What exactly do they do? And what are the better ones to buy?
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if you search the forums you can get a really good definition and possibly a list of good brands to get. you could also go go www.analogman. com and see wat it says there. also their compressors are frickin amazing. im on the waitlist for the bi-comp. too bad its like a year long. i did get on the list a few months ago but still gunna wait a while.
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I have a Line 6 Guitar Port and thats the only experience that I've had with Compressors. I can tell you that they make almost anything sound better. I am SLOWLY building a pedal board, it will definitely have a Compressor on it.

As for a further explanation. Try Google.
The reduce the dynamic range.So you have hold a long for incredible amounts of time, and it's used usually during solos

A word of advice when using it: if people can hear it at work, it's overdone.
^ yes. Which is why a lot of people don't realize how great they can help you out (if you use it properly). Its almost completely transparent effect. Not only for guitar, but for anything. Its best use, IMO, is for when youre recording drums. It keeps the snare and bass from peaking and distorting.
Compressors basically make sure the soft sounds are louder and the loud sounds softer, to "compress" the volume range of the signal. So it just equalizes the volume of your playing, depending on how much compression you put on it.

Guitar Compressors also give you alot more sustain, so your notes ring out for longer, which can get some really nice sounding feedback.

I've only got the compressor in my Digitech RP50, just, I don't see too much a point in paying $100 for something I dont find too neccesary when I already have a basic one somewhere.

Compressors in mixing boards and stuff are a bit different and more complicated, I think I heard you can get a Kick Drum to go at a single frequency when through a compressor or something, I'm not sure...
You have to get the good compressors, though. I used a Boss CS-3 and it was really noisy.
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You want to buy a compressor and you don't know what it is or what is does?

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Well actually they do to an extent. I remember a while ago when I was learning Midnight by Satriani which is all two handed tapping with a clean tone, using a compressor really helped make it all ring out and make the note attack far more even. Obviously if you muff up a note, it won't magically correct it though!
Quote by Invictious
A word of advice when using it: if people can hear it at work, it's overdone.

not always. It can be used as an effect too.
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Quote by CapnKickass
yeah thats what i was thinking. On the high frets I have to hammer pretty hard to get the notes to ring out loud enough.

Well I'd recommend practising mostly without the compressor, then when you use one your playing will sound that much better. Using an effect as a crutch is a sure-fire way to stop any progress you will make with that technique.
i agree with not using it alot

maybe just for live playing, so that your solo's stand out

and do not use one while learning somethings new

but the best ive played is the Diamond Compressor

google it
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You're joking right?

It's like comparing sex to sticking your penis in a blender.

I like the traditional boss one its simple
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not always. It can be used as an effect too.

That's correct. 90% of the top hits in country music feature a compressor for their chickin' pickin'.

Man, I despise country music. But as we all like different things and have different tastes, I'll put out the flame thrower.

I have the Keeley 4 knob compressor in line before my Maxon AD900 delay and after my Fulldrive 2. A Strat and Badcat Hotcat complete the set up and it is absolutely awesome to play and listen to. I never thought I'd like one and for the last 20 years, I've ignored them. What a mistake...

The first time I really heard one in full effect was on Piece of Mind by Iron Maiden. Steve Harris (bass) plays through a rackmount compressor and it is how he gets that aggressive and metallic snapping sound from his bass. Same with the dude from Korn.