The Keeley Compressor

A Pro-Quality Compressor Pedal review
by Philip Snyder
 
For some time there has been a lot of discussion about various compressors. As a rule I have always loathed compressors feeling that they robbed too much of the tone I worked hard to develop. Not long ago my dislike for compressors was tested again when I learned of the Keeley Compressor, built by Robert Keeley, in an issue of ToneQuest Report. My initial thought was "Here's another overpriced 'boutique' pedal that won't be any different than all the other compressors except in price". I had a lot to learn.
 
Because of the interest in compression here at 12stringbass.net I decided to do a little research. What exactly was "good" compression? Did any such beast really exist? The answer is yes, and the Keeley Compressor is built upon these exact values.
 
The first thing I learned about compressors is that most alter your tone greatly. A lot of this is due to cheap components. The Keeley Compressor utilizes only the very best parts made: Switchcraft metal In / Out jacks, metal film resistors and capacitors, and 2SC1849 NPN transistors (which have been out of production for years). Add to this true bypass circuitry so there is no loss of signal when the pedal is off. All of this adds up to a very quiet pedal that provides maximum clarity and transparency.
 
Transparency? What does that mean? That's the second lesson...
 
Your tone is a very special thing... it's your musical identity. Everything you put between your fingers and your speakers affects it. The best you can hope for is that all those components can be controlled to work in your favor. I've always believed that compression by nature was an evil thing! I felt it worked against everything I tried to accomplish with my tone... suppressing the highs and dulling the overall sound. I was amazed that the Keeley Compressor didn't do this. My highs were still there and my instrument's tone remained unchanged. The pedal did what it was supposed to do without screwing anything else up. I can't ask for more than that.
 
I was also impressed with how easy it was to operate. The instructions Robert includes with the pedal are simple and to the point. He even goes as far as to suggest settings so the owner has a place to start experimenting from. I found this to be very useful. He also made suggestions about where it should go in the signal path... something that I think is very important and all too often overlooked.
 
The pedal itself has only two controls - Sustain and Level. Between these two knobs you can achieve any desired level of compression you could ever need. They are both very dynamic which speaks to quality and I found that I didn't need any more than what they offered. The metal housing is the same size and shape as the MXR Dyna-Comp and the LED is a bright blue! Cool!
 
I tested the Keeley against a Boss LM-2 Limiter side-by-side (in line) and the difference was obvious. The Boss pedal (and I generally like vintage MIJ Boss stuff, which this was) did exactly what I expected it to do... take all the bite and attack out of my tone. The Keeley didn't touch my tone at all... it simply provided whatever compression I set it for and let my sound ring through clear as a bell. Absolutely amazing!
 
This pedal was originally marketed towards guitar players (Peter Frampton uses one). Recently Robert has sold them to several bassists with great results. Since 12-string basses are 2/3rds guitar (you know it's true!) I thought this would be perfect for the instrument and I was right! The octave strings ring out proudly and the fundamentals are pushed right up there with them. It tightens the whole sound and the instrument never sounded so good!
 
Bottom line... from a guy who has hated compressors for nearly 25 years, I have totally changed my position.  Compression is a good thing IF you have the right compressor to work with and know how to use it. Robert sells the pedal for $219 to your door and it has a 2-year warranty. Check out www.robertkeeley.com/ for more info on the Keeley Compressor and other Robert Keeley products including mods and other Keeley effects.