When it comes to effects pedals, compressors and sustain ped-als usually fall into the “love it or hate it” category. Aside from a graphic equalizer, it is probably the least pronounced effect there is. Most purist guitarists, who prefer to plug straight into the amp, would never dream of using a compressor. But there are some who wouldn’t play without one.
If you prefer to use a compressor pedal, there is one you may want to watch for – the Ampeg A-2. Though production of the A-2 was short-lived and few survived the ’80s, this is one unit you won’t want to pass up.
Produced in Japan and marketed under the Ampeg name in the mid/late ’80s, it is one of the smoothest compressors made in the days of big hair. At the time, just about every manufacturer in the music industry took a dip into the pedal marketing sea. Ampeg was no exception.
The A-2 measures approximately 2.5″ X 4.5″, roughly the size of an Ibanez or Boss pedal of the same era. Its enclosure is metal, painted black with hot pink lettering for the controls and logo (hey, it was the ’80s!). Other features include silent FET switching, three control knobs (level, sustain, and tone) and an led on/off status indicator. It operates on a single nine-volt battery. Upon close inspection, the pedal shares some of the manufacturing characteristics of the aforementioned Ibanez units.
Maxon, a Japanese company, manufactured pedals for Ibanez in the ’70s and ’80s that toted a reputation for being some of the finer-sounding stompboxes ever produced. Since the knobs on the Ampeg are almost identical to Ibanez’s fabled TS-808 Tubescreamer, and the circuitboard, internal on/off switch, and potentiometers all closely resemble those made for the TS-9 series, it’d be a safe bet the Ampeg series was produced at the same plant as the Ibanez pedals, if not manufactured by Maxon.
But enough manufacturing mumbo jumbo. Let’s get to the really important matter – the sound!
When you switch the Ampeg on, you immediately hear the thickness of the note you’re playing, especially at higher sustain settings. One of the A-2’s best qualities is its ability to drive an amp while still sounding natural, especially a small tube amp (Fender Princeton, Champ, or newer Fender Pro Jr.).
While testing the pedal, I used a Telecaster, Stratocaster, and these three amps. You have to love the natural-sounding sustain this pedal offers – like the amplifier is cranked. But it delivers this sound at lower volumes. Another winning feature is a low noise factor.
And still another nice element is the volume dynamics. With full volume settings on the guitar and pedal, it’s easy to adjust the sound of the effect by simply rolling back the guitar’s volume. It’s much simpler to do than turning the effect off; however, battery life won’t be as long. A guitar with humbuck-ers, such as a Les Paul, won’t react quite as strongly with the volume trick, but it will work in the same manner, just not as easily as single-coil guitars. The A-2 can be powered with a nine-volt adapter.
With the A-2, you don’t have to drive your tube amp hard if you don’t want to. At lower level/higher sustain settings, the A-2 produces a thick, creamy tone with a slight overdrive. Your picking attack also affects the way the pedal reacts. With harder picking, each note makes a slight popping at higher settings. A softer picking attack produces little if any pop on the notes.
Overall, this compressor is a winner. But, as with many good pedals, there is usually something that’ll bother someone. With the A-2, it seems when you switch the effect on, there is a slight -but-noticeable signal loss. This is another reason for keeping the effect on and manipulating the guitar volume. But if you must turn it on and off, there is only a slight signal loss.
Although the A-2 is such an offbeat and rare pedal, if you do find one, it’s usually at a reasonable price. And in spite of the slight signal loss, all in all it offers a lot of bang for the buck.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s Dec. ’99 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.