A compressor pedal can often make the difference between a good guitar tone and a great one.
Compressors balance out your guitar signal, attenuating or squashing peaks in order to keep your sound consistent and increase sustain.
They're an essential tool in funk and country playing, but can also prove indispensable for anyone who relies on clean tones, particularly when employing hammer-on, pull-off and tapping techniques.
There's a colossal range of compressor pedals on the market - some that add their own distinct tone to proceedings, and others that remain transparent while adding that dynamic compressor sparkle.
Many modern compressors now feature blend controls, which allow you to mix in the compressed signal with the uneffected sound for the best of both worlds.
That's not to say compressors don't work well with overdriven amps, either; you'll often find a hearty level of dB boost on hand in order to kick an amp into dirtier territory.
So, without further ado, here's our pick of the best compressor pedals on the market today…
1. Boss CP-1X Compressor
The best-value multi-band compressor pedal
Launch price: $149/£125 | Controls: Level, attack, ratio, comp | Sockets: Input, output, power | Bypass: Buffered | Power requirements: 9V power supply, 9V battery
The CP-1X is a digital multi-band compressor, with Boss's cunning Multi-Dimensional Processing. With an internal charge pump to 18 volts, a normal nine-volt power supply will suffice for optimal operation and allow for more headroom. The ubiquity of Boss units means that the layout is intuitive, moreover, there are simply so many decent sounds available in this pedal that it’s hard to come unstuck. There's even a handy gain-reduction indicator to show your current compression amount.
Read the full review: Boss CP-1X Compressor
2. Fender The Bends Compressor
An affordable newcomer to the compression crown
Launch price: $129/£96 | Controls: Blend, drive, recovery, level | Sockets: Input, output, power | Bypass: True bypass | Power requirements: 9V power supply, 9V battery
The Bends is an OTA (operational transconductance amplifier) based compressor, and follows in a long line of classic guitar compressors that have used similar technology (Ross, Dyna Comp etc), but has a blend control so you don’t have to compress the whole signal. The drive knob turns up the compression with the LED glowing pink rather than white when you are compressing the signal. There are also knobs for release time for the compression (recovery) and output volume. The pedal has little hiss, adds a nice snap to your note envelope without being too obtrusive and, via the Blend knob, can add compression effects, such as increased sustain, without totally squashing your core sound.
Read the full review: Fender The Bends Compressor
3. Wampler Ego Compressor
One of the best always-on compressor pedals
Launch price: $299/£199 | Controls: Sustain, tone, attack, volume, blend | Sockets: Input, output, power | Bypass: True bypass | Power requirements: 9V power supply, 9V battery
A lot of guitar compressors are based on variations of the classic Ross Compressor/MXR Dyna Comp circuitry, and the Ego is no exception - but it adds some extra features that greatly increase its versatility, most notably blend and tone knobs. You get a sustain control to effectively increase the amount of compression, and an attack knob, which tweaks the start of your note envelope to give it the sort of 'snap' that works so well for country picking. But it's actually the blend knob that gives you loads more options for a natural but compressed sound, allowing some of your unprocessed tone through in parallel with the compressed. Whatever you need a compressor for, this should deliver it for you.
Read the full review: Wampler Ego Compressor
4. Keeley Compressor Plus
An updated take on the most popular boutique compressor pedal
Launch price: $179/£199 | Controls: Sustain, level, blend, tone, single coil/humbucker switch | Sockets: Input, output, power | Bypass: True bypass | Power requirements: 9V power supply, 9V battery
This update to the most popular boutique compressor pedal in the world strips things back to basics; simplicity is the focus of the Compressor Plus, with a humbucker/single coil release switch that automatically adjusts attack and release for a guitar’s pickup type. Elsewhere, the tone control emphasises sensitive harmonics that can be lost in compression, while sustain and blend function exactly as you’d expect. Top-quality compression doesn't get much easier than this.
More info: Keeley Compressor Plus
5. Xotic SP Compressor
The best mini compressor pedal
Launch price: $165/£130 | Controls: Volume, blend, hi/low/mid switch | Sockets: Input, output, power | Bypass: True bypass | Power requirements: 9V power supply, 9V battery
The Xotic SP features the same OTA (operational transconductance amplifier) technology as the Ross Compressor, so it provides the sort of squash familiar to many guitarists. A three-way switch sets the strength of the compression, and there are internal DIP switches, giving access to four attack/ release options that add snap to the start of your note, a hi-cut filter and an input pad for high-powered humbuckers. The best thing, though, is what you can dial in with the two knobs: an output volume knob with up to +15dB of boost and a blend knob to give you dry sound mixed with the compressed. With the combination of boost and compression offering loads of options, this is a versatile addition to any 'board.
Read the full review: Xotic SP Compressor
6. TC Electronic HyperGravity Compressor
This TonePrint-enabled comp is seriously versatile
Launch price: $194/£99 | Controls: Sustain, level, attack, blend, Spectra/TonePrint/Vintage switch | Sockets: Input, output, power | Bypass: Switchable true or buffered bypass | Power requirements: 9V power supply, 9V battery
The HyperGravity features a blend facility as well as a range of different types of compression. A three-way switch enables you to select Vintage or Spectra, representing respectively the sort of squashy tone typical of the most-copied of stompbox compressor designs and multi-band compression that offers a more transparent signal control. Both do a decent job, but the jewel in the crown is the TonePrint option, where you can load the pedal with compression programmed by TC, one of its roster of guitarists, or create your own with the software editor. There's plenty of extra gain, too, so you can use the pedal to drive an amp.
Read the full review: TC Electronic HyperGravity Compressor
7. MXR Dyna Comp Mini
An oldie, but a goodie, now in mini-pedal form
Launch price: $99/£114 | Controls: Output, sensitivity | Sockets: Input, output, power | Bypass: True bypass | Power requirements: 9V power supply
We'd be remiss to put together a round-up of the best compressor pedals and include the much-copied Dyna Comp. This mini version of the larger original adds a welcome toggle switch for attack, in addition to its output and sensitivity controls. Although pinning down more subtle compression tones isn't that straightforward, that famous Dyna Comp squash is here in abundance, now in a handy mini-pedal format.
Read the full review: MXR Dyna Comp Mini
8. Cali76 Compact Deluxe
Low-noise FET studio compression in a compact stompbox
Launch price: $329/£269 | Controls: Dry, out, in, ratio, attack, release | Sockets: Input, output, power | Bypass: True bypass | Power requirements: 9-18V power supply
Origin's Cali76 is a 1960s-style FET compressor inspired by the UREI 1176 with the topology of the design faithful to the original, but with the circuitry condensed to fit into a floor pedal. The Compact Deluxe downsizes the format further, and features a parallel mix control, plus separate knobs for attack, release and ratio. The Cali76 is incredibly quiet - some stompbox compressors can get a bit noisy, but this one is well-mannered and more like a rackmount unit. Another thing is its tonal character. There's a subtle but distinct sense that what comes out sounds better than what went in, with a perceived increase in presence. If you're looking for quality low-noise FET studio compression in a pedal, this is the answer.
More info: Origin Cali76 Compact Deluxe
9. Empress Compressor
The closest thing to studio compression in a pedal
Launch price: $249/£215 | Controls: Input, attack, release, mix, output, ratio switch, meter switch | Sockets: Input, output, sidechain, power | Bypass: True bypass | Power requirements: 9-18V power supply
Empress's studio-style Compressor offers 2:1, 4:1 and 10:1 switchable ratios, input, attack, release, mix and output chassis-mounted rotary controls, a 10-LED meter (switchable to display gain reduction, input volume or both), plus a side-chain TRS loop input for a filtered signal so the compression works only on part of the input - for example, the lower frequencies of a bass guitar. It all makes for very precise control. Firstly, the LED meter let's you see what's happening - handy if you're lightly compressing or limiting peaks on a percussive acoustic guitar. Secondly, that mix control means you can blend some of the original signal with the compressed signal to avoid things sounding over-squashed. An excellent addition to your pedalboard if standard compressors don't cut it for you.
Read the full review: Empress Compressor
10. Orange Kongpressor
Blockbuster analogue compression from the legendary amp maker
Launch price: $155/£119 | Controls: Volume, chime, squash, release, attack | Sockets: Input, output, power | Bypass: Buffered bypass | Power requirements: 9V power supply
For the Kongpressor, Orange has employed an optical design with an innovative floating sidechain - plus the addition of a reissue Vactrol VTL5C3 octupler, used in certain vintage compressors, notably the LA-2A. The Kongpressor features an internal charge pump, which doubles the operating voltage to 18 volts, increasing the headroom. The volume knob offers up to 12dB of clean boost, and you can also get some tonal shift at the same time courtesy of the chime knob, an active treble control that can add some useful zing or, alternatively, calm the top-end for a smoother vibe. As compressors go, the Kongpressor is very natural-sounding. It doesn’t exhibit the overly obvious audible squash with radical reshaping of the envelope that some models provide, yet the compression is there, bolstering your tone with a solid consistency and adding sustain when needed.
Read the full review: Orange Kongpressor
11. Pigtronix Philosopher’s Tone Micro
A mini compressor with a big range of tones
Launch price: $119/£139 | Controls: Volume, sustain, treble, blend | Sockets: Input, output, power | Bypass: True bypass | Power requirements: 9V power supply
While losing the grit knob of the original, this mini-pedal version of the Philosopher's Tone still possesses a blend knob, which means you can add in gradual amounts of compression in parallel with your dry signal, right up to a fully compressed signal. There’s also a treble control with cut or boost at 2kHz, which is useful if you want an EQ shift with no compression, and really helpful for dialling in an altered tone with compression. The compression here doesn’t get as full-on squashy as some but is a natural for clean sustain, and there’s loads of headroom via the volume knob to drive your amp harder. With that combination of boost, compression and extra top-end, this pedal has a role to play beyond just a compressor.
Read the full review: Pigtronix Philosopher’s Tone Micro