The Ross Compressor

rossRecently on Phantasy Tour there has been extensive discussion about Trey’s change in guitar tone from pre to post-hiatus.  The topic of debate has been an effects pedal called the “Ross Compressor,” a pedal that didn’t make the jump to ’03.  Compression of any guitar tone allows for a smoother, warmer, more colorful and even sound.  The Ross Compressor was used by Trey 100% of the time during Phish’s hey-dey, but not in the years of ’03 and ’04.  But Trey used the Ross differently than most guitarists use the pedal.  Instead of compressing his sound first and then sending the signal through the other effect pedals, Trey would set up his compressor at the end of his effects line, compressing his “total” sound.

So how does all this technical-talk translate to in what we hear?  The best way of differentiating Trey’s compressed and non-compressed are comparing pre and post hiatus jams.  His pre-hiatus compression gave him the signature warm and smooth tone that we all came to “know” as Trey.  His uncompressed tone sounds far dirtier and grungier with more of an edge to it.  Check out some of his recent TAB shows for illustrations of non-compressed playing.

PT’er “doopuy” was nice enough to record two guitar samples of his own– one using the Ross Compressor and one without it.  By listening to these two samples, you should be able to clearly understand the difference being discussed in Trey’s tone.  Check it out:

Example 1: Mango Song w/ Ross Compressor < Link

Example 2: Mango Song w/o Ross Compressor < Link

guitarInterestingly enough, there has been a “movement” on Phantasy Tour by “People For a Compressed Trey,” seeking to influence Big Red’s to return to his former tone.  Notoriously absent are strong opinions to the contrary.  Personally, I don’t think the two sounds are mutually exclusive.  By using both sounds, it would only make Trey’s playing more flexible in reaching different feels.  I would hate to see his disgustingly dirty and distorted tone of latter years be axed all together, because there are jams where there is nothing better.  His uncompressed evil, gritty tone has become part of his sound, and regardless of any fans’ movement, I doubt we will see a complete 180 degree turn come March.

Tom Marshall has been posting on Phantasy Tour and relayed these opinions to Trey.  Here is his follow-up post about their conversation:

Ok, I spent the last two days and last night in new York writing three cool songs with Red. In direct response to msharky’s request, I asked Trey what the deal is with this compressor stuff? I explained the PT threads requesting that he bring back the compressor. i asked, first of all, is it true — did you change your rig and eliminate the compressor?

Yes, is the short answer.

He was very surprised that I was asking him this, because I’m not really a “tech” guy…you know? I’m very appreciative of his amazing Languedocs, (he had a Languedoc bass with him too) and I like checking out his amps and pedals and toys, but I usually don’t dwell on it, not being a guitarist myself. I also don’t listen too much to old shows, and so the “tone change” was lost on me. I like writing new songs, and I don’t focus too much on the past.

I asked him to explain the Ross compressor, and why it’s gone.

(One caveat: I didn’t write this “interview” down or record it, but I suppose I should have, and I guess I or someone should try to do so and post it at some point, so forgive me if I get some stuff slightly wrong or miss something. Again, this isn’t the end of the issue as you’ll see later, so we can figure everything out eventually.)

First i must explain that he found it funny that I brought it up, because he had been thinking the EXACT SAME THING: Phish is coming back, maybe the Ross should also come back. He’s thinking of the Mesa and possibly the cabinets too — but he does like that little fender.

Basically, he used the compressor differently than people normally do — often people will place it early in the effects chain to smooth the sound going into the other effects. Trey did it backwards, and had the Ross last — AFTER his two tube screamers. The Ross was always on. Always. His signature Squirming Coil “playable sustain” was the result of full volume pedal and both screamers on and pumping that signal into the Ross.

Me: and so you got rid of it?

Trey: I started playing without it after Phish and found that I could get an “edgier” sound that I can’t get with it.

Me: so it’s gone? or just off?

Trey: gone

Me: forever?

Trey: no, I’ve been thinking of bringing it back for a while now…if i can find it!

Anyway — I think that’s the gist of our conversation. Be glad that perhaps you made a difference — he’s at least happy that people are asking about it.

trey_guitar_closeup1There you have it, from the horse’s mouth.  Apparently Trey has been thinking about his old compressed tone as well!  As a result of this discussion with Tom regarding Trey’s sound, and the knowledge that Trey doesn’t know the whereabouts of his Ross Compressor, PT has pooled money and has bought a new, engraved, compressor pedal for him.  Tom has agreed to deliver the present to the Jedi, himself.  It remains to be seen how much Trey will return to the use his Ross, if at all, but it’s good to know that as Phish plans their comeback, fans’ opinions are getting heard not only by each other, but by Trey as well.  What other band’s community can boast that?

What do you think about Trey’s compressed vs. uncompressed tone? Respond in Comments below!

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DOWNLOAD OF THE DAY:

12.29.96 The Spectrum, Philadelphia, PA < LINK

Press Photo

Press Photo

As the end of the year approaches, let’s dip in to some New Year’s Run material.  There have been several requests for this standout Spectrum show from ’96– certainly the best show of the run.  With a classic second set Phish-fest, everyone was amped on their way up to Boston to close out the year.  Really, the whole second set is a continuous highlight with stellar versions of “David Bowie” and “Bathtub Gin.”  Once the YEM turned into a rotation jam and they dropped “Harpua,” this one was nominated for Phish’s Hall of Fame.

I: Poor Heart, Caravan, Cavern, Taste, Guelah Papyrus, Train Song, Rift, Free, The Squirming Coil, La Grange

II: David Bowie, A Day in the Life, Bathtub Gin, Lizards, You Enjoy Myself* > Sixteen Candles** > Vocal Jam, Harpua*** > Champagne Supernova# > Harpua

E: Rocky Top

*With rotation jam. (First: Trey on drums, Fish on piano, Page on bass, and Mike on guitar. Then Fish switched to bass, Mike to piano, Page to guitar, and Trey continued on drums.) **Mike solo on piano. ***Story about everybody in town. Jimmy, Poster Nutbag, Harpua, etc., go to hell, where they all see the “Uber-Demon” (Tom Marshall). # Oasis cover, sung by Tom Marshall, the “Uber-Demon”.

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45 Responses to “The Ross Compressor”

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  1. Al Says:

    Mr. Miner, you hit my vulnerable spot!!!! You read my mind! I was very sad about Trey’s post-hiatus guitar sound! I miss the compressor. It gave Trey the typical jazzy sound. This was THE Phish sound for me. I pray to God – and Trey – that he’ll bring it back. Wow, I didn’t know that anybody else in the world had the same feelings about this issue…by the way: great show you posted – one of my favorites!!

  2. Matso Says:

    My favourite bit of the interview:

    “He’s thinking of the Mesa and possibly the cabinets too — but he does like that little fender.”

    Now that suggests Trey’s looking back to ’97 and before (I’m not sure when the Mesa Boogie was replaced by the Fender amps, but I suspect it was 96 at the latest). The cabinets were phased out in 98 (I think he played with one on stage for a while in 98/99). Not being a techy guy either, I was never sure how much those contributed to his sound (I always thought the cleaner tone in 96-00 was probably due more to the new ‘doc he was playing than to his amp/speaker set-up). Btw, in post-hiatus Phish/TAB, did Trey still use the leslie speaker he had? I can’t remember and I can’t think of any specific examples of that effect (used to devastating effect in ’95 Hood’s, for example) in the post-hiatus period.

    In any event, I’m sure it’ll all sound beautiful and amazing!

    Great post btw – nice and geeky, just the way I like it!

  3. Cameron Says:

    Hey Miner,

    I’ve got a quick question. A while back you wrote two posts about what jams might be featured in the new era of Phish, Such as tunes from round room or undermind, but i’m curious what if any songs you think Trey might bring from Shine to post-break-up Phish? Also, do you think we’ll hear anything from Page’s album? Thanks for keeping up such a great website man!!!!

  4. G-Man Says:

    I’m on board with Mr. M here. I prefer the classic tone (with compressor) so I hope it comes back, but every now and again Trey should turn that thing off and get nasty – like for Carini

  5. bhizzle Says:

    I’m down for what ever Trey wants to do, but like Mr. Miner and G-man I do like a little edge everyonce and a while. It should be at Red’s disposal, part of his arsenal. Some songs (Mango) I would prefer to hear with it, especially that intro, but that doesn’t mean if the band starts to experiment with the song and bring it to a new dimension that Trey should be able to step on that little button and shred either.

  6. Jeff Says:

    the tone change was noticable to me when they came back, right from the start. It worked for me on many levels, until Vegas 04. That was a nightmare. I know there were other factors present there to explain why Trey was not at his best, but that tone was so harsh that it effectively killed the Phish sound. He seemed to make it more tolerable at the final summer run in 04, but it just wasn’t the same. I want his old tone back, but I agree with Minor that it would be nice that he had the option to drop into the gritty sound during some darker jams or for songs like 46 Days etc. Basically, there is a time and place for it. I have a few theories on his tone change, but it’s obvious he wanted to distance himself from the “softness” associated with his noodling guitar and the “nostaglia” of Phish. His final break from the band and then the introduction of 70 Volt shows me he was looking for some acceptance by a different “thing”, for which I’m not real sure who or what that stands for. I’m hoping his comment about playing Y.E.M. 40 times a day means he’s back to being comfortable with the Phish legacy, and being comfortable in his own skin. If so, I htink the tone will follow. Hey, it’s just my theory!

    -the 12-29-06 show was awesome. I may have been more excited for the Caravan bustout than anything else. I wish the Maze from the previous night got more attention because it smokes. 96 was the year of Simple and Maze. Period.

  7. Monster Says:

    Woah Woah Woah. Really?

    This is one of the coolest things I have read on Mr. Miner. Since I am no longer an active reader of Phantasy Phish, it is great to hear that this kind of band/fan dynamic is going on.

    Thanks for the update Mr. Miner!

  8. SquidMonola Says:

    Agreed. The Ross Compressor ads so many of the textures that make up the Trey sound. please Trey, Bring it back!

  9. Scott Bernstein Says:

    Personally, I don’t think the fans should be telling Trey he needs to change his sound.

  10. Jeff D Says:

    I love that dirty post hiatus tone just as much as pre but if I had to choose, whatever Trey is using during the Clifford Ball Reba and Gin is what I want to hear again. Yes kid.

  11. bhizzle Says:

    word Bernstein

  12. Jerrydamule Says:

    Yesterday, I randomnly hopped on trey.com, looking for a mid-day fix re: all things “GHOTI.” Anyway, I clicked on rig, to get a glimpse of his glorious set up. That part of the site seems to be under construction (it is still not up as of 5 mins ago). I was wondering why, until today’s post, which provides a colorable explanation… Red is in the midst of re-configuring his rig. Anyway, me loves the feng shui/karma/phishiness associated with the responsiveness of your site to even the slightest ghoti question circling in my head. gunga-galunga

  13. Jerzeykid Says:

    The show that is available for download was my second ever show. I went the night before and loved it, so I figured that I would go back the next night, even though I did not have any money or a ticket. When I got out of the car I found $100 on the ground, and as I walked toward the venue. I groundscored a floor seat. After that, I was hooked.

  14. Jeff Says:

    bernstein – i would agree – but TM facilitated this “conversation” with Trey and the fans, and it’s seems to hold some weight. Trey needs to play what he wants to play, but it’s kinda like if your wife (or husband) gains 70 lbs (or loses the lace underwear in place of sweatpants) after marriage. You still love em, but it’s not the same. The question is, how do you nudge them back to their old form?

  15. hawkinbj Says:

    it would be incredible if he came back with the ross. As a guitar player in a longtime Phish cover band, the compressor is that “secret ingredient” that was always missing post-hiatus, and I for one was always dumbfounded as to why it was dropped from the rig. That said, I love Trey’s tone with or without the compressor – but here’s hoping for it’s return in ’08

  16. Jonny Greenwood Says:

    Just don’t make the same mistake that I made with my effects on Go To Sleep. I just wanted to drop by and say that Trey is a God. I may have not learned anything from him, but he is still dreamy.

  17. Mr.Miner Says:

    ^^ agree with Scotty B. But it does sound like Tom got this going as much as anyone….

  18. MP Says:

    The fans aren’t telling Trey anything other than they like the sound he got with the Ross, and beside, Trey admitted he was thinking about that sound anyway. If anything they are ENCOURAGING him to bring it back, but Miner is right, why not both!?!?!

  19. Asher Says:

    The Ross has got to come back, even if it’s used occasionally. Those sound clips really illustrated what that little box brings to Trey’s sound. Great post!

  20. brandofunk Says:

    I think trey has come full circle. He was thinking differently from 2000 ’till his arrest. With a clear head I would not see why he wouldn’t incorporate all his effects into a phish.

  21. gills Says:

    anyone elses download of 12-29-96 songs in different order from the posted setlist. not bitching, just wondering

    bigg upps Minor thanx for my phix
    how about some sbd’s

  22. Al Says:

    The 12/29/96 is awesome. The setlist doesn’t look that great at first glance, especially the first set – but: Listen and enjoy a magic night!!! By the way: the Philly night the day before was great as well! – Trey: if you bring back the Ross, you know what that means?! Rehearsals, rehearsals, rehearsals;-)

  23. Justin Says:

    Bring back the Rossitron!

  24. Heath Says:

    Awesome way to really show what the compressor does with the mango riffs! thanks to you and the guy that laid those down. I’d like to see the compressor back but u are right, there are some songs/jams that need the dirty tone as well. Loving the site as always…. I’m couldn’t get tix for Hampton but I can’t wait to download the show and experience the comeback show myself…. more dates coming soon…….. YESSSSS!!!

  25. Vermont Says:

    Ok as a recording arts major, an owner of the original ross compressor, and the analogman reissue(that trey switched to at some point) I have a lot to say about this issue. A compressor is in many ways an effect, certainly how trey uses it, because of the ability to increase the amount of sustain in the ADSR envelope of any sound.

    There’s no doubt in my mind that Trey’s tone was infinitely more enjoyable when he used the compRosser in his rig! I never turn mine off, but keep in mind that he was labeled for that tone, for better or worse and in a sense it defined him and kept him confined to this stereotypically SQUISHED tone, I truly hope he brings it back into his rig, but uses it with more discretion. My two cents! excellent topic mr miner! if you need any technical help, just let me know as I’m very familiar with the subtle complexities of compression.

    stew

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