One of the best kept secrets—and perhaps the best tool for professional bassists to have at their disposal—is a compressor. For me, the only effect I use for live bass playing and recording is a stomp box compressor.

Punch me.

A compressor, also referred to as a limiter, simply squashes the incoming signal and prevents peaks. This squashed sound results in a tighter, punchier tone.

To better understand, we can use an analogy of a garden hose. When the opening is large, water essentially oozes out of the end. When the opening is reduced, the water is concentrated and the pressure and velocity are increased. This helps you achieve that “punch in the gut” that you're looking for.

Not just for gigging.

While compressors can really add punch and clarity to your live sound, a great compressor is also essential for digital recording.

While compressors can really add punch and clarity to your live sound, a great compressor is also essential for digital recording. Unlike analog, with digital recording, all clips (or peaks) need to be negated. One single clip and that track could be totally useless.

This, of course, was different back in the days of tape recording. Set the recording levels where there was an occasional peak and record the highest levels possible. Easy.

I've tried more than a few bass compressor pedals over the years and have even liked a few of them. The three I'll mention here are generally regarded as the most popular, and perhaps the best. Let's see:

Keeley Electronics Compressor

The one.

Keeley Compressor

The cat’s meow of pedal compressors is the Keeley Compressor. Hand made in the good old US of A, the 4-Knob version provides controls for sustain, level, attack, and clipping. Keeley describes his high-end squasher as "...a true audiophile and studio-grade compressor with an exotic rackmount quality in stompbox form," which is not far from the truth.

It's also more versatile than the other two boxes mentioned here, as the Keeley is not just made for bass. For bass (and guitar), the Keeley is tough to beat. And there’s just something about that cool blue LED. To top it off, you can count on excellent support from the folks at Keeley who clearly take a lot of pride in their work.

  • Controls Sustain; Level; Attack; Clipping
  • Powered by One 9-volt battery or AC adapter
  • Used by Charlie Hunter, John Mayer and Dweezil Zappa
  • Price $259
  • More info

EBS MultiComp

Best value for the money.

EBS MultiComp

I have yet to find a bass compressor pedal that can measure up to the EBS MultiComp in terms of price versus performance. Designed in Sweden and assembled in China, it has a decent weight and feels well made. The MultiComp offers an active/passive switch as well as a toggle-switch that activates a tube simulator, multi-band, or normal compression.

There are only two knobs which makes it easier to dial in your sound. Out of the whole bunch, this pedal provides the most dramatic effect—and by that I mean a decent, clean, punchy tone. I get great tone by plugging my Fender Jazz Bass into the MultiComp, then a DI box, and then out to the PA.

  • Controls Compressor/Limiter; Gain; Mode (Tube, Multi-band, Normal)
  • Powered by One 9-volt battery or AC adapter
  • Used by Mike Scott (Prince); Lyle Workman (Beck, Sting)
  • Price $199
  • More info

Aguilar TLC Compressor

A little more hype than it deserves.

Aguilar TLC Compressor

Aguilar’s USA pedals are said to be among the best. And I will say that, when it comes to ergonomics, the TLC Compressor was the only pedal with easy access to the 9-volt battery—a trait that means more than you'd think when you realize you forgot to put in a fresh one two minutes before the show.

Aguilar got a lot of good reviews for their TLC compressor, and I'm sure they're well deserved. But I was not too impressed with the overall effect of the Aguilar. I spent a lot of time dialing in the sound, and ultimately decided this unit was not for me. The end result was just not dramatic enough. Of course, a lot depends on your bass, amp, playing style and the room you're in. So do some experimenting to find the right pedal.

  • Controls Level; Threshold; Attack; Slope
  • Powered by One 9-volt battery or AC adapter
  • Used by John Patitucci; Gerald Veasley; Adam Clayton (U2)
  • Price $199
  • More info

The bottom line.

If you're looking for a great compressor for both guitar and bass, check out the Keeley. I think the EBS MultiComp is also worth a serious look. And, while these boutique brands are more expensive than some others (like Boss for instance), they are guaranteed to improve your tone, they're built to last, and they'll become part of your rig for years to come. A decent compressor is money well spent—especially for bass.