Compressor/sustainer pedals can be very useful for guitar players. You can use them as a boost of sorts, pushing the gain of your amp/distortion pedal harder, resulting in more dirt and longer sustain. You can also use them to lower the gain on your amp. Paul Gilbert uses a compressor combined with an EQ pedal to clean up his Vintage Modern amps.
I first bought a compressor to try and get some more sustain out of my guitar for a particular part in a song my band at the time was playing. I bought a cheap little Behringer unit to see if the effect would work for me. Whilst it sounded pretty crappy it gave me the effect I was after, and I was hooked.
When I bought my Blackstar HT-5 head I tried out the little Behringer unit and it was just way too messy. It distorted on the clean channel, and in general buzzed a lot more when engaged than it did when I was running through my solid state amp.
When I was trading in some gear to get my Digitech Hardwire DL-8 I also got myself a Boss CS-3 Compression Sustainer to make up the difference in the trade. The CS-3 is definitely the pedal that Behringer used as the archetype for their little pedal as the controls are exactly the same as the CS-3.
The CS-3 Compression Sustainer is a fairly easy pedal to use. 4 knobs (Level, Tone, Attack and Sustain) are available to tweak, and it is all fairly self explanatory. The instruction does a fairly reasonable job of explaining how to set up the pedal too.
It is quite easy to dial up a sustaining and compression effect, as well as a limiting effect if you are wanting to use the pedal to soften a dirty channel to sound quite clean. The attack knob also helps you with softening or sharpening the attack on your notes as desired. The tone knob can help get to somewhat close to the tone of your dry signal too.
The CS-3 is a fairly typical Boss pedal. It’s a well built, solid pedal, as you would expect from the company, but is fairly average in terms of the sound it produces.
The pedal certainly does a good job in terms of the compression or limiting you might set on the pedal, but it comes at a cost. Unfortunately the CS-3 does have a slight effect on your natural tone. Also the pedal is quite noisy when you need to turn the level and the sustain knobs up whilst playing through the dirty channel of your amp. Thankfully it’s not so bad if you have a mains power supply to power the pedal, but it is still apparent.
When using the pedal in front of my Blackstar HT-5 head I found that if I kept the level knob at around half, and the sustain at two thirds I was able to minimise the unwanted noise somewhat, but still keep the pedal at a point where it didn’t, make the volume of my guitar parts lower than with the pedal off. This gave me a fairly sweet sustained sound which could carry on for a reasonable time.
If you are looking at using the CS-3 as a limiter to tame your distorted tone down to cleaner levels you will get a bit more joy.
As you probably would expect the noise level drops as you turn down the Sustain knob, and if you roll the Attack knob back in to the first half of it’s range you tame a fairly aggressive distortion tone down to a sweet over driven one. Roll back your guitars volume knob a little, and you’ve got yourself a pretty convincing clean tone.
My primary use of the CS-3 though is as a sustainer, and unfortunately the unwanted noise is a little frustrating, especially if I want to use my overdrive pedal to push my dirty channel a little harder. Both both pedals on there is just a tonne of noise when not playing. Of course it doesn’t help though that my overdrive pedal can be a little noisy too.
I have done some research on modifications to the CS-3 to quieten it down a little and make it more transparent, and I think I will embark on that journey soon. As it is though the Boss CS-3 is quite a reasonably priced pedal, so if you’ve only got a little cash this pedal is definitely worth getting now, and doing some simple mods if you are so inclined.