Can You Use A Guitar Compressor for Vocals? 2-Minute Read

Compression is an effect that is frequently used for guitar as well as vocals. A compressor’s job is to maintain consistent dynamics by boosting any signals with a low volume and restricting signals that are louder than the threshold level.

So, can you use a guitar compressor for vocals?

Guitar compressor pedals can be used for vocals, however, because they were developed primarily for the voltage level and signal strength of guitars, there is a possibility of an impedance mismatch occurring when these pedals are used for vocals.

If you want to compress your vocals without adding any unwanted noise, then utilizing a guitar compressor is probably not the best choice for you.

In contrast to the balanced signal that is used by the vast majority of vocal microphones, the inputs on a guitar compressor are intended solely for line-level instruments. In spite of this, the compressor will function properly on vocals; all it will do is apply some coloring and make some tone tweaks, which will likely result in the vocals sounding low-fidelity.

How To Use A Guitar Compressor For Vocals

It is undoubtedly viable to use a guitar compressor for vocals; however, there are a few considerations that need to be taken into account before doing so. 

First, let’s talk about the connectivity problems that you’re probably going to run into. Inputs for line-level instrument cables typically come in the form of 6.35mm jacks, which are standard on guitar pedals.

Keep in mind – The strength of a signal at line level is approximately one thousand times stronger than that of a balanced mic-level signal.

This power difference is significant when discussing the use of guitar pedals for vocal purposes because, obviously, it will require you to connect a microphone to the input that is designed solely for line-level instruments. In other words, if you want to use guitar pedals for vocal purposes, you will need to connect a microphone to the input.

Although it is not recommended to connect devices and cables that are not meant for guitar pedals, it is highly unlikely that doing so would cause any damage to either the compression pedal or the microphone. Because of this, you can give it a try without having to worry about any power surges or inconsistencies damaging your equipment.

A balanced audio signal is sent through three conductors in almost all vocal microphones.

This signal is substantially weaker than the signal carried by line-level instruments such as guitars, basses, or synthesizers.  In contrast, guitar effects pedals are not designed to facilitate balanced signals in the same way as vocal effects pedals are.

You can rest assured that there will be no damage done to your gear if you experiment with compressing your vocals with a guitar pedal. You will require a specific kind of cable in order to accomplish this task effectively. On one end of this cable, there should be a female 3-pin XLR connector, and on the other end, there should be a 6.35mm jack connector.

These cables may be purchased for a reasonable price and are not difficult to find online. 

They are commonly used to link the outputs of an audio interface, preamp, or mixer to the monitors of a recording studio. To make this connection, you will need a balanced cable, and most of the time, you will also need a 6.35mm jack connector in order to extract the signal from the interface, preamp, or mixer.

Follow these steps to use a guitar compressor for vocals:

  1. Get a cable with a balanced female XLR connector and a 6.35mm jack.
  2. Hook up your microphone to the XLR female connector.
  3. Establish the connection between the jack and the input on the guitar compressor.
  4. Plug the pedal for the compressor into a power source.
  5. Make the necessary adjustments to the pedal’s settings so that the effect may be heard on the vocals.

If you do these steps, it’s likely that the guitar compressor will affect how your vocals sound. In fact, it helps if you have a vocal amp or speaker to which you can send the pedal’s output. If you don’t, you can use the input on your audio interface and listen through the headphone port.

How Guitar Compressors Affect Vocal Tones

Compressor pedals for guitars were not intended to be used with vocals, and this is a well-known fact. This is fairly obvious owing to the power imbalances, connectivity options, and the manner that the inner circuitry in a guitar pedal has been engineered.

In spite of this, a wide variety of musical styles emerged as a result of experimenting; for this reason, I would encourage anyone to try their hand at nontraditional techniques.

Music that has been purposefully manufactured to sound less polished and of a lower aural quality than the typical music you’d hear on the radio is what’s referred to as lo-fi, or low-fidelity. 

This style is typically the product of musicians working with the tools they have available to them, so transforming their limits into their distinctive sound.

It is likely that you will achieve a low-fidelity result when you compress vocals with a guitar compressor pedal.

Even if it won’t have a high-quality sound, the end product will still be a pleasant piece of sound. 

If the lo-fi aesthetic is something that piques your curiosity, experimenting with vocal compression using a guitar compressor can give you many enjoyable hours of experimenting and producing.

Unfortunately, if you want your music to have a clean and polished sound and you want to stick to the ways that have been tried and tested, then using a guitar compressor for vocals will probably not achieve the effect you are looking for.

However, there is no harm in experimenting with it, and you could be pleasantly surprised by the color and tone shifts that result from using these two things together.

What Compressor Settings To Use For Vocals

Connecting your vocal microphone to a guitar compressor pedal is the simple part of this process. 

This will not take very much time at all, and it is highly possible that you will be able to hear the outcome almost immediately. 

Having said that, it is imperative that you have a solid understanding of how to tweak the settings on the guitar compressor pedal so that they are compatible with vocals.

As a result of the fact that the input signal strength of a microphone is approximately 20 dB hotter than the signal strength of an average guitar, the pedal will interact with voices in a totally different manner than it would with a line-level input. 

In order to make up for this, you need to set the Sustain control on the compressor to its most minimal setting, which is zero.

It will be necessary to turn the Level control all the way up to its highest setting.

This feature combines the direct input with the sound that has been compressed; therefore, if you intend to use it for recording vocals, you will need to compress the sound to its fullest extent in order to protect the levels.

Therefore, the Attack should begin with a default value of zero. This is due to the fact that the attack determines how long it takes for the compression to become effective.

You shouldn’t be concerned even if it initially sounds a little sloppy. 

You can make adjustments to the levels of Sustain and Attack as you listen, adding only a small amount to each parameter at a time until the compressor achieves the effects you want.

Alternative Vocal Compression Techniques

There’s no question that compressing vocals with a guitar pedal is something that should be experimented with.

It is likely to give you some excellent results if you appreciate odd tones and low-fidelity sounds. On the other hand, tone purists are likely to be dissatisfied with the poor audio quality that is produced as a result of using a guitar compressor for vocals.

You are in luck since there are two options that you can choose from. If you only need vocal compression for live performances, your best bet would be to invest in a pedal that was developed explicitly for this function, as this would be the most appropriate solution. Compressors that are rack-mounted are another option for accomplishing the same thing.

Have a look at this rack-mounted compressor that’s available here on Amazon.

If you need compression primarily for studio voices, you may simply use the built-in compressor that comes with your digital audio workstation (DAW) or a VST plugin. These alternatives can connect to your microphone very quickly and easily using the audio interface’s input.

Frequently Asked Questions

What type of compressor is best for vocals?

Because of their smooth and transparent properties, optical compressors are the most suitable for compressing vocals. Utilize a FET compressor for an aggressive sound.

Is the compressor good for vocals?

The dynamic range of a signal gets smaller when it is compressed. Vocal recordings are naturally dynamic, which means they have a wide range of loud and quiet parts. Compression narrows the gap between the loudest and quietest parts of the vocal, making the volume consistent all over.

How much compression do you need for vocals?

A 4:1 ratio with a medium-fast attack and a medium release would be a good starting point for a rock vocal. Then, set the threshold so that the gain reduction is between 4 and 6dB. Change the attack time up or down until you get the right amount of forwardness for the mix.

Should you EQ or compress vocals first?

If you want to add EQ or compression to your vocals first, that’s a question of preference. If you use EQ first, the tone will be warmer and more well-rounded. If you use a compressor first, the sound will be cleaner and more polished.

Written by:
Amit Gupta
Amit Gupta

Hi, my name is Amit Gupta, and I am the owner and contributor at Radaudio. My passions include guitar, bass, and piano, as well as a range of classical instruments that I have been playing since school.

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