When it comes to compression, guitarists tend to have a narrow perspective on it’s uses. People seem to look at a compressor as a tool just to control dynamics.
In short, this is what a compressor does…control dynamics But, how you want it to control dynamics and it’s influence over tone are a much bigger subject to discuss.
Compressor as a Fixer
Personally, I never use a compressor to fix un-even playing. I don’t consider a compressor a “fixer”. It’s all about the tone and/or sustain with me.
I was first introduced to compressors in the studio. Models like the Urei 1176, Teletronix LA2A and Fairchild 670 are a few of the classic compressors I began to navigate 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 became apparent it was going to be difficult to find those great flavors that were available in studio compressors.
A lot of pedal compressors like the ones made by Boss had a sterile vibe. The popular MXR Dyna Comp was noisy and would overdrive in a non flattering way in my opinion.
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 though other boutique compressors like the Keeley 2 knob (which is a very well built remake of a Ross compressor) is a high quality pedal, using a compressor pedal on my board still didn’t click.
I was very excited when I came across the Effectrode PC-2A. On their website it 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!
As always, there is a bit a skepticism with these things. A lot of promises are made by companies. 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 compressor.
Plugging in the PC-2A for the first time was quite a joy. It was pretty immediate that it had a flavor I recognized. It turns out Effectrode really did capture the essence of a LA-2A.
The tonal color of the LA-2A came through. Running the PC-2A with minimal compression to add some tube character became a favorite trick of mine.
Sometimes people see the PC-2A on my pedal board and assume I’m always compressing my signal hard. A fair amount of the time I’m very lightly compressing the signal to get that extra pinch of fairy dust.
It can work lovely as a preamp or boost. If you use it to juice the front end of you amp by a dB or two, you’ll hear a depth and clarity to your tone you wouldn’t get any other way.
This is similar to a trick I do with my Fulltone Tube Tape Echo. They each have a very different tonal personality though as a preamp or boost.
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 at the same time. 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 then some other compressors. It’s also been said that the attack is somewhat non-linear as well.
Unlike the LA-2A which has only two adjustments, the Effectrode PC-2A has internal adjustments for attack and knee if you rally 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. So, 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 it’s simplicity of usage .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 (that comes with the pedal) or the use of the Effectrode Atomic power supply. The Atomic can power up to four Effectrode pedals at one time.
Limit vs Compress
The best way to think of the differences between the Limit and Compress modes on the PC-2A is to consider the Compress mode more gentle then the aggressive Limit Mode.
The limit mode is bigger guard at the gate and will let less through when you exceed the threshold.
You can hear this pretty clearly by flipping the switch. It’s impossible to say what is 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 mis understanding of that amp. It’s a solid state amp. It excels in some areas, but 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.You don’t want to use a screwdriver when you need a hammer. But, more on that in a future blog.
When using with a tube amp, we can explore more out 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, 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 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 a person 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 bandaid to help emulate tube sag. I actually got this tip from Phil at Effectrode. I place the PC-2A after my Tube Drive (or 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.
There is 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 to me.
An example would be 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 claim usage of the world 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 reamp box in the studio to apply to 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 this compressor on slightly overdriven guitar. A vintage tweed on 5 with the PC-2A is magic!
I also like the PC-2A after a fuzz like the Analog Man Sunface. It just makes the tone wider and sounds more like what you hear on a record. Note that I place it after the Surface.
Alternative Guitar Choices
The PC-2A also works really well on acoustic guitar. I use it with a Grace Designs Alix DI/Preamp for acoustic guitar. The LA-2A is maybe my favorite compressor for acoustic guitar along with a Fairchild. They really glue an acoustic together. Good luck trying to fit a Fairchild into a small box.
Slide guitar loves compression. It’s brings out harmonics and sustain that’s hiding in your instrument. It’s also ties the guitar together bridging the difference between the un-wound strings.
As a slide player, the PC-2A can be a life saver if I show up to a crappy backline amp that won’t show 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 the use of it’s 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 minimal amount of complaints. The build quality is super high and 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. It’s boutique gear that is built for audiophiles. I’m a tone nut as you can see in my Guitar Tone Video Series and learn more about sculpting your guitar sound.