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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 Boss DD-3 Digital Delay has been often referred to as a pearl, and not only because of its color. It is pure magic, and quickly became an essential component on my pedalboard. It is an amazingly guitarist-friendly delay box: easy to use, very sturdy, with a well designed footswitch typical of all Boss pedals. Apart from the favorable physical features, this classic pedal provides the awesome sounding digital delay. If you want a clear and crisp sound with precise repeats, the DD-3 is the right choice. Because of the short battery life, however, you should use an AC adapter for a longer performance.
The EHX Double Muff is an easy-to-use overdrive/fuzz pedal that gives you two classic ’69 plug-in Muff Fuzz effects in one box. For controls, it has two knobs marked as Muff 1 and Muff 2, a fingerswitch to toggle between the single and double modes, and a footswitch. In single mode, the Muff 1 knob controls both volume and overdrive. In double mode, the Muff 2 knob has a leading role while the Muff 1 knob controls the volume. It features true bypass and has a sturdy metal housing, making it great to take on the road.
The Boss DS-2 Turbo Distortion pedal is so user-friendly that you don’t even need the manual. It contains three main controls: Level, Tone, and Distortion, and an additional “Turbo” knob that functions as a switch between Turbo Mode I and Turbo Mode II. The pedal features twin Turbo modes, which means that you practically get two distortion sounds in a single box. Turbo Mode I produces light and mellow, but powerful distortion because of the turbo circuit. Even when the sound is extremely distorted, the distortion circuits prevent the emission of a high-pitched sound. Turbo Mode II produces an explosive sound and, besides riffs, is great for solos. The possibility to switch between a turbo and normal mode by connecting the Boss FS-5L footswitch to the Remote Jack is really useful for this pedal.
Have you ever wondered while, for example, listening to Love by The Smashing Pumpkins how to achieve the effect that the song starts with? The answer may lie in a lemon yellow stompbox by the name Ibanez FL9 Flanger. However, have in mind that this is not a plug-n-play type of a pedal, so do not expect to achieve this effect overnight. To discover this flanger’s full potential, arm yourself with patience, be ready to experiment and do some twiddling, and it will surely become one of your favorite effects.