Compressor pedals are a huge part of any guitar signal. When the strings are hit on an electric guitar, they create a signal that is picked up by the microphones on the guitar body.
Once the signal is picked up by these mics, it travels through the cables all the way to the amplifier where is finally played out loud.
The problem with this system is that sometimes the signal can be too loud. In these cases what is going to happen mainly is two things, the first thing is that the sound is going to be distortion thus it will not sound nice to the audience.
Second, if the playing is too unstable, typical in fast or heavy metal songs in which the player can’t hit the strings with a regular strength then high and low peaks of volume start to happen as well.
To fix this problem, there are compression pedals. What they do is compressing the guitar signal to steadier signal avoiding peaks and distortion.
The most important parameters of a compression pedal are:
Donner Compressor Pedal Ultimate Comp Guitar Effect Pedal
4.6 / 5
JOYO JF-10 Dynamic Compressor Guitar Effect Pedal
4.3 / 5
MXR M102 Dyna Comp Compresor Pedal
4.5 / 5
Xotic Effects SP Compressor Effect Pedal
4.8 / 5
Best Guitar Compressor Pedals
1. Donner Compressor Pedal Ultimate Comp Guitar Effect Pedal
The Donner compressor pedal from Ultimate Corp is a very good option when choosing a compressor pedal on a budget.
It is very small (4.8” x 2.6”x 2.4” or 95mm x 45mm x 48mm) so it doesn’t take much room from your rack, and it is very simple to manage.
It comes with a 9V adapter power supply included that works at 12mA. It is very light as well with only 273 grams.
Regarding the playability, it comes with two modes, normal, for regular parts, and treble for more powerful parts of the playing. The two knobs are level and tone allowing you a wide combination of possible sounds according to your needs.
Also in the front, it has a LED indicator to know whether the compressor is on or off and of course the on/off button made of an aluminum-allow classic.
Plus, the compressor level knob is much bigger than tone and volume so you can easily change the compressor. On the sides, it has 1/4 jacks for both the input and output.
The best feature is probably the true bypass that this pedal has. If you do not know what true bypass is, you should. Whenever the signal path goes through low-quality plugs or a stomp box (pedal) without true bypass, even if they are not on they will still affect the signal.
This means that it is very important for the pedal to be on when wanted and off when not in use if the pedal affects the signal when off is going to result in a bad quality sound.
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THINGS WE DIDN'T LIKE
2. Joyo jf-10 Dynamic Compressor Guitar Effect Pedal
Another great compressor pedal for musicians on a budget. The Joyo JF-10 Dynamic compressor will get the job done. Its size is like the Donner compressor (A little bit wider and shorter) and the power green color makes the design eye-catching.
It also has a true bypass which is a must in all compressor stomp boxes meaning that when the pedal is off, it does not affect the signal at all.
In the front of the pedal, you will find the on/off button accompanied by a LED light to indicate if the pedal is on or off. Then on the upper part, you will have three knobs.
The level knob allows you to control the output level of the sound after compressed. The attack knobs let you control how hard you can hit the strings before getting the compression to start.
Finally, the sustain knob increases or decreases the amount of sustain that the signal will eventually have, this is very important as sometimes with the right parameters the signal gets killed very fast, with this feature you can add extra sustain to your sound.
On the right side, you have the input jack, and on the other side, you have the output jack, both of them are 1/4" jacks.
It is made fully of aluminum alloy making the pedal extra resistant to getting stomped on.
In the box beside the pedal, you will also find the user’s manual and the 9V power supply.
things we liked
THINGS WE DIDN'T LIKE
3. Mxr m102 Dyna Comp Compressor Pedal
On a different price range, we find the great M102 Dynamic compressor by MXR.
This pedal looks very simple; however, it has one of the best compression systems in the market.
Made in the USA, it is a bit smaller than the compression pedals we have been seeing.
In the front, you will find only two knobs, on the upper right the sensitivity knob will control at which level the compression begins.
On the upper left part of the stomp box, the output level knobs allow you to control the level of the signal after it was compressed. There is also a LED indicator next to the on/off button to know if the pedal is either on or off.
On the sides, you will find the input and output jacks, both 1/4".
The sound of this compressor is superb and will control like signal like it is mastered out on a huge professional studio.
From all the compression pedals we have been reviewing so far, this is probably the best one for both guitar and bass. Their sound quality allows you to use it with treble and bass sounds.
On the downside, it comes without the DC power supplier, so have in mind that you will have to spend some extra money to power the pedal.
things we liked
THINGS WE DIDN'T LIKE
4. Xotic Effects SP Compressor Effect Pedal
The incredible SP Compressor by XOTIC is one of the best in the market. It is extremely small and light weighted.
In the front panel, you will find the blend and volume knob which as usual they will control the threshold at which the compression will begin and the output level of the signal once it got already compressed.
The HI-LO-MID lever allows you to easily switch from a nice clean playing to a powerful metal and distortion sound in a millisecond.
On the sides of the stomp box, you will find the in and out jacks which are high quality 1/4" jacks.
You will find lots of pedals, especially the ones made in Asia that will say "true bypass" somewhere, but when tested to the limit you found out it is not entirely true.
However, the SP Compressor by XOTIC has a truly true bypass, when off the signal will have literally zero interruption or noise adding.
It is the most expensive compressor pedal of all the ones we have reviewed, and at a glance, it may not have so many toys as the others, but the quality and tone of this compressor it is impossible to compare with the other.
It will deliver and can be even used at big gigs without worrying about malfunction or trash noise in the sound.
The reviews on this pedal compare it to the pedals that are used by the biggest stars in the world, but the good thing is that it is affordable.
things we liked
THINGS WE DIDN'T LIKE
Guitar Compressor Pedals - Buyer’s Guide
If you have been reading any other of my reviews, you know that I love to put the information for the buyer’s guide into a nice comparison table, so the information is right there, easy and simple.
However, when buying a compressor pedal, the features of the pedal are not as important as you, the player. That’s right, in these cases you are more important than the pedal itself.
This is because when you are deciding which pedal to buy the most important thing to consider is which type of music you like to play, what kind of sound you want to get out to the amp and finally how hard you play and how often you make mistakes.
Let’s break those things down, shall we?
Which type of music do you like to play?
This is very important as most pedals will add sounds and effects to your guitar signal, but the compressor will do exactly the opposite, they will take from your signal. If you like to play clean tones and middle sounds, then you will need a small compressor, nothing very fancy.
However, if you are looking for complex and distortion sound, then you will need a compressor that is much more active.
What kind of sound do you want to get out to the amp?
There is no such thing as the perfect sound. Artist throughout time looked for very different kind of sounds. Some of them like a clean and steady sound and some of them want sounds that are almost hard to understand.
Some of the best albums in history were aimed to have a "disorganized" sound, not because it sounds better or worse, but because it was aiming to be original, less mastered than other albums.
A nice example of this is Tom Petty and the Heartbreaker’s MOJO album. It has two versions, the red one which has all the post editing of the tracks and the blue version which are the final raw tracks that were recorded. They are both masterpieces.
However, they sound very different. Is one better than the other one? No, they are just different.
This is what I mean when saying, try to think what kind of sound you want, if you want a steady sound go for a compressor pedal and have it on all the time. If you want to be a little bit more free spirit, then think of a compressor that will help you avoid just sound over peaks.
How hard you like to play?
This aims to the strength in which you hit the strings. Blues and jazz players tend to be very soft hitters while punk and heavy metal players tend to hit the strings very hard (Rock and roll players somewhere in the middle).
If you are of the second type and like to play hard, it can happen that the sounds peak becomes very unstable either very low or very high, and it is in general, not a nice sensation for whoever is hearing that music, in this case, I would say that the compressor is a must, and probably quite boost up.
But, if you are a soft hitter, you like those long notes and bends with almost imperceptible distortion, then you may want a small compressor with all the levels and knobs to boost to a minimum.
Look for a compressor that gets the job done quietly and adds lots of sustain to your signal, this way you can bend and play your notes much longer.
How often you make mistakes?
Unfortunately, we all do, so this is also part of the show. If any musician ever tells you that they do not make mistakes, THEY ARE LYING.
The web is full of videos of the greatest musicians, from rock stars to conservatory and classic musicians, making mistakes either with playing, with how to produce the sound, by stepping on a wire or cable, etc. Just put on YouTube your favorite artist plus the word mistake, and you will see what I mean.
If you are playing with extreme distortion, high gain delays, chorus, Flanger, etc. the signal becomes very active and powerful, this means that if you make a mistake, it will also get amplified.
A classic example is when you try to hit the strings, and you miss, if you are playing with distortion, there is a big empty sound suddenly that is hearable by the audience.
Or when playing fast riffs if your hands are not extremely well synchronized then there starts to be a kind of muted string sound which is awful.
If you are prone to making mistakes or you are playing with all the effect levels to the limit, then a compressor will be a great tool as you can manage the threshold so that mistakes go by imperceptible or at least the level of the mistake decreases.
Try it, buy a compressor and start playing you will see that when you do things the wrong way, it is not as bad as when the compressor is off.
The conclusion goes very close to the buyer’s guide. Think what kind of sound you want, for sure you need a compressor in your signal chain. But know this, you need one, forget about not having one, it is very dangerous for a signal chain not to have the option of being compressed.
Then, if you like to stay truer to your playing and sound just put the threshold very low and buy a compressor that has a true bypass so when it is off it does not alter your signal.
On the other side of the river, if you prefer a steady sound that will hold perfectly under lots of effects and distortion, buy a good compressor and pump those numbers up.
If you are on a budget, then the Donner compressor would be my choice as it has more features than the JOYO.
If you can spend some extra money, go for the SP compressor, it is one of the best in the market. It works from inside playing all the way to big gigs. The MXR one will get the job done but not as good as the SP.
As usual, we are always open to comments, ideas or things we may have left behind. Please feel free to contact us.