Guitar compressors and how they really function are usually misunderstood. However to understand what a guitar compressor pedal does, one must first look at what compression itself means.
How does compression work?
The term compression (or dynamic range compression) refers to the automatic volume control. It describes the turning down of a volume when a signal becomes louder than a predetermined threshold and the turning of the volume back up when the signal drops below that level.
This happens a lot faster than one could hope to manually turn a volume control. If set properly, the effect of compression can be very transparent, adding to the sound without taking anything away by creating an unwanted distortion. A normal amplifier would not be able to successfully achieve this desired effect that compression achieves.
Therefore, a compressor can be described as a unique amplifier that reduces the distance between the peak and the lowest part of an audio signal.
The ratio of top-to-average of a sound signal or level difference between the highest (peak) volume and the overall volume is known as the dynamic range. A guitar compressor, therefore, helps lower dynamic range. It possesses the ability to lower the dissension to allow the soft notes to be louder while the peak sounds are made softer or quieter. This creates a more balanced-sounding signal. The overall loudness of the sound can also be raised if set properly.
How to use a compressor
Just like with other guitar pedals, compressors have different controls. They are level or volume, tone, sustain, threshold, ratio, attack and release.
These are some of the settings guitarists can use If they want to apply a little compression to bring the guitar forward and give it some pep.
Gain: should be adjusted so that the output volume matches the input volume. You don't need much-added gain.
Attack: 25–30 ms.
Release: About 200 ms.
Compressor pedal benefits
One of the many advantages of a compressor to a guitarist remains in the fact that every sound played will be at a virtually identical amplitude, and as a result, they'd have the same level or volume.
They also have the capacity to raise the sustain of tones far beyond sounds which are usually playable on the guitar. This is one reason that the compression effect is popular among soloists and much sought-after.
The best compressor pedals also come in handy for high gain solos and can act as a simple boost as well. But just like with any effect, guitarists can use it the way it suits their own favoured genre or mode of playing. Therefore, experimentation is always a good idea. Usually, in the signal chain, the guitar compressor pedal is placed before the overdrive.
Compressors may not be that conspicuous or may not look cool, but they are, however, a guitar player's wonderful resource and a good friend.
A little dash of compression can add a beautiful touch to a guitaist's tone and give it a complete, expert sound. It can add that much-needed energy, presence, vigour and loads more.
A good compressor can be the difference between a guitar with a good sound and another with a great one.
With enough practice, tuning the compression pedal for a much-needed compression effect will become just like switching up the knob for the extra reverb effect.