A compressor can be a versatile and powerful effect in a player’s tool bag, used by professionals on stage (usually through a pedal) and in the studio (in the form of rack gear) to further craft and control their tone. Unfortunately, many players who are inexperienced with compression are unaware of their potential benefits. Below, we’ll take a look at what exactly compressor pedals are, how they work and the number of ways they can help you enhance your tone.
What Is A Compressor Pedal
A compressor pedal is essentially a tool that is used to “squish” the dynamic range of your signal, meaning it can be used to make the quiet parts louder and the loud parts softer, giving your sound a more consistent response. The most basic compressor pedals usually come with as little as two knobs – one that can control the amount of compression that applied to the signal (usually labeled Ratio, Sustain or Sensitivity) and another that controls the overall output (usually labeled Output or Level). Other controls that compression pedals might include are knobs for Attack, which affects how fast the compression takes effect, and Tone, which affects your tone’s brightness (made to counteract the perceived dullness that compression can sometimes add).
Types Of Compression
Compression can be applied in a few different ways. One such technique is called multi-band compression. This type essentially allows you to apply the compression on different frequency bands to varying degrees. If you don’t want to compress your entire signal but would like your low-end to sound tighter, a multi-band compressor pedal would get the job done. Another technique is parallel compression. This type allows you to mix your compressed signal with a dry one. By doing this, you can keep the feel and dynamics of your uncolored tone while having some the benefits of a compressed signal.
How A Compressor Pedal Can Help Your Tone
The most obvious use for a compressor pedal would be to help even out your volume by tightening the overall dynamic differences between your chords and notes. If you have trouble maintaining a consistent attack while playing, whether that be note to note transitions or even while holding down the rhythm section, a compressor pedal will help even out the volume differences. Maintaining a consistent dynamic level is especially helpful with styles that require playing a lot of fast notes and techniques like pull-offs and hammer-ons, allowing them to all ring through evenly.
Compressor pedals are also regularly used to add sustain. More importantly, they can do so while keeping a clean, pristine sound instead of having to add any overdrive or distortion (which is a common way to add sustain). As your chord or notes start to trail off and fade away, a compressor will help keep the signal level up so that they ring longer and remain clear.
Aside from evening out your signal or adding sustain, a compressor pedal can also be used as a clean boost. By simply turning up the volume knob and keeping the Sustain/Ration down, a compressor pedal will essentially act as a signal booster. So the next time you're looking for a booster pedal, consider trying out a few compressors while you're at it. Not only will they boost your signal like a traditional booster does, you will get the added benefits of a compressor as well.
Which One Is Right For You?
Like most other pedals, compressors come in a wide variety flavors and price points. So while I highly suggest you check out our selection of compressor pedals below, there are a few pedals that stand out from my own experience with them. Personally, I've been using the Keeley C4 Compressor for a few months now and can't find a reason to put it down anytime soon. If you're looking for an extremely clean and transparent high-quality compressor, I highly recommend the C4. Another high-quality compressor that I frequently recommend is the Suhr Koji Comp, a highly versatile compressor that can do anything from vintage warmth to modern compression. It also features parallel compression for added control. If you don't mind a bit of color (inspired by the legendary Ross Compressor), take a quick look at the Xotic SP Compressor. This tiny, unassuming comp pedal is a very popular choice among many guitarists. In fact, it's easily one of our best selling comp pedals. Check out the video below to hear it in action. If multi-band compression is what you're after, the EBS MultiComp or the MXR M109 are two great choices, the latter of which also doubles as a 6-band EQ pedal (and can be had for only $80).
Hopefully, the information and tips above have given you a good idea of the benefits that a compressor pedal can bring to your tone. Whether you're looking for a tighter sound with even dynamics, clean sustain or even some clean boost, a compressor pedal can deliver. For questions regarding the purchase of any of the items mentioned above or any other piece of gear we carry, don't hesitate to chat with one of our friendly PAL pros by using the live chat feature below or by calling us toll-free at 1 877-671-2200!
Your Turn to Sound Off!
Do you currently use a compression pedal? Why or why not?