10 Best Compressor Pedals for Guitars (2020 Reviews)
Are you looking to buy a new compressor pedal to add some much-needed sustain and thickness to your sound, but don’t want to compromise your guitar tone?
With so many different types of compressor pedals available, each suited to different styles of play, it can be quite frustrating to pick the best one. That’s why we’ve researched and picked the 10 best compressor pedals available today, so you can choose the one that suits you.
Top Picks: 10 Best Compressor Pedals For Guitar
Origin Effects are a boutique pedal company, famous for manufacturing studio-quality equipment in compact stompboxes. The Cali76 is one of their most popular compressor pedals, and the new Compact Deluxe version, which features even more control knobs, is designed to give you even greater flexibility over your sound.
The Cali76 Compact Deluxe features a studio-grade FET compressor based on the Urei 1176 Peak Limiter, with high-current, low-noise Class-A circuitry and a large headroom. It has 6 control knobs for Dry, Out, In, Ratio, Attack, and Release, that give you immense control over how you want the compressor algorithm to work, allowing you to set your guitar tone exactly as you need it.
The compression goes from transparent, transient control to a flat-out limiting sustain. The Dry blend knob is a unique feature that lets you mix the dry signal with the compressed one for true parallel compression. According to Adam of Periphery (1):
This is by far the coolest sounding compressor I’ve ever come across, that isn’t a rack-studio unit.
The Origin Effects Cali76 also features a three-color jewel indicator that functions as a gain reduction meter, providing real-time visualization of your compression settings. The pedal is enclosed in hand-polished stainless steel, and it’s manufactured with premium components designed to last for a lifetime. The pedal can be powered by a 9V or 18V power supply (no battery option) here, with 18V providing a larger headroom, and it features a high-quality, silent-switching buffered bypass system.
If you’re looking for the best compressor pedal, then the Origin Effects Cali76 is for you. It provides studio-quality, FET compression in a compact and portable form factor with fantastic versatility and a flexible control system that’s simply unbeatable. It works perfectly for any musician’s requirements for studio recordings or live performances, and is the best pedal compressor for professionals who know exactly what kind of compression they want.
2. Donner Compressor Pedal Ultimate Comp Guitar Effect Pedal – Budget Pick
Controls: Level, Comp, Tone, Tone Switch
- Bypass: True Bypass
- Power: 9V Power Supply
Donner has made a name for itself by producing high-quality guitar effects pedals at very reasonable prices, with their products featuring on several of our articles. The Donner Ultimate Comp, inspired by rack-mount optical compressors, is their effort on producing a versatile and compact compression pedal for guitarists of all levels.
The Donner Ultimate Comp features 3 simple knobs that control Compression, Level, and Tone. The Compression knob controls the intensity of the compression, the Tone control knob adjusts the brightness, while the Level knob controls the overall output volume. There’s even a Tone toggle switch that lets you choose between ‘Normal’ for a neutral effect and ‘Treble’ for a brighter high-end sound. The quality of the compressor is great, and it adds that much-needed warmth and smoothness to your guitar sound.
The pedal itself is encased in an aluminum-alloy body that’s sturdy and strong enough to withstand your foot-stomping and will easily fit on any pedalboard. It features true analog bypass, which is excellent at this price range, and it’s powered by a 9V power supply.
If you’re on a tight budget and you’re looking for a decent compressor pedal, then the Donner Ultimate Comp is one of the best options in its price range. It punches well above its weight by offering good compression sounds in a compact and rugged form factor that’s great for beginners and intermediate players alike, making it the best compressor pedal at its price.
Xotic is another boutique pedal company that makes some excellent effects pedals and accessories at affordable rates. The Xotic SP Compressor is a mini compressor pedal designed using operational transconductance amplifiers (OTA), the same technology as that used in the classic Ross compressor, thus providing that similar ‘squash’ and transparent compression so many professionals love.
The Xotic SP features a straightforward control system, with just 2 knobs for Volume and Blend. The Volume goes up to +15 dB of boost, and the blend lets you adjust the parallel compression. The amount of compression is controlled by a switch that goes from Hi, Mid, and Lo, allowing you to easily choose what sounds best. Beyond these, the Xotic features four internal DIP switches that let you adjust attack, release, a hi-cut filter, and input padding/impedance. This offers some great versatility in a mini-sized pedal.
The Xotic SP works great as a compressor pedal, but also as a nice boost pedal with its high output range. The pedal itself comes in an extremely compact but rugged enclosure that’ll easily fit on any pedalboard and survive all the foot-stomping you throw at it. The pedal features true analog bypass, so it won’t affect your tone when disengaged, and it can easily be powered by a 9V PSU or batteries.
If you’re looking for the most portable, mini compressor pedal, then the Xotic SP is for you. It features an excellent compression sound with simple, easy to use knobs as well as great flexibility with its internal DIP switches. It can easily fit on any pedalboard, big or small, making it one of the best additions to any guitarist’s collection.
Keeley Electronics, founded by Robert Keeley, is known for making high-quality boutique effects and pedals. The original Keeley Compressor was inspired by the old Ross Compressor, proving to be a breakthrough in the compressor pedal industry for its time. Now, Keeley recently launched the Compressor Plus, an updated version with new features, extra control knobs, and the same old glory.
The Keeley Compressor Plus features studio-grade JFET compression inside its small enclosure, with 4 control knobs for Sustain, Level, Tone, and Blend. These control knobs allow you to easily and quickly set your compressor settings as desired, from tamed and tightened up rhythms to fat and dynamic leads. Keeley’s unique feature here is the Release switch, which lets you choose between single-coil and humbucker modes. This enables you to set the optimum attack and release for your guitar’s pickups quickly. The Blend knob lets you combine your dry signal with the compressed signal for parallel compression.
The biggest plus-point of the Compressor Plus is that it is incredibly intuitive and user-friendly. Keeley provides standard settings with the pedal that can easily cover most guitarists’ frequent usage scenarios, and it’s easy to dial in a great-sounding custom sound. The pedal itself is built with weapons-grade materials, so it’ll easily survive any rough usage for years. It features a true analog bypass, and it can be powered by a 9V power supply or batteries.
If you’re a beginner and you’re looking for an easy to use compressor pedal that always delivers amazing sounds, then the Keeley Compressor Plus is for you. It’s a simple 4 knob compressor pedal that intuitively allows you to dial in your desired settings with studio-quality sound and rugged build quality, making it the best guitar compressor pedal for beginners.
TC Electronic makes some of the best and most widely used effects pedals worldwide and has received awards for its pedals as well. The HyperGravity is an analog-digital hybrid compressor pedal that features their signature TonePrint functionality and a high-quality and versatile multi-band compression functionality.
The TC Electronic HyperGravity features 4 control knobs that control Sustain, Level, Attack, and Blend, along with a Mode Switch that lets you select three modes: Spectra, TonePrint, and Vintage. The Spectra mode is the multi-band compressor, allowing you to choose different compression levels in different frequency ranges, while the Vintage mode acts like a classic compressor stompbox.
TonePrint is TC’s proprietary software that allows you to connect to your laptop or phone (via wireless beam technology) and edit the pedal’s settings in-depth and customize it to your liking. You can even download and use the TonePrints of some of your favorite artists through their online store. According to John Petrucci of Dream Theater (2):
The TC Electronic HyperGravity does not add any distortion or darkness to the tone. It gives you a very transparent, open, enhanced sound without compromising the integrity of your guitar.
The HyperGravity produces some really versatile compression sounds that can go from tight, funky tones to sweet sustain. The pedal itself is built with a road-worthy, all-metal chassis that can take all the foot-stomping action you throw at it, and it can be powered by a 9V power supply or batteries. It features an internal switch that lets you toggle between true analog bypass or buffered bypass, depending on your requirements and signal chain length, making it very versatile in practical usage.
If you’re looking for some great multi-band compression or you just wanna try your favorite artist’s TonePrint, then you should definitely take a look at the TC Electronic HyperGravity. It offers great-sounding compression, versatility, flexible customization, and some unique features in a compact stompbox fit for any guitarist or instrumentalist.
Wampler is another boutique pedal company that makes unique, high-quality effects pedals. The Wampler Ego Compressor V2 is an updated version of their famed Ego, a unique compressor pedal that made a name for its distinct compressor algorithm that retained dynamics and feel, unlike many others. The new V2 features better controls, true analog bypass, and a Blend knob that lets you use the best of parallel compression.
The Ego features 5 control knobs that alter Sustain, Tone, Attack, Volume, and Blend. The Sustain alters the level of compression, Tone adjusts the brightness and harmonics, Attack regulates the compression time, and Blend lets you mix the dry guitar signal with the compressed signal for parallel compression. The Wampler’s knobs are dynamically responsive, allowing you to add thickness and sustain to your guitar sound without adding any noise or losing the clarity.
The Ego is great for players of all genres and acts as the ‘always on’ compressor that many guitarists love. It features high-quality film capacitors for superior analog circuitry, and the pedal is built in a robust and durable chassis that can survive the road. It has top-facing input and output jacks, it can be powered by a 9V power supply or batteries, and it also features a true relay bypass so it won’t color your sound unnecessarily when disengaged.
If you’re looking for that ‘always on’ compressor pedal with a unique compression to it, you should give the Wampler Ego a try. It offers a lot of versatility and flexibility with its 5 knobs and produces anything from fat and funky to thick and sustained, making it an excellent fit for guitarists of different genres.
Controls: Volume, Sustain, Blend, Attack, Pad Switch
- Bypass: True Bypass
- Power: 9V Power Supply or Battery
Electro-Harmonix is a legendary name in the world of guitar pedals, having produced some iconic and famous pedals since the ’70s. The Tone Corset, an upgrade over the earlier Soul Preacher, is one of their newest pedals, designed to offer some amazing analog compression to add some tightness and thickness to your guitar sound.
The Tone Corset features a 4 knob control system with knobs for Volume (regulates overall output volume), Sustain (adjusts the amount of compression), Blend (mixes the dry guitar signal with the compressed one), and Attack (governs how quickly the compression recovers). There is even a Pad toggle switch that can be turned on to pad down the input signal in case of any noticeable distortion due to high output pickups. The Blend knob offers an interesting parallel compression capability that makes your guitar sound sit consistently well in the mix without any issues.
The EHX Tone Corset has an organic quality to its sound, which highlights the nuances of your guitar playing. The pedal itself is built in a durable metal chassis, and can be powered by 9V PSU or batteries. It features side-facing input and output jacks, and it has true analog bypass as well.
If you’re looking for a simple and easy-to-use analog compressor pedal that offers parallel compression, then you should definitely try the Electro-Harmonix Tone Corset. It’s a great organic-sounding analog pedal that sits well with some of the best compressor pedals in the market with its versatility and flexible controls.
Fender is an iconic and legendary name when it comes to guitars, with their series of Stratocasters, Telecasters, Jazzmasters, and many other guitars being played by famous artists worldwide. The Bends is their take on the classic compressor pedal, designed to offer seamless dynamics and smooth tones every single time.
Fender’s The Bends features 4 knobs to control Drive, Recovery, Blend, and Level. Here, the Drive knob adjusts the level of compression, Recovery alters the release time for the compression to recover, Blend lets you mix your guitar’s dry signal with the effects, and Level controls the overall output volume. The parallel compression offers some interesting dynamics, and the overall compression is noiseless and sounds great.
The Bends features dual internal audio paths that ensure a low-noise output as well as a high-current control path that prevents volume spikes. The pedal is encased in a very durable, brushed-aluminum housing and can be powered by a 9V PSU or a 9V battery in its magnetically latched battery compartment. The control knobs have LED indicators that ensure visibility in the dark, and there’s also a classic Fender amp jewel that indicates the compression signal.
If you’re a fan of Fender and you want an affordable, good-quality compressor pedal, then you should definitely check out The Bends. It offers great analog compression algorithms and a lot of flexibility with its parallel compression in a classic, Fender-designed pedal that’s simply gorgeous to look at.
Boss has been making high-quality effects pedals since the ‘80s, and they recently launched the CP-1X compressor pedal, a major upgrade over the earlier Boss CS-3 model with multiband compression and better circuitry. The new Boss CP-1X compressor utilizes their Multi-Dimensional Processing (MDP) technology that intelligently adapts and preserves the nuances of your guitar playing while maintaining its compression clarity.
The CP-1X features 4 simple knobs that control the Ratio (amount of compression applied), Attack (strength of picking attack), Comp (level of compression), and Level (output level). These controls are extremely dynamic and responsive, interacting with each other under the hood to give pronounced results based on your playing. The digital circuitry involved greatly reduces noise and offers a clean output. The multiband compression is suited for a wide variety of styles of play, allowing you to customize it appropriately, and it can even work with acoustic guitars and other instruments very well.
The pedal is encased in a classic Boss-fashioned chassis with durable metal construction and a large footswitch that’ll take all the foot-stomping you throw at it. There is an LED indicator bar that lights up to provide visual feedback of the gain reduction and the amount of the compressed signal, along with a battery check indicator. It can be powered by 9V PSU or batteries, but internally the pedal amps it to 18V to provide a larger headroom, and it features Boss’s buffered bypass that ensures no loss of signal strength.
If you’re looking for a great multi-band compressor pedal with tonal flexibility, then you should consider getting the Boss CP-1X. It offers great compression sounds with a lot of sonic potential packed into a simple 4 knob pedal that’s sturdy and built to last years of tough usage.
Dunlop, under the brand name of MXR, has been producing quality effects for many decades now. The original MXR Dyna Comp, released in 1972, was an instant hit and became the standard, used by countless musicians and producers around the world. It was the first compressor based on the OTA (operational transconductance amplifier), and it produced dynamic range compression that evened out notes and gave a smooth feeling to the music.
The MXR Dyna Comp is extremely simple in its functionality, with only 2 knobs that control Output (the overall output volume) and Sensitivity (the level at which compression is applied). But even with just two knobs, the Dyna Comp is incredibly expressive, with responsive controls that offer a wide variety of compressor algorithms, suitable to many different styles. Overall, it gives a smooth, warm feeling to your guitar tone.
The re-issue of the Dyna Comp also features improvements, with a more durable, sturdy chassis that can survive for years. It features true analog bypass, and it can be powered by a 9V power supply or batteries depending on your necessity. It’s a very compact pedal, so it’ll easily fit into any pedalboard.
If you’re looking for that classic ‘Nashville standard’ that many musicians have come to swear by, then definitely check out the MXR Dyna Comp. This is one of the best, original compressor pedals that spawned a series of clones, and it still offers that great, warm compression in the classic MXR pedal format with upgraded equipment and durability.
Buying Guide: How To Choose The Compressor Pedal That’s Best For You
The process of choosing the best compressor pedal for you can seem quite frustrating because of so many available options, but we’re here to help. Here are some important things to consider before buying your first compressor pedal:
Compressor pedals mostly differ on the quality and tonality of the sound produced by them. Every compressor pedal on this list has a certain unique sound to it, based on its internal circuitry and other factors, that we try to explain best in terms of simple words (but is actually best if you can hear it yourself). Some of the pedals on this list are digital (like the Boss CP-1X), while others are analog, with OTAs, FETs, and other types of circuitry (3).
You can find out which type of compressor pedal was used by your favorite artist and then pick a pedal that has a similar circuit design or sonic characteristic.
Hence, if you’re looking for a particular type of sound, it’s usually best to compare the different sounds of pedals using online videos and sample demos. Every pedal on this list has its unique individual sound, and when it comes to compressor pedals, best to try them out at a local store to see what sounds best to your ears.
Controls And Power Requirements
Compression pedals have a wide range of controls, with some having only 2 knobs while others have 4 or even 5 knobs and different toggle switches. The standard control knobs commonly found are Ratio, Attack, Release, Level, and Threshold, but different pedals offer different controls. Some pedals have multi-band compression, tone control, and some even offer a Blend knob for parallel compression. You should pick a compressor pedal that offers the right amount of control that you need that can let you obtain your desired tones quickly and accurately.
The power requirements of a pedal are also an important consideration. Most compressor pedals can be powered by 9V batteries, which is great for portable usage, but some of them require a power supply of 9-18V. Hence, depending on your usage scenario and also on your pedalboard’s design, you should pick one that will easily fit into your pedalboard and obtain sufficient power to run smoothly.
True Bypass or Buffered?
Pedals with buffered bypass will convert your signal from high impedance to low impedance, and amplify it again to prevent any drop in signal strength while it travels across the pedal’s circuitry. This ensures a stable and consistent signal throughout your pedalboard. The problem arises if the buffer used is of low-quality (found in cheaper pedals), which causes a drop in brightness and integrity of the guitar sound (also known as ‘tone-sucking’).
In true-bypass pedals, your guitar signal is routed directly through the circuitry without any alteration whatsoever. It preserves complete signal integrity.
True bypass works best when you’re only using a couple of pedals and short cables. But adding more true bypass pedals means more cables, and that will result in a loss of brightness and treble along the signal chain, so you have to be careful about that.
Hence, depending on your pedalboard size and the length of your overall signal chain, different bypass modes may be required in different circumstances.
You should use a compression pedal when you want to even out the volume of the notes that you are playing for a smoother sound. It enhances clean guitar tones by accentuating the softer notes and reduces the louder sounds, thus resulting in an even, ‘compressed’ tone. It also helps thicken up your guitar tone and increase the amount of sustain for those long bends.
A compressor pedal should generally go before any overdrive/fuzz/distortion pedals as it will feed a stronger and more ‘even’ signal to the rest of your signal chain. Hence, many players prefer keeping it as the first pedal, so that every subsequent pedal receives a strong, compressed signal.
Yes, you can use a compressor pedal as a boost. Many compressor pedals have Volume knobs that go up to +15 dB (such as the Xotic SP), hence acting as a boost on your guitar tone while simultaneously compressing it. This results in a much stronger and even signal coming out of the pedal, which is similar to what a boost pedal does (but without any compression).
Yes, you can use a compressor pedal with distortion. Many players use compressor pedals to drive very strong, boosted, and compressed signals into distortion or fuzz pedals for a smoother guitar tone with an even amount of gain. This works particularly well for rock and metal genres, for playing heavy, chugging riffs where each note is accentuated prominently.
- Gear Rundown – Nolly of Periphery – Live Rig 2013. Retrieved from: https://youtu.be/lMxbP1V3WBo?t=293
- John Petrucci – “TransComp” and “EverComp” TonePrints for HyperGravity Compressor. Retrieved from: https://youtu.be/c9RaKbEa4u0?t=479
- Compressor Pedal Buyers Guide. Retrieved from: https://www.samash.com/spotlight/compressor-pedal-buyers-guide/