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Compressors have a simple job, but as they get it done they have a habit of getting their own stink on your tone and impacting on your attack. These side effects of the basic volume-normalizing function of the compressor are both why we love compressors and why a lot of people don’t give them much of a chance. The Maxon CP101 is billed as the “compressor for players who don’t like compressors,” but does it really get the job done even for those who’d otherwise not bother with compression?
The Keeley Compressor is one of the most well-loved compression pedals around. Although it’s now available in 4-knob form, the classic two-knob version still holds a minimalistic appeal. The pedal boasts studio-grade audio and “tone tested” components, as well as true bypass when not in operation and minimal impact on your tone when it is. But is it worth the fairly sizable investment? And with a 4-knob version available (also offering “Attack” and “Clipping” control), is there any point in sticking with just two?
The two-knob Keeley Compressor offers fantastic sound quality in a compact, straightforward package. It’s a hand-built legend of stompbox compressors, but it isn’t perfect. The main issue is that two of the controls – “Attack” and “Clipping” – were hidden away within the body of the unit, meaning that while they could be adjusted, it wasn’t exactly ideal for controlling a wide range of parameters. Although the simpler version gets the basic job done, for players with more than one guitar it could only really be sonically optimized for one of them – unless you opened it up the box to adjust the internal “Clipping” control – and you pretty much had to choose an “Attack” setting you like and stick with it until you did the same. So does the 4 Knob Keeley Compressor win out, or are you better off trying to pick up the bare-bones two-knob version for a little cheaper?
The Electro-Harmonix Black Finger Tube Compressor sells itself as providing the warm compression you get with the most widely-loved vintage compressors in guitar history. It has two tubes – one for compression and the other for pre-amp gain – are powered by a sizable 300 V, promising the fatness of tone you get with classic compressors. It’s also an optical compressor, which means it uses a light source to control the attenuator (the volume controller that underpins the function of a compressor), and in this case you can choose between an LED and lamp source, enabling more variety in attack and decay speeds. Sounds good, but does the Black Finger work well in practice?
The Electro-Harmonix Freeze is a sustain pedal, but not a compressor. It is actually a delay-based effect that can be used to create drones or imitate a grand piano’s sostenuto pedal. To my knowledge, the Freeze offers a completely unique effect (though it is included in some of the larger EHX pedals). In most settings, the pedal takes a very short sample of your signal when the foot switch is first depressed. This sample is repeated until the foot switch is released.
The 3 Leaf Audio PWNZOR offers features in a compression stompbox normally only found in studio compressors. It includes controls for nearly every parameter imaginable, including input sensitivity, input gain, attack, release, compression ratio, and output gain. There is also an internal switch allowing users to choose between buffered and true bypass, as well as a ‘vintage’ switch on the pedal’s face. The bypass switch is actuated by a relay connected to a foot switch with very satisfying action.
Let’s just get this out there: the Behringer CS400 Compressor/Sustainer is a cheap copy of the Boss CS-3. With that in mind, the main reason you’ll be considering it is undoubtedly the price, which genuinely is pretty darn cheap. So the real question is: is it so cheap that you’ll immediately regret the purchase, or is it a reminder that you don’t always need to spend more to get decent guitar effects?
The MXR Dyna Comp has been immensely popular with guitarists since the 70s, and it’s still widely-regarded as one of the best, affordable compressors on the market today. The pedal promises a percussive, clicky clean sound and a smooth sustain when it comes to lead playing, and most players rate it pretty highly, especially for its reasonable price. However, there’s plenty more competition for the M102 Dyna Comp than there was back in the 70s, so does it still deserve its reputation, or could you do better for your money?