The Ross Compressor
Recently 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
Interestingly 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: 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.
There 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!
DOWNLOAD OF THE DAY:
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”.