How to Use a Compressor Pedal

When I first heard about the effects of a compressor pedal, I knew I had to get my hands on one. After I had purchased one, I realized I had forgotten a very important thing: how do I work this thing? After taking some time, I learned the mechanics of my new pedal, and I was really satisfied with its effects.

Now that I have the skills to use one of these pedals, I’m going to share some tips with you to make your learning process easier. Keep on reading to learn more about how to use a compressor pedal.


What You Need for This Tutorial

This will be a straightforward tutorial, but you will need a few things in order to get the most out of it.

  • Knowledge
  • Compressor pedal
  • Guitar
  • Patience

First, you need to know what your compressor pedal is doing to the sound of your instrument. Compressor pedals are automatic volume control pedals. This means that the pedal will figure out how to adjust the volume on its own, rather than require you to change the volume manually.

Other pedals have volume controls, which can give you more freedom to experiment with different volumes but can also be a hassle when you’re performing and want to focus on your playing. Follow this link for a more in-depth explanation.

You’ll also need a compressor pedal. Compressor pedal settings can work well in a lot of different types of music, and can often complete similar functions as reverb or boost pedals.

If you’re looking to purchase the best guitar compressor but don’t know where to start, I’d suggest reading this article. My favourite pedal is The MXR Dynacomp because it’s a classic, but there are tons of great compressor pedals on the market. Do some research and get your hands on one.

Next, make sure you have an electric guitar or an acoustic guitar with a pickup. If you’re a beginner and you’re looking to purchase an electric guitar but don’t know where to start, try reading this article for help. After all, you won’t get much out of the pedal without an instrument to channel all of those effects.

Finally, make sure you remember to be patient and have fun. Learning to use a compressor pedal is a long process that will take a lot of experimentation on your part. Your pedal will be unique, so learning all of its nuances will take some time.

Let’s get started.

How to Use a Guitar Compressor

Remember that every compressor pedal is different. Not every pedal will have the same settings, so don’t panic if your pedal doesn’t have one of the features on this list. I’d recommend researching demo videos on your specific pedal for more information.


Step 1: Plug your guitar into the pedal

This is a really simple step, but if you mess it up, you’re not going to hear any sound, so it’s an important one. You’ll then want to plug your pedal into an amplifier. If you’re planning on using this pedal in addition to other distortion pedals, I’d recommend putting the compressor pedal at the beginning of the chain.

This will balance the sound before it becomes distorted or affected by another pedal. Remember, it’s almost always better to go into other pedals with an already balanced tone than an unbalanced tone.

Step 2: Compare the natural tones to the compressed tones

Once you’ve turned your guitar and amp on, you can start by comparing what your guitar sounds like naturally to what it sounds like with the pedal turned on.

Your pedal should have an obvious “On/Off” switch (which might be a foot switch), so play a few chords or notes naturally and then play them again with the pedal turned on so you can compare the difference. You’ll notice the tone is more balanced with your compressor pedal.

Step 3: The Input Level

Your compressor pedal may not have an input level control, but if it does, you should get acquainted with it. This control will affect the signal range that the pedal picks up on and then affects. If your range is too small, you’re not going to get the effects you’re probably anticipating from your pedal.

If you don’t have an input level control on your compressor pedal, you’ll have to change the volume controls on your guitar or your amplifier to achieve a similar effect.

Step 4: The Threshold Level

The threshold control is also important when using a compressor pedal. This control determines how loud or strong your audio signal has to be before the compressor starts working.

If you don’t see a threshold knob on your pedal: don’t panic! Some pedals won’t have this feature. This just means you have a fixed threshold that you’ll change via the input level I mentioned above.


Step 5: The Attack Level

Your attack setting will interact with a release feature to determine how quickly the compression setting takes to kick in (or attack) and how long it’s held before it subsides (release). You’ll need to experiment with balancing the attack and release settings in order to find your perfect

Step 6: The Output Level

Your output feature will affect the volume of your signal as it comes out of the device. Since compressors balance your sound, they will cause the audio to become more quiet. This is why you’ll want to use your output feature to get back to a higher volume.

If your pedal only has a Compress/Sustain and a Level knob, you’ll control the output signal with the level knob. Once again, do some research on your specific pedal in order to get the best sound.

Step 7: Combine everything

This is where you’ll really learn how to use your compressor pedal. By combining different settings on your pedal, you’ll be able to create a unique sound and fine tune the effects to suit your preferences.

Since every pedal is unique, you’ll just have to experiment on your own here (but that’s the fun of it, right?).

If you want some tips on where to begin, I’d suggest turning your sustain and level features to a medium setting, strumming a few chords, and then experimenting by moving the knob up and down from there in order to hear the extreme ends of your effect spectrum.

In Sum

Hopefully, this tutorial better helped you learn how to use compressor pedal settings. This tutorial would have been so useful for me when I was learning, so I hope it makes things easier for you. All pedal models are unique, so you should research demo videos that explain how to use the model you have.

You might get different sounds depending on the instrument you use, so keep an open mind. Part of the beauty of effect pedals is the slight differences in sound from musician to musician. Enjoy your compressor pedal and share this article if you enjoyed it!

Tony Robbin

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