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Taking a closer look at the compressor pedal

The compressor pedal is a widely used piece of equipment that is often relied upon by a myriad of guitarists from a lot of musical backgrounds and styles. But why is it often overlooked? We think it’s down to the fact that the compressor pedal is often misunderstood with guitarists not realising just how useful it can be. So with this blog we’re going to try demystify the compressor pedal a little and highlight some of the benefits, the type of music you might need it for and show you 5 of the best compressor pedals around.

What does a compressor pedal do?

First things first. A compressor pedal takes the signal and compresses it, evening out your dynamic range so that each note can be heard at fairly equal volume stopping signal peaks before they break a threshold which you dictate by using the settings on the pedal. In essence, it attenuates signal peaks and makes your sound more consistent. If you’re losing a bit of volume on the lower notes and finding the volume peaks on the higher notes or vice versa, a compressor pedal could be a great tool to add to your rig.

What are the benefits of a compressor pedal?

If you use a valve amp, some notes can get lost in the mix, especially as a valve amplifier responds so well to chord strikes, plucked notes and the different velocity and speed you attack a string with. But what that means that if you don’t hit each note with the same amount of power, you risk losing out on some frequencies. A compressor pedal normalises those sounds and makes everything “stick out” more. It also reduces hiss and hum and can add sustain to your solos where they would normally lack it.

Who would use a compressor pedal?

Anyone who plays guitar or bass guitar can benefit from a compressor pedal. However, blues or jazz musicians that thrive on the small intricacies of both valve amps and the way you attack a string may not like how a compressor evens everything out. Some guitarists think that emotion is not correctly conveyed through a compressor pedal, but try and tell that to David Gilmour – long time user of compressor pedals. It’s ideal for rock, indie and metal guitarists and those who want to bust out solos without losing signal.

What are the best compressor pedals?

We’re glad you asked! In our humble opinion there are a few that really stand out and do a great job of normalising tones that may get lost in the mix, increase sustain – which makes them popular with guitarists who love to solo and can really benefit your overall sound. Here’s our top 4 compressor pedals for guitar and bass guitar.

Jim Dunlop MXR Dyna Comp Compressor Pedal

Jim Dunlop MXR Dyna Comp Compressor Pedal

The Jim Dunlop MXR Dyna Comp Compressor Pedal is basically the industry standard, used on a plethora of albums and recordings, chances are you have an album that has made use of the awesome MXR Dyna Comp Compressor. It’s super simple to use, much like every other MXR pedal, offering you the ability to increase or decrease the output and adjust the sensitivity of the compression to your tastes. It’s true bypass too, so it won’t affect your tone or signal when it’s not engaged. It’s powered by a 9V battery or power supply, and had a bright LED that can be seen clearly underneath stage lights. It’s housed in a super strong box too, so stomp away. As far as compressor pedals go, this is the best place to start!

Electro Harmonix Bass Preacher Compressor Sustainer Bass Effects Pedal

Electro Harmonix Bass Preacher Compressor Sustainer Bass Effects Pedal

EHX have just got it right when it comes to making great pedals that work instantly, offering you the best tools for the job, but tweaking them a little so you have a few extra tricks up your sleeve. Not content to create a stock standard compressor pedal for bass players, Electro Harmonix have absolutely nailed it with the Electro Harmonix Bass Preacher Compressor Sustainer Bass Effects Pedal. Whether you want to make small or large adjustments to your tone, you’re covered with this pedal. The -10dBu to +2dBu input sensitivity comes in handy for those who either have an active or passive powered bass, so loss of tone is not a problem. You get to alter the volume as well as the sustain but you also have the ability to change the attack/decay curve from Fast/Medium/Slow allowing you to sculpt your signature sound even more. Worth checking out for those who want a little more to their compression pedal.

Boss BC-1X Bass Compressor Effects Pedal

Boss bc-1x

New for 2016, the Boss BC-1X Bass Compressor Effects Pedal is another great tool for bass players (don’t worry six stringers we’ve got you covered too) who want a studio quality pedal that is simple and easy to use without skimping on versatility. What really sets this pedal apart from other compressor pedals is the amount of control you have here; Level, Release, Ratio and Threshold, all allow you to tweak the amount of compression to your tastes whilst the built-in multiband processor goes to work and lets you dial in multiband settings – perfect for live and studio use. This is more suited to the professional player that requires a variety of options, but it’s by no means difficult to use. It cuts out unwanted noise, brings out all those lost signals and helps sustain those notes too. The very useful gain-reduction status indicator shows the amount of compression you’re using and can be seen clearly onstage. It’s also housed in the signature Boss casing so it will withstand decades of touring.

Strymon OB.1 Optical Compressor and Clean Boost Guitar Effects Pedal

Strymon OB.1 Optical Compressor and Clean Boost Guitar Effects Pedal

Strymon have jumped that gap between “boutique” and “essential” with a myriad of their pedals setting new standards in sound quality, build quality and affordability becoming an industry standard name in the process. The Strymon OB.1 Optical Compressor and Clean Boost Guitar Effects Pedal does not let the Strymon brand down. It’s compact, lightweight, easy to use and does everything it says providing effective compression and improving sustain without ever having to touch the volume on your amp. You have two switches to choose from – Boost and Bypass. The Boost option engages a clean boost post compressor providing an extra 10dB of full frequency boost whereas the bypass signal allows you to add or remove the effect at will. It’s true bypass too, so your signal remains unaltered by the pedal when not engaged. Output, Boost Level, and Compressor knobs allow you to sculpt your sound to your tastes too. Exceptional quality at an affordable price.

View the complete range of guitar effects pedals and compressor pedals at the Dawsons website.