When it comes to compressing an electric guitar, each musical genre may require something different, so there aren’t any guidelines that you should strictly follow.
However, you do need a frame of reference to guide you through. So in this article, we will provide you with some general recommendations in how to compress electric guitars in your mix. Everything beyond that is in your hands.
Additionally, which compression settings you will apply onto the track with electric guitars is based on which result you want to achieve. In the majority of cases, electric guitars are already compressed, so you should add compression on top of that only if it’s absolutely necessary.
How to Compress Electric Guitar
Start with reducing the ratio to about 7:1. Then set the attack from 1 to 5 ms and your release from 2.5 to 4 seconds. For and the threshold, set it to -20 to -35 dB. This setting will help your guitar to not lose its ‘body’.
If you need the rhythm of the electric guitar to be more pronounced, punchier, and have emphasized texture, you can set the ratio 4:1, with an attack of about 80-100 ms, release 0.8-1.2 seconds, and threshold of -20 to -25 dB. To make the mix sound more radio-friendly, you should set the ratio 2:1, attack at 20-50 ms, release 0.1-0.5 seconds, and -30 to -40 dB threshold.
Additionally, you can use low and high-pass filters that are usually built into the compressor if you need to preserve the natural sound of the low-end.
Please remember that these are simply guidelines that you can play around with. Follow your ears!
Compressing distorted guitars
As it happens, distorted guitars, in most cases, are already compressed, but on a few occasions, you can compress them more. Using fast attack and fast release helps in achieving an emphasized front and center by frequencies, and the same action stops the transients from dominating the sound. Bass frequencies are going to be even more distorted with the help of a fast attack so that you achieve the exquisite booming sound of the mix.
If you set a high ratio, the sound within the frequency range becomes more harsh and distinct. Also, with the help of a high ratio, in spite of a fast attack, the transients are still going to shine through. Having a fast release and high ratio makes the track even more aggressive. Setting a low threshold gives you an opportunity to emphasize the attack and make your track stay within the same dynamic range.
Compression and genres
When we talk about country music, you need to find a compressor that has a transparent tone and apply a medium amount of compression that is enough to make the notes pop while being united. You should use medium attack time to let picking dynamics get through. Also, you should choose between slow and medium release times to get the maximum of the desired result.
If you want to compress metal guitars, you need to be sure that you have a thickness in the low-mids and that everything else is densely glued. If you have any issues in the low-end, it’s better to use a multi-band compressor with the band being between 90 Hz to 350 Hz and setting medium attack and release.
When you’re dealing with funk guitars, it’s better to set a fast attack and release and the ratio of 4:1. With the help of a fast attack, you reduce any harsh transients, and a fast release ensures that you still have the dynamic control and the tone isn’t being squashed. If you need to apply any gain reduction, it’s better to start with 3 dB and choose more if it’s required.
Guitar solos in various genres require different approaches, but the job of the compressor is to make the solo noticeable. In order to achieve that, you need to use a medium attack and from medium to slow release with the ratio of 4:1. After that, you have to move the threshold up to the point that you get the desired amount of compression.
Attack, Ratio, Threshold, Release
If you’re new to compressors, you might be wondering what these words were that we mentioned above in our guidelines. Even if you have some experience, many people don’t quite fully understand them. So below we’ll provide some explanations which will help guide you in finding the right settings for your electric guitar compression.
The attack shows the time that the compressor needs to tame and reduce the gain when the signal is on the level of the threshold or exceeds it. When the attack is fast, the signal is tamed very quickly. And when the attack is slow, the transients pass through without any changes till the moment that the compressor makes the changes.
How you set the attack depends on what goals you want to achieve. If you seek to add more volume and stabilize the dynamics, you should use the slow attack. But if there are a lot of peaks that should be dealt with, you need to set a fast attack.
The ratio measures the amount of gain reduction that the compressor applies when the signal goes beyond the set threshold, and it’s always compared to the unaffected signal. The higher number in the ratio shows the amount of gain reduction. If you want to achieve excellent compression, you should opt for the moderate ratio to get natural-sounding guitars. Or, if you desire to get more evident compression, you should choose more aggressive ratios.
It’s common knowledge that a threshold shows the signal level where the compressor starts its work. As the threshold is measured in dB, any signal that’s higher than the threshold is compressed. Basically, when you set the threshold, you decide which part of the signal you reduce. You can either set the threshold higher if you aim to control and tame aggressive peaks and leave everything else as it is. Or you can set the threshold lower to achieve more details and more aggressive compression.
Before setting the threshold, you should think through what you want to achieve by compressing the signal of the electric guitar. Set the threshold precisely on the part of the signal that you hear the issue on and no lower than that. Play the recording a few times to correct the amount of the threshold.
Release shows the time that the compressor needs for the gain to return to the normal level starting from the time that the initial signal is lower than the set threshold. If the release time is rather too fast, you will hear the signal coming up and down, which isn’t good in the majority of cases. But it sounds good when you play rock music. If release time is way too slow, the gain may not be ready till the sound goes over the threshold again.
When we talk about the electric guitar, if you aim to affect the general dynamic, it’s better to use a slow release. But if you need to tame the peaks, the fast release and fast attack will help you to achieve that.
Types of compression
There are 3 types of compression that you can use on your tracks: taming, tightening up the performance, and treating the signal in the most aggressive way.
Taming compression is good for whatever you need to control in terms of electric guitars. This type of compression is best to use when you need to catch peaks and then reduce them to the point when all of the loudest parts of the track are equally smoothed.
The compression, which is used for tightening up the performance, is going to help you when you need not only to tame the peaks but to raise the softer and quieter parts of the track to achieve a more balanced and consistent sound. This type of compression will treat the sound of the guitar in a more aggressive way, that’s why it’s the best choice for using in solos and the most picked guitar sections.
The last type of compression treats the signal in the most aggressive way and gives you a crazy tone. This type of compression is characterized by fast attack and release, high ratio, and hard knee.