I am sorting stuff out and I am always worried about investing in gear only to feel the pang of buyer’s remorse when I think I’ve bought the wrong piece. One such pedal that has been getting its share of undeserved flak is the Boss Compression Sustainer CS-3. The very purpose of this post is to debunk some myths and shed light on the true potential of this pedal. So, if you have a CS-3 gathering dust, it’s time to take a closer look.

A Dive into the CS-3 Controls

  • Level: This is essentially your post-compression makeup gain.

  • Tone: It serves to cut and boost the high end after compression.

  • Attack: A fascinating feature, turning it counter-clockwise gives a swift attack but slows down the release. On the flip side, clockwise rotation elongates the attack while shortening the release. Your ears and a quick look at the waveform validate this function.

  • Sustain: Acting as a preamp, this directs the signal into the CS-3’s core compressor circuit, which is a fixed threshold, hard knee, high-ratio VCA compressor.

CS-3’s Signature Sound

When you think of the CS-3, think punchy and articulate”. Yes, it might have a niche following among the chickin’ pickin’ crowd, but don’t be too quick to pigeonhole it. With the right settings, it can complement genres like technical metal or even provide that lingering tone for ambient notes. However, it’s important to note that its punchy nature will always be its trademark.

In comparison, Dynacomp/Ross based compressors are softer, interactive, and more forgiving, with a distinct character that might seem less compressed. But the CS-3, it demands a strategy.

Optimizing the CS-3 Experience

Begin with controls set at the midpoint, then tweak the Sustain. Given its relatively low threshold, you might need to dial down the input volume, especially with humbucker guitars or feedback machines. A buffer pedal can be a savior in maintaining a uniform level.

Do resist the urge to max out controls; the beauty of the CS-3 lies in its subtlety. Once you’re content with the squash, the next step is to set the attack. Moving counter-clockwise lends a softer touch, ideal for chords and sustained notes. Go too low, and you risk an ever-present gain reduction, stripping away the feel of compression. A clockwise shift accentuates articulation for those swift lead lines, albeit with evident compression.

Finally, adjust the level and tone. While the CS-3 doesn’t alter tone, the single-band compression can add heft. Use external EQs if the CS-3’s tone control seems sharp.

Practical Insights

If you’re tempted to push the Attack to its maximum, reconsider. While it does deliver sharpness, it can also introduce undesirable clicks or pumps. A middle-ground approach usually delivers the most balanced results. Interestingly, there are modifications you can make, like altering a resistor, to refine the Sustain knob for more nuanced gain adjustments.

Addressing the Noise Factor

A common gripe with the CS-3 is its perceived noise. However, labeling it as uniquely noisy might be an overstretch. Delve into discussions about other compressors like Keeley or MXR, and you’ll spot similar concerns. The noise floor invariably rises with the makeup gain.

Beware of Pitfalls

The CS-3’s hard-knee nature means excessive compression might not sound as musical. If you crave ultra-smooth compression, this pedal might not be your cup of tea. Moreover, its low threshold could truly benefit from a blend control. Perhaps we’ll see this in a future iteration, say, the CS-4?

In conclusion, the Boss Compression Sustainer CS-3 is a misunderstood gem. Rather than discarding it based on prevailing opinions, invest time to understand its nuances, and you might just unearth its hidden potential.


Andrew Backhouse is a Yorkshire-based artist working with time-based media and digital collage. He is a self-confessed radio geek and he hopes to share his wonder. He also wants to share his naivety and enthusiasm for finding something interesting. Henri Chopin, AGF, and RuPaul influence Andrew’s artistic enquiry. Documenting “The new shiny thing,” Andrew tries to share his excitement for it. But, he also asks about its authenticity and worth.

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