Technical and utility pedals can be quite challenging for a guitar player: it’s not like distortions, modulations or delays, that you can always hear clearly and understand how they work with their settings and also when turning their knobs and footswitches.
If you own compressors, Equalizers or noise gates/suppressors you can find quite hard to recognise the differences between two settings, and for this reason they can be hard to set up.
In this article we’ll see what are the differences between Compressors and Noise Gates, and also how to use them your own pedalboard!
HOW DO THEY WORK
Compression pedals are used to reduce the “height of the soundwave” in a signal: their most important feature is the ability to reduce the amplitude (the technical term indicating the height of that soundwave) in your guitar playing.
Basically these pedals work by making all the notes equal in volume.
A compressor‘s purpose is to limit the dynamic range of a signal but it can also give more sustain to a note when necessary, and it does this by bringing up quieter signals in time with louder signals – making the quiet signal louder and leaving the louder one at its own level which creates a more even sound.
Unlike compressors which raise a signal over a certain threshold, noise gates cut down signals: if you’ve got a sound that’s too loud, it can end up being too quiet with no adjustments whatsoever.
DO I NEED A NOISE GATE IF I HAVE A COMPRESSOR?
Noise gates are used to suppress unwanted background noise, whereas compressors can be used to amplify the volume of quieter signals.
Compression can be also used in orde to give your sound more punch and percussiveness, as well as to make it consistent: this is done by reducing the difference in volume between the loudest and quietest parts of your track.
Noise gates should be used if you don’t want sounds interfering with the recording or when in a live setting, as they allow you to control where the sound starts and ends, so undesired noises won’t end up in your mix or on the recording.
CAN I USE A COMPRESSOR AS A NOISE GATE?
The first of those two types of pedals make those quiet things louder, and can help balance a tonal range.
Thanks to the compression, it will be able to turn down a loud part that might have been set too high as well: if your audio signal is too loud, it can cause distortion (and in particular unwanted distortion in your signal chain). Setting the gain will help with this by increasing volume once its been filtered by threshold and ratio, but this can definitely be done when you use a noise gate (and also in an easier way), because then it will completely cut off the input audio when it drops below a certain threshold.
For these reasons, it’s definitely better to use each of those for their dedicated purpose, as trying to “convert” one of the two and trying to do the stuff of the other can require a lot of unnecessary settings and complications.
SHOULD A NOISE GATE GO BEFORE OR AFTER A COMPRESSOR?
Compressors can make frequencies even louder, and that means buzzes and noises as well (even if most of these kind of pedals also have some parts in their circuits that specifically works in noise suppression as well, acting relatively like a gate).
In general, though, it’s better to put the compressor before the noise gate, because in this way you’ll also reduce the noises that the first can make louder in your own pedal chain.
In this article we’ve seen some “rules” about how to use those two guitar pedals, but as in the majority of the cases the behaviour of a pedal can greatly be influenced by the rest of the effects chain, and also, due to the different designs of the circuits, by different models of the same effect, that can influence your sound in a different way as well.
For these reasons, experimenting can give you great results for your own sound, and in case of problems with background noises you’ll also have to consider switching the order of your pedals as well, and also considering all the picture (for example experimenting if the problem of buzzes can be solved using another guitar or amp as well beyond changing/switching your pedals).