Compressor pedals control and enhance the dynamics of your playing, smoothing out the overall level by squashing the loud bits and swelling the quiet bits. The result is a more balanced sound, increased sustain and, in some cases, added bite and attack.
Many guitarists play for years without feeling the need, or simply not understanding the need for compression. But once they try it, there's often no turning back. It really can give your tone the life it needs, especially if you're relying on cheap amplification. It's no coincidence that compression is a staple part of any professional studio and stage rig.
Take a look below for what are considered among many pro guitarists the best budget compressor pedals available brand new today.
Based on the Boss CS3, although by no means a straight imitation, Behringer's CS400 is the cheapest of the three picks, at a mere $25. On first glance, it also provides the most control.
Overall gentler compression than the other two featured pedals, the CS400 does what your basic compressor should - equalise output, increase sustain and add a little bite to your pick attack.
The CS400 gives your output a boost, but with a certain bias toward the treble. This can either be seen as a flaw (for example, some see it as an undesirable inbalance and/or loss of low end warmth), or an enhancement for those who want it tight and bright (e.g. funk and choppy rhythms). The increase in treble can always be compensated for through your amp or EQ if the compressor is always on.
The key thing is it doesn't SUCK tone, whether on or bypassed. You don't get that satisfying "click" of the Dyna Comp (see below), but for those who simply want to smooth out their playing, limit any over indulged notes and generally tighten things up, it does a fine job. It'll also give your cleans that little bit of extra sparkle and crispness.
Although plastic, the pedal itself is durable and will withstand years of stomping, which puts the similarly priced Danelectro to shame (and no disrespect to Dan, they make a killer chorus pedal)!
The bottom line is, if you just want a basic compressor, go for the Behringer. However, if you're looking for some serious enhancement with extra bite and sustain, or at least want the option for more heavily squashed sounds, it's worth saving that bit more for either of the two picks below.
Somewhere between the Behringer and MXR, the Yellow Comp helps to smooth out and fatten up your chords and notes, without sacrificing the natural tone of your guitar and pickups.
So it digs a little deeper than the CS400, but doesn't enhance or saturate things to the degree the Dyna Comp can. It's a lot more transparent than the MXR, and arguably the most transparent of the three picks, which means it'll be more suited to those who don't want to lose too much raw tone from their existing guitar and amp setup.
If your amp is already highly touch responsive (e.g. if you're using a good quality tube amp), then the Yellow will help to tame the brightness and loudness of your more heavy handed picking without sacrificing that tube warmth or low end presence. It has a noticeably smoother, more balanced approach to levelling and sustaining chords than the CS400.
Unlike the MXR, the Yellow has an additional EQ control along with the output (volume) and compressor, so if things get a little too bright with the compressor on, you can pull back those highs without compensating the amp's settings.
Overall, a natural sounding compressor that has a touch more depth than the cheaper Behringer, but doesn't saturate or squish to the degree of the MXR. It may also be worth the extra $30-or-so over the Behringer for the more robust metal casing.
A faithful reissue of a studio classic, the MXR M-102 Dyna Comp is the go-to pedal for many pro musicians, yet far from the most expensive. Ideal for guitarists who want that crusty, biting attack on their overdriven lead lines and smooth, balanced sustain on their cleans. It's not the most transparent of pedals, but then most people buy the MXR to enhance their tone.
Typical, minimalist MXR configuration with two controls - Output and Sensitivity. Simply match the output level to your bypass/raw signal volume and tweak the sensitivity to taste. Push the output further for a pleasant boost.
Also typical is the robust, tank-like build, so there are no reliability concerns for even the hardest working musician.
The Dyna Comp can add a real punch to your pick attack. Users note how it brings your tone to life, surfacing and boosting those otherwise hidden away percussive dynamics. It's often described as the "clicky" sound you hear on professional recordings, the crisp edges of each note. Chicken pickers and funky rhythm players really appreciate this pedal. It brings humbuckers out of the dark and gives single coil tones even more chime and brilliance.
So bear in mind, the M-102 is not just a leveller and sustainer, it adds depth and attack. Underneath the crust is smooth, balanced, singing sustain. Users who have been trying to tap or play serious legato stuff without decent compression feel a new lease of life. That's a confidence boost along with the tone! Runs flow more fluidly as the "roll" effect is enhanced. No longer will you need to crank up the distortion in an attempt to melt each note into the next.
The only issue that brings the rating down in a few cases is the noise, when coupled with moderate to heavy distortion. As experienced players will tell you, this is a common issue on compressors in general, especially with single coil pickups, but nothing a noise gate won't fix. Ultimately, noise is the price you pay for such a sweeping signal boost. Those who play clean or with a conservative twist of overdrive, however, will have less need to tame the beast.
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