The Compressor Guide

Top 8 Compressor Pedals From $20 to +$150

There’s an effects type that often goes overlooked by many guitar players – not due to its lack of utility, but rather stemming from a knowledge gap. Yes, I’m referring to compressors. A compressor pedal has the potential to serve as a pivotal component on your pedalboard, unlocking incredible sustain without saturating your signal with an overdrive pedal. Keep reading to delve deeper into this tool!

The Compressor Effect

What’s a signal compressor?

Compressor pedals provide sustain without requiring additional distortion/overdrive pedals, by moderating the signal’s strength, mitigating peaks, and boosting feeble notes.

If you don’t know why Gary Moore is the lord of Sustain, stop reading and check this video. NOW.

This offers one clear benefit: it’s unnecessary to excessively amplify our original signal to achieve a sustain like Gary Moore’s, although he definitely loved to use a saturated signal…

The value is that we can prolong the sound even with clean chords, making this especially beneficial for musicians in genres such as country or jazz.

How is this effect achieved?

The pedal controls how loud or soft your signal gets, so when a signal is too loud, a compressor limits this spike to a more reasonable level.

Conversely, when a signal is too soft or starts to fade, a compressor can boost the signal to even out dynamics and extend the duration of the notes, eliminating the dependence on an overdrive to achieve this same result.

Here’s how the signal would look after compressing it.

Types of compressors

There are different technologies used in guitar pedals to obtain this effect. We will now explore different types of compressors in this section. From optical to VCA, each type holds its unique characteristics and influence amplification differently, offering a wide range of tonal possibilities.


(Operational Transconductance Amplifier)

This is the prevalent compressor type available in today’s pedal market due to its simplicity and effective performance – it’s essentially the industry standard.

Previously, OTA compressors were notorious for distorting the tone, sometimes beneficially, sometimes not. However, most modern pedals have addressed these problems by enhancing the designs borrowed from older models.

Further developments in pedal technology have led to the creation of digital compressor pedals. These pedals offer an extensive range of parameters for individual sound customization, making them appealing to both novice and experienced guitar players.

Moreover, despite the advancements in pedal technology, many guitarists continue to appreciate the subtle tonal changes and character of OTA compressors. The unique sound “coloration” provided by these pedals adds a distinctive edge to a player’s sound, establishing them as timeless classics in the realm of compressor pedals.


Multiband compression is a digital compression method frequently encountered in computer software and contemporary pedals.

This technique breaks down your signal into distinct frequency bands and compresses each one to achieve the absolute best in meticulously managed dynamics. If you’re seeking complete oversight of the compression, multiband compressors are an excellent choice.

In comparison to standard compressors, multiband ones offer an increased level of control and precision. This is especially useful when dealing with complex signals where different frequency bands behave differently. It allows players to shape their tone to a higher degree, preventing certain frequencies from overwhelming others while ensuring that all parts of the signal are clearly audible.

This higher level of control, however, comes at the cost of complexity. As such, multiband compressors may require a longer learning curve and more detailed setup. While this might deter some musicians, for those willing to delve into the intricacies of their sound and who crave exact control, the result can be well worth the effort.


Optical compressors moderate your signal using a combination of a light source and a photoresistor. They produce an exceptionally smooth and natural sound, characterized by their slower release times.

Interestingly, the working principle of optical compressors is analogous to the human ear’s response to loud sounds. They manage the dynamics of your input signal in a gentle and musical manner, making them an excellent choice for subtler effects.

Their smooth operation and characteristic tone have made them a popular choice among guitarists across different genres. Whether you’re striving for a punchy rhythm or a smooth, sustained lead tone, optical compressors can add valuable coloring to your tonal palette.


Tube compressors are a special type of optical compressors, fortified with tube stages that enrich the warmth of your tone. Though these types of compressors are not common, they have a reputation for rendering the best compression effect. Take, for instance, the Effectrode PC-2A or the Teletronix LA-2A — these are prime examples of the most superior compressor pedals ever manufactured.

Optical compressors and tube compressors are unique in their own ways. While optical compressors attenuate the signal using a light source and a photoresistor, tube compressors leverage thermionic emission in vacuum tubes to achieve comparable results but with a unique warmth that many musicians find appealing.

Emulating famous optical and tube compressors, a number of pedal manufacturers have been innovating in order to bring the distinct characteristics of these compressors into the world of guitar pedals. This continuous evolution of guitar effects technology enables us to further broaden our creative horizons and express our musical ideas with enhanced richness and dynamism.


(Voltage Controlled Amplifier)

VCA compressors provide a very clean sound without heavily altering your tone. These are extremely accurate and quick-responding, often equipped with studio-style control parameters like Attack, Release, Ratio, Threshold, Knee, and others.

These compressors effectively preserve the authenticity of your sound, keeping interference to a minimum while ensuring optimal precision. They’re seen as a balance between preserving the original sounds while adding an element of mastery over the audio output, thanks to their extensive control parameters.

Their professional-level features may make them slightly intimidating to novice players, but the versatility they offer can be a valuable asset. From subtle smoothing to more pronounced effects, the breadth of control with a VCA compressor like the Keeley GC-2 can take your sound manipulation to a new level, assuming you can find one!


(Field Effect Transistor)

FET compressors carve a niche for themselves. Users often notice that they can bring a certain liveliness to the tone, enhancing the overall dynamism without being overwhelming. They can create a rich tapestry of sounds that makes your guitar tone stand out, especially in the context of a mix.

The operation of FET compressors is quite straightforward, making them a great choice even for beginners. These user-friendly pedals provide knobs for easier navigation. Despite their simplicity, they can transform your tone in a noticeable way, making the FET compressors a versatile and rewarding addition to your pedalboard.

When to use a compressor pedal?

Among the advantages of a compressor pedal is its ability to increase sustain without adding distortion. It evens out the signal, making quiet parts louder and loud parts quieter. Hence, your overall tone becomes smoother and more polished.

A compressor pedal can have a critical role in your guitar technique. For one, fingerpicking styles benefit from compression as it helps to level out the volume between softer picked notes and harder ones. In the same vein, if you’re a player who switches between fingerpicking and strumming within the same song, a compressor can help to balance the volume levels between these two techniques. It can also help to erase any inconsistency in your pick attack and make each note ring out clearly when playing lead lines.

However, there are few potential downsides to take into account. Overuse of a compressor can potentially rob your guitar of its natural dynamics and make everything leveled to the same volume. It can also add unwanted noise to your signal, especially if it’s compressing a lot. Finally, dialing in the right settings can sometimes be an experimentation game. Each player, guitar, and situation may require different compressor settings.

In summary, while it does present a few challenges, a compressor pedal can be an incredibly beneficial addition to your pedalboard, enhancing your tone and providing greater options to your sound.

Understanding its functions in-depth can really help you exploit its full potential, but don’t forget that the easiest way to do that is by experimenting and playing around with your pedalboard!

Buying Guide and Top Recommendations

If you have never tried a compressor pedal before or if you have a tight budget, I wouldn’t recommend you to spend more than $50. You can get pretty decent pedals like the JOYO JF-10 ($35).

Now, if you have more experience with pedals, or you have a less limited budget, then I’d recommend you to check out the 100 to 200 dollar price range, where we have the following “sub-levels”.

In the following table, you can review the specifications of the different pedals we will cover in the next sections:

Top 4 Compressor Pedals Under $100

Behringer CS400

Beginner friendly Build construction

Buy at Amazon

The Behringer CS400, often seen as an affordable alternative to the famed Boss CS-3, may sport a plastic exterior, but it delivers far beyond what its price point might suggest.

This compact compressor pedal garners attention for its impressive functionality. It manages to fit dedicated Level, Tone, Attack, and Sustain controls into its design. These controls provide granular command over the compression parameters, allowing you to shape your sound with precision.

Unbeatably priced, the Behringer CS400 provides excellent value and is an ideal choice for guitarists who want a home-use pedal that delivers quality performance without breaking the bank.

Joyo JF-10 Dyna

Comparable to Boss CS-3 Ross Compressor copy Can’t adjust attack and release

Demo Buy at Amazon

The Joyo JF-10 Dyna is a fantastic compressor pedal that has earned its reputation for emulating the classic Ross Compressor pedal, which is valued at over $200, with commendable success.

With an increasing number of positive reviews on Amazon, the Joyo JF-10 Dyna offers a variety of notable features:

  • Superior Sound Quality: There are reports from numerous users who claim that its sound quality surpasses that of the acclaimed Boss CS-3, a pedal with a price tag of $100.
  • Low Noise Impact: A significant advantage of this pedal is that it adds minimal noise to your original signal, helping preserve the purity and clarity of your tone.
  • True Bypass: This is a standard feature in many modern pedals that ensures your signal remains untouched when the pedal is switched off.
  • Durable Construction: The pedal is housed in an aluminum case; however, it may not be as resilient as a Boss pedal.
  • Battery Access: Thoughtfully designed, it comprises an easy-access lid for rapid battery replacement.

In conclusion, if you’re unsure about which pedal to choose or if you’re new to compressor pedals, the Joyo JF-10 Dyna is a solid choice: remarkable features at the best price.

Mooer MCS2 Yellow Comp

Affordable optical compressor Can’t adjust attack and release

Demo Buy at Amazon

The Mooer MCS2 Yellow Comp stands as an intriguing entry in the arena of compressor pedals, not just because of its notable performance but also due to its distinct operating technology. Unlike the usual OTA compressor pedals in its price bracket (around $50), the MCS2 is an optical compressor.

The distinct operation of the optical compressor makes the MCS2 a boon for those looking to experiment and explore new sounds without breaking the bank.

The MCS2 is a compact, micro pedal with a minimalist layout. It comes without a battery option, leaving users with a plug-in power source. There are three control knobs on this pedal to regulate the volume, equalization, and compression level.

  • An uncommon optical compressor pedal in its price bracket.
  • Simple, minimalist design with just three control knobs.
  • Delivers a smooth and natural sound with slow release times.
  • Plug-in power source.

In essence, the Mooer MCS2 Yellow Comp offers a unique charm with its optical compression, making it a good choice for musicians seeking an innovative twist in their tones.

TC Electronic HyperGravity Compressor

TonePrint! Can be hard to get the right sound

Demo Buy at Amazon

The TC Electronic HyperGravity sets itself apart as an extremely flexible pedal thanks to its innovative compression algorithm.

As with other TC Electronic pedals, you can download preset configurations from their official website. Additionally, you can create your own effects using the TonePrint editor software, which allows you to save and share your configurations globally.

The HyperGravity includes three distinct compressor modes:

  • Spectra: This is the default compression mode.
  • TonePrint: This mode allows you to utilize TonePrint-based compressor configurations.
  • Vintage: This setting takes you on a vintage ride with old-school compression tones reminiscent of Ross. It delivers all the squeeze and squash associated with classic stompbox compression, perfect for percussive country tones, tight funk sounds, and sweet Gilmour-esque sustain.

An exceptional feature of this pedal is that you can set the bypass to either true bypass mode or buffered mode.

What truly makes this digital compressor pedal special is its multiband compression algorithm. It divides the input signal into three frequency bands and applies varying degrees of compression to each band. This introduces a universe of new possibilities.

In summary, with abundant features to explore and absolute dynamic control, the TC Electronic HyperGravity promises high-quality sound and remains affordable. It offers excellent value to both professionals and enthusiasts.

MXR M102 Dyna Comp

Durability, time tested Might be short on features

Demo Buy at Amazon

The MXR M102 Dyna Comp holds a significant position in the history of compressor pedals as one of the most beloved options out there. It has proven its worth by withstanding the test of time, with its popularity maintaining strong since it first hit the markets in the seventies.

Even after several decades and only a handful of upgrades, it continues to be a top choice across various levels of musicians demonstrating its enduring quality and effectiveness. However, the key recommendation here is to hold a judgment until you’ve explored the modern market thoroughly.

  • Durability: The MXR Dyna Comp’s longevity also shines through in its sturdy build. It has proven itself to be a reliable companion for musicians on stages and in studios over the years.
  • Features: Minimalistic structure with just basic features included. While it can be an advantage for those preferring simplicity, those seeking a broader tonal range and more options might find it limiting.
  • Performance: It is capable of enhancing your guitar tone considerably, offering that extra punch and sustain when needed.

If you prefer classic, proven pedals and a preference for straightforward functionality, the MXR M102 Dyna Comp can be a great choice.

Top 4 Compressor Pedals Over $100

Keeley Compressor Plus

Here we have the latest iteration of the pedal that put Robert Keeley company on the map: the Keeley Compressor.

Since the first version was released more than 15 years ago, this completely made in the USA pedal has gathered worldwide acclaim and with this new version, they have renewed it following the latest compressor pedals trends, improving the former version in every respect while keeping all the good things that made this pedal famous.

What’s New Compared To The Previous Model?

Two new controls added:

  • Blend: which allows you to bring in some of your dry signal along with the compressed signal for the best of both worlds: dynamic and fatter at the same time
  • Tone: allows you to fine-tune the tone appropriately for any guitar

The Attack knob has been replaced by a two-position switch that automatically adjusts the attack/release for single coils or humbuckers.

The cool this is that the price has been reduced from $220 to around the $130.

How To Use It

Thanks to the new controls, the Keeley compressor isn’t just for heavy funk or chicken picking anymore.

Remove just the right amount of peaks for an ambient layer and then blend in the right amount of treble for a nice shimmer to your guitar.

Or use it with your favorite fuzz to create a wall of tone like you’ve never imagined.

For The Years To Come

Built with metal film resistors and best quality capacitors that translates into ultra-clean operation.

They also claim that they only use transistors to less than 1% tolerance.

All this precious circuitry is enclosed in a full metal case that will stand up to road abuse and give you many years of great sound and trouble-free operation.

Xotic Effects SP Compressor

Based on the beloved Ross circuit, this analog compressor promises to smooth the peaks and enhance the subtleties in a discreet manner.

Controls And Hidden Switches

Part of the SP Compressor’s success comes from the blend control, a clean signal mix which can preserve your guitar’s unaffected attack and tone while the compressor takes care of the sustain and enhancements.

The other knob handles the Volume, which can be boosted up to +15db.

Although compact, the Xotic SP compressor has 3-way switch to manage the intensity settings which can go from subtle balancing to an intense squash.

Plus, there are quite a few parameters to tweak with internal DIP switches:

  • Two Attack/Release switches to change the character and aggressiveness of the compressor
  • Hi-cut filter for controlling high-frequency roll off
  • Input pad switch allows tone shaping and compatibility with higher output pickups

Improving Xotic Pedals With Higher Voltage Levels

WTF right? The guys from Xotic sell a step-up converter called “Voltage Doubler” that takes 9 volts DC and boosts it to an output voltage of 15V or 18V DC.

Turns out that this higher voltage level results in more headroom, which is beneficial for the some of the Xotic pedals, obtaining a noticeable performance boost reducing the sound compression and improving the pedal dynamics.

Believe it or not, some users have reported that this thing actually works really great, so give it a chance if you can!

Seymour Duncan Vise Grip

The Seymour Duncan Vise Grip puts the squeeze on your signal by using a classic VCA studio quality compression, with a powerful parallel blend.

And like all Seymour Duncan pedals, the Vise Grip is made with high-quality components right here in the States.

How The Frequency Toggle Works

The Frequency toggle is extremely interactive with the Blend control, letting select frequency bands into the parallel circuit, with the center position keeping the full range intact.

The Mid and High positions cut all other frequencies from the dry signal, giving you full control of the compression equalization.

Selecting the Mid position and higher Blend setting adds a depth of character to any signal, and it sounds so good that you’ll never turn it off.

Using The 4 Knobs

  • Blend: blend the clean signal with the compression for a more natural sound that gives your tone some space, preserving the instrument’s natural attack.
  • Atack: regulates how quickly the compressor reacts to your initial pick attack with the circuit acting to compress the input signal.
  • Volume: lets you match your non-compressed signal perfectly or use it as a boost feature when you kick the Vise Grip on
  • Sustain: determines the length of sustain, just like in any other compressor

Sample Settings

Extracted from the official documentation, here are some of the effects you can get out of the Vise Grip:

  • Clean Rythm: this will allow your chords to ring and sustain naturally
  • Infinite Sustain: great for chords and better for single notes (just like Gary Moore used to do)
  • Funky Chops: give your rhythmic chops and single-note melody lines a rounded edge that sounds great on the three treble strings

Wampler Pedals Ego Compressor V2

The Ego Compressor by Wampler Pedals, like the Ross & Dyna Comp, is an OTA compression pedal. This style of compression is particularly well suited to guitar, having an organic quality that lends itself well to the instrument.

Why This Pedal Is Here To Stay

The classic Ross Compressor and the MXR Dyna Comp are two models with a distinct compression sound that is still highly regarded today by many guitarists.

Problem is they were designed a few decades ago and, although they have received some upgrades over the years, these classic designs still drag their most known drawbacks: tonal coloration, a lack of parameter control, and a high level of signal noise.

The Ego Compressor takes the best parts of those classic design and takes it to a new level adding to the simplified 2-knob control set (Sustain & Level) additional knobs for Attack, Blend, & Tone.

Also, this pedal aims to provide a clean and transparent operation to avoid any tonal coloration or signal noise.

What’s New In The V2?

Not too much really. Following the new Wampler standards, all their pedals now mount the In/Out jacks at the top, instead of right and left, which can help to optimize the space of small-sized pedal boards.

How It Works

The Ego Comp is a complex compressor, that’s why you need to become very familiar with the controls if you want to get the most out of it.

It features Volume, Sustain, and Attack controls to dial in your preferred compression behavior, as well as a special Tone control which lets you go from nothing added to lots of sparkle and chime on top of your signal, adjustable to your preference.

It also features the fantastic Blend knob, letting you easily adjust the degree of compressed to natural signal.

If you’ve never tried a blend compressor before, you’re in for a treat! As with all Wampler Pedals products, the Ego Compressor includes a high-quality true-bypass switch which takes it completely out of the signal path when bypassed.

Should you use it after or before the gain pedals? What settings should you use for this or that? There is no right answer, so experiment and enjoy!

Wrapping Up!

You did it! We covered a lot of material in this guide I really hope going through it has helped you to learn something new about compressor pedals and that it also helped you to discover new pedals you might didn’t know about.

To close this up with an awesome video from Roland’s Effects 101 series, where you can learn all the basics of compressor pedals. Johnny DeMarco guides you through every knob in the Boss CS-3 explaining the effect that they have on the tone, as well as some pretty nice demos… Enjoy!