Keeley Compressor Plus
Keeley Electronics is a company widely known for the quality of the pedals that they're putting out. And the Compressor Plus is a great example, with its premium build quality and tone, combined with player friendly controls.
It boasts hand-matched transistors to less than 1% tolerance, and uses quality metal film resistors and capacitors.
The blend knob lets you mix your dry signal with the compressed signal, which can be useful for adding back dynamics as you see fit.
The pedal can also be quickly tweaked via a switch to be compatible with single coil and humbucker pickups, a very useful feature that makes this pedal easier to integrate into rigs.
Other controls include level, sustain and attack, all of which are straightforward.
- JFET compression
- Parameters: Sustain, Level, Blend, Tone, Pickup Type Switch
- True Bypass
- 9-Volt Battery or AC Adapter
Most users of this pedal agree that sound quality is top notch, often described as detailed and clean. Versatility is another one of its strengths, reportedly working with various single-coil and humbucker equipped guitars from Fender, PRS, Gibson and more. It is also often commended for its overall build quality.
Being clean sounding can be a detriment for those looking for more power and sustain from their compressor pedal.
If you're looking for an affordable yet good quality compressor that'll easily adapt to your rig, then this is well worth checking out.
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
Transparency is easily the strong suit of this pedal, as reflected in many reviews. Some even hail it as the most transparent compressor pedal, even after comparing it with more expensive units. Many also speak of the Xotic SP favorably for being simple and easy to use.
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. But 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.
Boss CP-1X Compressor
The CP-1X pedal takes a modern approach to compression.
It comes equipped with a multiband processor that analyzes your guitar signal and applies the effect as needed. This means, that the pedal adapts to different frequencies, volumes and playing nuances, to provide just the right level of compression.
Powering its high tech design, Boss equipped this pedal with 18-volt internal electronics, which also allows for higher than usual headroom.
Another noteworthy feature is its gain reduction indicator, which is very easy to spot.
Finally, it comes in the familiar stompbox Boss profile, known for incredible reliability.
- Multiband Compressor
- Parameters: Level, Attack, Ratio, Comp
- Buffered Bypass
- 9-Volt Battery or AC Adapter (Sold Separately)
Pristine, articulate and smooth, are appropriate adjectives that summarize actual user experience with the pedal. Most users are pleased with how it evens out the dynamics of their playing, making them sound more polished. There are many reports of it working well with different guitar tones, but its transparency is most impressive when used for clean to lightly overdriven tones. Also particularly noteworthy is its easy to use layout, impressing even Music Radar, which gave this pedal a 5 star rating.
There are some who aren't too happy that they need to buy the power adapter separately. And while it can run on 9V batteries, its 18V internal circuit means that it can drain the battery faster, so using the optional Boss adapter is advised.
If modern transparency and reliability are important to you, then definitely check out the Boss CP-1X.
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.
It 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.
And it also features the same build quality and good parameter adjustments as other Wampler pedals.
- 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)
The Mini Ego is touted by many as very transparent, similar to its bigger sibling, but with less complex controls. Many also love its compact size, freeing up precious pedalboard real estate for other effects. Ease of use is also often commended, while it is also praised for the extra switches that allow for a bit more control that's not usually available in pedals of its size.
A flaw with this pedal is that the on/off tone control likely isn’t going to work well with every instrument, an issue that’s avoided with the variable tone control you’ll find on the larger version of the pedal.
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.
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 allows for more tone personalization. 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 consistent complaints about the pedal's functionality and build.
If you are looking to add subtle compression to your guitar signal, then the Orange Kongpressor is highly recommended.
Wampler Ego V2
At publication time this was the Highest Rated Guitar Compressor Pedal.
The Wampler Ego V2 is similar to the Mini Ego, with the main difference being that the “control” and “tone” are variable knobs instead of on/off switches. Another important difference is that the Wampler Ego can 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
It is often commended for adding clarity and sparkle, especially for those with Strat and Tele style guitars. It also gets a lot of appreciation for the flexibility of its controls. Finally, there are many positive reports regarding its solid feel and build quality.
Wampler has an excellent track record for quality control and quality of tone, so the only real concern with this pedal is its price. $200 can be better spent elsewhere if you’re a beginner.
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 V2 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.
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.
It also has a balanced XLR output that allows for more flexible routing be it on stage or in the studio.
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.
- 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 then 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.
Origin Effects Cali76 Compact Deluxe
The Origin Effects Cali76 is a premium studio grade FET compressor packed in a stompbox.
And for a pedal its size, it packs quite a number of controls, which include Ratio, Attack, Release, Dry along with output and input level knobs.
The three main knobs, Attack, Release and Ratio, let you personalize the compression effect, from subtle for transparency to all out for sustain.
The Dry knob serves as a blend control, for which gives adds your dry signal into the mix.
There's also a Jewel lamp which serves as a reduction meter by changing its color.
Finally, this pedal is assembled by hand and comes in a stainless-steel enclosure.
- FET Compressor
- Parameters: Ratio, Attack, Release, Dry, Out, In
- Signal Conditioning Bypass Mode
- 9-18 Volt DC Adapter (Sold Separately)
Overall response to this pedal is positive, with most of the high ratings pointing to its sound. Many are pleased with how it adds warmth and sustain, and how it always sounds musical even as they tweak the parameters. David Greeves writing for Sound on Sound was impressed with the Cali76 Compact Deluxe, concluding his review by saying: "They may not be cheap but they ooze quality and any guitarist with even a passing interest in compression should make a point of auditioning one or both."
It's hard for some to justify the premium price tag, but most of those who bought this pedal feel that it is a good investment.
This studio grade compressor pedal is well worth saving up to, for those who want to level up their use of compression effect.
Origin Effects Cali76 Stacked Edition
The Cali76 Stacked Edition takes compression effect to the next level literally, by stacking two layers of FET compressors in one stompbox. This is meant to appeal to those who utilize their compressor pedal as a tone shaping tool.
The two compressors run in series, and have independent attack/release controls for tweaking dynamic response that's simply not available from conventional compressors.
Aside from its dual compressor design, it has similar features to the Cali76 Compact Deluxe, including the addition of a Dry knob for blending in your dry signal, along with input and output gain controls.
- Dual FET Compressor
- Parameters: Att/Rel 1, Att/Rel 2, Thru, Dry, Out, In
- Signal Conditioning Bypass Mode
- 9-18 Volt DC Adapter (Sold Separately)
Given its price, it's understandable to find that most owners of this unit are professional musicians who have incorporated this pedal with other expensive equipment. And most of these owners are simply impressed with its incredible control over clarity and dynamics, and consider it as a very advantageous investment towards getting consistently good tone.
This pedal is beyond the average price that most guitarists are willing to pay for a compressor pedal. Thankfully, it is deemed worthy by those who bought it. And while it affords you two compressors, it loses some of the parameter fine tuning capabilities of the Cali76 Compact Deluxe.
If one compressor is not enough, and you have the money to spend, then the Origin Effects Cali76 Stacked Edition is highly recommended.
Things To Consider When Buying A Compression Pedal for Guitar
Here we tackle some of the more essential information about compression pedals, to equip you in making an informed purchase for your rig.
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.
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 started by looking at the many compressor pedals available from USA based retailers and this resulted in producing a short-list of 33 compressor pedals - all available with current ratings in the Music Gear Database. Then we collated and analyzed relevant reviews and ratings for each pedal, including the most recent feedback up to May of 2020. The data we gathered came from over 8,100 sources, all of which were then processed by the Gearank Algorithm. This resulted in rating scores out of 100 which reflect market sentiments for each pedal. Finally, we selected only the highest rated ones to recommend in this guide. For more information about our methods see How Gearank Works.