This guide was first published on July 7, 2017 written by Mason Hoberg and last updated on August 16, 2018 by Alexander Briones.
More Guitar Pedals
Compressor pedals are the unsung heroes of many musicians’ rigs. They are used to remove a portion of a signal’s dynamic range, to either makes quiet notes louder or loud notes quieter (or both), resulting in a more balanced sound and extra sustain.
Here we take a look at the best compressor pedals, updated for 2018, featuring only those whom the market deems are worth the money and pedalboard space.
Compressor pedals may seem simplistic, but they can do wonders for your overall sound especially when using advanced techniques like country-style chicken pickin’, sweep picking, or tapping - where volume drops - making your guitar sound anemic and uneven in terms of volume. This issue is remedied through the use of a compressor pedal, but note that there is a downside, that is some loss in dynamics.
The Best Compression Pedals
If you’re having a hard time finding the best guitar compressor pedal for your rig, check out the recommendations below. If after reading through our meta-reviews you still aren’t sure which compressor pedal is the best fit for you, check out the section “Things To Consider Before Buying A Compression Pedal.”
In fact, unless you’re coming into this article with a lot of background knowledge on compressors we’d recommend at least skimming through the “Things To Consider” section of the guide. To give you a good basis of comparison between the different types of compression pedals available we had to get a little bit technical, so if you’re new to the world of compression the terms we’re going to throw around might be a bit overwhelming.
The Best Compression Pedals
Mooer Yellow Comp
Mooer’s Yellow Comp is a great option for anyone looking for subtle compression to smooth out their playing or fatten up their tone. It’s also regarded to be very transparent, which is a huge plus for anyone who doesn’t want their existing tone to be colored. Even better, this pedal is also true bypass so you won’t have to worry about it impacting your tone while it’s not engaged.
- Optical compression
- Parameters: Volume, Compression, and EQ (sweeps from heavy bass to accentuated treble)
- True Bypass
- 9-volt adapter ONLY (no battery compartment)
The Yellow Comp’s onboard controls are limited, with the device only featuring a volume, compression, and EQ parameter knobs. The lack of either an attack or release knob limits the unit’s usefulness in some genres, such as more technical styles of metal or hard rock and country. However, unless you happen to play one of the aforementioned genres the Yellow Comp will likely still have a positive impact on your rig. Another thing that shouldn’t be ignored is that this unit is also pretty affordable and doesn’t have a huge footprint, so it’s definitely worth a look if you already have a bunch of pedals on your board.
The only real flaw of this pedal is that it can’t be powered via a 9-volt battery, you have to use an adapter. This isn’t a huge deal if you already have a multi-pedal power supply, but if you run all of your pedals off of batteries the Yellow Comp’s lack of a battery compartment will likely be a deal breaker.
TC Electronic HyperGravity
The first thing to know about TC Electronic pedals is that many of them come with Tone Print technology. Tone Print is software that allows you to edit a variety of parameters, which essentially means that you can dial in just about any compression response you could possibly want. The Tone Print setting is the middle position on the “Voicing” control.
Something cool about this pedal is that while it’s (proudly) all digital, the “Vintage” position of the voicing control replicates early analog compressors remarkably well. What makes this so remarkable is that it’s an incredibly harsh contrast to the “Spectra” position, which is a clear and transparent compression. The “Vintage” position is very darkly voiced, which tends to pair well with brightly voiced instruments.
- Multi-Band Compression
- Parameters: Sustain, Level, Attack, Blend, Voicing Switch
- Tone Print Technology
- True Bypass
- 9-Volt Batteries or 9-Volt AC Adapter
Another great feature of this pedal is the blend control, which allows you to combine the unaffected signal with the compressed signal. This helps to retain more of your guitar’s tone while still benefiting from the tightened dynamic range you get from compression.
While we wouldn’t necessarily call it a flaw, we would say that in order to get the most out of this pedal you are going to have to go into the Tone Print software and edit your parameters. Both the “Spectra” and “Vintage” settings sound good in their own right, but unless you use the Tone Print software you’re not going to have access to the majority of editable parameters.
This compressor is a great fit for anyone looking for a plug-and-play pedal. On the surface, the only parameters you have access to are: volume, blend, and three different levels of compression (high, low, and medium levels). However, the pedal does have four internal switches which you can use to modify attack and release, cut high-end frequencies, and cut dB output levels. The internal dip-switches are not variable controls, so their ability to dial in different tones is limited.
- VCA Compression
- Parameters: Volume, Blend, Compression (Toggle)
- Internal Dip-Switch: Attack, Release, Hi-Cut, and dB Cut
- True Bypass
- 9-Volt Battery or AC Adapter
What the pedal lacks in flexibility it makes up in transparency. This pedal is a great choice for anyone who wants a compression pedal that won’t interfere with the natural voicing of their instrument. This aspect of the pedal is also further enhanced by its blend switch.
The only real concern with this pedal is that it may not be versatile enough for musicians who like to have a lot of control over how their compressor impacts their tone.
Wampler Mini Ego
The Wampler Mini Ego is a downsized version of the Wampler Ego Compressor, an effect which has been used to great success by country-guitar hero Brad Paisley. The Wampler Mini Ego actually has all of the controls found on its bigger brother, but it ditches variable controls for the “Tone” and “Attack” knobs in favor of two on/off switches.
The cool thing about Wampler pedals is that they’re one of the most transparent effects available, which is likely why they’re commonly used by professional musicians who have access to top-tier amps and guitars.
- Compression type not listed (most likely VCA)
- Parameters: Blend, Sustain, Volume, Tone (on/off) Attack (on/off)
- True Bypass
- 9v Adapter ONLY (no battery compartment)
A flaw with this pedal is that the on/off tone control likely isn’t going to work well with every instrument, which is an issue that’s avoided with the variable tone control you’ll find on the larger version of the pedal.
In short, we’d recommend this pedal to those of you looking for a great compressor that won’t take up too much space on your pedalboard. We would recommend purchasing the Mini Ego from a retailer with a generous return policy in case the tone switch doesn’t pair well with your instrument/amplifier.
Instead of the usual FET circuit used in many compressor pedals, Orange went with an optical based circuit for the Kongpressor and packed it with expanded control options.
As expected of an opto compressor, this pedal applies effects in a smoother fashion, which gives a more natural sounding result. This can be good or bad depending on personal tastes, it is well appreciated by those who prioritize signal integrity. It also houses quite a lot of controls, which gives you more control over the resulting sound. This includes the usual attack and release knobs, a main volume knob which gives you up to 12dB of clean gain, a squash knob and an active chime control that serves as a pseudo tone control for shaping the higher frequencies.
- Optical Compressor
- Parameters: Attack, Release, Volume, Chime, Squash
- Buffered Bypass
- 9V Battery or 9V-12V Adapter (Sold Separately)
Most of the positive responses for the Orange Kongpressor are from guitarists who are impressed with its sound, which many describe as organic or natural sounding. It gets a lot of praise for its transparency, and how it doesn't drown out playing dynamics too much. Control options are also well received, with emphasis on the volume knob which turns the pedal into a great sounding boost effect. Even experts like Trevor Curwen of Music Radar is impressed with the pedal, he describes it by saying: "This pedal gives you transparent, unobtrusive compression that offers positive enhancement of your signal.
Those who are looking for a compressor pedal that colors the sound, particularly for clean tones - will probably not appreciate the Kongpressor's transparent sound. There are also some who wish that the size of the pedal is a bit smaller. Aside from these, there aren't any complaints about the pedals functionality and build.
If you are looking to add subtle compression to your guitar signal, then the Orange Kongpressor is highly recommended.
Walrus Audio Deep Six
Inspired by a vintage FET compressor, the Walrus Audio Deep Six is meant to give guitarists old school compression in a compact form factor.
Thankfully, compact doesn't always have to mean limited, because Walrus Audio equipped the Deep Six pedal with four knobs. Three of which give you control over essential parameters like level, sustain and attack, while the fourth knob lets you blend your dry signal to taste, in case you want a more subtle compression effect. Finally, it comes with a boutique quality finish and artwork, that easily sets it apart from other compressors.
- FET Compressor
- Parameters: Level, Sustain, Attack, Blend
- True Bypass
- 9V Battery or 9V Adapter (Sold Separately)
The Walrus Audio Deep Six pedal continues to get high ratings for its combination of good sound and build quality. Many report that it improved their overall sound (be it active or passive pickups) and even when using dirt pedals, some even describe its sound as magical. It also gets a lot of thumbs up for its sonic versatility and boutique appearance.
There are some that report noise, but most consider its background noise levels to be acceptable.
If you're looking for a reasonably priced boutique style compressor then do check out the Walrus Audio Deep Six
The Wampler Ego is the same pedal as the Mini Ego above, with the only difference being that the “control” and “tone” are variable knobs (more than one setting) as opposed to on/off switches. The Wampler Ego is also able to run off of batteries in addition to a DC adapter, while the Mini Ego is run off of an adapter exclusively.
Wampler’s description of the Ego’s tone control is a bit vague, but from the description in the manual (which you can find on their website) it seems to be a presence control. Presence is a parameter which controls upper-mid range frequencies. Its purpose is to make an instrument more “present” in a mix that includes instruments in the same frequency range. For example, if there’s two guitarists in your band the presence knob will help you be heard over the other guitar player.
- Compression type not listed (likely VCA)
- Parameters: Sustain, Tone, Attack, Volume, Blend
- True Bypass
- 9-Volt Battery or DC Adapter
Wampler has an excellent track record for quality control and quality of tone, so the only real concern with this pedal is its price. The truth of the matter is that at $200 your money would likely be spent better elsewhere if you’re a beginner or amateur musician. However, if you’re looking to start gigging at some point (and play music that really benefits from compression) you may find that the Wampler Ego is a worthy addition to your rig.
JHS Pulp 'N' Peel V4
The 4th iteration of the JHS Pulp 'N' Peel compressor pedal makes it to this list with its extra features and connectivity options.
In addition to its Volume and Compression knobs, this pedal sports a dedicated EQ knob for tone shaping and a Blend knob for controlling how much of your dry signal gets through. It also lets you switch between true and buffered bypass, and it comes with a ground-lift switch to stop unwanted ground loop noise. Its standout feature is its built-in dirt circuit with dirt knob that lets you adjust its intensity. It lets you add the classic break-up / gritty tone that are conjured by driving vintage compressors hard. Finally, the pedal has a balanced XLR output that allows for more flexible routing be it on stage or in the studio.
- Compression type not listed (likely FET)
- Parameters: Volume, Comp, EQ, Blend, Dirt, Dirt Switch, Buffer Switch
- Switchable Buffer/True Bypass
- 9V DC Adapter (Sold Separately)
Great sound quality and good versatility are two descriptions that summarize market sentiment well. The JHS Pulp 'N' Peel V4 gets many of its high ratings from guitarists with single-coil equipped guitars, but there it also impresses humbucker and even P90 pickup users. The pedal's switchable dirt and buffer features impressed a good number of users.
There are some who are not happy with how the pedal emphasizes the higher frequencies. Thankfully, it does come with an EQ knob that can be tweaked to taste.
If you're looking for old school compression with grit then check out the JHS Pulp 'N' Peel V4.
Things To Consider When Buying A Compression Pedal
Since finding the best compressor pedal for your needs can be overwhelming, check out the sections below which contain all of the information you’ll need to make an informed purchase.
Parameter Controls (What Does What)
Before you think about buying a compressor pedal you need to know about the most common parameters a compressor pedal controls. Also, don’t think that just because a compressor pedal has more knobs it’s going to be a better piece of equipment. In fact, some of the best compressor pedals ever only have two knobs.
Volume / Level
The volume / level knob controls the baseline level of volume a compressor pedal boosts your signal to. On lower settings the overall volume is lower, and on higher settings it’s higher. This control can either be used as a type of boost, boosting the signal to the point where it clips (distorts), or as a way to limit gain so that a signal doesn’t distort.
Sustain / Sensitivity
The sustain / sensitivity knob controls how compressed a signal is. At lower levels the signal retains more dynamics, so the quiet parts are quieter and the louder parts are louder. At higher levels it’s the opposite.
Attack and Release
The attack knob dictates how fast the compression kicks in, and the release knob controls how fast the signal becomes uncompressed once it falls below the noise threshold (controlled by the volume/level knob). A shorter attack time (lower settings) will mean that the effect compressors the signal faster, while with longer attack times the effect takes longer to kick in. Longer compression times help to retain brightness, but there are more dramatic peaks in volume as a result. Short release times can distort low-end frequencies, while longer release times can cause a “pumping” sound.
Like any other effect, the key to dialing in usable levels of attack and release is to use both of these parameters in moderation. Also, be sure to experiment with different settings.
Types of Compression
Something you should be aware of is that there are different types of compression. With that being said, the differences between pedal-based compression units (as opposed to larger rack-mount units) are very subtle. With the exception of multi-band compressors, different types of compression don’t really impact the tone so much as the response of the compression itself. Below are the most common varieties, and while other types of compressor pedals do exist your odds of encountering them aren’t very high.
Optical compressors use an LED and a photocell. The LED grows brighter based on the input volume, and then the photocell “reads” the level of brightness and adjusts the gain based on your settings. These compressors are considered to have a very smooth and organic sounding attack and release
The circuit used in VCA compressors focuses on precisely controlling the compression, attack, and release of a signal. These pedals are considered to have a less natural tone than other types of compression.
Valve compressors use a circuit based on one of the compressors above but with a vacuum tube in the signal path instead of a transistor. These compressors are considered to have a warmer tone than a pedal without a vacuum tube, though as stated above the difference isn’t very dramatic.
FET Compression uses a certain type of transistor in order to replicate the response of tube compressors while being more reliable. These compressors are considered to produce a warm tone and an organic compression. They’re a good choice if you’re looking to fatten your guitar tone, but we’d recommend another option if you’re looking for a transparent (meaning it doesn’t affect your tone) compression. This type of compression requires more circuitry, so as a result the few pedals that use it are more expensive.
Contrary to most other types of compressors, a multi-band compressor does have a dramatic impact on your tone. The reason for this is that multi-band compressors only compress certain frequency ranges. For example, this type of compressor can compress high-end response while leaving your mid and bass response unaffected.
Using a Compressor Pedal With Other Effects
The question of where various effects should go in a signal chain (the order you put your effects in) is a hotly contested one, with musicians having different preferences based on the genre they play, their role in the band, their gear, and their desired tone. And it’s worth thinking about, because even if you have the best guitar compressor pedal you’re not going to get good results unless it’s properly placed in your signal chain.
The general consensus on where to put a compressor pedal is either at the beginning of a signal chain or at its end. Placing a compressor at the end of a signal chain controls the level (volume) or your signal after all of your effects, which may be helpful if you use a variety of pedals. The bad part about putting a compressor at the end of a signal chain is that doing so tends to make the noise produced by your various pedals more audible. Placing your compressor at the beginning of a chain is less likely to introduce noise into your signal, but at the same time the effects after the compressor aren’t subject to compression.
There’s more to the topic than what we’ve gone over here, so if you’d like to learn more about how to order your pedals just search “effect pedal order” and you’ll find a ton of great resources on the subject.
Size Doesn’t Matter
Once you have more than a couple of pedals, pedalboard real estate becomes a prime concern. Having a pedalboard can be a lifesaver because it makes your pedals easier to activate, which is really important during a live performance. However, a pedalboard is a finite space so there’s a limit to how many pedals you can fit on it.
Because of this, many musicians look towards pedals with a smaller footprint. The only real thing you lose with a smaller pedal is that you don’t have quite as many parameters (knobs) to play with, so the tones you can get out of them is a bit more limited. But believe it or not, many of these smaller pedals can sound just as good as their bigger counterparts. This is especially true with compressor pedals, because many compressors only have two parameters in the first place (the legendary MXR DynaComp is a perfect example of this).
True Bypass vs. Buffered Output
When you’re looking for pedals, you’re going to see the terms “true bypass” and “buffered output” thrown around a lot. Thankfully, these terms are actually really simple to define. A true bypass pedal doesn’t impact your signal when it’s turned off. A buffered output pedal boosts the signal.
Something a lot of musicians don’t know is that once you start using around 20 feet worth of cable you start to lose frequency response, generally in the high-end. Buffered output pedals mitigate this by boosting your signal before it returns to your amplifier.
Some musicians feel that pedals that aren’t true bypass weaken their signal or remove clarity, though in all reality this varies based on the type of circuit used. Pedals that aren’t true bypass are called hardwire bypass, because the signal still feeds through circuitry of the pedal when it isn’t engaged.
Basically, you want either true bypass or buffered output pedals. If you use either true bypass or hardwire bypass pedals we’d recommend getting a boost pedal so that your signal retains volume and clarity.
Best Compressor Pedal Selection Methodology
We made a short-list including 32 of the most popular compression pedals available from major online American music gear stores. We then collected and analyzed feedback about each pedal which came in the form of 5,600+ ratings, reviews, and forum comments and summarized that information to produce the meta-reviews above. We also used those data for the Gearank Algorithm to produce a satisfaction rating out of 100 for each pedal and selected the highest rated ones to recommend in this guide. For more information about this process see How Gearank Works.