What Is A Compressor Pedal For Guitar

EXPLAINED: What Is A Compressor Pedal For Guitar?

Want to learn more about compression pedals?  You are on the right page!

What Is A Guitar Compressor Pedal?

A guitar compressor pedal is used to increase the sustain of a note, and also reduce the dynamic range. It is responsible for making the sound from your electric or acoustic guitar louder and more present. It does this by “compressing” the signal like an old studio recording compressor, which was designed to make vocal recordings sound as loud and powerful as possible.

The guitar compressor pedal is a great way to add flavor to your sound. It will make your guitar’s volume louder, but also bring out the natural sounds of the instrument.

What Are Guitar Compressor Pedals Used For?

What does a guitar compressor do?  A compressor works by reducing the level of loud notes.  It doesn’t do it all at once or chop off the amplitude peaks; instead, it does it gradually and evenly, depending on how high the sustain knob (called sensitivity on the MXR) is turned.

  • A 1:1 ratio would be no compression at all, meaning that no matter how hard you hit the string, it is precisely as loud as it comes through the amp.  The compressor will accomplish nothing if the ratio is 1:1.  You may still play with the whole dynamic range of 1-100, and how hard you play immediately translates to how loud the amp is.
  • A 2:1 ratio means that when the compressor comes in above a certain threshold, the volume of the spikes is reduced by half.  If you set the compressor to a 2:1 ratio, when you play a 100, it will sound like you’re playing a 75 through the amp.
  • A 3:1 ratio, for example, would reduce the amount of spikes by 2/3, and so on.  If you set it to a 3:1 ratio, it will sound like you’re playing a 66 via the amp.  In other words, the loudest you can play is 66, but the softest you can play is 1.

To give you an example, suppose the quietest note you can play on a 1-100 scale is a “1,” and the loudest is a “100,” and you set the compressor to kick in at “50.”

Because a compressor guitar pedals reduces peak volume, it also has a volume knob that you can use to raise your “baseline” level.  In other words, it modifies the position of the “1” by turning up the quiet notes.

So, if you increase the level to the point where your “1” becomes a “20,” and set the ratio to 3:1, all of your playing will be somewhere between a “20” and a “66,” but no louder or softer than that.

Reducing the amplitude of the peaks while increasing the loudness of the softer notes has the overall effect of “squeezing” your dynamic range.  If you dial up both the volume and the sensitivity, no matter how loud or quiet you play, it will always come out as a 50.

While dynamics lend a lot of character to your playing and phrasing, a lot of compression is useful for staccato funk chords, for example.  However, you usually just employ a little amount of compression.

The reason you don’t merely turn up the amp is that, because it’s after the compressor, it’ll raise the level of the peaks as well as the quietest regions.  It will simply increase the volume of everything.

When you lower the volume on your guitar, you’re lowering both the peaks and the quietest parts.  Everything is becoming softer as a result of your efforts.

The volume knob on a compressor, on the other hand, compensates for the fact that the compressor reduces the amplitude of the peaks.  However, the peaks are still limited due to the interaction of the sensitivity knob and the volume knob.

Why Use A Compressor Pedal For Guitar?

I use compression as a boost; if you set all of the knobs on the pedal to 10, you can get a really long sustain that also adds a little boost.  It can also make the sound muddy, in the sense that the notes don’t ring as clearly, especially if you’re already using a lot of gain from your amp or another pedal.

Another thing to be aware of is the amount of noise it can introduce into your signal, particularly when increasing gain.  Compression, on the other hand, is one of the nicest effects out there, and it’s also one of the most adaptable, as it can be utilized with a really clean jazz sound or a prog rock/metal sound.  I would advise you to just try one and see how it fits in with your playing style.

Is A Compressor Pedal And A Compression Sustainer The Same?

Yes, they are basically the same.

How To Choose Compressor Pedal

To the novice guitarist, choosing the right guitar compression pedal is a challenge. First off it is not easy to ensure that you’re buying a quality product. And second, there are so many options. But we’re here to help you out! In this article we will go over all the factors you should be considering when buying your first compressor pedal – what things to consider and what differentiates them.


The first thing you will need to think about is the budget. If you’re just beginning to play the guitar, chances are that your budget won’t allow for an expensive pedal. There are quite a few good options that can work for beginners. On the low end, you can go for a Boss or Ibanez model. They are fairly affordable and also don’t gouge you with the price. On top of that, these pedals are generally decent quality and will last you a long time.

In terms of mid-range, we’ve found a few good choices. The MXR M-102 is a great compressor for beginners. It is considered by many to be the best compressor pedal for beginners. While also being a great option, the TC Electronic Nova also deserves a spot on this list. In both cases you’re getting a fairly decent product for the price.

If you’ve got some more cash to burn, though, then we suggest looking into the Keeley or the Carl Martin compressor pedals. These two in particular are both considered by many to be two of the best guitar compressors ever made and hold their value very well – if you choose to sell your pedal at any point in time, it should still have high value.


Another thing to consider when buying a compressor pedal is it’s ability. The lower the gain, the less it will affect your tone. Now, this isn’t always a good thing – if you like your distortion, then chances are that you don’t need to dampen it with a compressor. However, this can be extremely helpful for some other situations. For instance, if you want to keep your pick attack from hitting early in the signal chain, then a compressor pedal can help you do that. Or if you just want to keep your tone at the same level, then a compressor can help out there.

Luckily, most compressors are extremely versatile and will fit into any situation. There are some that have gain knobs as opposed to level knobs, which can be helpful if you’re already known for your distortion. These pedals will also generally use more of the signal. But if you’re like me, then you are looking for a compressor that will be good for a variety of situations.


I’m going to start with the type, because this is probably the most confusing aspect on the market. Traditionally, there are two types of compressors. The dynamics compressor pedal and the equalizer (also called a compressor envelope) pedal. The dynamics style was first developed by George Harrison. Although it still holds true today, it seems to be overlooked by many guitarists (including myself). It is a very transparent pedal and works in a way that offers zero interaction to your tone.

If you’re looking for something that doesn’t interact with your tone, then this is the pedal for you. The equalizer style was first designed by Eddie Kramer, who has had quite the history in the studio. This style of compressor is much more interactive with the signal and usually has a little bit more gain than a dynamics model as well as being less transparent. It has the advantage of being more versatile, because of the tone interaction.