When I was 16 the sound engineer at my church told me to get a compressor because my levels were all over the place. This would have been a good idea- except that when I got a compressor, my guitar playing friends told me to put it at the beginning of my signal chain. A lot of the dynamic issues that I had were due to stacking overdrives, not my playing itself, and so this did nothing to appease the sound engineer and actually degraded my tone. Thus began my complicated relationship with compressor pedals. Many players have difficulty understanding and implementing compression, even though it is one of the keys to so many great guitar sounds. There are many different kinds of compressors with different characteristics, so it helps if you understand how they work a little bit.
My introduction to compression began with the Dynacomp. The Dynacomp uses the CA3080 chip, can sound very good in certain applications. It is much more of an effect. They have a cool "bloom" effect where they will start boosting the signal as the note dies out, which can create even more sustain. The problem I had with it was that it tended to cut the treble too much for my liking. Others complain about them cutting the lows as well. The way many try to solve this is by adding a clean-blend knob to blend back in the original signal. To my mind, this negates the whole point of using a compressor to begin with.
Side note: There is a good reason for using a clean blend on a compressor, but it is not usually the reason most people cite. Some players want to keep their original attack, but want a bed of compression underneath their playing. In this case you would want to use a blend control rather than just slowing the compressor attack, because once the threshold has been crossed and the attack has engaged, it wont stop compressing until after the threshold has been un-crossed and the compression has been released.
Later on I tried out optical compressors. Optical compressors are great because they inherently have slow attack and release rates, giving them a unique character and making them feel more transparent. These were really great as a P&W style, always-on compressor but with that said, they can be a bit of a one-trick-pony.
Enter the 2026 Compressor. The 2026 Compressor is the compressor I always wished I had. It does exactly what it says it does —compresses— and nothing more. It doesn't filter any frequencies so it can be used for guitar or bass. The compression action is purely subtractive —it will only attenuate your peaks as you cross the threshold and so it does not have the "bloom" effect. It is built around a high performance Blackmer® VCA and delivers studio quality tone in a very compact pedal format.
Lets talk about the controls:
RATIO is the amount of compression applied. At a 2:1 ratio, you have to play twice as loud to achieve the same volume as when the compressor was off. The RATIO knob goes clockwise from 1:1 (no compression) to ∞:1 (hard limiting). Setting the RATIO knob to mid-day will yield a 4:1 ratio.
Use the 2026 as a clean-boost by turning the Ratio all the way down.
THRESHOLD is the point at which the compression kicks in. Different guitars will have different output strengths so you may need to adjust this from guitar to guitar. The LED will turn WHITE when the threshold has been crossed and this can be particularly useful when dialing in your THRESHOLD knob.
LEVEL is a makeup gain control. This control will cut or boost the signal 20dB and comes after the compression, so if you find yourself losing volume as the guitar is compressed you can boost it back with the level control.
ATTACK is the rate at which the compression kicks in, in terms of decibels/second. A slower attack (to the right) will yield a more transparent compression, while a quicker attack (to the left) will mean the compression kicks in right away.
RELEASE is like attack but for when the compression lets go. It is also measured in terms of decibels/second. Generally you would want to set this inverse to the ATTACK; so with a fast attack, you want a slow release and vice-versa.
KNEE controls how quickly the compression kicks in in terms of ratio. Soft-knee (toggle up) means the ratio is gradually applied until the ratio set by the knob is reached. This can yield a more transparent tone and sounds great on guitar. Hard-knee what standard compressors have, where the full ratio is applied once the threshold has been crossed. Because of the KNEE control, we have chosen not to include a clean-blend control.
MODES can be changed by holding the footswitch for 2 seconds.
RED mode means you set the ATTACK and RELEASE manually, using the knobs.
BLUE mode lets the compressor listen to what you are playing and set the attack and release accordingly.
So all this to say, there is more to compression than just sticking it at the beginning of your signal chain and leaving it always on- and with the right compressor you can actually enjoy using it! I've actually found myself using the 2026 Compressor at the end of the chain, to simulate a studio compressor. I hope this article was informative and helped you understand and enjoy compression a little more.
Me writing about it is all well and good but even better is hearing to for yourself! Check out this demo from Brett Kingman below: