Getting Squishy With It: 8 Killer Comps

Compression is an oft-misunderstood, and therefore oft-maligned effect. Sometimes one’s perception of a particular effect is shaped by a player who has claimed it as part of their signature sound. For example, I once jammed with a guy who couldn’t stand delay because he hated U2. For him, the sound of delay was synonymous with the Edge’s playing style, which he did not care for. Because of that, he disregarded delay for any and all uses. My friends, this is a foolish attitude.

I developed such an attitude toward compression during my early foray into effects pedals. In those days, I wanted everything to make a dramatic alteration to my sound. If it didn’t distort, reverberate, or warp my signal, I wasn’t interested. Compression is more subtle than other effects in the sense that it’s not much of an effect at all. Think, for a moment, of a masseuse. Their job is to provide a relaxing massage to the person lying on the table or sitting on one of those weird chairs at the mall. In our day to day activities, we do things that can put strain on our muscles: we sit hunched over at desks, stand with bad posture, and sleep in all manner of strange positions. A nice massage can help us straighten out and get back to form. It won’t be life changing—a masseuse can’t massage away belly fat to give anyone six-pack abs. But once you’ve had that experience, you’ll wonder how you ever went without. I submit to you that compressors fall into that same category. Although players may not use one on every song, it may be just what they need for that pseudo-country lick or power ballad solo. Once a guitarist has used one, he or she may rejoice in the beauty that it adds to the sound, and never want to turn it off again. Let’s take a look at some of the compressors on the market today and see what kind of options are available.

Boss CS-3

Like the TU-2 tuner, the Boss CS-3 is used by so many players that they probably forget it’s there. Level, Tone, Attack and Sustain knobs produce a gamut of compressed tones. Sweet sustain? Yes. Squashed country licks? You betcha. Shimmering 12-string arpeggios? You got it. With all the impressive boutique pedal options available in today’s world, Boss products are sometimes overlooked. But they are classic for a reason, and they deserve your attention. Haven’t tried a CS-3? Make it a point to do so. Stack it up against pricier boxes and see what happens. For those brand new to compression, this could be a great option to start, because they are widely available and cheap, especially if used.

Diamond Compressor

Diamond describes the compressor as a “guitar channel,” a tone shaping tool that aims to enhance the overall signal path via tasteful compression, EQ, and volume controls. Compression comes from an optocoupler. The EQ is a “tilt” style, so it will be totally flat when the knob is set to the middle. Left-of-center on the knob yields darker tones, and turning it clockwise will produce familiar bright, jangly sounds. This pedal also has a generous amount of output on tap, so players can dial back the compression and use it as a great boost as well. Like other Diamond pedals, it is made with super high quality components and built to last forever. Those wanting a Diamond Compressor that takes up less space on the board, check out the Comp Jr. Fans of Johnny Marr will want to snag this one, as it has been a mainstay on his pedalboard for some time.

Empress Compressor

The Empress Compressor is a full-featured box akin to studio compression devices. Compression, sustain and tone shaping are controlled by Input, Attack, Release, Mix, and Output knobs. A three-way switch selects between three compression ratios, and another controls LED metering of gain reduction, input, or both. Bass players wondering whether or not this will work for them, fear not—Empress highly recommends it to bassists. The Empress Compressor is a fantastic option for studio musicians due to its broad control range and versatility. Although compression newcomers will surely find useable tones from this high-quality box, it may be a bit overwhelming. It’s best suited for players that are familiar with compression and know what they want from it.

Keeley Compressor (Multiple variations)

Effects guru Robert Keeley is a living legend in the guitar world, due in no small part to his widely popular compressor. The original version features just Sustain and Level knobs. That unit became very popular, receiving rave reviews from players and publications the world over. Eventually, people wanted a bit more, so Keeley introduced a four-knob version, allowing players to control parameters that were previously adjustable via internal trimpots. Fast-forward a bit, and there is now an entire range of Keeley compressors available, including the Bassist Limiting Amplifier, the feature-laden Compressor Pro, and the hearty Steak and Eggs, a joint effort with JHS Pedals featuring a Keeley Compressor on one side and a JHS Morning Glory on the other. For those considering a Keeley unit, they should check out as many variations as possible to determine what works best for whichever style being played.

MXR Dyna Comp

This classic stompbox is responsible for scores of Nashville squish. The simple two knob layout—Output and Sensitivity—allows users to tailor their tone with subtle sustain or dramatic compression perfect for clean country chicken-pickin’ and ‘80s pop rock. While the other boxes mentioned are more than capable of providing classic compression tones, this is the one for those aiming for straight-up classic all the time. There’s not much of a learning curve, it’s affordable, and as soon as users can play like Andy Summers, they’ll be ready to amaze their friends and family in their Police cover bands (Sting lookalike not included). It’s worth noting that MXR also has a variety of compressors available, so players who still haven’t found what they’re looking for with the Dyna Comp, check out the Custom Comp, Custom Comp Deluxe, and Studio Compressor.

Pigtronix Philosopher’s Tone/Philosopher’s Rock

Pigtronix made compression fun again by adding some extra goodies to the mix. The Philosopher’s Tone features standard controls such as Sustain and Volume, but it also features Blend, Treble, and Grit controls for a wide variety of compression, boost, and overdrive tones. The Grit control determines how much harmonic distortion is added to the compression, and this is a welcome bonus, especially for players who don’t like to use a ton of effects, as it can cover a lot of ground. The Philosopher’s Rock simplifies the controls by narrowing them to Volume and Sustain, as well as a Grit switch that introduces a preset amount of germanium filth to the signal. Although there are less knobs to twiddle, this version contains a compression range four times greater than the Philosopher’s Tone.

TC Electronic HyperGravity

The folks at TC Electronic do not sit still, and they got into the compressor game in a big way with the HyperGravity. Based on the studio production System 6000, the HyperGravity produces a wide range of quality compression sure to please even the most discriminating compressor aficionado. Sustain, Level, Attack, and Blend controls combine with a three-way mode switch for ease of use and versatility. The obvious advantage with this pedal is the ability to use and create TonePrints. Aside from using the available controls, a wide variety of presets created by famous guitarists of all stripes are available for immediate download, making it a breeze to cop all kinds of compression tones.

Xotic SP Compressor

This pint-sized box based on the Ross Compressor is the same size as the famed EP Booster and it delivers delightful compression via Blend and Volume controls as well as a switch that selects between Hi, Lo, and Mid modes. Using the switch yields a wide variety of compression capable of capturing what most guitarists could ever hope for. It can provide up to 15db of boost and there’s also an internal dip switch for attack control. If it’s good enough for Steve Lukather, it’s good enough for most. This is the perfect solution for the guitarist who wants to add a compressor to their board but has limited space. In fact, since it’s so small, maybe everyone should just get one.

Whether you’re looking to add controlled clean boost, smooth sustain, or super squish to your signal, a quality compressor is just the ticket. There are numerous quality options available, so be sure to try out as many as you can to determine what’s right for you. When you finally feel a compressor massage your signal, you’ll wonder how you went without it, and it may just become your secret weapon.

comments powered by Disqus