When it comes to compression, guitarists tend to have a narrow perspective on its uses. People seem to look at a compressor as a tool just to control dynamics.
That is what a compressor does—control dynamics. But how you want to control dynamics and its influence over tone is a much bigger subject to discuss.
Compressor as a Fixer
Personally, I never use a compressor to fix uneven playing. I don’t consider a compressor a “fixer.” It’s all about the tone and sustain with me.
I was first introduced to compressors in the studio. Models like the Urei 1176, the Teletronix LA-2A, and the Fairchild 670 are a few of the classic compressors I began to gravitate to.
Things just sounded better with them in the chain, even if I wasn’t hitting them hard.
Search for the Holy Grail of Pedal Compressors
Over the years I’ve tried a lot pedal compressors for electric guitar. It soon became apparent I’d have a tough time finding those great flavors available from studio compressors.
A lot of pedal compressors like those made by Boss had a sterile vibe. The popular MXR Dyna Comp was noisy and would overdrive in a non-flattering way.
Some older units like the Ross Compressor have a lot of character but are a challenge to find. They also tend to be a bit noisy and are not true bypass.
Even boutique compressors like the Keeley 2 knob—a well-built, high-quality remake of the Ross Compressor—didn’t quite click.
So I was very excited when I came across the Effectrode PC-2A. Their website said the PC-2A was a LA-2A in a pedal. This lured me in. One of my favorite tube compressors in a pedal? Sign me up!
I’m always a bit skeptical about these things. A lot of companies make a lot of promises. There are a lot of key phrases thrown around in the gear community.
Taking a closer look at the PC-2A, I started to get the idea that this pedal wasn’t hyped. First off, it runs at amp voltage. Meaning Effectrode didn’t dehydrate the operation of the tubes. In essence, it operates just like a studio tube compressor.
Effectrode pedals play like tube gear. I know this from the Tube Drive, which is always a staple on my pedalboard. My experience with that pedal gave me great hopes for the PC-2A.
Plugging in the PC-2A for the first time was a joy. Immediately, I recognized the flavor. The PC-2A really does capture the essence of an LA-2A.
The tonal color of the LA-2A came through. Running the PC-2A with minimal compression to add some tube character has become a favorite trick of mine.
Some people see the PC-2A on my pedal board and assume I’m always compressing my signal hard. Often I’m just very lightly compressing the signal, to get that extra pinch of fairy dust.
The PC-2A works lovely as a preamp or a boost. If you use it to juice the front end of your amp by a decibel or two, you’ll hear a depth and clarity to your tone that you wouldn’t get any other way.
This is similar to a trick I do with my Fulltone Tube Tape Echo. Each pedal has a very different tonal personality as a preamp or boost, however.
I just finished a whole tour with Amy Helm where I used the PC-2A exclusively as a boost. I ran it before the Tube Drive. When I boosted, the tone was gritty yet smooth. Where some boost pedals can get harsh, the PC-2A didn’t.
Optic Compression Nerve
The LA-2A is an optic compressor. The attack of an LA-2A is slower than some other compressors. It’s also been said that the attack is somewhat non-linear.
Unlike the LA-2A, which has only two adjustments, the Effectrode PC-2A has internal adjustments for attack and knee if you really must tweak. This is helpful if you have a pickup that swings to far in the output direction.
The release is program-dependent, which basically means it changes the release time depending on what it’s being fed. When you’re playing a lot of notes, it slows the release time.
One of the things I’ve always really liked about the LA-2A is how easy it is to use. Since it’s a two-knob box, you can pretty quickly dial in a sound. I wouldn’t say it’s completely idiot-proof, but it’s as close as you can get.
Effectrode pedals require either a wall wart (one comes with the pedal) or an Effectrode Atomic power supply. The Atomic can power up to four Effectrode pedals at one time.
Limit vs. Compress
The difference between the limit and compress modes on the PC-2A is the compress mode is more gentle and the limit mode is more aggressive.
The limit mode is a bigger guard at the gate and lets less through when you exceed the threshold.
You can hear this pretty clearly by flipping the switch. It’s impossible to say what’s best without testing for the situation.
Use with Amps
There is a lot of trash talking about the Roland Jazz Chorus. This partly comes to a misunderstanding. It’s a solid state amp. It excels in some areas and is weak in others. Pretty much like every amp.
It’s the classic sound of the New Wave era. A compressor can really bring out a nice chime in the Jazz Chorus. Think early Pretenders.
The issue with these amps is when people try to play blues through them or treat them as they would a tube amp. Wrong tool for the job. Don’t use a screwdriver when you need a hammer. More on that in a future blog.
Using the PC-2A with a tube amp, you can explore more of the gain staging options. I often use my PC-2A as a preamp/boost (as mentioned earlier) with very light compression in front of amps like a Vox AC30, Headstrong Lil’ King Reverb, Victoria 3515, and Fender Blackface Deluxe, to name just a few.
You can boost up to 15dBu of gain (peak knob down, gain up). That should make the audience wake up!
You can also use a compressor as a boost before or after your gain section. The PC-2A allows for up to 15dBu of gain!
There are two perspectives to using a boost. Placing one before a drive will increase your volume and increase the drive coming from your pedal.
Placing a boost after a drive will simply raise the volume of your signal. But depending on the amount of output gain you use and what amp (and the volume of the amp), it could also induce more overdrive from your amp.
Twin Reverb Band-Aid
Here comes my monthly Blackface Twin Reverb rant. I get that people love that amp. I don’t have a problem with that. But for someone like me who digs driving an amp, showing up to a fly date and seeing a Twin in the backline makes my soul wimper. On a really bad day you can see a little tear bead up in the corner of my eye.
I like to push tube amps into saturation. That doesn’t really happen on Blackface Twins. They have a solid state rectifier and are insanely loud. Two ingredients that don’t make amp overdrive easy.
I can use the PC-2A in these situations as a band-aid to help emulate tube sag. I actually got this tip from Phil at Effectrode. I place the PC-2A after my Tube Drive (or any other overdrive pedal) and set it to limit. When you play really hard notes you will hear them “sag” in volume from the compressor.
This is essentially what happens when you push an amp into sag-topia.
I hear talk about transparent compressors. I think that word is confusing. I haven’t heard a compressor yet that I didn’t think added some color. Even “clean” compressors have a sound to me. I’m not a huge fan of what a lot of companies promote as transparent compression. They tend to sound dull and lifeless.
An example is the Wampler Ego compressor. Don’t get me wrong—Wampler makes great pedals. I just didn’t love the Ego compressor. I didn’t get excited when it was on.
I don’t think Effectrode would use the word “transparent.” First of all, it’s standard in the industry to call tube gear colored… even if it doesn’t add much color.
Also, the compressor to which it’s paying homage to is considered a colored compressor. Don’t be afraid of color. Use every crayon in the box!
How to Compress
I tend to use the compression on the PC-2A fairly lightly. I don’t like a lot of compression in live situations. I do tend to use a heavier hand in the studio.
Side note: I also use the PC-2A with a re-amp box in the studio on guitar and other instruments. It’s a high quality compressor and sounds great on many sources.
Live, I tend to want a little more dynamics in my sound.
That’s not to say I don’t compress. I like a small to moderate amount of compression to glue my sound together. I absolutely love the PC-2A on slightly overdriven guitar. A vintage tweed on five with the PC-2A is magic!
I also like the PC-2A after a fuzz like the Analog Man Sun Face. It just makes the tone wider and sounds more like what you hear on a record. Note that I place the PC-2A after the Sun Face.
Alternative Guitar Choices
The PC-2A also works really well on acoustic guitar. I use it with a Grace Design AliX Preamp / EQ / DI for acoustic guitar. The LA-2A is maybe my favorite compressor for acoustic guitar, along with the Fairchild. They really glue an acoustic together. Good luck trying to fit a Fairchild into a small box.
Slide guitar loves compression. It brings out harmonics and sustain that are hiding in your instrument. It also ties the guitar together, bridging the difference between the wound and un-wound strings.
As a slide player, I find the PC-2A can be a life-saver when I show up to a crappy backline amp that won’t give me any love (See my Twin Reverb rant, above).
Opinions, Opinions, Opinions
As you can probably tell, I like this pedal a lot. When I find something I like this much, it’s hard to fault it. So I’ll try to look at it from another perspective and mention what some may find a point of conflict.
It’s expensive ($349) and requires its own power supply (wall wart). The soft bypass switch could also throw a few people at first. There is a slight delay/moment of silence when you press the button.
That’s a pretty mild complaint. The build quality is super high. I don’t feel like any corners were cut here. Not even in the packaging!
Effectrode pedals feel like they were built to own a lifetime. I certainly don’t see these as throw-away or growing-pains pedals. They’re boutique gear built for audiophiles. And I’m a tone nut—as you can see in my Guitar Tone Video Series, where you can learn more about sculpting your guitar sound.