by GC Editorial
Updated for informational accuracy, content, grammar and spelling errors. Also updated some basic formatting. No products have been added or removed.
In most cases the best bass compressor pedal will apply to guitar as well. Because compression is a universally applicable tool; more a utility than an effects pedal. A lot of compression is handled at the production level or in rack-mounted systems, especially when you're dealing with professional rigs. In our roundup, we're looking specifically at compression pedals for bass players, where pedals are preferable for two reasons:
- Easier to transport on a pedalboard
- Offer more immediately customizable options
Session bass players and those who perform in small to medium-sized venues are better off having their own compression source right in front of them. In those environments using a stompbox is the simplest solution, at least until you have a larger rack system and an effective way of transporting it.
What a Compression Pedal Does
In its simplest form a compressor pedal does two things:
- Caps your signal at a certain volume
- Provides a threshold so your signal doesn't drop beneath a certain volume
In short, a bass compressor pedal will smooth out the signal and provide a more consistent tone which is most noticeable if, while using compression, you pluck a string really hard. Normally that would give you a significant boost in volume, but with a compressor, the decibel level change is minimal. It's like having your bass signal in a Co2 cylinder.
A compression pedal is like putting your bass guitar's signal in a can of Co2.
In most compressor pedals, this means you can control things like overall output, compression threshold (sometimes called sensitivity) and sustain. Since compression pedals are simple, we like to recommend the ones we've used or those that come from reputable brand names.
Those two factors will play a big role in our recommendations for this particular piece, while we're giving some additional considerations to the lower EQ and tonal spectrum of bass guitars.
We'll recommend some bass compressor pedals that are made specifically for bass guitars, along with some that can be used with either electric six string or bass instruments.
Why have we chosen these bass compressor pedals? What are our recommendations based on?
How do we make our pedal selections? Aren't all compressor pedals the same? Flickr Commons image via Roadside Guitars
Websites, that we would not recommend to you, write lists like this one all the time. And yes, they are often subjective. Not only that, but they're largely unhelpful in terms of providing actual knowledge about the guitar pedals or gear in question.
With that in mind we need to point out something about this article and others like it that we have written: This material is based on the knowledge and opinions of real musicians. We are not marketers or internet gurus trying to make a buck off Amazon. Now, we do use affiliate programs to support this site and those who run it, but we are not simply throwing pedals up without knowing why we're suggesting them.
This is based on the knowledge and opinions of real musicians who have used this gear.
And while the opinion of any human on a topic like this is going to be somewhat contextual and subjective, we can provide concrete reasons why we recommend these pedals over others.
Primarily, our recommendations are based on the following factors:
- Actual use and experience with the pedal
- Secondhand knowledge from other musicians we know who have used or owned the pedal
- A proper value assessment
Educator, writer and guitarist since 1996.
Worship leader, PCA deacon and guitarist.
Session musician, guitar, keyboard & bass
What is a proper value assessment?
We determine value by first knowing the features of guitar pedals that matter the most. For example, when it comes to delay pedals, we know that having a tap tempo included in your delay is often better than not having one.
How do we know this? Because we've actually used delay pedals, some of which did and did not have a tap tempo.
This means that we can make a proper value assessment based on actual features without just saying, "this delay pedal will sound great" or one of our personal favorites:
"Among the most prolific pedals made popular by its solid performance."
Use this Google result if you want to see what site we're referring to.
That kind of "endorsement" is completely unhelpful.
Additionally, as we can identify and confirm more features that add quality, we can then look for pedals that give you those features at the lowest price points.
Thus we define the best bass compressor pedals by those that provide the most value, based on the following:
If you boil it down, our template is simple.
Just look for the features that matter and see which brands and pedals deliver those features at the lowest price, all while keeping in mind the following:
- As quality goes up, value increases
- As price goes down, value increases
- As quality goes down, value decreases
- As price goes up, value decreases
What this list is and What it is Not
We should point out that this list is not a ranking or a full review of each pedal. Per our publishing policy we do not publish physical product reviews, in favor of making contextual recommendations.
The term "review" is a bit deceptive since most people who review guitar gear don't have anything bad to say about it. That's not a review as much as it is an endorsement. In most cases, we simply avoid talking about products that we can't or wouldn't recommend to Guitar Chalk readers.
Thus, it's misleading and disingenuous to use the term "review."
As a consequence, we want to be clear that this list is not a review, nor are the numbers used an indication of ranking the products in any particular order. Instead, these are contextual recommendations, based on our experience that may or may not apply to your own situation.
Our Two Favorite Bass Compressor Pedals from this List
The two bass compressor pedal purchases we are absolutely the most confident about recommending:
Best Bass Compressor Pedal Roundup: Recommendations Based on Value
This roundup is going to be simpler than many of the others we've done and perhaps more subjective than we'd like it to be. Since the features and technology involved with compression pedals is stone cold simple, we're sticking with pedals we've used and brands we trust.
For bass, we're trying to get at least a level and compression attack control, while sustain control and true bypass are nice bonus features.
Let's start with the tiny SP compressor by Xotic Effects.
Xotic Effects SP Compressor Pedal
The SP Compressor by Xotic Effects is widely thought to be one of the best compressor pedals in general, regardless of the instrument in question. We like it particularly for bass since it has an attack control (DIP switch) that allows you to pick between high, mid or low EQ leanings.
Another bonus is the BLEND knob that allows you to mix in more or less of your dry and compressed signal. The compression volume control knob is included (allowing up to 15 decibels of signal boosting) along with true bypass wiring.
This is our favorite bass compressor pedal and one of the best compressors overall, at least for the price you're paying.
It's simple, but the tone and smoothness is absolutely sublime.
- DIP Switch (high, low, mid)
In the demo video, Norberts Skraucis goes through both the SP and the Spectra bass compressor, both of which sound exceptionally good. We aren't recommending the Spectra for a couple of reasons.
First, none of us have any experience with it, so we're just not comfortable recommending the pedal without knowing more about it.
Second, it doesn't have the blend control or DIP switch that we like so much about the SP.
Norberts demos the SP first in the video.
Price and Value
For such a small pedal it feels expensive and it's pricier than the Boss CS-3 and the MXR Dyna Comp. However, we believe it's a better product than either of those boxes and we're (personally) willing to make the extra investment, especially if you're talking about a compressor for a bass guitar.
Seymour Duncan Studio Bass Compressor
The only thing keeping the Seymour Duncan Studio Bass out of our top two is the price as it's considerably more expensive than the CS-3 and the SP. If the added cost doesn't bother you, the Studio Bass is a well-designed compressor that's intended for bass players and builtin-house by Seymour Duncan.
Like the SP, the Studio Bass has an exterior DIP switch along with a blend and level knob. Additional control is provided by a compression and attack knob.
The attack knob (a feature that's often synonymous with compression or threshold) basically controls how quickly the compression takes over the notes you play, allowing you to essentially create a less or more aggressive compression style.
Seymour Duncan throws in a true bypass circuit.
Another thing we like about Seymour Duncan pedals is that they're made in the United States.
- DIP switch (Mid, F, Low)
Price and Value
While the price tag might be well worth it to some, we have a hard time recommending the Studio Bass without reservations about cost. How you feel about the added control and true bypass should dictate your assessment of the extra coin.
Boss CS-3 Compression Sustainer
Peter uses the Boss CS-3 compressor for his acoustic guitar setup, which allowed us to test it with Bobby's Warwick 5-string bass.
The controls are straightforward with a SUSTAIN knob that we had around 60-70 percent. Having that extra sustain, along with the compressed signal, sounded really nice with a modernized bass tone. It also felt easier to play since the CS-3 is particularly effective with the core responsibilities of compression, boosting quieter frequencies and subduing louder ones.
Combining that with the added sustain made playing seem far easier. Once we had the CS-3 on, it was difficult to turn it off.
We also noticed that it was really quiet, which is a plus for acoustic guitars and basses.
Out of all the compressors we've used, it seemed to have the most impact on noise control, though we couldn't tell you exactly what piece of technology inside the pedal is responsible for it.
Price and Value
We believe the CS-3 gives you the most optimal convergence of price, functionality and quality. It checks the compression, sustain and low-noise boxes, handling each task without flaw. Unless you'd prefer to go analog (and with compression, that distinction matters far less) the CS-3 is an easy go-to.
MXR M76 Studio Compressor
The MXR Studio Compressor is a space saver, which could be useful for bass players with smaller pedalboards. However, it's the fine-tuning ability of the M76 that we're really impressed with, which boasts a five-part control scheme that includes both input and output levels, along with a gain reduction readout.
This allowed us to make the compression level as subtle or as aggressive as we wanted, which was helpful for bass since less intense compression levels are often harder to notice at lower frequencies. The more aggressive settings, like high ATTACK and low RELEASE, were really satisfying.
The GAIN REDUCTION indicator was surprisingly helpful and a feature we definitely missed when using other compressors.
True bypass protects the integrity of your signal when the pedal is off.
- Ratio (4, 8, 12, 20)
Price and Value
Similar to the dilemma we faced with the Seymour Duncan compressor, the M76 is a great pedal but priced accordingly. As cost goes up, value takes a hit, so it's up to you to decide weather the gain reduction indicator, true bypass and five-part control scheme justifies the additional investment.
It's worth noting: Session bass players stand to be uniquely benefited by these added perks.
MXR Dyna Comp Compressor
When it comes to price and simplicity, the MXR Dyna Comp is one of the best options, both for guitar and bass players.
While it's a little low on features, it does have an OUTPUT control combined with a SENSITIVITY knob. This tandem allows you to control the volume coming out of the pedal and how aggressively the pedal compresses your signal. This knob is surprisingly responsive, allowing you to dial in either a really flat, strict compression or a more forgiving layer.
Bobby uses the Dyna Comp on his bass pedalboard, setup here going into a GarageBand amp modeler.
MXR Dyna Comp settings used for the bass cover below. (View Larger Image)
For bass, he has the knobs taped off, both set around 12 o'clock.
You can hear this tone on his cover of "Dear Brother" by Puscifer. The Dyna Comp was left on for the entire song.
Again, price and simplicity are the main attractions here, which might be ideal for bass players who aren't excited about spending a lot of money on a compressor pedal.
Price and Value
For some who are more picky about their compression, the lack of control could be a deterrent. However, sensitivity (attack) and output dials are the only two things you really need in a good compressor pedal. If you want to keep it simple, the Dyna Comp can save you a lot of money and still land your pedalboard a solid compression source.
Wampler Pedals Ego Compressor
The Ego Compressor is built by hand in the United States by a boutique company called Wampler Pedals. Its design combines both sustain and compression with a blend knob that allows you to use the pedal exclusively as a sustainer or a compressor, which we love for both bass and guitar players.
Since it's a boutique company, the capacitors and resistors get an upgrade over the factory stuff, while true bypass is also built into the pedal's circuitry.
It's the CS-3 of the boutique guitar pedal world.
In a compressor pedal, all of these things are tone preserving measures, designed to keep your clean signal as unaffected as possible.
For us, the sustain feature combined with the blend control is the biggest attraction.
Price and Value
There's money being put into the true bypass circuit and upper-tier electrical components, making the Ego Compressor more of an analog purist's choice. If boutique-level features and the handmade quality matter a lot to you, the value of this compressor goes up quite a bit. Moreover, the ability to isolate and tweak sustain is another factor, especially when you consider that most compressor pedals don't include a sustain feature.
Keeley KBass Compressor
Unlike previous Keeley compressors the Bassist Limiting Amp was made for larger signals, active preamps and line-level inputs, which are all explained in excruciating detail on the product page.
You'll notice there are indicator lights around each knob. You'll want to play through clean and watch these lights to see where you'll want to set the THRESHOLD, which will help limit peaking and clipping. Another way you might think of the threshold setting is how often you want compression to occur.
Once you're happy with the threshold, you can set the COMPRESSION to determine how subtle or aggressive you want the compressed signal to be.
This gives you a kind of threshold to compression ratio. Keeley's website recommends the following settings:
A typical soft compressor setting would be 2:1 above threshold. A good starting ratio for the Compression control may be 4:1 as it generally sounds good with bass guitar. A ratio of 5:1 or 6:1 will sound great for slap or funk-style playing. For synth-bass try 10:1 Compression.
Once all that is done, your GAIN knob controls the final volume or output of the pedal. This can also be thought of as a way to recoup whatever signal you might be losing under the compression.
- Compression (ratio)
- Gain (output)
Price and Value
We know Robert Keeley personally, and can tell you that his company is really careful about how they put their products together. They're one of the most technically-inclined boutique pedal makers we know of, able to explain the ins and outs of all their pedals and the components thereof. In other words, each stompbox gets a ton of attention. For bass players who like the threshold and ratio combo, it might be worth the extra expense.
Placing a Compressor in your Effects Chain
Whether you're talking about bass or electric guitar pedalboards, the placement of a compressor pedal will conventionally be at the front of the line, right after your guitar and before any other pedals. This means that all your effects are applied to an already compressed signal, which allows for a little more dynamic reach within those pedals.
However, there are cases where a compressor might be better served at the end of your signal chain, especially if you don't have any other effects that impact gain (distortion, volume pedal, booster, etc.).
Without gain-altering pedals, you might want to compress your final output before the amplifier and flatten out any ambient effects or modulation you might be using.
In that scenario, you would still hear the effects, but they would be more impacted by the compression.
Strymon has an article that explains all of this in detail and provides some extremely helpful graphics for scenarios with and without an effects loop.
Let's look at the non-effects loop version first:
Compression Pedal Placement Without an Effects Loop
If you are losing an effects loop, you would want to leave your compression pedal out of that signal.
Compression Pedal Placement With an Effects Loop
In many cases, compression will come in a rack-mounted form, which means you'd probably leave it running all the time, negating the need for a pedal-form compression source. But when you have it on your pedalboard, the positioning becomes a far more critical question.
For bass players a compressor will usually be one of just a few or the only pedal on their pedalboard. This makes the process far easier.
If you're positioning it with just a few other effects, start the compressor at the beginning of your chain and use that as a starting point for if you want to switch things up later.
Compressor Pedal vs. Rack Compression
Rack or pedal-based compression?
Rack-mounted compression is typically what professional and/or touring bass (and guitar) players will opt for, simply because they already have a rack system in place and it's easier for a tech to manage from one centralized location.
For those of us who don't tour or play in that capacity, rack-mounted compression might actually be a better fit for small home studios and recording environments, where having one on hand could save you from getting out a pedal every time you want your signal compressed.
For playing live in small or medium-gig situations, we'd still recommend the pedal as opposed to the rack compression that's ultimately going to be harder to move around and transport.
The Optimal Scenario
If you have a reliable bass compressor pedal for travel and gigging, alongside a good rack-mounted compression for wherever you record (home studio, office etc.), that's the most optimal way to approach the two options.
For a task as simple as compression, the quality difference between the two doesn't tend to be significant.
Rack-mounted compressors will, in most cases, support the connection of multiple channels and signals. This is another question to be considered before you decide whether to go with pedal or rack compression.
Do you need compression for multiple instruments?
If you do, and if you're buying for a studio or recording space, the rack-mounted variety might be a better play than the pedal.
Is compression necessary for bass players?
The answer to this question is an easy, no.
Compression is definitely not necessary and there are plenty of bass players and guitarists (of all skill levels) who opt not to use compression.
However, it can be really helpful, particularly in the context of recording or some kind of session work. For bass players who get paid to lay down tracks, it's common for them to show up to work with a compression pedal in tow. Some clients will prefer or even ask to have their tracks recorded with a compressed bass signal, even in early production stages.
Otherwise, it's a matter of how you want to setup your rig and what you want it to sound like. Some people don't like the sound of a compressed bass because it seems too "flat" or not dynamic enough.
While that has been true in the past and is true of some of today's super-cheap compressor pedals, most of the compressors of our day are so advanced and well-designed that you get a compressed sound that doesn't sacrifice tone or sound flat at all.
Thus in most cases compression is extremely helpful, though never a necessity.
Using a Compressor Pedal as a Signal Booster
You'll notice that all of the compressor pedals listed here had some kind of an output control, which means all compressor pedals are (effectively) booster pedals. Compressor pedals simply add the compression control that allows you to cap that signal and isolate it at a particular volume.
This means that if you need both a booster and compression, and you don't mind having them built into one pedal, you can buy a bass compressor pedal and solve two problems with one purchase.
If you want to use the pedal just as a booster, you would simply turn compression all the way down. For example, in the MXR Dyna Comp you would turn sensitivity all the way down.
Then you would adjust the output to be just slightly louder than your clean signal.
Q: What if I'm using a preamp? Where should a bass compressor pedal go in relation to that?
A: We would always recommend a compressor pedal going before any and all preamps.
Q: Why didn't you list any compressor pedals under 50 dollars?
A: We don't have any experience with the super cheap compression pedals and what we've heard isn't good. Generally speaking, we don't recommend anything cheaper than the MXR Dyna Comp.
Q: Should I place my compressor pedal before or after my wah pedal?
A: Since wah is a filter effect, we'd recommend placing it after your compression pedal, which would order like this: guitar - compressor - wah - amp.
Q: How important is the blend control in a bass compressor pedal?
A: We like it since it allows us to avoid an entirely compressed signal. However, it's not critically important since a mixed clean/compressed sound is fairly subtle and nuanced. For those who are particular about their tone, and would notice that subtlety, a blend knob is a good thing to look for.
Q: Is it "okay" to use batteries for these pedals or should I buy a power supply?
A: Nine volt batteries will power your pedals fine. The downside is that they're expensive and guitar pedals tend to drain power from them really quickly even when not engaged. If you just have a few pedals and you don't play live, 9V batteries are fine. But, as your board grows, particularly if you're performing, a power supply becomes much more important.
Q: What kind of cables should I use in between each pedal?
A: We recommend using low profile right angle patch cables (regardless of brand - those ones are made by Hosa) for saving space between stompboxes.
Concluding and Additional Questions
Have questions about bass compressor pedals that we didn't address? Feel free to drop them in the comments section below. Usually Bobby will answer there, which is preferred over email so that others who read the article in the future will have access to that information as well.
We also love hearing pedal suggestions and recommendations for these types of articles.
Just keep in mind our value assessment and method for including products. It shouldn't just be something you like personally, but should have some objective support as to why it belongs on a best guitar pedals list, like this one.
Flickr Commons Image courtesy of JJeff
Flickr Commons image courtesy of Kmeron