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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Hi guys, I've been a member here for quite a few years, but I mostly lurk and don't post much....

I have a question for anyone familiar with compressor pedals, one that I haven't been able to find an answer to on my own.

I usually set my amp to a fairly low to medium overdrive level, and then either roll back volume on my guitar or split the coils on my humbucker pickups to get my clean tones. The issue I'm having is that when I go to split coils, I'm getting a bit more of a volume drop than I'd like. So obviously a compressor pedal can help level this out. What I'm wondering is if it will still clean up my tone while compressed? Or will it be overdriven more due to the compression?

Thanks in advance!
Mark
 

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The bug in the ointment is that you wouldn't be able to use your guitar's volume control to work the threshold of breakup. Remember that the compressor is going to bring the gain level up to some pre-ordained level (and don't confuse output level with the level the pedal detects as needing to be turned up or turned down). That will, as others have correctly indicated, even out the levels between full humbucker and coil-cancelled levels (albeit with less bass). But if you turn the guitar volume down, the compressor is going to interpret that as simply one more low-level signal that needs some boosting.

Nearly 40 years ago, I used to use an EHX "Hot Foot" controller (shown below) to work the output level control on my Univox compressor. That sort of arrangement, or simply tacking a volume pedal after your compressor, would allow you to provide a more even level for the two different pickup modes, while still being able to work the clipping threshold of the amp.

What can I say? Sometimes the "cure" can be as problematic as the "disease".
 

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Also a compressor does not neccessarily boost signal - depends on how the make up gain is set (sometimes there's a knob for this and sometimes not). Also it changes your tone. This is a case where you probably want a simple boost pedal (unless the comp you have works for you).
 

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Volume pedal makes sense. Check out performances by Mark Knopfler and Phil Keaggy.
 

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Also a compressor does not neccessarily boost signal - depends on how the make up gain is set (sometimes there's a knob for this and sometimes not). Also it changes your tone. This is a case where you probably want a simple boost pedal (unless the comp you have works for you).
Some confusing bits in there, that perhaps you did not intend to be confusing.

1) Limiters allow signal level variation and dynamics below some designated level/threshold. Compressors reduce the overall dynamics of the signal by working at both ends. They reduce gain when the sidechain detects the higher input levels, and increase gain when the input signal level goes low.

2) I think GG means that the ultimate output from the compressor may not necessarily apply enough boost to the level to push your amp hard. In such instances, an additional (and likely external) boost stage would allow you to kick your even levels (even between HB and SC mode) up enough to yield amp breakup.

In other words, if the compressor has a hot enough output itself, then a volume pedal can be used to move that signal back and forth between clean and breakup-inducing levels. And if the compressor itself doesn't provide enough oomph to accomplish that, then you tack a booster after the compressor to go back and forth between clean and breakup-inducing levels.

Do not stick a booster before the compressor, since that will only produce more squish in the compressor, and not necessarily any more output.
 

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2) I think GG means that the ultimate output from the compressor may not necessarily apply enough boost to the level to push your amp hard. In such instances, an additional (and likely external) boost stage would allow you to kick your even levels (even between HB and SC mode) up enough to yield amp breakup.
Yes, but even further, it could not be boosted at all but rather a lower level than the original signal (e.g. even moderate compression but 0 makup gain will give you lower signal). Some pedals have an output level pot (or internal trimmer) others are 'automatic.'

My main point was that if you want to control signal strength without affecting your tone otherwise, you want a boost or volume pedal - a compressor (unless set very light - like mild peak limitting) will affect the dynamic range of your signal as well as the output volume.
 

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I suppose yet another approach is what Jeff Beck uses: dime the amp, and work your guitar volume control to get the degree of breakup you want.
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
Thanks for the responses guys!
My main concern is minimizing the volume drop when switching to single coils. I'm wondering if perhaps a compressor with a blend function would allow me to blend in enough of my original signal that I could clean up my tone while having less of a volume drop....
I don't really want to have to add a volume pedal post compressor and have to work the pedal while switching pickups on the guitar while still playing.... I'm not smart enough to do all that at once lol.
I'm almost thinking I might have to try it and see if it works for me.
 

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I place my compressor after my dirt pedals so I can still dig in to the strings for a more dynamic and touch sensitive dirty sound, but the overall level that reaches the amp is more uniform. Obviously when dirt is off for clean tones, it reacts much the same as pre-dirt compressors.

I suppose if you were using the preamp tubes for dirt, you could try the compressor in the effects loop of the amp. I'll have to try that and see how it feels...
 

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The usefulness of placing a compressor after a dirt box will depend on what sort of dirt box, and how you like to set it. Keep in mind that dirt boxes work by running out of headroom. So they inherently restrict dynamics. If there is still some dynamic range left in the output, then a compressor can provide some additional restriction of that range, on demand, or serve as a sort of clean booster. If the dirt box has been set to squeeze the bejeezus out of the signal, then there generally isn't much left for a compressor to do, apart from boosting the residual hiss when you stop playing.

So it's not wrong or right. Rather it depends on whether there is still something constructive for it to be able to do.

Personally, I'm not the hugest fan of coil cancelling. I certainly enjoy having more tonal options available, but the tonal change never really struck me as being worth the loss of volume or the loss of hum-cancellation. A potentially better option is something like what Reverend and G&L guitars use, which is a bass cut control. Trimming the beef off humbuckers is usually what people like coil-cancelling for. What's nice is you get to keep the hum-rejection, because both coils are on-duty, and you don't lose quite as much volume. Here's one implementation of it on a G&L guitar. All mids and highs get to pass through C1, and you can either make it harder for low end to get to the volume control (VR1 resistance is set higher), or easier (VR1 is set to lower/zero resistance). The nice thing is that it is a continuously variable adjustment.

An alternative to this that I've used is to use a much larger than usual value for the volume-compensating cap (C2 in the diagram). Normally, such a cap retains more of the highs as you turn down, in order to compensate for the loading effects of the volume pot. Sometimes I'll stick on a value like 1500pf. The net effect is that turning Volume down from 10 to around 6 or 7 yields a thinner sound with all the highs and mids, and really only starts to affect overall volume when you go below 6 or so. What's shown in the diagram is better and more flexible, but if you have no room for a 3rd control, the "overcompensated" volume pot works well.
 

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The usefulness of placing a compressor after a dirt box will depend on what sort of dirt box, and how you like to set it. Keep in mind that dirt boxes work by running out of headroom. So they inherently restrict dynamics. If there is still some dynamic range left in the output, then a compressor can provide some additional restriction of that range, on demand, or serve as a sort of clean booster. If the dirt box has been set to squeeze the bejeezus out of the signal, then there generally isn't much left for a compressor to do, apart from boosting the residual hiss when you stop playing.

So it's not wrong or right. Rather it depends on whether there is still something constructive for it to be able to do.

Personally, I'm not the hugest fan of coil cancelling. I certainly enjoy having more tonal options available, but the tonal change never really struck me as being worth the loss of volume or the loss of hum-cancellation. A potentially better option is something like what Reverend and G&L guitars use, which is a bass cut control. Trimming the beef off humbuckers is usually what people like coil-cancelling for. What's nice is you get to keep the hum-rejection, because both coils are on-duty, and you don't lose quite as much volume. Here's one implementation of it on a G&L guitar. All mids and highs get to pass through C1, and you can either make it harder for low end to get to the volume control (VR1 resistance is set higher), or easier (VR1 is set to lower/zero resistance). The nice thing is that it is a continuously variable adjustment.

An alternative to this that I've used is to use a much larger than usual value for the volume-compensating cap (C2 in the diagram). Normally, such a cap retains more of the highs as you turn down, in order to compensate for the loading effects of the volume pot. Sometimes I'll stick on a value like 1500pf. The net effect is that turning Volume down from 10 to around 6 or 7 yields a thinner sound with all the highs and mids, and really only starts to affect overall volume when you go below 6 or so. What's shown in the diagram is better and more flexible, but if you have no room for a 3rd control, the "overcompensated" volume pot works well.
I often run my board as Light OD to Comp to heavy OD/Distortion to boost. Let's me make use of the volume roll off on the light OD to add or remove the edge on a clean twangy compressed country solo.
 
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