What does a compression pedal do?

In the guitar world, compression is used to shape and control the dynamics of the sound produces by your guitar. Compressor pedals do this by either holding the signal, grabbing the signal or releasing the signal.

The compression effect is one that most electric guitar owners use when they would want to alter the dynamics of the sound produced by their guitars.

Generally, the compression pedals produce very transparent and delightful sounds if used correctly but could be your worst nightmare if you do not know how to make use of it.

In this article, we will look at what a compressor pedal is and expound on the different types of compressors that exist in the music industry.

In addition to that, we will explore what a compression pedal does and evaluate how you can use one to create desired sounds.

What Is a Compressor Pedal?

A compressor pedal is described as a stomp box pedal that is designed to sit in your signal chain and level the audio dynamics of your guitar performance.

If you are an aggressive strummer and you strike the strings on your guitar forcefully, the compressor pedal dulls the sound of your pick attack so that a smoother overall sound is produced.

When you strum quietly, the compressor boosts the general output and ensures that it is much more audible.

What are the different types of compressors?

There are three types of compression pedals, that is;

Optical Compressors

This specific type of compressors tend to use an LED or light bulb to create any changes in gain according to the input signal on your guitar. In addition to that, they change the gain by using the varying brightness of the bulb attached to it.

This means that a lot more signal will eventually force a lot more compression. This method then softens attack and release of the compression pedal so that you do not have to deal with any harsh compression reminders in your signal.

Field Effect Transistors (FET)

These compression pedals actively use a very special type of transistor to extend gain.

They are quite similar to analogue amps and they work by emulating vacuum tubes in the circuit. They do not exactly color the signal much but they are identified as very fast compressors.

Voltage Controlled Amplifiers (VCA)

These type of compression pedals are among the most versatile that you would find in the music industry. The have the ability to instantaneously alter its gain levels in response to various detectors that are analyzing the same signal.

If you want to be in total control of the signal in your, you would be impressed with everything VCA compressors have to offer.

What Does a Compressor Pedal Do?

Compressors work by harnessing the dynamic range of the audio signal in your guitar. They have the ability to;

Boost cleaner and more refined tones from your guitar

A compressor pedal has the ability to boost cleaner and more refined tones from your guitar. This comes in handy when you are constantly playing in a live band and your guitar sounds are slowly getting buried as you play.

In this case, the compressor pedal simply amplifies the original sound from your guitar and makes it a lot more audible. In as much as there is always the option to increase the overall volume on your amplifier, you would appreciate the delightful effects that compression pedals bring into the resonance of your guitar.

Provide funky and County Tones

Generally, boosting the audio signal of your guitar means boosting high end sounds. This comes in handy when you are entirely inclined towards playing country-western leads or funk lines. In this case, we can establish that a compression pedal gives you a more immersive guitar playing experience.

Add sustain to your lead guitar

As mentioned earlier, compression pedals have the ability to compress your input signal and at the same time add more sustain to its output signal. Most compression pedals have been fitted with adjustment knobs that you can use to control sustain. This action is described as releasing the signal.

A Summary Table

Device What it does Description
Compression Pedal Boosts cleaner and more refined tones from your guitar Comes in handy when your guitar sounds are getting buried as you play in a live band
Provides high-end funky and country tones Ensures a more immersive sound experience
Add sustain to your lead guitar Allows for well-balanced harmonics

Where exactly should a compressor pedal go in the signal chain of my guitar?

Sometimes, it is more ideal to place your compression pedal early among your guitar pedals. This indicates that you would need to compress the crisp guitar tone before sending it through any phaser, overdrive pedal or delay. If you choose to place your compression pedal before any of these guitar effects, you may find yourself compressing the overall sounds intended for those effects. This would eventually change the character of your guitar effect pedals, specifically the delays and overdrives, and would bring out extremely unintended effects on the overall output levels of your guitar.

How can I use the Compression Pedal on my guitar?

Most compression pedals have a maximum of four adjustment knobs that you can use to control its functions. Among these adjustment knobs are;

Sustain or Release

The sustain/release adjustment knob controls the release timings of your guitar notes. Unfortunately, not all compression pedals that exist in the music industry have the ability to control sustain. Compression pedals without the sustain or release knob have been designed to suppress loud notes so that any quiet notes end up being more audible.


The level adjustment knob on your compression pedal is basically the volume control feature for your pedal. If you intend to use your compression pedal as an audio boost, all you need to do is turn the compression knob down and thereafter turn the level adjustment knob up.


The attack knob entirely controls what the compression pedal does to the input signal of your guitar. It you are an aggressive guitarist and would like to clearly hear the hard pluck of your pick strokes, then all you need to do is to turn the Attack button up.

True Bypass

If the compression pedal that you are using on your guitar has a ‘True Bypass’ label, then that is an indicator that it does not contain any buffer designed to boost your overall sound. This also means that your compression cable has the ability to allow an audio signal to pass through at all times, even when it is not connected to any power supply.

Compression or Depth

The compression or depth adjustment knob has been designed to dial in the general amount of compression that the pedal provides to your guitar. If you choose to adjust it to a lower setting, you should expect more refined and transparent sounds that create more subtle alterations immediately you turn the pedal on. Also, you should note that, in some compression pedals, the Compression/Depth adjustment knob is often similar to the attack knob.


Before purchasing a compression pedal for your guitar, ensure to explore a few buying guides and extensively research their use. Also, ensure to understand its manufacture guide and evaluate the sounds which you seek to produce.


When should I use a compression pedal?

You can use a compression pedal when your guitar lacks sustain after you pluck the strings or when you want to enhance the sound of your guitar.

Do I really need a compression pedal?

Depends on whether you would want to add sustain to your guitar.

Cooper Green

Music we must say is complex but according to Cooper Green, with the right information creating good music is a breeze. Guitars are a single aspect in the complex world of music but which play a major role, the problem however, lies in finding the right guitar for the relevant application. There are so many brands of guitars, each of which are differently configured but offer the best sounds. Cooper has been in the music industry for over 10 years, he recently started interacting with enthusiasts in the various platforms and therefore, shares his knowledge on music in general and specifically on guitars. And with the markets now flooded with knockoffs, among his missions is to help upcoming musicians get good quality music instruments or guitars.

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