Many players debate whether a compressor pedal is necessary with an acoustic guitar for use with their gigging pedalboard.
Mainly because a compressor is more commonly favored for an electric guitar rather than acoustic.
Secondly, this pedal will usually take lower priority over other sexier acoustic guitar-based pedals. Such as reverb, octave, looper, and other effects.
However, after playing many live acoustic sets, I can honestly say there are many great uses for a compressor pedal with your acoustic guitar which I will share with you in this post.
What You Will Learn
I will offer my top reasons for adding a compressor pedal to your pedalboard and give you my recommendations for the best compressor pedals for your acoustic set-up. Does all that sound good?
Great! Let’s dive in and answer the main question….
What does a compressor pedal do for an acoustic guitar? And is it worth having in a live pedal signal chain?
The Short Answer
A compressor pedal is ideal for an acoustic guitar as it ‘compresses’ the dynamic range closer together lowering the transience and stabilizes the volume level. This has many uses and can improve and balance the dynamics, frequencies, volume, and quality of the sound.
Sound Sample Below
Now we know the primary reason why guitar players acoustic and electric use a compressor for their live acoustic pedalboard…
Here are the top reasons why you should consider using a compressor pedal within your live acoustic set-up…
1# – Compresses the Dynamic Range
The main reason any guitar player would consider a compressor is to squash the dynamics together which even out the volume and frequencies.
For an acoustic guitar especially, the volume can range wildly depending on how hard you attack the strings.
For example, if you are playing softly, for a gentle section of the song. An engaged compressor will boost the volume so the quiet parts become louder.
Likewise, if you were strumming hard causing high peaks of transience, a compressor pedal lowers the peaking frequencies keeping the volume even and allowing the dynamics of the acoustic to sound balanced.
Taming ‘Volume Spikes’
Some slight volume swings are going to happen with an acoustic guitar as it is more of a sensitive instrument to how hard you pluck and attack the strings.
However, wild swings in volume whether recording or playing live can sound unprofessional and degrades the overall sound and feel of the performance.
Essentially a compressor is to tighten the sound and lower the volume of the loudest note and increase the volume of the lowest note, ‘compressing’ the volume and dynamic range closer together.
This can also be useful if you have a large acoustic which is very ‘boomy’ and produces a lot of harsh frequencies.
2# – Subtle Clean Boost
Another way live acoustic players are known to utilize a compressor with their acoustic is to use it for a subtle clean volume boost.
This is useful if you want to add a slight increase in volume using compression for solo or a phrase of a song during your performance.
Likely over a backing track or a live band, for example, engaging a compressor for a slight boost in volume will help your acoustic stand out for certain sections of a song.
Compressor Pedal vs Boost Pedal
So you may be wondering… why not use a regular boost pedal instead of a compressor pedal?
The simple answer is that a compressor pedal offers a transparent clean boost to your signal without coloring the tone with gain and hints of distortion.
Whereas, using a booster pedal or overdrive pedals in comparison can sometimes add some unwanted gain and distortion producing the sound of ‘break-up’ when you attack the strings.
‘Break-up’ is the sound of slight distortion which adds a nasty subtle texture to your acoustic tone which is unwanted by most acoustic players. Maybe for an electric guitar, but not so much for an acoustic!
Most acoustic players desire a clean and transparent tone with an acoustic as distortion and acoustic guitars do not mix well together.
Hence why a compressor can add a clear and transparent clean boost to keep your acoustic sound distortion and gain free for more transparency.
3# – Boosts Single Notes & Fingerpicking
If you play a song with fingerpicking, or single note playing featuring throughout?
A compressor will help boost single note volume and dynamics. Assisting your fingerpicking or any single note playing to sound more audible and give your acoustic a punchier and more dynamic sound.
The reason why a compressor pedal is ideal for a fingerpicking section is that chords on an acoustic guitar are more bottom-heavy and have a sharp increase in volume because you are playing more strings.
Whereas, single note playing is much quieter than playing chords.
With lead playing on an acoustic, a compressor would be recommended as it allows your played notes to become more audible and gives your acoustic more sustain for single notes so they can ring out and remain audible for longer.
Which brings us perfectly to the next point….
4# – Promotes More Sustain
Likewise, a compressor produces more sustain on the electric. However, an acoustic guitar naturally sustains less because it is hollow with less wood for the sound to vibrate. So arguably an acoustic needs all sustain it can get.
Therefore a compressor can assist single-note solos and fingerpicking notes to remain audible for longer than if a compressor was not engaged.
It also allows the player to focus on your playing than worrying about hitting each note perfectly worrying if it will sustain long enough.
5# – Boosts a Muddy Acoustic Pickup
Have you ever heard the term ‘muddy’ sounding pickup? It is basically when a pickup sounds have low mids and do not produce a clear and transparent sound.
Now when it comes to the quality of an acoustic guitar. The overall sound is heavily influenced by wood, materials, size, construction, and other factors.
When it comes to the electric acoustic, the internal pickup plays a large influence on the sound when your acoustic is plugged in and played through an amp, PA, mixer, etc.
Compressors are useful for lifting and boosting buried frequencies which increases the volume and fullness of the sound. Allowing your acoustic to sing better when played live through a pedalboard set-up.
6# – Looped Recordings Sound Balanced
When using a looper pedal with your acoustic, a popular and fun effect with live acoustic players.
A compressor pedal combined with a looper pedal will keep the volume of your looped recordings even, whether its a bassline, percussive parts or chords.
Although a compressor is a handy pedal for keeping your playing volume balanced.
Keep in mind, it will also ensure that the volume of your looped recordings will remain even with each other.
Absent of any certain loops sounding louder than the other. Ensuring that the looped recordings of your acoustic sound tighter when played over the top when played live through a PA system.
Best Compressor Pedals for Acoustic Guitar
Now we have discussed the main uses for adopting this pedal into your live acoustic pedalboard. The next question will be…what are the best compressors pedals are the best for use with an acoustic?
Surely all compressor pedals do the same thing, right?
The answer is no! All compressor pedals are not the same! A quick scroll on any major online guitar store, you will be spoilt for choice with the number of pedals varying in type, features, and usability…
Discussing each type will require a separate article altogether. (But here’s a great resource).
In my experience, the best acoustic pedals for an acoustic are the candidates that include the following features…
Compressor Pedals For Acoustic
So here’s what to look for when searching for the ideal compressor with your acoustic….
Choose an Optical Compressor
Optical compressor pedals are arguably the best for producing a clear and transparent signal when engaged in a signal chain.
And for this reason, they are the best choice (in my opinion) for an acoustic player looking to retain the natural and pure acoustic guitar sound without any noticeable change in tone.
As the majority of compressor pedals are designed for an electric guitar signal with most of them coloring the guitar tone. If you like this change in tone then that’s fine but if you are not, then there’s not much you can do.
Although this is not an issue with an electric guitar signal. However, an acoustic player will want to retain as much of the natural acoustic tone and signal as possible, meaning an optical compressor pedal would be the best recommendation.
A ‘Blend’ Knob is Essential
Having the option to blend the dry signal is a must-have feature for any compressor pedal in my opinion. This feature offers full control and a ton of versatility when dialing in the ideal amount of compression in the signal.
The blend knob allows you control the amount of dry uncompressed sound you want back into your signal.
Meaning if you want a light compressed sound with a lot of original acoustic frequencies then the blend knob is a valuable feature to have.
As we previously touched on, a pedal that can retain all the natural acoustic tone without coloring the tone will be the best candidate.
As pedals that do not modify your acoustic tone will serve you the best and not over-compress and modify your tone.
You should experiment with as many compressor pedals before making a purchase ensuring that it has a good sound and offers the best EQ options for your acoustic.
As you probably know there are many pedals you can choose from ranging in price, performance and features so take your time and play and test out as many as you can get your hands on.
Here are some of my recommendations for a selection of the best compressor pedals ideal for a live acoustic pedalboard.
- Greer Amps Lamplighter Optical Compressor
- Strymon OB.1 Optical Compressors
- Wampler Ego Compressor
- Keeley Compressor Plus
- Boss CP-1X Compressor
- Landlord FX A Cheeky Pint Optical Compressor
But obviously the best pedal is the one that ticks off all your boxes when it comes to the ideal compressor for your acoustic.
A compressor pedal is very practical for live playing with an acoustic and is not just limited to the electric guitar.
As we have discussed there are many uses for having this pedal handy within your arsenal of pedals for playing live and recording.
For controlling frequency range, improving dynamics and performing as a boost pedal. A compressor is a great pedal to have on any pedalboard.
Thanks for Reading!
Before you go, if you enjoyed this article you must read my next post…
“3 uses for a Compressor Pedal for Metal”
This post is the guide to whether this pedal is needed for playing any type of high gain metal?