Compressor and Sustain Pedals

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Compression has been a part of audio recording as long as studios and microphones. Compressors reduce dynamic range by making quiet sounds louder and loud sounds quieter. If a sound wave in your DAW looks more like a solid bar than complex peaks and valleys, there's compression involved. For more details, read What is Compression and How Do I Use it?

Sustain refers to how long a note sounds after it’s originally played. Sustain can be changed by many variables, from how an instrument is played and what it's made of, to how compression is applied during mastering.

Since compression makes things louder, it can be used to increase sustain, although it’s also sometimes used to decrease sustain, as with the chicken pickin’ style of guitar often associated with classic country music. For more information on studio compression, check out our Guide To Audio Compressor Types.

Do I need a compressor pedal?

Compression is used in every type of music. Some guitarists use compressor effects to boost solos, even out finger-plucked strings, or push overdrive pedals. Almost every guitarist can use compression with positive results, and mini compressor pedals, like the Wampler Mini Ego, make it easy to squeeze one onto your pedalboard.

How do you use a compressor pedal?

Most compressor pedals have a control labeled “compression” or “sustain.” Set this (and the “attack”) where you like: Country and funk players may prefer lots of compression and less attack, for example. Then, adjust the tone, blend, and volume.

If you're using the compressor to boost solos, try setting the volume higher than unity. Usually compression is the first, or one of the first pedals in a signal chain, although you may want to try it after an overdrive or fuzz.

Is there a guitar sustain pedal?

While most compressor pedals can increase sustain, some builders have released pedals that push the standard limits of guitar sustain all the way to infinite, such as the Electro-Hamonix Freeze and Gamechanger Audio Plus Sustain.

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