What Does A Compressor Pedal Do?

Are you thinking of setting up your first-ever pedalboard?

Or, do you want to inject some new life into your rig by adding in a shiny new pedal? Well, it might be time for you to consider the power of the compressor. 

_ What Does a Compressor Pedal Do

Compressor pedals are one of the most essential pedals in any setup, and they can shape the tone of your guitar in dramatic ways.

Zoom G5N Compressor: Light & Heavy ...
Zoom G5N Compressor: Light & Heavy settings demo on the MXR Dyna Comp effect

Not sure what compressors do and if they’re right for you? Stick with us to discover everything you need to know about compressor pedals. 

What Is A Compressor Pedal? 

Compressor pedals are usually used to enhance the tone of a clean-sounding guitar.

Compression essentially reduces the dynamic range of your guitar.

This means it boosts the volume of the soft notes you hit and makes those hard-hitting tones a little lower.

The result? A beautifully smooth-sounding guitar!

Most compressors also allow you to adjust the dynamic range yourself and give you more sustain while eliminating those pesky high frequencies. 

Compressor Pedal Controls

Want to learn more about how compressor pedals work? Well, most compressor pedals feature the following controls: 

Release

Release defines how long it takes your compressed note to return to normal.

Feel free to experiment with the release setting, and see what suits your sound. Long compression gives a more natural sound, while a shorter compression provides a blunter tone. 

Ratio

The ratio will determine how much the signal above the threshold is compressed by.

In simple terms, this means how aggressively your sound is ‘squashed’ by.

Your input signal will be run through a specific gain ratio, which determines your sound.

A higher ratio will cause the compressor to generate a more obviously altered sound, while lower ratios are much softer.

In fact, with a low ratio, you may not even hear the compressor working! 

Attack

Attack sets how long your notes ring for before they’re compressed.

Attack and release both determine the reaction speed of a compressor, which has a huge influence on your sound.

A fast attack (usually between 0-3ms) provides a warm body to your sound and helps smooth out any spiky sounds.

A medium attack (3-8ms) will help maintain your transients while still giving you dynamic control. Slow attacks (10-30ms) are ideal for giving you that distinctive, punchy sound. 

Threshold 

The threshold setting allows you to determine the point where your compressor starts to compress your audio signal.

This essentially establishes when your compressor will either engage or disengage. 

What Are Compressor Pedals Good For? 

While compressor pedals aren’t an essential part of your rig, they are a valuable tool to have in your setup. So, what are the benefits of using one? 

Improved Sustain 

A quality compressor pedal helps extend the duration of your notes by raising their volume as they decay.

This gives a nice little ‘ring’ to your playing, which can be adjusted according to your preferences. 

Bulkier Tone

Fed up of squashed signals? A compressor pedal can give you that beefier, bulkier tone you’re after.

This is not everyone, but that’s the beauty of playing around with pedals – you can decide what’s right for you! 

Signal Balance 

If you use fingerpicking or hybrid picking, you may have experienced that ‘all over the play’ sound on your top and low end when you play.

Compressors provide a wonderful balance that helps smooth out the rough edges and keeps your signal sounding great – especially if you’re playing rhythm guitar! 

_ What Does a Compressor Pedal Do

Where Do Compressors Sit In The Signal Chain? 

Where exactly do compressors sit in your signal chain? Let’s take a look, so you can get your pedalboard in order and find the tone of your dreams.

Here’s the typical pedalboard setup, including where your compressor pedal should sit. 

Volume

Your volume should always sit at the beginning of your chain. 

Compressor

Compressors come second, which allows you to control any undesired peaks, while still allowing you to play with your volume.

If you place them in front of your drives, they can provide a hotter signal and a bulkier sound.  

Whammy 

Typically, whammys should always come after your compressor. However, you could always put them after your delays if you want a trailing, decaying signal. 

Wah

Placing your wah before modulation or reverb can deliver a phase-like sound which you can control with your feet.

They can also be placed after fuzzes to give off an extreme filter-like tone. 

Drive/Preamp

Ideally, your drive or preamps should sit before fuzzes. If you place them after fuzzes or other drives, expect a bulkier sound that won’t increase your clipping or compression. 

Distortion/Fuzz

These should be placed before modulations and delays and after your pitch shifters or drives.

You could also put them before your pitch shifters to clip your signal and deliver a more compressed signal to your desired pitch shifter. 

Modulation

Modulation is best suited between distortions and overdrives.

This will give all your other effects the chance to be consistently filtered in the chain. If you want a more subtle sound, try using a flanger or phaser before your drive. 

Delay

Delays are a pedalboard must-have. These sit best after your drives and before modulation and reverb.

If you want, you can place your delay after reverb to give you a truly unforgettable ambient tone. 

Reverb 

Keep your delay clear by placing your reverb just after it.

A smooth combination of reverb and delay can give you a distinctive ambient sound. Placing your reverb after your delay prevents the reverb from overpowering the rest of your sound. 

Final Thoughts 

Whether you’re an established and experienced player or a beginner looking to find their sound and make their mark, adding a compressor pedal to your mix is one of the best decisions you can make.

Remember: the beauty of any pedal is playing around and making adjustments until you’re happy. There are no hard and fast rules to follow, so play around and have fun! 

References

Vinnie

I'm Vinnie, and I'm here to support you to create your own studio at home, whether it’s for photography, recording audio, podcasts, or videos!

Recent Posts