What is a guitar compressor pedal?
Reduces the dynamic range of your guitar's signal.
In simple terms, a compressor pedal makes louder parts quieter and quieter parts louder. This gives you guitar a smoother and more consistent sound.
A compressor pedal is considered a utility and not really an effects pedal. The job of a compressor is to suppress the range of gain (volume) in your pedal's signal. Another way to say this is that it limits the dynamic range.
In simple terms, it involves the following:
- Makes louder parts quieter
- Makes quieter parts louder
It's important to note that compressors can take a lot of different forms, aside from a guitar pedal. The following are the most common:
- Single pedals or "stompboxes"
- Multi-effects processors
- Software plugins/digital algorithms
- Rack-mounted compressors
The end result is a more consistent sound from your electric guitar, without large fluctuations in volume.
Read more: Best volume pedals
Compressor pedals are also used to add sustain to your signal, which is particularly useful for lead guitarists who need to cut through the mix and let notes ring a little bit longer. Most compressors naturally add some sustain, but there are also compressors that have this feature explicitly included, like the Boss CS-3.
Compressor pedals can also be used to increase attack, which means the beginning or "transient" of each note will be more pronounced. This helps with percussive rhythms and heavy chord progressions. The Wampler EGO has an attack and sustain control.
Too much compression?
Having your sound too aggressively compressed can leave out some of the more dynamic aspects of your playing. To mitigate this, it's important to use sensitivity controls, which most compressor pedals have, like the MXR Dyna Comp pictured above.
There's a balance between consistency and the natural dynamics of your guitar playing.
When using compression, make sure you take some time to find a middle ground.
If you have questions about compression pedals and how they work, give us a shout in the comments section. Bobby, Danielle, or I will answer every comment and help out as much as possible.