Even the best compressor pedals are hardly considered the most glamorous additions to your pedalboard. They're often seen as the most boring pedals you can own, just behind guitar tuners. But there’s a counter-argument that says they’re also the second most important – again – just behind your tuner.
Compared to chorus pedals or phaser pedals for modulation, compression has a less obviously transformative effect on your tone. It boosts quiet parts of your signal and attenuates the louder parts, reducing its dynamic range, and ultimately making your it seem louder, smoother and with more sustain.
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You can run it subtly as a secret weapon, an always-on tonal sweetener with the dynamics retained, or you can squash your tone for the juicy snap of Nashville country tones, or elastic litheness of funk chords. It’s the sort of effect you didn’t know you needed until you tried one. Trust us, track down the best compressor pedal for you and you’ll rarely turn it off.
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Best compressor pedals: Guitar World’s choice
Just as with electric guitars, there are so many high quality compressor pedals on the market that it can be difficult to pick from among them. Indeed, any entry in our best compressor pedals list offers incredible performance and tones that could finally make the compressor the sexiest pedal in the signal chain.
For our money, we’d opt for the Keeley Compress Plus. It’s an update on Robert Keeley’s bestselling stompbox that has a switch for humbucker and singlecoils, with a blend control that puts you in charge of compression.
That said, the Boss CP-X1 Compressor Pedal is hard to beat. There’s a lot of processing magic going on inside the trademark Boss enclosure, with the proprietary MDP tech offering a multi-band treatment of your signal to make sure it retains its fundamentals all the while the compressor compresses. It’s even got flashing lights to let you know how much compression is going on. Hey, small things please us.
Choosing the best compressor pedal for you
If you’re intending on playing busy country leads or rhythmically complex funk, a compressor is nigh-on essential. If you’re playing slide guitar or have a penchant for legato shred, it’s highly recommended.
Broadly speaking, there are compressors that offer a transparent performance so you retain much of your fundamental tone, and there are those that give it a little boost or cut somewhere in the EQ. So finding the best compressor pedal for you is a question of what you want, but our selection of pedals below should give you the best of both worlds.
Compressors like the Boss CP-1X are a multi-band effects pedal, meaning they process different frequencies in your signal independently. These can be set up so that your signal is as transparent as possible. Others, such as the Dyna Comp, are primarily voiced after the more squishy late ’60s and early ’70s compressor, yet are revised to offer a more transparent performance for today’s guitarist.
Some compressors will have controls for attack, which sets the reaction time for the compression to take effect. The Dyna Comp has this as a fast/slow binary choice, while Wampler’s Ego and the CP-1X have dials. Others will have controls for recovery, which is the length of time before your compressed signal relaxes back to normal.
One feature to look out for is a blend control, which enables you to control the mix between your dry, uncompressed signal and the compressed signal. After you’ve set your compression – how fast the attack, the level of sustain, and so on – adjusting the blend is a convenient way of keeping on top of your squish.
Lastly, compressors work great with overdrive pedals and valve guitar amps, with the capability of hitting both with some extra decibels, encouraging some sweet breakup. Some, such as JHS’s Pulp ’N’ Peel v4, have a dedicated dirt switch for this purpose.
Once you introduce compression to your signal chain, we’d bet good money that it doesn’t come out, so let’s take a look at some of the best compressor pedals you can add to your pedalboard today…
The best compressor pedals to buy now
Robert Keeley’s most popular stompbox has been updated to make it all the more tweakable. Mercifully, it’s still intuitively laid out. There’s now a release switch to set the appropriate attack for humbucker and single-coil pickups.
A blend control dials in how much of the compressed signal you want – fully counter-clockwise you’ve got a half-and-half blend, and turned fully clockwise it is all squashed quack.
It puts you in control of the peaks in your guitar playing. A tone control lets you compensate for the high-end and harmonic response you sometimes lose with compression. Tone-wise, the Compressor Plus is exceptional, and it’s insanely good value for money, making it our top pick for best compressor pedal.
Boss has always made excellent compressors, but the CP-1X takes their stompbox squash further with the use of Multi-Dimensional Processing (MDP) to preserve your fundamental tone. It only compresses overtones so that your signal remains as transparent as possible.
The control panel, meanwhile, is typically well laid out, with controls for compression, ratio and attack enabling you to dial in exactly what you want from the unit, and a level knob for controlling your output.
There’s even a Knight Rider-esque gain-reduction indicator to let you know how much compression you’re running at any given time. It is also low noise, and runs on 9V that internally converted to 18V, giving it plenty of headroom.
The fourth generation of Josh Scott’s Pulp ’n’ Peel compressor welcomes a dirt switch to the enclosure that toggles on and off a parallel overdrive circuit. This introduces a little overdrive to proceedings, with a trim pot on the side of the pedal lets you control how much gain. That’s a nice option to have.
Elsewhere, there’s a blend control for finding the right balance of attack and clarity, and a tilt EQ that can darken or brighten your processed tone. Set it at noon and it’s bypassed. As you’d expect from JHS, the Pulp ’n’ Peel has a meticulous build, with little touches such as switchable buffered/true-bypass and balanced XLR output with ground lift to kill.
The Ego Compressor belongs to that select band of compression units you can set and leave always on as a tonal sweetener and one-pedal support group for your playing. The layout gives you complete control over your compression, with the all-important blend control on hand to dial in the level of squash you need.
Brian Wampler says the Ego was designed to compress and do all the things compressor pedals do, but also to keep your tone uncolored, transparent and ultimately dynamic. Five knobs may seem like overkill, but once you’ve set the Ego you can forget about it, and you might never switch it off.
If the very idea of Fender building your go-to stompbox compressor is kinda novel, and if the controls on offer feel a little unfamiliar – with drive and recovery knobs joining the wet/dry blend control – then the tones should sound reassure you… The Bends offers OTA-based circuitry that places it in the lineage of the MXR Dyna Comp et al.
Backlit LEDs on the control knobs let you know what’s what on a darkened stage. Recovery sets the release time of the compression – ie, how long it takes before the compression relaxes – and in conjunction with the drive control enables you to dial in the compression and sustain you want. Blend ensures you have control over how much of your original uncompressed signal is in the mix.
Fender The Bends pedal is built like a tank, with dual audio paths keeping noise to a minimum. The enclosure’s Fender amp jewel light is pretty darn cool too.
One of the OG OTA compressor pedals to make itself a ubiquitous presence on pedalboards worldwide, the Dyna Comp has had a multitude of releases through the years. The Dyna Comp Deluxe retains the classic CA3080 ‘metal can’ integrated circuit, but updates the pedal with a number of smart features that put you in control of the squash and sustain.
Here, the clean control acts as a blend, while an on/off attack button offers a binary choice between vintage slow and more modern fast attack times. The tone control is on-hand in case your signal loses a little brightness.
Whether you’re chasing old-school squish for playing through the Nashville songbook or want something a little more subtle, the Dyna Comp has got you covered.
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The HyperGravity Multiband features a three-way switch that lets you select three different modes of compression. You can have a super-transparent Spectra compression, a more squishy Vintage compression to go with your Brad Paisley tab book, or you can upload one from TC Electronic’s extensive TonePrint library. You can also do this wirelessly via your phone.
Elsewhere, this is just an excellent compressor, operating at the nexus between digital and analogue. You can switch between true- or buffered bypass, there is a familiar menu of controls for dialing in your compression and it is built tough.
Like the Pulp ’N’ Peel, the OB-1 is a good option for those who find the idea of a simple compression pedal a little too boring. While most compressors can give your signal a little jump-start in the boost department, the OB-1 has a dedicated boost that can be set for bass, middle or treble.
The layout is super-simple. Dial in your compression and the level of boost and then set the output how you like it. There are internal DIP switches for fine-tuning the bass, middle and treble frequencies you’d like to boost, and there’s an all-analog signal path.
The Fat General has two settings: Juicy and Blend. These are selected by a two-way toggle switch and have an assigned control that performs differently in each mode. In Blend mode you can turn the knob fully counterclockwise so that only your dry signal is passing through the unit. Then you can dial in how much of the compressed signal you need over the top of that.
You can keep all the dynamics and articulation you want, but with added sustain. Juicy mode is more extreme with a fixed ratio of 90:10 of compression to dry, with the Juicy/Blend knob now acting as a volume control.
This has all the quack and plunk you could need. Telecaster heaven! Most players won’t need that much but it’s nice to have it on-tap.
Compressor pedals can be a little noisy, but not the Cali176. Its transistors are biased for high-current operation and make for a hiss-free studio-quality stompbox that houses a ’60s-style FET compressor in a compact enclosure.
Inspired by the Universal Audio 1176 Compressor/Limiter, the Cali176 has a discrete Class A circuit that delivers a highly musical compression that does the job of a compressor without killing dynamics. This is transparent, boosting sustain and saucing your tone with a little studio magic.
Under the hood you’ve got premium components such as MELF resistors and film and tantalum capacitors. The build is such that there’s no space for a battery, but that’s a welcome trade-off.