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Compression Pedals For Bass Players

As much as we love our overdrives, fuzzes, chorus, and flanger pedals, the one pedal we can’t live without is the often-misunderstood bass compressor. 

Compressors are the pedals that can make one of the biggest sonic impacts on not only how your bass sounds, but also on how it feels, and most importantly, how it sits in a mix. 

If you've ever listened to a professionally produced track and wondered how the bass guitar manages to sit so perfectly in the mix, chances are compression is playing a major role. 

Whether it's a funky slap line or a deep, dubby groove, compression is the secret weapon that helps bassists achieve a consistent, punchy, and well-defined sound.

In this article, we'll dive deeper into the world of bass compression and discuss the essential features to look for when choosing the right bass compressor pedal for your needs. We'll also provide a step-by-step guide on how to use a bass compressor pedal to achieve the perfect sound for your playing style. 

What is compression and why is it a big deal for bass players?

Compression is a tool that helps tame the dynamic range of your bass signal. Dynamic range refers to the difference between the loudest and quietest parts of your playing. By reducing the dynamic range, compression smooths out the peaks and valleys, resulting in a more even and controlled tone.

But why is compression so important for bass players in particular? Well, the bass guitar is notorious for having a wide dynamic range. From subtle fingerstyle playing to aggressive slapping and popping, the volume levels can vary dramatically. This can make it difficult to achieve a consistent sound, especially in a live setting.

Compression can solve this problem by keeping your bass sounding tight and controlled, regardless of your playing style. It can also help to enhance the sustain and punch of your notes, making them cut through the mix.

And if that wasn’t enough, it can also give you the sensation of being louder. Because by reducing the peaks and valleys of your signal, what actually ends up happening is that the average volume is higher.  This results in everyone (yourself included) hearing you better without having to crank up the volume on your amp and eat up the guitarist’s and singer’s frequency range. 

What’s the difference between a studio compressor and a pedal compressor?

Pedal and studio compressors serve the same function giving you some degree of dynamic control over your signal. And they go about it in similar ways but with some distinct differences. 

  • Size and Cost: The most obvious difference is that the vast majority of studio compressors are designed to fit in racks. So they’re typically a lot bigger than most pedals. The second aspect is the cost, since most high-quality studio compressors can be well above the $1000 price point - pedal compressors sit comfortably under the $1k mark.  
  • Design: This is the area where you’ll find the biggest difference between studio and pedal compressors. Most pedal compressors are either VCA, FET, or optical style compressors, which due to their components and power requirements, are a good fit for the pedal format. Studio compressors come in other designs that require tubes or more voltage than what you can get from a 9V adapter.  Check out the history of one of the early and still well-loved studio compressors - The Universal Audio 1176
  • Tone: Both studio compressors and pedal compressors vary greatly in how they impact your tone. They can go from super transparent to very colored. How they’ll impact your tone is a matter of design goals rather than its form factor. This makes having a clear goal in mind when picking a compressor one of the first steps to make sure you pick the one that will suit your needs the best. 

What settings to use for bass on a compressor?

One of the reasons why some bass players shy away from using a compressor is because, if you don’t know how they work, you can set them up in ways that end up hurting your tone. 

You can get weird pumping artifacts or it can overly squash your signal and rob all of the dynamics and punch from your playing. 

But there’s no need to worry, we’ll go over how each one controls commonly found in compressors work so that you know exactly how they’ll impact your tone. 

  • Threshold: This sets the level at which compression kicks in. Lower settings engage compression sooner. Higher settings only impact the loudest peaks.
  • Make-Up Gain: This compensates for volume loss caused by compression. As compression reduces peak levels, it makes your overall volume seem lower. Make-up gain restores that lost volume.
  • Attack: This controls how quickly the compressor reacts to incoming signals. Faster attack immediately clamps down on peaks, ideal for taming aggressive playing and smoothing out your playing. A slower attack lets initial transients through, preserving the natural attack of your notes.
  • Release: This determines how quickly the compressor releases the signal after it falls below the threshold. A faster release creates a more responsive, punchy feel. A slower release offers a smoother, more natural decay and increases the sustain.
  • Knee: This shapes the compression curve. A "hard knee" means abrupt compression, great for a punchy sound. A "soft knee" provides a smoother transition, offering a more transparent feel. Not every compressor has a knee control, and in particular for bass, the effect knee has on bass is often subtle. 
  • Blend or Mix: This control allows you to blend in some of your uncompressed signals with your compressed signal. This is typically called 'parallel processing' and is a studio trick that allows you to keep the dynamics of your playing while still adding the punch and sustain you get from the compression. 
  • Ratio: The ratio determines the intensity of the compression effect once it crosses the threshold. Lower ratios, like 2:1, offer a subtler effect, evening out the dynamics without sacrificing too much of the natural character of your sound. Higher ratios like 8:1 or 10:1 have a much more noticeable effect. 

Now that we know what each control does, here are some settings to give you a starting point. Keep in mind that these settings will sound different on each compressor since they have different means of applying compression. Use your ears and find what works best for you. 

  • Threshold and Make-up gain: these two will greatly vary from compressor to compressor. Some compressors feature a meter or lighting that gives you a visual cue when your signal is being compressed. If you’re not sure you are hearing the effects of the compressor, try keeping your output volume at unity gain, so that you’re ears don’t simply think that louder is better. 
  • Settings to add punch: To add more punch to your tone, you’ll typically go for a slower attack time and a faster release. For attack,  you can start between 5ms - 10ms, and for release, you can try between 75 ms to 100 ms. 
  • Settings to smooth out your signal: If what you’re looking for is to smooth out your tone and increase your sustain, then you can start with a fast attack between 1 ms - 3 ms and a release time of 200 ms - 400 ms. 
  • Setting the Ratio: Lower ratios, like 2:1, offer a subtle effect, evening out the dynamics without sacrificing too much of the natural character of your sound. Higher ratios like 8:1 or 10:1 have a much more noticeable effect and typically work better when you mix in some of your original signal with the blend knob and with a higher threshold setting so that it only compresses the highest points of your signal. 

Which compressor is right for you?

Now that we know what a compressor does and how to set it up to make it work for you, here are some of the options that we carry.

Jam Pedals Dyna-SsoR Bass Compressor

This pedal is based on a compressor design from the early 70s but completely reengineered by the folks at JAM pedals to make it work for bass. It’s layout is as simple as it gets, two knobs, one for compression and one for level. This is a great compressor if you want a bit more punch, control, and detail out of your tone without having to twist too many knobs. 

Caveman Audio BC1 Bass Compressor

The BC1 Bass Compressor takes a different approach than most compressors in the market since it is literally a studio-grade compressor that can fit on a pedalboard. The BC1 is designed to take the role of a mastering compressor. These are the ones that are used at the end of the mix to add the final bit of polish to a mix, as such, this compressor is meant to sit at the end of your signal chain. Additionally, it also features a boost function so that you can get a volume bump without getting additional squash from the compressor. 

EBS Multicomp

The Multicomp has been a favorite of bassists for many years since it’s super easy to use and sounds great. It has three knobs, threshold, level, and compression which allow you to dial in anywhere from subtle level control to quick peak compression. 

Trickfish VCA Compressor

This pedal strikes a great balance between control and ease of use. The VCA Compressor gives you control over the ratio, clean blend, threshold, and gain of your signal. It has a fixed attack and release so that you can feel confident that it will always be in a setting that makes your tone sound better. 

Darkglass Hyper Luminal Compressor

One of the most interesting aspects of this compressor is that it’s an analog/digital hybrid design. This means that all of the compression is done through an analog VCA style circuit, but controlled by a digital interface. This allows the Hyper Luminal to take the form of three distinct compressors that go from totally transparent to heavily colored. This is a pedal that sounds great and gives you the option to go super granular in its control, or just leave the knobs at 12’o clock, and feel confident that it will sound great. 

Lusithand Alma Bass Compressor

The Alma Bass Compressor is an optical-style compressor. These circuits are very transparent and capable of fast compression. This makes a great option if you want to just limit your peaks and even out your signal. Also, it features a unique tilt EQ knob which lets you make your tone brighter or darker to complement your compression settings. These two features give you a wide range of tonal shaping that will make it easy to get your tone sitting perfectly in the mix. 

Aguilar DB599

This is another two-knob-sounds-good-anywhere type of pedal. It has set values for attack, release, and compression ratio all tied up to the compression knob, and is designed to be as transparent as possible. As a secondary bonus, it’s in a compact mini-pedal type enclosure, so you can fit it in even the most crowded pedalboards. 


Check out all of our bass compression pedals.