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!



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. guyforget Says:

    ^^^^Gills – just rename the files with an 01-, 02-, 03-, etc in front of the track name and put them in numerical order….

    Interesting post miner! Whatever Trey chooses is fine with me (cough, cough, bring it back, cough)

  2. tubeopener Says:

    Anyone know what pre-amp trey was using in ’97? In the raleigh DVD it looks like he has the bradshaw CAE three channel preamp but i’ve never seen him acknowledge that he used it anywhere. It doesn’t look like a mesa pre-amp. It’s white, has three layers of knobs, and is at the bottom of his rack.

  3. AK47 Says:

    When you compare the two audio samples in this post, there is no question that the Ross compressor absolutely has to come back.

  4. regularreader Says:

    i agree that this is great topic of conversation. though i haven’t been on PT in years, i currently read the phishthoughts blog every day. dear mr. minor, even though i support most of your ideas, when i write you an email, you never reply. i’ve decided to start sharing my opinions with this whole community…

    sorry about this, but when it comes to the compressor, i definitely have a preference. trey’s current sound is not even in the same league when compared to his sound during phish’s hey day with the ross compressor at the end of his rig. in general, i like to support most decisions that trey and the band make. however, though trey and the band can still rock, when you compare their overall sound, level of creativity, discipline, technical ability, and overall approach to making music; we are talking night and day here. i feel like even the most dedicated fan can at least acknowledge this idea.

    please put on any SBD (try the 7/29/97 gumbo or the 11/28/97 ghost, that can both be found on this website. how about the 7/15/98 limb by limb or 7/29/98 bathtub gin from the live phish 17 release…) show from ’97-’99 and listen to it at full volume with headphones. perhaps the best part about hearing exactly what those guys heard pumping though their monitors is that, technically, during this period their sound (among many other things) was at its zenith. i don’t mean to offend anybody with my opinion, i just thought i would share MY phish thoughts.

  5. Mr.Miner Says:

    ^^ no hard feelings on the email man. I try to respond to each and every one.

  6. Carl Says:

    I like the pre-hiatus tone, but it’s up to Trey. I can see why he would want a more dynamic, responsive sound. But in general, Phish shouldn’t be getting back together if they’re not committed to their own artistic vision, no matter how many fans they alienate or disappoint. I hope they won’t suck, but if they do, I hope they suck for the right reasons, and not because they are pandering.

    A bigger problem with Trey’s post-hiatus playing is the lack of listening and sensitivity. Too often he sounds like he’s at home, blowing over a Jamey Aebersold or Music-Minus-One record. No pedal can fix that. Hopefully, the sober Trey will be more of a team player.

    Speaking of post-hiatus Phish, can someone recommend 5 or so shows I should check out? (I’m sure Mr Miner could speak to this.) I haven’t been wild about anything I’ve heard, but I’ve been downloading shows more or less at random and could use some guidance.

  7. Cameron Says:

    Hey Carl,

    as far as post-hiatus shows go, check out 2/16/2003, the Piper> Weekapaug of 2/20/2003, any thing from the new years eve run of ’03 i’ll through ’04 a shout out as well, check out 8/10/04. also, IT is a must have

  8. Mr.Miner Says:

    ^^ go directly to SPAC ’04, do not pass go

  9. EJ Says:

    Mr. Miner,
    Thanks so much for a) reading my mind on this topic and b) having a great site for us, phans.


  10. Matso Says:

    Carl – 2/26/03 and 2/28/03 are both essential and some of the best shows Phish ever played (the only reason I can imagine why they weren’t mentioned by anyone else is because they are such obvious choices).

    Also: the whole Miami 03 run (esp. 29th and 30th) is quality and as Miner pointed out, the second sets of both nights of SPAC 04 are also absolutely amazing.

  11. daniel Says:

    the first time i heard trey play without the Ross, it was during the song Bittersweet Motel. There’s a short guitar riff in between the two vocal sections. I think Trey just turns it off at this point to create a different tone for this short section. It works really well actually, give it a listen…maybe thats what made Trey decide to ditch it…That being said, Ross is the Boss….

  12. contact420 Says:

    Great players know how to use their rigs. Yes, bring back the Ross, but don’t throw away the other tones in the process. Variety is the spice of life and Trey knows hows to use the pedals he’s added over the years. I would like to see the compressor back, but I would like to see a new tone added as well. Let’s see what he’s been up to while going through the “program” and if there is some real creativity happening. I tell ya’ I’m a little nervous, I hope this works this time, there’s nothing more I’d like than for these guys to succeed, especially Trey.

  13. Dave Says:

    I’ve owned a Ross and there’s nothing better. The warmth and sustain achieved are 2nd to none. Analogman makes a great clone, but there;s still something about the original. You could definitely miss it in Trey’s sound that’s for sure. Glad to see it’s back.

  14. Darkstr888 Says:

    Does anyone know what settings Trey uses on his compressor? And is it really at the very end of his chain…after all effects? or just after his two tube screamers?

  15. Gabe Says:

    I am all about the old tone, though admittedly, hearing the crucny stuff in a Carini or jam can be really nice when contrasted within the same show…that would be the goldilocks zone to me.

    Regardless, I think it’s really funny that Trey mentions he’d love a Ross, if he could find one…you’d think a guy that connected could find one in a couple of hours…there are like a dozen being sold on eBay as we speak.

    Either way, glad to hear that the gift was appreciated.

    I think we should now start a movement called “Fans for Fluffie.”

  16. Sam Says:

    It was a great thing what the phans of PT and the People For A Compressed Trey (PFACT) did for Trey. As seen in the pictures from their summer tour announcement, it is already in his rig. I’m hoping he will be using it along with the cabs this time around. if you are interested in purchasing a shirt i have made 2 designs that can be purchased here:


  17. contact420 Says:

    Great idea on the shirts, you should make some decent money in the lot with those.

  18. Willie Randolph Says:

    Any update on this? Did he use the compressor in Hampton? Seemed like a much better tone but I didn’t hear it in every tune.

  19. sweetlou Says:

    I’m something of a beginner so please excuse the question if stupid, but why couldn’t he set up his rig to allow for an end of chain compressor to come on at will when he wants and then to play the edgier sound when he needs it…is it just not feasible to set up in the rig? I heard some fans bought him a compressor and sent one to him recently…

  20. sean Says:

    i know im chiming in late here but it’s important to keep in mind that an amp by design already has compression.. esp treys amp as they are seriously modded. so anyone that listens to the sound clips, keep in mind that the clip wiht no compression is not being played through anythign close to treys amp..i know there is a difference without the compressor compared to the older school stuff, but the drop isnt THAT signifigant overall…trey sound is within his fingers and from the heavens…listen to his old old playinng even beore a PL hollowbody was ever made, you can still hear “trey”.. def a cool topic though overall.

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