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Friday Tips: Frequency-Selective Guitar Compression

Some instruments, when compressed, lack “sparkle” if the stronger, lower frequencies compress high frequencies as well as lower ones. This is a common problem with guitar, but there’s a solution: the Compressor’s internal sidechain can apply compression to only the guitar’s lower frequencies, while leaving the higher frequencies uncompressed so they “ring out” above the compressed sound. (Multiband compression works for this too, but sidechaining can be a faster and easier way to accomplish the same results.) Frequency-selective compression can also be effective with drums, dance mixes, and other applications—like the “pumping drums” effect covered in the Friday Tip for October 5, 2018. Here’s how to do frequency-selective compression with guitar.

 

 

  1. Insert the Compressor in the guitar track.
  2. Enable the internal sidechain’s Filter button. Do not enable the Sidechain button in the effect’s header.
  3. Enable the Listen Filter button.
  4. Turn Lowcut fully counterclockwise (minimum), and set the Highcut control to around 250 – 300 Hz. You want to hear only the guitar’s low frequencies.
  5. You can’t hear the effects of adjusting the main compression controls (like Ratio and Threshold) while the Listen Filter is enabled, so disable Listen Filter, and start adjusting the controls for the desired amount of low-frequency compression.
  6. For a reality check, use the Mix control to compare the compressed and uncompressed sounds. The high frequencies should be equally prominent regardless of the Mix control setting (unless you’re hitting the high strings really hard), while the lower strings should sound compressed.

 

The compression controls are fairly critical in this application, so you’ll probably need to tweak them a bit to obtain the desired results.

If you need more flexibility than the internal filter can provide, there’s a simple workaround.

 

 

Copy the guitar track. You won’t be listening to this track, but using it solely as a control track to drive the Compressor sidechain. Insert a Pro EQ in the copied track, adjust the EQ’s range to cover the frequencies you want to compress, and assign the copied track’s output to the Compressor sidechain. Because we’re not using the internal sidechain, click the Sidechain button in the Compressor’s header to enable the external sidechain.

The bottom line is that “compressed” and “lively-sounding” don’t have to be mutually exclusive—try frequency-selective compression, and find out for yourself.