Whether you’re using an acoustic guitar, or electric, your instrument as a whole is naturally percussive. When you pluck a string or play guitar chords, it generates a huge amount of energy, which then settles down rapidly into a much weaker sustain. What’s more, when you play a string a lot of that initial pluck is noise and is not even tonal.
There are two traditional solutions for guitarists who want sustain. The simplest is to just overload an amp as much as possible, so that even low-level signals get amplified. This however generates a heavily distorted sound; A more sophisticated and controllable option would be to use compression.
For maximum sustain, a compressor needs four characteristics:
– Low threshold so that even the lowest-level signals can be compressed
– High ratio to produce the maximum amount of compression
– Hard knee as the harder the knee, the longer the signal stays above the threshold
– Fast attack to clamp down on the signal instantly, while a slower attack will let more of the guitar-pick sound through, which is a problem if we’re using the lowest threshold and highest ratio possible, because it accents the attack even more
Their individual differences become most apparent at realistic settings. Once you’ve programmed a preset for maximum guitar sustain, all compressors have a limitation—but we can fix that with the TRANSIENT MASTER plug-in.
The problem with guitar. And the solution
With extreme compression, momentarily when you hit the next note, the compressor has to go instantly from a state of no compression to maximum compression (this assumes the release time has ended). When it does, there’s a loud “pop” as the compressor grabs the note and tries to turn it down. When followed by heavy distortion this pop might not seem as noticeable, but you’ll hear a major improvement if you can get rid of it.
Fortunately, TRANSIENT MASTER is the ideal tool for eliminating this huge pop as it reduces the guitar’s attack before the compressor. TRANSIENT MASTER reacts instantly to the guitar pick sound, and ramps up to the maximum level over a very short period of time. When the compression goes from no compression to full compression, it has time to “grab” the attack and handle it. There will still be a bit of a pop, but it will be much less—more like the level of the guitar signal, instead of being much louder.
Figure 1. TRANSIENT MASTER and GUITAR RIG are set up in PreSonus Studio One. Despite the insane amount of compression in the stomp compressor, TRANSIENT MASTER still tames the pops at the beginning of notes.
For TRANSIENT MASTER‘s settings, reduce the Attack to a minimum. Sustain depends on what you’re playing, and the compressor parameters, so experiment. Sometimes, a quarter of the way up works best, sometimes all the way up is ideal. In this case, when feeding an amp, turning up Sustain produces the best results. Also experiment with the Smooth button, as this may help reduce the attack under some conditions. You don’t need to concern yourself with the limiter, because we’re reducing the attack. If there was sufficient headroom before inserting the TRANSIENT MASTER, there will likely be enough headroom after inserting it, so limit isn’t necessary.
Sustain is fun, but those pops at the beginning of notes can be a problem. With TRANSIENT MASTER, they’ll be much less of a problem—and may not be a problem at all.