[17] Compressor placement on your pedalboard

Date: June 2nd, 2007 | Comments : [34] | Categories: pedals.

AMZ S-Comp

Where do you place a compressor in the signal chain? This often asked question is actually an easy one to answer… the compressor goes first!

Put the compressor as the first pedal that the guitar plugs into on your pedalboard. The reason is that a compressor has a circuit in it that reads signal fluctuations and turns that into a dc voltage which controls the gain of the pedal. If the compressor is connected directly to the guitar, it can see the full range of peaks that is being generated by the pickups and is able to properly control its gain element.If you place the compressor after a fuzz or distortion pedal, then the dynamic fluctuations of the guitar signal are clipped off by the distortion circuit (or diodes) and the compressor does not have an input that is ideally suited for signal control. You can read more about how the dynamic range of a signal is modified in my article Compression and Limiting in Distortion Boxes.Another reason that the compressor goes first is that their design typically includes high gain. With the compressor pedal at the front, you will insure that the cleanest, least noisy signal is being amplified by it because any noise that is present will be amplified along with the signal. Also, the VCA chip uses in many classic compressors is not the highest quality and will contribute noise and distortion of its own, which is another reason to place it immediately after the guitar. High end compression devices often have a noise gate circuit that will make the low level hiss less obvious but this feature is seldom seen in stompboxes.

Some players like to put the compressor at the end of their signal chain to give a boost to the output driving the amp. In this case, the compressor is really only acting as a booster, and you would be much better off using a boost pedal rather than a compressor. Boosters, like the AMZ Mini-Booster or Mosfet Boost, are almost always quieter than compressors and a better choice for that application. Furthermore, with the compressor at the end, all of the noise from previous pedals will be further amplified by the high gain circuit.

Some people claim that you can place a compressor after a distortion box that has good ‘dynamics’ and use it for signal control. The problem with this is that there aren’t really any commercially available dynamic overdrive pedals… not even those with that buzz word in their name. Read my article linked in the earlier paragraph above to understand why. Even chorus or phaser pedals will have an adverse effect on the signal dynamics and a compressor will just amplify any noise added by those pedals.

Put the compressor as the first pedal in your signal chain and you will get better utility and function from it. If you want to add some drive to your signal, get a booster pedal instead and put it at or near the end of the pedalboard.


34 Responses to “Compressor placement on your pedalboard”

[10] David Campbell Says: 8:16 am, June 2nd, 2007

Gotta disagree a bit on this one. When I talk about “dynamics” on an overdrive pedal, I’m not talking about dynamics of the pedal’s output, but rather how the distortion itself responds to input dynamics — cleaning up when you pick lightly or roll back the volume on your guitar. Stick a compressor in front of that and you ruin it.

[11] admin Says: 3:47 pm, June 2nd, 2007

I certainly agree with you there David. When you put a compressor in front of a distortion, it does change the feel of the distortion pedal. Some people like the extra sustain you get with a compressor driving the distortion and some like yourself, don’t care for the squashed distortion sound.

In that case, doing without the compressor is probably better than having it after the distortion pedal though.

Some of the same effect happens when you drive a distortion pedal with a booster… the distortion is already clipping the signal and the extra boost only reduces the dynamic influence of the pickups even more. Some people like that (I do), but others like to get the interplay with the pickups and dist pedal.

Thanks for commenting! -JACK

[12] Pete Woodward Says: 7:08 am, June 3rd, 2007

Would it matter if a buffer was placed before or after a compressor?

Also, for a circuit like the Fuzz Face, where unbuffered connection to the guitar is recommended, would placing a comp after the FF (when switched off, assuming true bypass) be the next best thing?

[13] admin Says: 9:09 am, June 3rd, 2007

A buffer before a compressor should have little impact on its performance but any tiny amount of noise contrinuted by the buffer will be amplified by the compressor. Also, some compressors don’t have great output drive so the buffer afterwards would help there as well.

I would place the buffer after the compressor.

With a true bypass compressor, having it before the FF will not impact the sound if the comp is bypassed. The tiny resistance and capacitance from the TB switch in the compressor are WAY less than the variances between brands of guitar cords.

regards, Jack

[15] Jay Doyle Says: 12:00 pm, June 7th, 2007


While I can completely see your arguement and it’s merits, I feel I have to disagree on something having absolutely nothing to do with tone, but having to do with the realities of playing in small clubs.

When I was playing, I ran my compressor near the end of the chain and AFTER both of my distortions. This allowed me to have five seperate rhythm tones (clean, comp on, comp on dist1, comp on dist2, comp on dist1 dist2) the last four in that list all having the same output level because the compressor was keeping them all that way. Then, when a lead came, I just stepped off the comp, leaving whichever combo of distortion I wanted for the lead.

To me this was the most practical way of running my rig. That way, I had two levels and two only (not counting pure clean), rhythm and lead. Which not only was a boon for the soundman (always suggested to make his job as easy as possible) but for the band around me as well. I never had to worry about my levels and neither did anyone else, my rhythm was one level, my lead the other; just that simple. I could just set my lead level to where it needed to be with the distortions, the rhythm level with the comp and I was good to go.

Another side,


[19] Robbie Wallace Says: 2:24 pm, June 17th, 2007

I couldn’t agree more with the “compressor always first” opinion. I have been using a compressor for close to 20 years and must say that anywhere other than at the beginning of the pedal chain gives less than optimum results to my ears.

Guitar straight into the compressor results in less overall noise and better overall performance from the compressor. It has been my experience that feedback style compressors like the Dynacomp/Ross and Orange Squeezer work best seeing a low level signal straight from the guitars pickup.

These are just my opinions, and if something works for others then by all means do it. That is the bottom line, right? Having fun!

[21] Ben Niderberg Says: 9:14 am, June 20th, 2007

This question came up recently at diystomboxes… I have found uses both ways. Comp before distortion gives you that singy lead tone, com after a touch-sestive light-medium overdrive can hel even out your level even when you alter the distortion characteristic with picking dynamics or the guitar volume knob, but at the rice of some additional noise (whih is aggravated by an already reduced S/N ratio as you shunt away part of your original signal). Live, that additional noise isn’t usually a problem. But couldn’t you alleviate some of that noise by searating the signal-processing part of the compressor from the control signal sidechain? Especally with something like the Q&D, with downward expansion below the knee, if the compressor is controlled by the pre-fx pristine guitar signal, then there wont be any compression when you aren’t playing.
Your thoughts, Jack?

[25] Chis Daudet Says: 3:12 pm, June 24th, 2007


Just a simple question: I’m using a Wah (Crybaby) as my first effect. This is a notch type circuit, so where do I put the compressor, after or before de Wah?

By the way, I agree with you. Placing the compressor before gain pedals gives me better results.

I know there’s no recipe for FX placing, but what would you recommend for a wah-type effect (including Envelope Filters and others).


[29] Mark Hammer Says: 7:17 am, July 5th, 2007

I hear two regular comments about compressors from people: 1) Why is my compressor so noisy? and 2) I can’t tell if it’s “on”.

Compressors are not in themselves inherently noisy. I imagine there ARE some poorer or skimpier designs, but 95% of the noise people complain about is what they are feeding the compressor. Like theperfect “signal Nazi”, a compressor only follows orders, and its orders are to boost as much as the design permits any signal falling below level X. If you stop playing, or if your input signal is low to begin with, the compressor will spend greater amounts of time boosting any noise it sees at the input.

This noise aspect is also one of the strongest arguments against sticking a distortion ahead of a compressor (i.e., compressor AFTER a distortion). Unless exquisitely designed, distortions also provide large boosts to whatever noise is at their input, and amplify whatever noise they produce internally. Stop playing while your distortion is on, and your post-fuzz compressor will not only boost the hiss it sees, but the hiss it sees from the output of the fuzz will be even greater than normal. Some folks will run scraming for a nosie gate to tame that, but quite frankly it is easier just to avoid the noise in the first place and stick the compressor first.

While we’re on the topic of fuzzes and compressors not sounding like they are on, remember that many effects, distortions most of all, introduce their own signal compression. Since the envelope follower in the compressor reacts to the dynamics of the signal you feed it, feeding it a signal that already has its dynamics restricted (and any distortion device works fundamentally BY setting limits on dynamics of the signal) will result in very little audible change in signal dynamics. At least much less than you’d detect if the compressor were first.

the exception to this would be the case where the compressor design itself needs a heftier signal than you’d normally feed it to elicit full comrpession. In these instances the distortion may well be just the ticket to goosing the guitar signal level enough to prod a little more squish from the compressor. Of course, the trouble is the price you have to pay for that in terms of noise. Probably far better to do something to improve both the sensitivity of the envelope follower in the compressor and the guitar signal level fed to the compressor. A simple clean FET preamp front end like Jack suggests is a much better solution than using a distortion to do the same task.

Some people feel that a compressor, while introducing some predictability and controllability into the signal level (a boon when playing rhythm behind a singer), robs you of any capacity to introduce tonal variation from an overdrive. That’s true. The solution is not to stick the compressor after the distortion in total, but rather to stick only PART of the compressor after the distortion. In other words, you probably always want the envelope sensing portion to be “informed” by the clean guitar signal, but the volume adjustment portion can add value if located after the clipping. This way the dynamics of your playing feeds both the distortion circuit (to produce tonal variety) AND the compression circuit; win-win. We have seen this over the years in noise gate. If might be a neat trick to have a compressor with a “loop insert” that permits the compression effect to be imposed at some later point in the signal path even though the envelope information used is from the start of the path.

[31] Ben Niderberg Says: 3:13 pm, July 9th, 2007

What Mark said (which is what I was trying to say, but a lot clearer). I gotta try this. I can’t believe no one else has.

[51] Bill Gary Says: 2:24 pm, August 6th, 2007

Compressors can be placed after an EQ. The Boosted FQ on and EQ gets squashed before others, and vise versa for the FQs lowerd.
I prefer after though because any coloring the compressor created can be adjusted out with an EQ. A wah wah/volume is the exception. A comp before changes feel of the pedal and the range on the volume control.

For musicians who put a comp last in their chain to controll volume I have a suggestion.

I connect my chain to a level meter in one of my rack units to set even volumes out of comps and od units etc.
My volumes now remain constant which is important for recording or a sound man live.

I think musicians need A simple portable meter at the end of his chain that looks like a like a tuner.
A switch on it could allow P-P Avr and RMS db level readings and would be great for complex waves too.
This way a guitarist can take a reading with everything bypassed, then turn one effect on at a time to adjust equal volume throughout a chain.

Besides maintaining an even recording volume I found this most usefull for adjusting pickup height and setting patch volume levels on those dreaded all in one multieffects pedals also.

Also Pros dont boost lead volumes much sound men punch them up for solos.

For those who arent so luckey you could have all the musicians in a band set an equal boost % and put an end to volume wars.

[403] Sean Says: 1:49 am, April 11th, 2008

Compressor first makes sense for many musical styles, but for high gain rock, metal, industrial and so forth, I’m a firm believer that the very first thing in your chain should be a good noise suppressor. I think that allows you to have it running with the least impact on your signal chain by allowing you to have the least tone-impacting settings.

Things like fingers sliding on strings or slight noise from lighting is reduced first and so never makes it to a compressor, overdrive, boost, or distortion pedal. If those slight noises make it to your compressor, all that happens is that the hum and hiss and string noise you don’t want getting through just gets squashed and louder in the signal chain…which makes it even worse when it then hits your distortion pedal. The further down the chain your noise suppressor, the harder it must work to dampen unwanted noise.

What should make it through the noise gate/suppressor is what you want heard, and thus what you want running through your compressor. My vote (as a high gain sort of player) is that a compressor should go second. In fact, I find for those really tight and fast metal riffs, the best thing is to have a noise suppressor running at the start of the chain with the lightest possible setting that just removes ‘unintended noise’, then compressor, rest of your chain and a second noise suppressor with the lightest settings possible again at the end of it to help with rapid deadening for tight palm-muted playing.

Granted, if I’m playing blues or classic rock or a lot of mellow stuff, it isn’t a big deal and I probably wouldn’t even have a suppressor/gate in the chain…but for metal players, putting a compressor first just means those ‘unintended and undesirable’ sounds and noises are made harder to deal with further along in the chain. I see a lot of young players mistakenly put a noise suppressor last in their chain and then complain it doesn’t work right and is too noisy or kills their tone because they have to crank the suppression/gating up so high. Duh!

Why try to reduce the noise you don’t want after it’s been raised in volume, distorted, and then might have modulation effects thrown on it? Much easier if you can target the noise before anything else is done. The noise suppressor must work harder and also reduces more of the total signal rather than just the tiny noise that should have never hit any other effects in the first place if it is not the first thing in your chain. If you are worried about it killing your tone, run an EQ or tube preamp pedal to inject a bit of any missing frequencies back into your tone and then into your compressor as the third item in the chain.

Just my two cents, and again…that’s just what I have found from my own high gain rituals.

Love the blog. What a great bunch of articles and ideas!

[495] Dale Says: 7:05 pm, August 3rd, 2008

the order of the effects on my 1982 xmr omni rack unit has the compressor first. i just assumed that since they make a classic compressor they would place it to sound the best. i just purchased a 1975 dyna comp to see how it sounds to the rack unit, but i have a problem on the 1975 attenuating the signal all the way down when activated so i cannot get it to room level much less a boost. i turned the volume of my twin 65 reverb all the way up and i get a good signal and the volume pot works to cut the volume but the sensitivity make no differenc when adjusted.
Yea a twin 65 reverb all the way up in the den and no blown out windows and you can talk loudly and hear each other. anybody had an experience with the drop off in volume on you old script DC when activated? sorry for the whine about my DC problem, if this is in the wrong channel could you steer me in the tight direction or point me to a good repair site DYI or pro,

[617] tony Says: 7:51 pm, February 25th, 2009

hi, ive just bought a behringer mdx220 compressor. having never owned one or used one before im completely confused after reading all the comments. . would you mind giving me a bit of advice as to where it should go in my siginal chain. im recording the guitar with the following equiptment. guitar…yamaha stompbox…hughes/kettner redbox classic di….roland amp… shuremic… mackie 1202 mixer desk…computer for recording. regards tony

[944] Mark Says: 12:57 pm, February 12th, 2010

Sean, thank you!!!!!! I have the compressor first in a Marshall high-gain setup, and the hand-on-string noise is horrific. I’m going to try this tonight, and if it works, I can’t tell you how much I appreciate it!


[1019] Andy Says: 8:15 am, April 25th, 2010

This is all helpful but, what about running my compressor through my effects loop? My distortion all comes from my mesa head. should my compressor be in my loop with phaser, delay, and reverb? or in front into my guitar? Andy

[1036] paul Says: 6:46 pm, May 3rd, 2010

Compressor up front yes BUT if you are using harmonizer effects NO. Harmonizer effects need to be up front for proper signal trigger, the compressor screws up the guitar signal for dynamic response. I use the Digitech Whammy primarily for its harmonizer modes, Digitech agrees w me it needs to be first up for proper trigger pitch. You can put this last IF you are using for the typical 8va whammy sweeps. Also I have a TRIGGERED WAH (Digitech Synth Wah) this ALSO has to be in front of the Compressor for proper triggering. My Compressor is in front of my 1st OD and Dist. NEVER and I repeat NEVER put a Compressor OR a DIST gain box in the amp loop!

[1037] paul Says: 7:01 pm, May 3rd, 2010

Compressors raise the noise floor, the level of hiss when you are not playing. True hard wired by-pass cannot save you here, it is just the inherent nature of the compressor, some will be worse than others and if your chain already has some hiss it will magnify it. My line is totally quiet and my Visual Sound compressor has an internal noise reduction circuit and level pot. I keep it on min. Those ISP decimator would help your hiss, also high quality cables.

[1268] Paul R Says: 2:53 pm, July 22nd, 2010

so is it noise suppressor(Boss NS-2), before compressor(Boss CS-3) that’s best?

[1276] paul Says: 12:31 pm, August 1st, 2010

I have since dropped my Visual Sound boxes and the compresor off my board. Not that they were not all really good units I just like to shuffle the deck now and then. I have an all new pedalboard chain these days.

I stopped using a compressor as I just had no need for one. I had been using it more for clean boost into the OD w very little compression. I just dropped it for more a true clean boost pedal. I currently use the Fulltone Fat Boost 3 set rather clean into a new 1.4v OCD which gets knob twisted about every time I play, from a cleaner tube push to more dirt. Combines extremely well with the fat boost.

Compressors are better for cleaner stuff especially that country “chicken pickin” thing. I play more heavy fusion more Jeff Beck Satriani type tones. I could use the compressor on cleaner stuff but on high gains or driven tubes it is just way over kill.

When I play clean my tubes give all the compression I need even clean channel and the OCD is not so much a compression OD circuit. Those playing high gain tones really do not need a compressor. The best place is up front BEFORE dirt, there is argument of wah before or after depends on the wah and OD or Dist being used. Compressors will maginfy the noise floor even on a normally quit chain, it’s just what they do.

And FYI the best place for an external noise reduction like a Hush or an ISP decimator is in the loop last on return or if no loop amp-in last position. As with all effects, less is more, just use what is needed to sweeten the tone no matter what it is.

[1325] Ric Says: 2:03 am, October 8th, 2010

Keeley feels the compressor sounds better after the distortion but b4 lead boost thou levels of the compressor matter too if your gonna do leads or chords. After all that for your signature sound the Rack Compressor is added to the recording process…..thats a different story altogether?

[2187] Bristan Says: 11:47 pm, April 24th, 2011

I am confused….I thought tuners were ALWAYS suppose to be your first pedal on your rig. Does the compressor go before the tuner???? Does it really make that big of a difference???

[2269] Curt Summers Says: 4:29 pm, July 25th, 2011

Yea, I need the answer to that question as well. What if you have a “true bypass” tuner first, then the compressor?

[2515] Emilio Ramirez Says: 9:49 am, December 19th, 2011

This one is for Bristan and Curt few month later…i use my Tuner first…you want to be sure your guitar signal goest straight to your tuner first so what you’re seeing on your tuner screen is actually happening at that moment with nothing in between…your tuner will get the purest guitar signal first and will not affect your tone at all. I have my chain in this order: Guitar-Boss TU-12H Tuner-Morley Mini Wah/Volume-Boss AC-3 Acoustic Simulator-Xotic EP Booster-MXR Super Comp-Amp input…that’s what i have front to my amp…then i run a Boss TR2 Tremolo and a Line 6 M5 thru the effects loop…the M5 gives me great modulations, i use it mainly as my delay effect but it has a lot of other great modulations. I still want to try the MXR Super Comp before the Xotic EP Booster to see if there’s any changes on the compressor…hope this helps a little.

[2592] JH Says: 11:08 am, January 13th, 2012

Completely disagree with the original post. There is no ONE RIGHT WAY to place the comp. I prefer the comp after OD. I tend to use hi-quality low to medium gain overdrives and noiseless pickups so my noise floor is alot lower than you might think. I also tend to like optical compressors which are much more quiet, subtle and musical sounding than those horrible ross/dynacomp noiseboxes and their countless clones. Plus I like OD’s that have a dynamic response to pick attack and guitar volume adjustments.When using a pedal like the zvex distortron which can go from full gain with the guitar on 10 to completely clean at 6-7 a post OD comp keeps the overall volume at each setting nearly identical. That is a REALLY useful trick if you want to switch between equal volume clean & dirty tones (and any tones in bewteen) just by using your guitar knob. It is also impossible if you put the comp first. Jus’ sayin’ there’s more than one way to skin a comp.

[3262] Denniis Says: 9:03 pm, October 9th, 2012

Sonny Landreth puts his Keeley compressor AFTER his drive pedals (Zendrive and Mosferatu). See his Rig Rundown at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sbWop_P5REg

[3530] Lucas Says: 6:37 am, October 23rd, 2012

It totally depends on the application. If it’s first, that works best to create a completely true signal compression of your guitar’s tone. If it’s after an OD or Fuzz, you can use it to keep volumes even whilst still being able to be dynamic with picking and guitar volume to get the most range out of said OD or Fuzz. You could have two and do both depending on the tune you’re playing.

[3946] Justin Says: 7:24 am, August 1st, 2013

Is a compresser really needed? Doesn’t the sound guy compress the channel your on anyway?

I have a crazy pedal board and am FX Heavy. Should I get one?

[4957] Aaron Mitchell Says: 8:39 pm, October 22nd, 2013

I lthis is my 7 bypass strip order…tuner…OCD into keeley 4 knob comp…but into loop 2 …i have a boost pedal…near the end…it brings my swells to a great even place..so I disagree with you David.

[5610] Marcelo Says: 7:22 pm, December 25th, 2013

i really don’t like the compressor as 1st pedal, i use dist,screamer,boost od,compressor in this order , i really like the sound even if it become noisly when i switch on the compressor, but is enough put down the sustain and work find, but i use a by pass programabile foot switch to do my chain, the point is to use each pedal carefully to balance all of them otherwhise became a caos……..Marcelo

[5643] Randall Says: 7:24 pm, January 21st, 2014

These are great posts…thank you! I totally agree with the comments that compressors work well in cleaner settings. Any boosts I want for leads come from an EQ pedal (I like having the control to make sure my leads get over our crazy drummer) and have since removed the compressor from my main board but use it for my acoustic gig board where it really adds value rounding up the sound. From a sustain standpoint I use a Big Muff into a Blackstar Series One…crazy sustain.

I will probably add back the compressor again up front to play with it…but most likely i will a lot that valuable space to another pedal.

[6160] Danno Says: 9:38 pm, February 14th, 2014

I’m going to go along with what most of the people have said in this thread. There is no right way to use a compressor. I actually have found more applications using it at the end of my chain, to control volume as some of these other readers have said. I haven’t used comps that much but when I do it’s to control the overall volume. and also mine is only on the Zoom G3 which is at the end of my chain..

I have my whole pedal order like this:

Guitar – Hog, Boss FT-2, Wah, Z Vex Box of Rock, EHX E’muffin, Boss ps5-, G3, Trem, Dm-3, AMP.

I never use the disortions on the g3, so I can only comp my other pedals the one way.

However I can try it out on both orders on my G3, I suggest all of you just simply make a patch both ways and try it.

Trying is what’s up.

[6318] Johnny G Says: 9:34 am, March 9th, 2014

Although the original post by Jack is really old, I just wanted to tentatively suggest an idea about the buffer before or after question.

I like putting a compressor first as well, so my comments apply to that.

The MXR Dyna design (that looks like the basis for the bulk of pedal sized compressors ever since) has a buffer first stage anyway. Why not add that buffer before your bypass switch – have your signal permanently buffered (if like me, you like the idea of that)? Perhaps upgrade the buffer from a BJT to an opamp or Fet.

[6342] scott Says: 11:23 am, March 21st, 2014

I used to have the compressor at the end, but recently moved it up. Now I have a FET buffer into compressor folowed by modulation pedals then dostortion pedals. Much better like this.

One problem I do have is, I have a dynacomp that I built with true bypass switch, but it pops really bad when switched. I rewired for melenium 2 bypass and it still pops.

I think I may try incorporating a buffered bypass into the pedal to see how that works.

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