Adventures In Audio

Electric guitar - compress before the amp, or after?

by David Mellor
FREE EBOOK DOWNLOAD ► LEARN AUDIO ONLINE ►

Compression before the amp and compression after the amp provide distinctly different sound textures. So which should you choose and use?

Here is an excellent question sent in by an Audio Masterclass website visitor...

I like to use compression on my guitar tracks and achieve this through one of two methods. I either mic the guitar cab and have my guitar running into a Carl Martin compressor pedal and then into the amp so the guitar signal is compressed before it reaches the amp, or I just mic the cab without compressor, and then take the recorded guitar track and compress it afterwards. Is one method better than the other? What would most pros do in this situation? Compress in the signal path or compress the whole track after the recording?

The 'most pros' that you mention would either audition both methods in the context of the track they were working on, or use their prior experience to decide what to do. That's that part of the question easily answered.

Audio Masterclass Video Courses

Learn FAST With Audio Masterclass Video Courses

With more than 900 courses on all topics audio, including almost every DAW on the market, these courses are your fast track to audio mastery.
Get a library pass for all 900+ courses for just $25.

But why might you choose to compress the guitar before the amp? Conventional wisdom suggests that if you record a clean track, you can compress it later. If you compress first, you can never get back to that uncompressed sound, if you feel you need it.

But there is a HUGE difference here...

Without compression, the amp will impress its character mostly upon the peak levels of the signal. But with compression, the average level going into the amp will be higher, therefore the amp has more to chew on. This is very different to the sound of compressing after the amp.

Years (er, decades) ago I had a strange recording chain of my own...

I would connect my Fender Stratocaster to an Alesis Microverb digital reverb unit, set to zero reverb. I was in effect using the Microverb as a high-impedance preamp and nothing more.

The Audio Masterclass Music Production and Sound Engineering Course

LEARN AUDIO ONLINE

Ready to take your recording to the next level? Full online course leading to your Audio Masterclass certificate on successful completion.

I would connect the output of the Microverb to a Drawmer DL221 compressor, the standard workhorse compressor over many years of recording. The output of that in turn connected to a tiny Fender Champ amplifier, which I would mic up. I can't remember which mic I used.

I used to love that sound, and the only reason I don't do it now is because it's easier to do it in the DAW. I'll choose a compressor plug-in followed by an amp emulator.

But recording guitar the traditional and 'purist' way through a pedal, amp and speaker cabinet is undoubtedly a great way to work. So yes - compression pedal, a lovely warm tube amp, a speaker cabinet wth maybe a classic Celestion drive unit. It's going to sound amazing!

Try it out and tell me what you think! P.S. Send examples.

Friday September 11, 2020

Like, follow, and comment on this article at Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, Instagram or the social network of your choice.

David Mellor

David Mellor

David Mellor is CEO and Course Director of Audio Masterclass. David has designed courses in audio education and training since 1986 and is the publisher and principal writer of Adventures In Audio.

More from Adventures In Audio...

An interesting microphone setup for violinist Nigel Kennedy

Are you compressing too much? Here's how to tell...

If setting the gain correctly is so important, why don't mic preamplifiers have meters?

The Internet goes analogue!

How to choose an audio interface

Audio left-right test. Does it matter?

Electric guitar - compress before the amp, or after?

What is comb filtering? What does it sound like?

NEW: Audio crossfades come to Final Cut Pro X 10.4.9!

What is the difference between EQ and filters? *With Audio*

What difference will a preamp make to your recording?

Watch our video on linear phase filters and frequency response with the FabFilter Pro Q 2

Read our post on linear phase filters and frequency response with the Fabfilter Pro Q 2

Harmonic distortion with the Soundtoys Decapitator

What's the best height for studio monitors? Answer - Not too low!

What is the Red Book standard? Do I need to use it? Why?

Will floating point change the way we record?

Mixing: What is the 'Pedalboard Exception'?

The difference between mic level and line level

The problem with parallel compression that you didn't know you had. What it sounds like and how to fix it.

Compressing a snare drum to even out the level

What does parallel compression on vocals sound like?

How to automate tracks that have parallel compression

Why mono is better than stereo for recording vocals and dialogue

#