Compressor pedals are an essential part of a guitarists rig. They help control the dynamic range of the guitar signal, producing a consistent sound and enhancing the overall tone of the guitar. In this article, we will delve into what compressor pedals are, how to use them, and whether or not you need one. We will also provide you with our top picks for compressor pedals.
The dynamic range of a guitar signal can vary widely depending on how hard the strings are plucked, the type of guitar being used, and the playing style of the guitarist. Compressor pedals are used to control the dynamic range, making the louder parts of the signal quieter and the quieter parts louder, resulting in a more consistent sound.
Compressor Pedals – What are they?
At its most basic, a compressor is an effects pedal that reduces the dynamic range of a guitar signal. It does this by limiting the volume of loud sounds and boosting the volume of quiet sounds, resulting in a more consistent and even output. This can help to create a smoother sound, reduce noise, and make it easier to play. They help to control the dynamic range of your guitar signal. Dynamic range refers to the difference in volume between the loudest and quietest parts of your playing. A compressor pedal works by reducing the volume of the loudest notes and boosting the volume of the quietest notes, resulting in a more consistent overall volume. This can be especially useful for guitarists who play with a lot of fingerpicking or strumming, as it helps to balance out the volume of each note. In addition to smoothing out your playing, a compressor pedal can also help to enhance sustain, add warmth to your tone and even provide a slight distortion effect.
Compressors work by using a circuit to control the level of the guitar signal. This circuit typically includes four main components: a gain control, a threshold control, a ratio control and an attack/release control. The gain control determines how much the signal is boosted or reduced, while the threshold control sets the level at which the compressor begins to work. The ratio control determines how much the volume is reduced once the threshold is exceeded and the attack/release control determines how quickly the compressor kicks in and how quickly it releases. By experimenting with the controls allows the guitarist to control the overall compression level. Some compressors also have tone controls so that the guitar tone can be modified.
Compressors offer a number of benefits for guitarists and musicians. One of the most significant benefits is that they can help to even out the volume of a guitar signal, making it easier to hear individual notes and creating a smoother sound. They can also help to reduce noise in the signal chain, making it easier to achieve a clean and clear tone. Additionally, they can make it easier to play by reducing the need to constantly adjust the volume or attack of your playing.
Using A Compressor
Using a compressor is straightforward. Most have four control knobs: Attack, Sustain, Level, and Compression. The Attack knob controls how quickly the compressor reacts to the incoming signal, while the Sustain knob controls how long the compressor sustains the signal. The Level knob controls the output level of the compressor and the Compression knob controls the amount of compression applied to the signal.
Compressors are designed to help guitar players control the dynamic range of their playing. Dynamic range is the difference between the softest and loudest sounds a player can produce. By reducing the difference between the softest and loudest sounds, compressor pedals help to create a more consistent sound. The main function of a compressor is to reduce the volume of the loudest notes while increasing the volume of the softest notes. This is achieved by applying gain reduction to the signal when it exceeds a certain threshold level.
When using a compressor, the first thing to consider is the level of compression you want to apply. Many compressor pedals have a control knob that allows you to adjust the level of compression. The more you turn the knob clockwise, the higher the level of compression you will apply.
Another important factor to consider is the attack time. The attack time determines how quickly the compressor reacts to the input signal. If you set the attack time too slow, the compressor will not respond quickly enough to fast transients, which can result in a loss of definition and clarity. If you set the attack time too fast, the compressor may respond too quickly, resulting in an unnatural and squashed sound.
Other control knobs found on most compressors include the sustain and level knobs. The sustain knob determines the amount of gain reduction that is applied once the threshold is exceeded. The level knob controls the output level of the pedal.
Do You Need One?
Whether or not you need a compressor pedal depends on your playing style and the sound you are trying to achieve. If you want a more consistent sound with a controlled dynamic range, then a compressor can be beneficial. If you are happy with your current sound and don't feel the need for more control over your dynamics, then a compressor pedal may not be necessary.
Compressor pedals can be particularly useful for guitar players who use a lot of drive pedals. Drive pedals tend to increase the dynamic range of the guitar signal, which can make it difficult to control the overall volume of the signal. A compressor pedal can help to tame the dynamics and make it easier to manage the overall volume.
Compressors – Our Top Picks
Here are some of our top picks for compressor pedals. It is important to note that while most of these effects are transparent compressor pedals, many have a tone control allowing some tone shaping.
Keeley Compressor Plus - The Keeley Compressor Plus is an updated version of the original Keeley Compressor pedal with additional features and improved sound quality. The original Keeley Compressor was based on the classic Ross Compressor circuit and Robert Keeley made several modifications to the circuit to improve its sound and functionality. The Keeley Compressor Plus takes the original design a step further with additional controls and features, making it a versatile and powerful compressor pedal for guitar players.It offers a wide range of controls, including a blend knob for parallel compression, a tone knob for coloration of tone and a sustain knob for the amount of compression. It also features a switch for the type of compression (hard or soft knee) and a switch for the attack time (fast or slow). The Keeley Compressor Plus is known for its transparent tone and consistent performance, making it a versatile pedal for any genre of music.
MXR Dyna Comp - The MXR Dyna Comp is a classic compressor pedal that has been around for decades. It is known for its transparent tone and balanced sound. The MXR Dyna Comp is a classic compression pedal that has been used by guitar players since the 1970s. It is designed to even out the dynamic range of a guitar signal and provide a more consistent sound, particularly for rhythm playing. The Dyna Comp has a simple design with two knobs for output and sensitivity and uses a simple circuit based on a CA3080 chip. The Dyna Comp is known for its fast attack time and subtle compression. It has been used by many famous guitarists including David Gilmour, Keith Richards, and Jerry Garcia.Wampler Ego Compressor - The Wampler Ego Compressor is a versatile compressor pedal that can produce subtle compression or parallel compression for a more natural sound.
Boss CP-1X Compressor - The Boss CP-1X Compressor is a digital compressor pedal that offers musical compression with a natural sound. It is a versatile digital compression pedal designed for electric guitar players. It features intelligent multi-band compression, which automatically adjusts the compression based on the input signal, resulting in a consistent and transparent sound. The pedal also includes a gain reduction indicator, which shows the amount of compression being applied in real-time, as well as a three-way switch that allows users to choose between standard, slow, and fast attack times. Additionally, the CP-1X includes a tone knob for adjusting the coloration of the tone and a blend knob for mixing in the clean signal, allowing for a more natural and balanced sound. Overall, the Boss CP-1X is a reliable and effective compressor pedal for guitarists looking for a transparent and musical compression effect.Xotic SP Compressor - The Xotic SP Compressor is a simple and compact pedal that offers average compression for a budget-friendly price.
JHS Pulp 'n' Peel Compressor V4 - The Pulp 'n Peel is a compressor pedal designed to provide a versatile and transparent compression effect. It features a blend knob that allows the user to mix their dry and compressed signals for a natural and balanced sound. The pedal also has a switchable EQ circuit for further tone shaping, as well as a high/low switch for selecting the compression ratio. The Pulp 'n' Peel V4 is designed to be easy to use and is suitable for a wide range of playing styles, from subtle compression to heavy limiting.
Wampler Ego Compressor - The Wampler Ego is a high-end compressor pedal designed for electric guitars. It features a transparent and natural compression effect that preserves the original tone of the guitar while adding sustain and consistency. The pedal has four knobs for complete control over the compression, including a blend knob for mixing the compressed and uncompressed signals, a tone knob for adjusting the coloration of the tone, and a sustain knob for controlling the amount of compression. The Wampler Ego Compressor also has a true bypass switch for clean bypassing of the effect and is built with high-quality components for durability and reliability.
TC Electronic Hyper Gravity Compressor - The Hyper Gravity is a multi-band compressor pedal that offers a wide range of compression options. It has three different compression modes - Spectra, TonePrint, and Vintage - that allow for different types of compression, from subtle and transparent to more aggressive and saturated. The Spectra mode is a multi-band compressor that automatically adjusts the compression settings based on the frequency range, while the TonePrint mode allows users to access custom-designed compressor tones created by famous guitar players and sound engineers. The Vintage mode emulates the classic compressors of the 60s and 70s, providing a warm and colored compression sound. The Hyper Gravity Compressor also features a Blend knob, which allows users to mix their dry and compressed signals, and a built-in limiter that prevents signal clipping. Overall, the TC Electronic Hyper Gravity Compressor is a versatile and feature-packed compressor pedal that can meet the needs of a wide range of guitar players.
Compressor pedals are an excellent addition to any guitarist's pedalboard. They can help control the dynamic range of the guitar signal, producing a more consistent sound and enhancing the overall tone of the guitar. We hope that this article has provided you with valuable information on compressor pedals and helped you choose the best one for your needs.
Compressors are versatile tools that can enhance the sound quality of your guitar playing. By controlling the dynamic range of your guitar signal, compressor pedals can help you achieve a consistent and balanced sound, whether you're playing clean tones or adding some overdrive. There are many types of compressor pedals available, ranging from simple and affordable options to high-end boutique pedals with advanced features. It's important to consider your playing style and needs when choosing a compressor pedal, as well as factors such as the type of compression, attack and sustain controls, and transparency of tone. With the right compressor pedal, you can achieve a professional sound and take your playing to the next level.
In addition to the pedals covered in this article, there other popular brands including Keeley's variations The mini-version of their Compressor Plus, the dual Compresor-Overdrive The Aria and one for Bass Players - The Bassist Limiter. Other brands include Xotic SP Compressor, Carl Martin Compressor/Limiter, PRS Mary Cries Optical Compressor and many more. Whether you're looking for a subtle touch of compression or an all-out squeeze, there's a compressor pedal out there to fit your needs and budget. Ultimately, the right compressor pedal for you will depend on your playing style, gear, and personal preferences. Experiment with different pedals and settings to find your perfect balance of compression and natural tone.
In summary, compressor effects pedals are a versatile tool for guitar players looking to achieve a balanced sound and consistent performance. There are many different types of compressor pedals available, ranging from affordable budget options to high-end boutique models.
Q: Can a compressor pedal be used with an acoustic guitar?
A: Yes, a compressor pedal can be used with an acoustic guitar, although the effect may be less pronounced than with an electric guitar. The compressor pedal can help to even out the dynamics of the acoustic guitar signal, creating a more consistent sound.
Q: What does the level control on a compressor pedal do?
A: The level control on a compressor pedal adjusts the output level of the pedal. This can be used to compensate for any volume changes caused by the compression, or to boost the overall volume of the guitar signal.
Q: What is the difference between an overdrive pedal and a compressor pedal?
A: While both overdrive and compression pedals are used to shape the sound of an electric guitar, they serve different functions. An overdrive pedal adds distortion to the guitar signal, creating a gritty, distorted sound. A compressor pedal, on the other hand, reduces the dynamic range of the guitar signal, creating a more consistent and even sound.
Q: What is the difference between an optical compressor pedal and a tube compressor pedal?
A: Optical compressors use an LED and a light-dependent resistor to control the amount of compression, while tube compressors use vacuum tubes to achieve the same effect. Optical compressors tend to have a more transparent tone, while tube compressors can add warmth and coloration to the tone.
Q: What is the difference between parallel compression and regular compression?
A: Parallel compression, also known as New York compression, involves blending a compressed signal with an uncompressed signal, creating a more balanced sound with more sustain. Regular compression involves compressing the entire signal, reducing the dynamic range of the guitar signal.
Q: How do I know what compression settings to use on my compressor pedal?
A: The best compression settings for your compressor pedal will depend on your playing style and the sound you are trying to achieve. Start with subtle compression settings and gradually increase the level of compression until you find the sweet spot. Experiment with the attack time, release time, and ratio controls to fine-tune the sound.
Q: Can a compressor pedal be used with other guitar effects pedals?
A: Yes, a compressor pedal can be used with other guitar effects pedals in a signal chain. Experiment with the placement of the compressor pedal in the signal chain to find the best sound. Some guitar players prefer to place the compressor pedal near the beginning of the signal chain, while others prefer to place it near the end.
Q: What is the difference between true bypass and buffered bypass on a compressor pedal?
A: True bypass means that the pedal circuit is completely bypassed when the pedal is not in use, while buffered bypass means that the guitar signal is still passing through the pedal circuit, even when the pedal is not in use. True bypass can help to maintain the integrity of the guitar signal, while buffered bypass can help to prevent signal loss and maintain a consistent tone.