I would, however, like to get a good compressor pedal, and the Keeley seems to be the one that gets the best reviews. My old Trace head has built in compressor that sounds surprisingly good at a minimal setting. Of course, there are no fine tuning options, and, unlike a pedal, it's not exactly portable to another amp.
My high wattage SWR head has a built-in compressor too. It's actually rather nice sounding. But it's of the single knob variety which doesn't allow much in the way of fine tuning to get it to sound exactly your
way. For normal and sane volumes however, there's always my old and beloved Ampeg B-15N. Being all tube it provides that wonderful natural (by way of physics) compression instrument tube amps do so well.
It always amuses me that the hardcore "vintage tone" freaks love to diss
outboard compressors. ("It's just unnatural dude. I'll only plug straight into my Twin 'verb cuz I want to hear pure unadulterated guitar!
") And they'll argue at length about it without realizing a compressed
"vintage tone." Those old amps they love and praise so much also
compress the living heck out of their signal. But these tubeheads
have heard that ol' 12AX7-driven preamp and tube compression so often (and for so long) that they've now come to accept it as un
colored. Which is fine. That trace of distortion and compression is a lot of what makes all-tube amps so musical
. So even if the tube freaks underlying premise is wrong, at least the amps they swear by sound good.
Beyond judicious use of compression, I've also had good luck adding the tiniest trace of reverb
and the least hint of some very slow tremolo
to my bass signal chain. It's so subtle it's virtually inaudible since it only adds a touch of moving air
and an indefinable "liveliness" to the overall sound. You can feel a similar sensation of motion
when you're in the same room with somebody playing the double bass. Enhancer
devices will also give you some of that. I have a lot of respect for the BBE Sonic Maximizer, which I've used in the past even though I rarely use it now. Same goes for the Aphex Aural Exciter
which does much the same in stereo. The Aphex also included a feature called Optical Big Bottom
which really made it shine for use with electric bass. I have one of those in my rack too. But like the BBE, I seldom use it these days.
The whole "exciter" thing can be a little hard to get your head and ears
around. There's a lot of bad marketing fluff surrounding them. And there's even more flat-out wrong
information posted on the web about how they work - along with crazy claims about what they can do for your sound. However, this
video below does a good job demonstrating AND correctly
explaining the BBE. Especially impressive (and why I like Nick Jaffee so much) is that this is a redo of his original video. He redid it because BBE contacted him after he posted originally to politely suggest his presentation wasn't clear - and his explanation about how the device worked "wasn't entirely accurate." Most video bloggers wouldn't be so upfront about being wrong when they redid their video. Far too many would double down and start insisting their
explanation was "more correct" than the manufacturer's was. But whatever. Put your headphones on and check out what Nick has to say and show you about the BBE Sonic Stomp Maximizer. Fast forward to the 1:00 mark to skip the opening if you want to get right to the demo and explanations: