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Compressers...Whats the point?

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Prominent Member
Joined: 20 years ago
Posts: 677
Topic starter  

I've been wondering. Whats the point in a compressor pedal? As far as my knowledge of them goes, they boost the signal to try and sustain it at a chosen level, which hence improves sustain and fills out the sound more...But I dont see how this can be worth spending good money on. Am I missing something? My Vox amp has compression on it. How can the compression on a pedal be so much better...judging from the compression on my amp I dont see how its worth spending money on. So like I said: Am I missing something?

Noble Member
Joined: 20 years ago
Posts: 1024

Hey Simon,

All I can come with for a suggestion is go to Musicians Friend and find some Compressor pedals that have sound bytes them... and listen to the effect. I know that with the Pedals you can control the effect much more than with the standard "OnBoard" amp effect.

Just a thought.

Here's a link to the BOSS scroll down and they have a few sound clips attached to it. I'm sure others do too.


Research is what I'm doing when I don't know what I'm doing. - Wernher Von Braun (1912-1977)

Active Member
Joined: 18 years ago
Posts: 12

I'm by no means an expert, however I read an article expressing the large amount compression used on John's guitar in Red Hot Chili Peppers 'Under The Bridge' was the most crucial part of the sound to even the sustain and aid dynamics.

If someone with a more technical understanding can expand on this, I too would be interested.

This song is one of many that I am trying to master at the moment and using the compressor on my simple but effective guitar port, makes it sound oh so sweeter.

Illustrious Member
Joined: 17 years ago
Posts: 8184

waiting for arjen or greybeard to chime in.... (or maybe nils...yeah !)

Reputable Member
Joined: 19 years ago
Posts: 345

If I am not mistaken a compressor does not do what you described (fill the sound). In fact it sort of does the opposite. It limits the signal output to a certain range effectively getting rid of spikes (outliers, that go way above or below the averate output). This has benefits such as protecting your audio equipment from sudden pikes as well as making the sound more homegeneous etc.

I think :P

(I seem to be mostly correct. I am sure I am using some terms very loosely but the concept seems to be accurate)

Check this out:


Estimable Member
Joined: 19 years ago
Posts: 181

Yeah, like everyone said it limits the range of the sound so it can't spike too high or go too low (thus increasing the sustain in a sort of artificial way). This makes it easier to control the dynamics. It's a very handy effect that is nice and subtle.

Oktay: Your changing avatar clothes is pretty groovey.

A hoopy frood knows where his towel is....

Prominent Member
Joined: 19 years ago
Posts: 779

It is also very common to use compressor on vocal mic during recording.
Many singers tend to change level during singing and change distance to the mic.
By using a compressor (between mic/amp/ mixer and the recording equipment) the sound technician can compensate for this and hold the mic output level on a more constant level into the recording equipment.
Due to the same reason it also very useful when recording a acoustic guitar (with built in mic or normal mic).
A not so good guitar player (as myself) that changes in attack/and string pressure between easy and difficult parts will sound much better with a compressor.

Tanglewood TW28STE (Shadow P7 EQ) acoustic
Yamaha RGX 320FZ electric guitar/Egnater Tweaker 15 amp.
Yamaha RBX 270 bass/Laney DB 150 amp.

Illustrious Member
Joined: 21 years ago
Posts: 5840

As the name suggests, a compressor compresses the range of volumes in a given signal. It boosts quiet parts and reduces loud parts. However, like any effect, if it is overdone, it does more harm than good.
Getting the best out of any effect is trial and error - your other gear and the way you play affect the result, as well. Not only is getting the best out of an effect, in isolation, a life's work, but getting all your effects to produce their best in concert with one another is something else again.

I started with nothing - and I've still got most of it left.
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Illustrious Member
Joined: 19 years ago
Posts: 6348

ah the mysteries of compressor.

here's my two cents.

this link could help demystify things. it's for analogmike. he builds and mods stomp boxes.

check the site out on MXR and Ross mods etc.

I like my compressor. an MXR modded by analogman.

the compressor , as I use it, works like this for me.

I want my guitar to have the full signal going into my stomp boxes. so I have the volume up all the way.
now the signal from my guitar is all wavy. big waves and small waves because of the string sizes and thier frequencies.
the compressor is my first pedal on the train (pedal boad). the comp squeezes the huge waves down small so all the following boxes can read them. then they do their thing.
my tubescreamer takes the signalk and blows it up. it adds sustain and introdues harmonics in the overdrive.

that really doesnt describe things electronically. an enegineer reading this would laugh.

the other thing my compressor does is balance out the freqs of my strings. depending on the setting it makes them all as loud as the other. in a signal wave picture the low E string has a big wave and the higher freqs comiong fom the high e string are smaller. by evening the wave forms out I get the full sound of the guitar. the mush goes away and clarity comes in.
if an overdrive or grunge pedal is added to the mix the sound coming out will be because it is fuller and all the guiar feqs are acted on equally.

foling with my compressor and truning things way up I get a very squishy feel to the guitar. almost chorus like but different.

comps add massive sustain. if you want that howling high note that sings with many voices in thbecause of harmonic overtones then a good comp is what you want.

that said. I dont use it ll the time.
I like a little on my elec/acoustic.
really dont need it on my lap steels.
plkaying clean it is really cool.
and with my tube screamer...Im in Zak territory.

Reputable Member
Joined: 19 years ago
Posts: 345

Oktay: Your changing avatar clothes is pretty groovey.

Thanks for noticing !!! :P Finally!


Noble Member
Joined: 21 years ago
Posts: 1167

i use my compressor only sometimes. i usually use it for clean tones, but i think it also sounds pretty good used in conjunction with my tweakfuzz. i think it's a pretty handy effect to have, especially if you like open chords, like i do.