Look, I know. It’s no secret that compressor pedals are kind of the boring cousin of the pedalboard family. They don’t have the curb appeal of overdrive or a delay. They aren’t able to completely transform your tone or sound, the way that a chorus or phaser pedal might be able to.
And in fact, this humble add-on to your pedalboard might seem as basic to your setup as a capo or a tuner. However, if you know how to use it properly, a compressor pedal might actually be just the thing that you need to take your music to a whole new level.
For the uninitiated, a compressor can reduce the dynamic range of your guitar, meaning that the louder parts are quieter, and the quiet parts are louder.
The overall effect of this might not be immediately obvious, however you’ll find that it quickly results in a much smoother sound with a much better balance, with the additional benefit of giving you more sustain.
This effect can be used subtly to enhance your music without being too obvious, but you can also crank it up and end up giving yourself a classic Nashville tone, but whatever way you use it, you’ll find that this pedal really should be a standard if you’re wanting to boost your sound.
But what makes a good compressor pedal? Is it worth splashing out for the high end ones or do they do the same thing as the low-end products? What do you need to look for? Fear not! All these questions and more will be answered as we explore the best compressor pedal out there on the market.
What To Look For
Before you can decide what the best product is going to be for you, you need to know exactly what you’re looking for. Every musician wants to sound a little different and what’s to emphasize different elements of their tone, so with that in mind, what things do you need to keep in mind when looking for the right compressor to add to your setup?
This might sound a little obvious – you need to know what kind of quality of compression you’re going to get with each compressor pedal. The knob to control it will either be labelled as sustain, compression, or sometimes it’s just called the comp.
The higher this dial goes up, the more compression you’ll get. This means that you need to know what kind of level of compression you’re going to want.
With some pedals, the higher the compression, the more noise you’ll add to the signal, which again might be the kind of sound that you’re looking for, but if you’re looking to keep it clean, you’ll probably be better with a compressor pedal that doesn’t go so high.
The dial that’s labelled attack won’t send out digital beasts to fight your enemies (fans of Scott Pilgrim will be most disappointed), but instead this knob controls how fast the compressor kicks in. A slower attack allows a portion of the note to be unaffected whilst a fast attack would make the compression immediate.
Some pedals will have a binary choice – fast or slow – whilst others will give you a dial and more options. Knowing what you want might make it easy, but if you’re not sure then it might just be worth picking up one that has a dial so that you can properly experiment.
Not every pedal is going to have this control, but if they do then this is the button that will adjust the length of time it takes before the compressed signal relaxes back to its regular tone. Definitely something worth experimenting with if you pick up a pedal with this option.
This is a control that is more typical on studio compressors but can still be found on the more high-end models. Basically this just controls the amount that the volume will dip once the compressor has kicked in.
Another feature that you should keep a keen eye out for is a blend control. This will allow you to control the mix between your dry signal and the compressed signal. It’s a great way to keep on top of all your other controls, rather than needing to change all the other elements all the time, you can just adjust the blend.
A compressor pedal with a multi-band effect can process different frequencies in your signal independently, which means that your signal is as transparent as possible – again this is more typical of the higher-end products, and if that description doesn’t mean anything to you, I wouldn’t worry so much about it.
Finally, the last thing that you want to consider when choosing the right compressor pedal for you is whether or not they have a dirt switch. This switch will work great with an overdrive, if you have one, and valve guitar amps, giving you some awesome breakup – if that’s the kind of sound you’re going for.
Best Guitar Compressor Pedals
Now that you have a better idea of what you need to be looking for, we can now break down what the best compressor pedals are out there, and which one is going to be right for you.
Across the board, this compressor pedal comes back as the best on the market. This truly is the industry standard for value and for tone. This product has a great price point that is surprising considering the quality of the tech, as well as the quality of the build.
You never know what kind of situations you’re going to get into when gigging, so you need to know that your equipment can handle being roughed around a little.
With the Keeley Compressor you get a lot of control over several elements, including the sustain, level, blend, and a single coil/humbucker switch – making this product a definite upgrade from the last Robert Keeley product. Not only does it have all of these controls, but it’s also super intuitive and easy to know how to use – no learning curve here.
With really great tones and price that’s gotta be right for anyone, it’s no surprise that this pedal often tops lists like this as the best compressor pedal.
- Great sound
- Intuitive controls
- Fantastic price
- Difficult to get a hold of as it sells out fast (no seriously, that’s our only complaint)
- The first true advancement in our 2 and 4 knob compressor line. The new features are simple and straight forward
- There is a simple Release Switch that is tuned for single coils or humbuckers. No more wondering if you have the attack or release set right
- Gorgeous sounding Tone Control which emphasizes the most sensitive harmonics that can be lost in compression
- Sports a Blend Control that retains the peaks in your playing and, more importantly, the proper phasing of your guitar signal
- Offers the same gorgeous push of frequencies and sweetening of tone that the old comps gave you, now with the flexibility to easily handle any instrument
This pedal packs a lot of power into one small box, making it the best mini-compressor on the market. It’s price point sits a bit higher than the Kelley, but you absolutely get what you pay for.
The Xotic SP features a similar OTA (which stands for Operational Transconductance Amplifier, easy to see why we shorten it) technology to a lot of other pedals and therefore will produce a familiar sound to a lot of musicians.
It features a three-way switch that sets the strength of the compression, and there are also internal DIP switches that give you full access to four attack/release options that will add a snap to the start of your note, if you want it. You can also control the volume and the blend with the two big dials, making this a pretty versatile addition to anyone’s pedalboard.
- Small enough to fit into anyone’s kit
- Great sound
- Boost options as well as compression
- Somewhat basic in terms of features
- superb tone quality featuring a wide variety of compressor tones
As a brand, Boss have made a name for itself by creating industry standard yet affordable pro-quality equipment. The CP-1X compressor is no different.
This is a multi-band compressor (remember, that’s the thing that I said was typically only found in studio or high-end compressors), which means that you have great transparency when it comes to your signals.
Within this pedal you get the ability to control the level, attac, ratio, and the comp, making it incredibly versatile, with plenty of things that you can experiment and play with. The control panel itself is easily laid out, making it easy to understand and learn how to use, where everything is labelled, including which socket is the input and which is the output.
There’s also a gain-reduction indicator that’s very reminiscent of knight-rider (if you’re too young to understand that, don’t worry, it’s cool), that lets you know how much compression you’re running at any time.
- Gives you great transparency
- Gain Reduction Indicator
- Lots of toys for a very good price
- The battery life isn’t great
- The CS-3 Compression Sustainer pedal compresses louder signals while boosting lower signals.
- Guitar Pedal
Fender is a world-renowned company, known for its incredible attention to detail, which is exactly what you get from this compressor pedal. With a name reminiscent of Radiohead, The Bends is an OTA based compressor, similar to the Xotic SP, but also comes with a nifty blend control so that you don’t have to compress the entire signal if you don’t want to.
Also, a nice touch is that the compression LED glows pink instead of white when the drive knob is turned up. As well as this, you also get to control the level and the recovery, which gives you a great amount of versatility.
There is a nice little hiss with this pedal that snaps to your note without being too intrusive and, using the blend dial, can add compression effects, like increasing the sustain, without totally squashing your primary sound.
Due to Fender being such a well known brand, it’s not surprising that you can expect to pay a little bit more for this product, just know that you’re absolutely getting your money’s worth for this powerful and stylish pedal.
- Versatile and flexible controls
- Fab value considering the brand and quality
- Quiet compression
- It’s a bigger than a lot of other pedals
- Dual internal audio paths for low noise
- High-current symmetrical control path for fast response time
- Led backlit knobs
- Fender amp Jewel LED
- Magnetically latched hinged 9V battery door
Let me start by saying that I love the style and look of this pedal. If aesthetics are a big thing for you then you’ll probably love the sleek, bright orange shell just like me.
Not only does it look great, but the fourth generation of the JHS Pulp ‘n’ Peel Compressor features enough easily manipulatable dials and switches to help you find the perfect balance between attack and clarity.
Featuring volume controls, EQ, compression, blend, dirt switch and MORE, you’ll be hard pressed to find another pedal that can do quite the job quite as well as this product, whilst looking as good as it does.
As has come to be expected from this brand, the build of this product is great and meticulous, even featuring little touches like a switchable buffered bypass and balanced XLR output.
Obviously all these features definitely come with a price that makes this definitely a high-end product, however if you have the budget, you won’t regret it.
- Very durable but stylish shell
- Smart, intuitive features
- Lots to play around with
- High-end product with a high-end price tag
- 4 controls, added an EQ knob, Dirt toggle, XLR output
- Improved detection circuit for smoother tones with added sustain
- Dirt voiced to go from warm tone enhancement to gritty tonal foundation
- High-quality buffer switch allows true-bypass or buffered operation for driving long cable runs
- Standard 9V DC Negative power, consumes less than 100mA
Again, I have to point out the style that the Wampler Ego is putting out – there’s something very Y2K about it, which I’ve been told by the more fashionable people in my life is something that is very stylish right now. Other than that, the Ego builds upon the classic circuitry of a lot of older compressors, whilst bringing some new tricks to the table.
This pedal has controls to adjust the sustain, tone, attack, volume, and blend, so you can give your sound all the little tweaks and touches that it needs to become uniquely yours.
This is a product that can honestly do just about everything that you might need a mid-range pedal to do, though it admittedly might take you a little bit of playing around with it before you properly understand how to use it all.
If this specific model doesn’t jump out at you, there is also a mini version available, as well as the previous version of the model.
- Versatile sounds thanks to the blend knob
- Solid structure and build
- Useful tone knob
- Somewhat unintuitive when there are a lot simpler compressors available out there
- Brings a new level of of control to what is expected and needed by today's guitar players
- Designed to ensure playing dynamics could be retained without coloring the tone at all
- Allows your original signal to be blended in so you can get all the benefits of a great compressor but with the option to remove the squash at the front by bringing the bypassed signal in
- With this pedal you can have full country squash or open studio level parallel compression
- With a comprehensive array of controls and a pure core tone, the Ego works perfectly as an "always on" compressor or as "an effect"
This model is one of the original OTA compressor pedals, and I think it’s pretty cool that it’s still being manufactured and still able to keep up with all the new kids in town. The Dyna Comp has a classic look and feel that sticks with what it knows and doesn’t stray too far away from the classic features.
With that in mind, included with the Dyna Comp is the ability to control the output, sensitivity, clean, tone and a binary attack button. In this case, the clean control acts as the blend, whilst the binary attack button gives you the ultimate choice between the classic, vintage slow attack, and the much more modern fast attack times.
The Dyna Comp has you covered, especially if you’re looking for a more classic tone for your music, although it doesn’t really have all the features that you might want from a modern pedal – although it does have a decent price point to make up for it.
- Great build which has become expected of MXR
- Vintage compression tones
- Classic style
- Lacking new and modern features
- Compress Pedal f Electric Guitar with Slow/Fast Attack Modes
- Clean Blend Control
- Controls f Tone
There are loads of different compressor pedal options out there, each one doing something slightly different, or giving you slightly different options for your sound.
At the end of the day, you’re the only one that knows exactly what you want your music to sound like, and therefore you’re the only one that’s going to know whether or not something is right for you and your pedalboard.
Take stock of what you’re looking for your guitar to sound like, make yourself a budget, and then see what’s on the market – guaranteed there will be something that is absolutely perfect for you.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is a Compressor Pedal Worth it?
Like I said, the compressor pedal could become the most important and useful part of your whole setup, just due its versatility and subtle effect on your tone, and giving you far better control over your dynamics.
Where Should a Compressor Pedal Go?
Typically, the compressor (that controls the dynamics) should go at the front of the signal chain – meaning that you should plug your guitar straight into the compressor. Following this should be the filters, pitch shifters and volume pedals. For more advice, check out this guide to know how to properly set up your signal chain.