After dozens of hours testing by our team of experts we've opted for the Xotic Effects SP Compressor as our favourite compressor pedal. If quality is the most important thing for you, and you don’t want to have to spend all day tweaking this dial and that dial, this pedal is a fantastic choice due to its simplicity and overall ingenuity.
The Xotic Effects SP compressor pedal uses operational transconductance amplification, which is a fancy way of saying it’s a method of compression that sounds really good. The controls are fairly standard, giving you up to +15db boost, attack and blend controls.
The pedal also has a very interesting look. Despite the simplicity at first glance, this pedal is definitely worth the price due to the sheer quality of compression in such a small package.
Packs a lot of punch for its size
Xotic Effects SP Compressor Pedal
Despite the simplicity at first glance, this pedal is awesome due to the sheer quality of compression in such a small package.
If you absolutely must have sidechain capabilities, you can’t go wrong with the Empress Effects Compressor. This also has some of the most versatile compression options of the whole bunch, making it a very attractive option for those with the budget.
The best value for money
Behringer CS400 Compressor / Sustainer Pedal
An excellent budget friendly compressor pedal. Punches far above its weight class.
On the other hand, if all you need is something cheap and cheerful to help you clean up your sound a little and don’t want to break the bank, the Behringer CS400 is your best bet.
The MXR M76 is also fairly simple, although offers more a more hands-on experience with exceedingly good sound quality.
If you simply cannot stand the way that modern compressors sound, and want to get the true sound of a tube compressor, the Black Finger is king. Unlike most tube compressors, it can use up to 300 volts and the two optical compression methods give very different attacks.
Why the compressor pedal is an essential bit of kit
The humble compressor guitar pedal is perhaps the most overlooked and underrated guitar effects pedal. Veteran musicians will appreciate their versatile and un-intrusive impact, but since compression pedals aren’t as obvious as say, overdrive pedals, they tend to be forgotten about by those building their pedal collection in the beginning.
In many cases, a compression pedal should actually be the first pedal you ever buy. The only exception to this is if you’re playing a particular genre of music that genuinely cannot be performed without the right type of effect front and centre.
For example, you can play blues music clean or dirty, but have you ever heard a metal track that didn’t feature any distortion at all?What should you look for in a compressor pedal?
What makes a good compressor pedal?
Beware of the mysterious overtone. Whenever you have more than one note playing at the same time, you’ll also be hearing a mysterious overtone. I won’t terrify you with the complexity of what these are, but it’s worth knowing that the interplay can cause some notes to be lost in the mix.
Make sure each instrument has a clear place. A common technique in EDM music production is to use sidechain compression, so that all of the music seems to pulse with the drum beat by rapidly adjusting the volume between beats.
Smoothing out errors in playing ability. A compression pedal won’t automatically make you play the right notes, but they can fix inconsistencies in how forcefully you pluck each string in an arpeggio or chord. They can also help you to avoid losing notes in a wall of sound when playing rapidly such as with sweep picking.
Using the highest notes on your guitar. This can often lose a lot of volume compared to playing the same lick in the middle. A compressor pedal is able to boost those higher notes so that you can use them just as freely.
There are plenty of situations in which a compression pedal is useful beyond these four of course, but as you learn more about them you’ll get a better idea of how you can implement them yourself. If you want to find out more, watch this extremely informative video that’s beginner friendly:
At a Glance: Our Choice Of The 5 Best Compressor Pedals On The Market
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Ged is Founder and Editor-in-chief at Zing Instruments. He’s a guitarist for London based gypsy jazz band ‘Django Mango’ and a lover of all things music. When he’s not ripping up and down the fretboard, he’s tinkering with his ’79 Campervan.