary, and how to properly compress a bass guitar signals in your home recordings.
Before using any compression on a bass guitar signal, it’s important to know why it’s necessary. Otherwise, you won’t have any idea what sound you’re going for. Compression takes the peaks and dips of a signal and evens them out, allowing a more consistent sound. This is important for the bass mainly because of two reasons:
- It’s the low end of the song. The more stable it is, the better.
- The bass is an extremely percussive instrument.
Without compression, a song will often sound weak because the backing isn’t sufficient. Compression also makes the initial, percussive sound of the bass (the transient) and the body of the sound more consistent with each other.
Bass Compression Settings
Now, after we understood the compressor’s job and why it’s important to use it, we’ll go over its settings to make sure you get the most out of it.
It’s important to consider the compression ratio for bass guitars; usually, somewhere around 4:1 is adequate. Although this will vary depending on the playing style of the bassist and the song in question. Experiment a bit, and try to find a level where the sustain sounds nice and the bass doesn’t completely overpower the rest of the instruments in your song.
Attack and Release settings
For the attack and release settings on the compressor, first, understand what each does. The “attack” time is when the compression effect kicks in. So by putting it pretty low you ensure that the entire bass signal is compressed. The release time is when the compressor stops working. Set it high for good sustain and low if you just want the first part of the bass signal compressed.
The Golden Rule of Compression
Here’s the most important part of this article, and audio mixing in general: if something sounds good, ignore what I’m saying. These tips can help you compress a bass signal well, but if while experimenting you stumbled upon a great bass tone, stop messing with it–you’ve done it. Try to figure out why it sounds good, but don’t mess with a signal just because some rules say to. If it sounds good, it’s fine. Period.
If you enjoyed this post, you should check out the recording and mixing section for more content like this. Do you have any other tips for applying compression to a bass guitar signal? Post in our comments section below.