Compressor pedals are the unsung heroes of many musicians’ rigs. The pedal is used to remove a portion of a signal’s dynamic range. Depending on how you set the pedal, it either makes quiet notes louder or loud notes quieter (or both).
While the compressor pedal does have a simplistic function, it can do wonders for your tone. It can be really difficult to maintain a consistent volume when using advanced techniques (examples of which would be country-style chicken pickin’, sweep picking, or tapping), which can make your tone anemic and uneven. This issue is remedied through the use of a compressor pedal.
A challenge many musicians face when looking for gear is that it can be hard to find the best option for any given situation. This is doubly true for compressor pedals, because since the effect is so widely produced it’s hard to find the pedal that will work best for your rig.
The Best Compression Pedals
|Mooer Yellow Comp||88||175+||$59|
|MXR M102 Dyna Comp||88||750+||$80|
|Pigtronix Philosopher’s Tone||90||70+||$119|
|TC Electronic HyperGravity||93||150+||$130|
|Seymour Duncan Vise Grip||88||20+||$179|
|Wampler Mini Ego||88||10+||$180|
|Keeley 4 Knob Compressor Pedal||90||100+||$199|
|Electro-Harmonix Black Finger Tube Compressor||88||150+||$202|
|Empress Effects Analog Compressor||88||50+||$249|
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.
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.
MXR M102 Dyna Comp
The most important thing to know about this compressor is that does color your tone, and some musicians feel that it does so pretty drastically. To our ears it seems to add in a twangy mid-range hump, which is likely why it’s been such a fixture in the country guitar scene for the last few decades.
- VCA Compression
- Parameters: Output and Sensitivity
- Hardwire Bypass
- 9-volt battery or AC adapter
While it may not be transparent, the Dyna Comp is still the compressor of choice for tons of professional musicians. It’s also been used by musicians outside of the country-sphere, with David Gilmour being one of its most notable users.
The only real concern for some guitarists about this pedal is that it has a hardwire bypass configuration. A portion of your input signal (the signal that comes from your guitar) is routed through the pedal, which can cause treble and volume loss.
Pigtronix Philosopher’s Tone
The Pigtronix Philosopher’s Tone is geared towards musicians willing to pay a premium for a superior tone and a more flexible pedal. It’s not a good fit for someone just looking for basic compression, but if you’re looking to gig consistently the Philosopher’s Tone is worth serious consideration.
The main draw of this pedal is its “Blend” knob, which allows you to blend an unaffected signal with a compressed one. This results in a tone that has the depth of a non-compressed signal with the tighter dynamic range of a compressed one. It also helps to make the pedal more transparent, as you can dial in the blend knob to let more or your guitars natural tone through.
- Most likely optical compression, though this isn’t made clear in the specifications.
- Parameters: Grit (Distortion), Sustain, Blend, Treble, Volume
- True bypass
- 18-Volt DC Adapter ONLY (no battery compartment, though the adapter is included)
The actual compression portion of this pedal is relatively minimalistic, though by all accounts it does perform its purpose well. The parameters that control the compression and noise threshold of the pedal are “Sustain” and “Volume”. Unfortunately, this pedal does not allow you to set different “Attack” and “Release” parameters.
Another interesting component of this pedal’s design is that it has a gain circuit as well as an active treble circuit. The gain parameter offers smooth diode-clipping distortion, which produces a very musical and organic overdrive (don’t expect the Philosopher’s Tone to have the gain of a dedicated distortion pedal). The “Treble” knob allows you to either cut or boost the high-end response of the pedal.
The only real concern presented by this pedal is that, like the Mooer Yellow Comp, it doesn’t take batteries. However, unlike the Yellow Comp the Philosopher’s Tone does come with an adapter.
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 remarkable 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.
This pedal uses optical compression, where an LED diode produces light based on the power of the signal present and a photocell regulates output based on said light. This type of compression has a slower attack than others, which makes it a good fit for someone looking for a subtle effect (as opposed to the highly compressed tone you hear in country music).
- Optical Compression
- Parameters: Sustain, Level
- Buffered Output
- 9-Volt Battery and AC Adapter
This pedal is a bit controversial, because while many musicians love its subtlety and transparency many find that it’s just not powerful enough to meet their needs. If you need compression to regulate your output levels to facilitate higher level techniques we would recommend skipping this compressor. If, on the other hand, you’re just looking for a slightly fatter tone and a bit more sustain you may find that this pedal works pretty well for your rig.
Seymour Duncan Vise Grip
This pedal is arguably one of the best available for those of you who want a lot of control over how your tone is affected by your compression pedal. The most interesting feature of the Vise Grip is that you can control which unaffected frequency range is introduced back into your signal when you use the pedal’s blend knob.
Put a bit less technically, when most compression pedals have blend knobs they reintroduce the entirety of your signal when used. The difference with the Vise Grip is that you can select which part of your frequency range is reintroduced. So say you want an organic sounding treble response, you can select “High” on the switch located on the upper-middle of the pedal and reintroduce it using the blend knob.
- VCA Compression
- Parameters: Blend, Attack, Volume, Sustain
- True Bypass
- 9-Volt Battery or 9vdc Adapter
Another important feature of this pedal is that it has an attack knob, which is great if you’re looking to switch between more “squashed” levels of compression or a more organic tone.
This compressor is also considered to be pretty transparent, so you won’t have to worry about it drastically changing your tone. Because it’s true bypass it also won’t cause a drop in treble frequencies or volume when it isn’t engaged.
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.
Keeley 4 Knob Compressor Pedal
Company founder Robert Keeley was once known for modifying mass produced pedals to make them sound good, first of which was a Ross compressor. Fast forward to today, Keeley electronics has grown into a manufacturer of original design pedals, which include their popular 4 Knob Compressor.
Staying true to their reputation, this compressor pedal features premium components, which include hand-matched transistors, metal film resistors and capacitors, all of which work together to provide quiet and clean compression as attested to by many users. As the label implies, this compressor pedal has four knobs that let you better fine tune your compression, including Sustain, Level, Attack and Clipping.
- Metal Film Resistors and Capacitors
- Hand-matched Transistors
- Parameters: Sustain (Compression), Level (Volume), Attack and Clipping (Input Sensitivity).
- True Bypass
Most of the reviews describe the Keeley 4 Knob Compressor as very clean and great sounding, even those who complained about cosmetic/exterior flaws still gave their thumbs up to its overall sound. Many experienced users appreciate the pedal's compatibility with different guitar and pickup types, although some cautioned that the learning curve for tweaking can be a bit longer than expected.
With its high ratings, the Keeley 4 Knob Compressor is easy to recommend, especially if you are looking for something that can work with different guitar types.
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.
Electro-Harmonix Black Finger Tube Compressor
The Electro-Harmonix Black Finger Tube Compressor is an interesting piece of gear. The pedal utilizes optical compression, and allows you to switch between two different light sources. When used in LED mode, you get a reduction in compression and a faster attack and release.. The inverse happens when the pedal is in lamp mode, so you get more compression but a slower attack and release.
There’s a lot of marketing hype surrounding tubes, and in general pedals that utilize tubes generally don’t sound that different from their solid-state counterparts. However, the Black Finger seems to be the exception to this.
- Optical Tube Compression
- Parameters: Compress (Compression), Pre-gain (distortion), Post-gain (volume)
- True Bypass
- Proprietary Power Supply
The pedal uses two tubes, one in the compression circuit and one in the pre-gain section. The compression circuit has the vintage warmth and squash you find in old studio compressors, and the pre-gain section has a gain profile reminiscent of what you’d get in a tube amp.
The reason Electro-Harmonix succeeded in creating a pedal that has a tube-like response is that the pedal uses significantly more voltage than your standard pedal. Because of this, Electro-Harmonix uses a proprietary power supply for the unit (which is included with your purchase). However, should you choose to purchase this pedal do not open it unless you know what you’re doing. The power running through the pedal is enough to seriously injure or kill you.
Unfortunately, Electro-Harmonix has a well-deserved reputation for poor quality control. The company makes really good products, but according to user reviews there’s a lot of variance in the components they use for their different pedals. This pedal in particular seems to produce a lot of electric noise, so if you decide to purchase it you may want to invest in a noise gate.
Empress Effects Analog Compressor
The Empress Effects Analog Compressor is an interesting piece of equipment. Billing itself as a “studio grade compressor” it claims to have a sound quality that rivals the famed rack-mount units you’d find in a professional studio. Whether or not this is true is a matter of personal taste, but if you’re a guitarist or bass guitarist looking for a professional-quality compressor you can’t go wrong here.
This pedal is a quintessential “set-it-and-forget-it” piece of gear. It ditches a variable compression control in favor of three different ratios (2:1, 4:1, and 10:1). The settings themselves are usable, though some musicians may find that the lack of a variable compression control limits their ability to get a good tone from it.
- FET Compression
- Parameters: Input, Attack, Release, Mix, Output, Compression Ratio (2:1, 4:1, 10:1)
- True Bypass
- Power Supply Only
An interesting decision made on the part of Empress is that, while they ditched a variable compression control, they included variable attack and release controls. The inclusion of attack and release controls may make up for some of the flexibility lost by the lack of a variable gain control, though of course this is up to personal interpretation.
Contrary to many FET-style compression units, the Empress Effects Compressor is actually considered to be very transparent. This is another interesting choice, because the coloration caused by FET compression is actually a huge draw for many studio engineers.
Looking at this pedal, we can’t see anything that we’d call an objective flaw. It’s not going to be a good fit for everyone, but it is a unique option for musicians looking for something different.
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.
We made a list including 25 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 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.