Empirical Labs' Dave Derr on Compressing Guitars

August 30, 2017

Introduced in 1996, The Empirical Labs Distressor quickly became one of the most widely used professional compressors in the world. Twenty years later, its creator, Dave Derr, launched a compressor plug-in based on the Distressor that he dubbed the Arousor. In addition to more typical compressor controls, the Arousor features a Detector section that allows you to emphasize or de-emphasize particular frequencies, a Soft Clipping section with a variable Saturation control, and a wet/dry Blend control. But even if you don’t check out the Arousor, Derr’s user tips for his plug-in can work wonders for any application of compression on your guitar parts.

Acoustic Guitars

“To get a classic smooth sound on strummed background parts,” says Derr, “you often want to have a lightning-quick attack (.9ms-2ms), a release time of 250ms to 500ms, and a medium ratio (4:1-8:1) with up to 12dB of peak compression. This is kind of a classic [Universal Audio] 1176LN sound that’s found on a zillion acoustic rhythm parts. If you need more attack and definition, slow up the attack. If you want less attack and pluck, you can stay around 1ms attack—with Arouser preset Big Acoustic 76, you can use Saturation to clamp the front picky edges. Slow the release to tame modulation distortion. To add sustain and body to a solo acoustic, use a gentle ratio of about 1.5:1 up to maybe 3:1, combined with a slower attack. This will keep compression imperceptible. Use a higher ratio and a faster attack on a fingerstyle part within an ensemble mix.”

The Empirical Labs Arousor plug-in. More info at empiricallabs.com.

Electric Guitars

“Strummed, clean electric-rhythm guitars can often be treated like strummed acoustics. Sometimes single-coil guitars are thin and plinky, so you’ll probably want to tame the front edge with a faster attack. Try pulling out a little between 3kHz and 8kHz, and playing with the release time so what comes after the transient doesn’t disappear, but also doesn’t distort. Distorted electric guitar solos often don’t need much compression, which can increase the hiss and buzz. You might try a few dB of compression at a low ratio such as 2:1 to 4:1.”

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