There are many guitar effects pedals on the market with names that can really confuse us unsuspecting guitarists. However, the word compressor, on the surface, looks like a term that we can actually understand and is familiar to us. So, what does this type of pedal do and how can we utilise it in our music making? In attempting to broaden my understanding I have managed to accumulate some useful information that I would like to share with you and will hopefully help: A compressor pedal “narrows” the signal that is produced by the guitar through normalising the dynamic range of the audio input signal based on a threshold value. Nowadays, almost everything you hear in music is compressed in some way and it can sound anything from a subtle barely noticeable effect to some sort of thick dampened down conglomeration of sounds.
The benefit of using a guitar effects pedal such as a compressor pedal is that every note that you play will be at the same amplitude and therefore will be at the same level of volume. This alone helps to normalise tones that can get lost in the mixture of other, more complex, overtones which results in a more together or articulate sound. To demonstrate this, try playing an arpeggio and vary the picking pressure of the notes. This will mean you get a different sounding run every time, particularly through a tube amplifier because they react dynamically to strong and weak signals, that is the beauty of them. A compressor best guitar pedals fixes this and normalises regardless of the guitar player’s technique or equipment. This is why they are preferred by soloists.
A compressor pedal also has the ability to increase the sustain of a note beyond that which is normally possible on the guitar. Again, another reason why many soloists love them. So the smallest signal will be normalised to the same amplitude as a hard pick attack, leaving the trailing note to sound at the same volume until the guitar string stops inducing a signal for the pick-up. As we all know, the benefits of guitar effects pedals are usually mirrored by the drawback and the compressor pedal is no different. In some musical genres the expression of the player is the fundamental reason why that music is so popular. Blues is a prime example of this in action.
A compressor pedal will also dampen the attack of a guitar string when it is plucked. The effect of this is that the sound becomes a little squishy and less sharp. This is due to the reaction speed of the compressor pedal and how fast it reacts to normalising the amplitude of the signal which is being input. A slower reaction time generally results in a more natural, uncompressed tone with a faster reaction time resulting in the squishy sound. As with all things in music the preference is always with the player themselves and no matter how you try to influence this they will usually revert to their own sound. A compressor pedal is a useful thing to understand and experiment with as it is with any of the numerous guitar effects pedals available.