Pedals

Compressin’ it | Papa got a brand new (Effectrode) squeeze box

1

Out of the various families of compressor pedal technology (OTA, VCA, FET, optical, and tube), the latter carry the most mystique - because, after all, as guitarists, it's religious dogma that tubes are magical.

All the types have their characteristic behavior, and you can find both better-known and endless me-too examples across all price ranges in each type. And - with a few notable exceptions - in each category, as prices rise so do performance characteristics and sound quality.

But it might be safe to say that good-to-wonderful OTA, VCA, FET, and even optical compressors can be had at better prices than good tube compressors. (Which are almost always optical with tube output stages.)

This has been a roundabout way of saying that when I've tried tube compressors in the past, they've either been OMG-I'm-in-love (and expensive) studio boxes (and I haven't owned them) - or cheapies at the low end of the price spectrum. And...OMG-I-didn't-love-them.

I've been on a premium compressor tear for the last few years, wanting to try for myself the best I could talk myself into affording of the various types - and, as it happens, in most of the other types, the more you spend, the more knobs you get. Most pedal-pushers like knobs. (An instinct that co-exists in me with a simultaneous and fundamental understanding that some of the best equipment is the simplest, and has the fewest knobs, and the magic of it is that you don't need more knobs because the stuff just works.)

Anyway, tube compressors tend not to have as many knobs, so I've put off spending for an upscale model because...well, sometimes the knob-count mentality wins.* (See footnote on KCM.)

But I recently took delivery of the Effectrode PC-2A, a kind of pedal-sized reincarnation of the prized Urei LA-2A studio compressor of the Golden Age. Two knobs, one toggle switch.

So how do I like it?

I hooked it up for the first time last night and promptly spent about four hours with two guitars. That thing it does, it does with full marvel, there are no bad settings, and it's safe to say it's inspiring to play through.

But I have many nice compressors, and I'm prone to exuberant honeymooning with new gear, so I won't say something like "best ever."

What seems to be magic about it is that with two knobs (so you don't get many parameters to tweak - or screw up your tone with), it still manages to be uncannily adaptive to signal. I understand the nature of a tube compressor of this design is that with choppy, staccato playing it releases quickly enough not to pump - and with more continuous input, its release is long and gradual, with a kind of knee-shape slope. The result is that no matter what you play, you get a consistent envelope.

So it has this character, but it responds to the player. It's not in your face, but what it does enhances and shapes in a gratifying way.

Ear candy for sure.

A compressor sits near the beginning of my signal chain (a few devices that work best when getting the raw output of the guitar precede it), and the compressor space on my main board is big enough to accommodate any of the comps I have. That way I can easily swap in different options for variety.

The Effectrode will likely hold pride of place there for at least awhile - until I get curious about one of the others again.


On Knob count mentality. I recently bought a pedal that should help cure me of this for good. It's a micro-mini wacky (meaning it doesn't intend to produce any natural spaces) digital reverb, from China, and the little bastid is bristling with six mini knobs, one of which selects from eight different modes (lighting up in a different color for each mode); plus three mini-toggles. When I divide the control count into the price of the pedal, it has a very impressive CPK (Cost Per Knob) ratio.

The pedal, however, doesn't make any sound I can use. It's harsh and flat and ... arbitrarily wacky.

It's a good thing there are players who consider these properties positive virtues; I'll probably be able to Reverb it away.

2

As the compressor in question here is by Effectrode Thermionics (was there ever a better company name?), it reminds me that Effectrode's website is full of engrossing guitar tech lore. These guys are deep down in it.

Go here: https://www.effectrode.com and check out the Knowledge Base links. Take a snack.

3

If I ever get up the gumption, I’d like to hone in on what compressor I like best. Now your new one has me curious about another one, dang ye.

I already have a Dyna Comp, a JangleBox JB3, and the stuff on the H9. So far, I’ve managed to keep myself barely talked out of an 1176 (albeit not a pedal, I realize).

I wonder if there are any demos on La Tube du You.

4

Have you tried the Cali76?

5

I have, in the compact form - not the big transformer-powered original. The 76 is currently on my board.

6

A man of few words, I see

7

Proteosity, please speak a bit more about putting compression at the top of the chain. AND...

Everything on my board is connected to a Boss ES-8 switcher. To your knowledge, if I were to configure the pedal routing order in the ES-8 to compressor first, think it would have the same effect (no pun intended)?

8

I already have a Dyna Comp, a JangleBox JB3, and the stuff on the H9.

I've yet to be impressed by a compressor in a modeler or multi-fx. Some are usable in context, but they don't make you want to never turn them off. If I remember aright, I ran through the H9's offerings, made some grimaces, and never listened again.

The Dyna Comp is the longer-lived and more commercially robust son of the original Ross, which was the progenitor of - according to compressor scholar Cyrus Heiduska of the omnilabs.com website - 90% of all compressors, ever. Just for some historical texture, it was designed by one Bud Ross, also of Kustom amps - and a member of Bax's American Legion (or maybe VFW) - who died a couple of years ago without Bax knowing he was Who He Was.

Anyway. Heiduska, writing in 2018, lists the following as Ross clones and little-tweaked derivations:

Keeley, Analogman CompRossor, Xotic SP, Barge RC-2/RC-3, Sitori Sonics, Barber Tone Press, Retro-Sonic Vintage Vibes, MXR Supercomp & Custom Comp, AYA R-Comp, Ocean EFX Comp Box, Uncle Ernie's Honey Driver, Visual Sound Route 66/Comp 66, Teese RMC FK-1, Bone Picker Tight Squeeze, Wampler Ego Comp, Goudie FX, CMATMODS Signa Comp, BYOC 5-Knob & "Vintage", Guyatone ST2 & Stm5, Valco, Moolon, Whirlwind Red Box & Byrdbox, HipKitty Boa, T-Rex CompNova, Morley MOD-PCB, BMF Little Red, Nobels, Rogue, E-wave, Rockson, Glen Burton, Rocktron Reaction, Eden Analog Cold Compress, DVK The Mrs, BBE Benchpress, Homebrew/HBE CPR, Ibanez/Maxon CP5/CP9/CP10, Biyang CO-8 & Compress-X, Hofner, Providence, Kaden, Daphon, Behringer DC9, Tonerider, Maxtone, ProTone, ModTone, DreamTone... and there are doubtless many more.

He doesn't want to review any more of them.

With the Dyna Comp, you have the archetype of the OTA type - but with sonic deficiencies which are part of the inescapable inherent tone of that circuit, in that simple form. It's not bad - it's the very definition of "it is what it is," and it produces a very attractive and seductive effect. (At least until you start to hear its weaknesses.) Then, by comparison to a more transparent (and adaptable) studio compressor, it pales. So you use it for "that tone." I know that all sounds vaguely negative, but from 1978 to about 1998, if I was playing an electric guitar, chances are 90% it was being Dynacomped.

I've come to prefer the Xotic SP for the pure Ross/Dyna thang (it's small, sounds good, and easy to use), but the most versatile of the breed - the one that comes closest to overcoming (or at least sidestepping) the deficits, is the Wampler Ego. I had that one for a couple of years, can't say anything bad about it. If Ross/OTA was my favorite compressor flavor, it's the one I'd have.

All of which is to say...you might judiciously and methodically try some other types, which you might prefer - or at the very least, recognize for the different and more adaptable tools they are.

I don't know what circuit the JangleBox is based on, or what tech it employs. And it annoys the hell out of me that I can't find that information - least of all on JB's site, which is all promo and no info. I recognize that the core JB mission was (and remains) to deliver the studio-processed chimejangletwinklepunch of mid-60s-recorded 12-strings. It does that. Oh boy does it does that.

When I briefly had one, it reliably made me smile when I flicked into that mode. At first the smlle was delight, but it gradually became sardonic mockery. All I hear in that tone is either a maxed-out compressor - or maybe two in series - coupled with pretty serious treble boost. It doesn't take a JB to produce it...it takes heavy compression and a treble booster. (I get that it's convenient to have the two functions in one box.) Thing was, when I turned OFF the Magic Byrds Button, I found the JB a bog-average who-cares compressor with no other tricks up its sleeve. And noisy!

I offed it quickly - almost as quickly as the Pigtronix Philosopher's Tone, another magic-trick compression contender to the throne of the Emperor Who Has No Clothes.

In trying to research the actual tech inside the JB, I came across an interview with McGuinn in Premier Guitar, which is pretty funny in this context, as it very clearly describes where the tone came from in the first place, and why, and how he's struggled since 1965 to recreate it live.

PG: Your sound has always been marked by the use of compression on the Rick 12. You used to record directly into the board. What brand of compressor was it?

RM: I don’t know what they used in the Columbia Studios, but I do know they were tube-driven. Using compression was the idea of Ray Gerhardt, one of the house engineers at Columbia. They had no experience working with rock n’ roll bands and were scared we’d blow out their equipment, so they used compression in an attempt to protect themselves! I know they were very nervous about recording us.

PG: How did you recreate your compressed studio tone onstage back in the days when stompboxes were in their infancy?

RM: I never did. Paul Kantner of Jefferson Airplane, who also played a Rickenbacker 12, turned me on to the Vox Treble Booster in 1966. I took the Rick apart and installed it in the guitar. It really was an outboard box that gave me some gain, but no compression. Later, we got a rack compressor that we used on gigs, but in the early days, I couldn’t get compression onstage until we got that rack. I tried all the compressors available, including the Dyna-Comp and the Boss, but didn’t like any of them. Not until Rickenbacker designed my signature guitar with the built-in compressor, did I find one that worked for me.

PG: Were you involved in the design of your onboard compressor?

RM: No, an engineer from Rickenbacker designed it. He left shortly after and went to work for Fender, I think. John Hall could tell you who he was.

PG: When Rickenbacker stopped producing your signature guitar, that compressor was discontinued along with the guitar. I’m surprised they never marketed a stompbox version of it.

RM: It was the best sounding compressor I ever used until the Janglebox came along. I suppose it was because Rickenbacker is not in the effects business. I did the entire Back From Rio album with that Rick compressor. The Janglebox is now the best-sounding compressor on the market in my opinion—I use it all the time. It’s clean and quiet, and it sounds very close to the built-in one I have in the 370/12/RM.

Of COURSE the engineers were using tube compressors - that's what was in studios. Likely the Urei. And of course no one was going to build a tube compressor into a guitar. What I hear in the Janglebox is a Ross/OTA - or rather two of them in series - along with the clever EQ. But I don't know that.

On the treble-boost side of the equation, I find in wikipedia that McGuinn put the Vox V806 inside his guitar. The Dallas Rangemaster, E-H Screaming Bird, or any of their descendants and clones since would also likely suffice in live use.

Anyway, of course the Jangleboxes appeal to players going for the classic 60s 12-string tone - including Roger McGuinn, because who's going for it more than he? I'm all for the JB's convenience in providing all the pieces of that studio tone, optimized specifically to do that jangle thang. If just it hadn't been such a bland, average, ehh compressor when I turned off the 1966 transistor radio toggle, I would have kept it.

I'm curious about the JB3, and the new JBX - but probably not curious enough to order either unless compressor reviewers I trust tell me there's more in there than a ByrdsBeatlePetty character setting - that the noise issues and generally lacklustre character of the pedal (when NOT in the BBP mode) have been addressed.

Also...there are other dual-serial compressors on the market that also get that truly endless sustain: the Rivera Sustain Shaman, Origin SlideRig, and Jackson Audio Bloom come to mind. I have the Bloom, which also has an EQ section that lets me get as close to the janglethang as I care to. The inspiration for most of those has been the endlessly sustaining steel/slide tones of David Lindley, Lowell George, Joey Landreth, etc - rather than 60s jangle.

I'm not really hating on the Janglebox (much) - just observing that it's not the pony for every rodeo.

9

A man of few words, I see

Well, I like the 76. But it's been a couple weeks since I played through it, and in that time I've corrupted my aural memory with the Jackson Bloom, Pettyjohn Crush, and now the Effectrode - putting too little time into any of them to say anything intelligent about their relative strengths and weaknesses.

I hope to line them all up and make sense of them. I do keep churning through compressors (as through other effect types), and over time I let more go than I keep. But the ones which have reliably charmed me stay, without my giving much (or any) rational thought to thinning the herd.

Obviously I can't use them "all at once," and in no sense do I need them - I just like them, in the same way one likes any fine instrument or device that comes as close to perfection as one can reasonably expect from mere mortals in a universe with the physics ours has. Given that perspective, I've just gradually accumulated more comps than I intended. It's become a something of a collection for its own sake.

Maybe when I get them all together and go through them methodically, I'll realize I prefer some and could let others go. We'll see.

10

Proteosity, please speak a bit more about putting compression at the top of the chain. AND...

It's just always been where it's most often recommended for guitar, largely because when a compressor is bringing up the level of note tails (as in maximizing sustain), it also brings up any noise in the signal at that point - and there's less aggregate noise at the beginning of your signal chain than at the end.

But I'm putting more stuff before the compressor than in the past - fuzzes, Digitech Freqout feedback synthesizer, pedals with envelope sensitivity which modulate effect parameters based on signal strength - because a compressor evens out and flattens signal those devices need to do what they do. (I think wah is among the types which work best pre-comp, and even pre-dirt ... but I rarely wah.)

As I have my board configured now, I have an early compressor (after those few pedals mentioned above) but before other overdrives and distortions and volume pedal - and a late compressor, after all the gain-affecting pedals on the board, but before modulations, delays, and reverbs. Compression has slightly different behavior in those two positions, which I experiment with.

Everything on my board is connected to a Boss ES-8 switcher. To your knowledge, if I were to configure the pedal routing order in the ES-8 to compressor first, think it would have the same effect (no pun intended)?

Yes. If it's in the first loop of the ES-8-managed chain, it's still first. The ES-8 has switchable buffers on every in and out, so you can experiment with what setting works best for the compressor.

11

With the ES-8, I can program my pedals into any order I want, regardless of the order in which they’re physically connected. My curiosity is if there’d be any tonal difference in programming pedal order as opposed to the order of their actual physical connections. Looks like I’m gonna hafta pretend I’m growed up and dig into the manual to give it a stab and see what goes wrong. Haha.....ha(?)

12

For what it's worth, the Janglebox uses the NTE996 chip, which, while not the CA3080 of most Ross-style comps, is a (fancy) transconductance amplifier. It therefore works similarly: feeding the signal envelope back to a pin on the chip which limits the gain. You can safely put it in that family.

I once discovered the "Jangle" effect myself by accident, after building my first pedal, a Rangemaster. I had no more room on my board for the new pedal, so I set it on the floor before the rest of my board at my next band practice. Naturally, I left it on most of the practice, and lo and behold, when it came time for my "funky rhythm" part (think James Brown), I stomped my compressor and meet one of my favorite new sounds. The Rangemaster was prematurely pushing the comp beyond its threshold, and squishing the shit out of every note. Awesome for stabby high chord inversions.

Tim, I remember a post from the long-ago where you tested many a compressor. I'm assuming this was lost in The Crash?

13

With the ES-8, I can program my pedals into any order I want, regardless of the order in which they’re physically connected.

Right, I meant in the first virtual loop as assigned in the patch you'll build. And, no, no difference between connecting them on the floor, connecting them in order to the physical loop in/out connections on the ES-8, or connecting them in virtual order (no matter which physical jacks they's jacked inta).

WITH the caveat that you'll have to spearmint with the on/off status of the in/out buffers on whichsoever physical jacks unto which thou haseth it connectered.

14

With the ES-8, I can program my pedals into any order I want, regardless of the order in which they’re physically connected.

Right, I meant in the first virtual loop as assigned in the patch you'll build. And, no, no difference between connecting them on the floor, connecting them in order to the physical loop in/out connections on the ES-8, or connecting them in virtual order (no matter which physical jacks they's jacked inta).

WITH the caveat that you'll have to spearmint with the on/off status of the in/out buffers on whichsoever physical jacks unto which thou haseth it connectered.

– Proteus

Thank ya bud.

Now, back when I was having unrelated trouble previouslike where this added distorted “thing” was happening when I had all four H9’s on at once, doing their own respective thing, my guy at Sweetwater recommended a buffer, which I did get. (I b’lieve you and I even fonespoke about it, fatteramact.)

In the course of my talking with my aforementioned Sweetwater guy, he did happen to mention that the ES-8’s buffers are, “meh”. Recommend any particular buffering scenario from which to begin the process?

15

A buffer's a buffer's a buffer. Don't let Mr. Sweetwater talk you into another one.

I don't know the ES8, but if I know Boss it's got a buffer on every in'n'out. Same with the Eventides.

16

For what it's worth, the Janglebox uses the NTE996 chip, which, while not the CA3080 of most Ross-style comps, is a (fancy) transconductance amplifier. You can safely put it in that family.

It sure sounds like that, yessir.

I got the Analog Man Beano Boost last year, and it's proven to be the (not-so) secret missing ingredient in many familiar guitar tones.


I remember a post from the long-ago where you tested many a compressor. I'm assuming this was lost in The Crash?

I'm sure it was. Despite half an hour of trying to trick the GDP's search into finding the content of that thread, I come up empty. (I have the original URL, but it leads to a "Charlie Christian Sound" heading with no content.) We know the crash essentially separated content from headings, so it's probably still lost in the database, but I haven't found search terms to bring it out. I do know it was done in 2013. The audio files and jpgs are almost certainly still where they belong at my web host (Amazon S3), but without all the context...there'd be no context.

I remember I used a looper to guarantee feeding all the comps the same program, then ran it through each of them in at least two different settings, maybe three. I think the post had screen shots of the squashed waveforms in an audio editor.

I do have a list of the compressors in the comparo: the Barber Tone Press, Diamond, Dyna-Comp, Stigtronics (an Indiana homegrown builder), Strymon OB-1, Wampler Ego, and Xotic SP.

I was an early fan and vocal advocate of the Tone Press, whose best trick was parallel compression, thus more transparent than the pure OTAs I'd had previously. But it wasn't that special other than that. Actually all the comps in that group were OTA, except possibly the Strymon. I didn't find anything to love in the Strymon, and it went away.

Of those seven, I still have the Diamond, Dyna Comp (my 1978 original, just for sentiment), and Xotic SP.

17

Recommend any particular buffering scenario from which to begin the process?

I don't. I have a dual buffer JB Josh made for me, but, reprehensibly, I've never connected it.

You'd think I'd be all about buffers, and would have had to learn all about them...but maybe I've been lucky in accidentally assembling chains of pedals with enough buffering in the right places to preserve enough of my tone that by the time it came out the amp, it was still acceptable. To me!

It's possible I'm deef.

I'm buffer-ignernt.

18

A buffer's a buffer's a buffer. Don't let Mr. Sweetwater talk you into another one.

I don't know the ES8, but if I know Boss it's got a buffer on every in'n'out. Same with the Eventides.

– Otter

Actually I hadn’t bought the ES-8 yet when I bought the buffer, but thanks very much for having my back, brutha.

19

I wish they made an ES-16. I could use an ES-24. That would be so handy.

Better yet, some way to multi-plex multiple ES-8s, like between boards, so all the loops on all the controllers were aggregated and configurable as one big effects flight deck.

I'm sure Boss would find a convoluted multiple-button-pushing way to do it, going through a sequence of poorly documented commands to make one board the master, and the others slaves. But one can imagine setting up a patch, with any pedals in any order, by pushing the button for the first desired pedal on one ES8, then the next on any other ES8, etc. Surely there would be an app which would put it all in front of the user graphically.

That's what I want. Maybe they could communicate via ethernet, or bluetooth.

I need a command center for a ridiculous amount of pedals, spread over multiple boards. I'm gonna write to Boss and beg. Unless there's anyone here...who knows anyone...who could hack this into being?

20

I thought my sweetwater fella said you CAN daisy-chain two or more, sending info via MIDI. Don’t hold me to that but I’m gonna holler to him tomorra to find out.

21

Well, I would expect that just to transmit program changes, so you could make patches on multiple boards (of pedals on those boards) change together. And that’s cool.

The real game-changer would be to intermix pedals connected to different ES8s with each other - so, loop 3 on the first board followed by loop 2 on the other board, then back to a pedal on the first board, etc.

That would require moving audio over MIDI. Can that be done? Over USB, yes...and don’t Behringer (and others) move audio via Ethernet?

Hmm. See what you find out.

22

I have the limited PC-2A which is basically the same (slightly darker grey enclosure) but has a different tube that allows an extra 4db of gain. Its a great pedal but it does add quite a bit of sparkle to proceedings which is not always necessarily what I want.

23

I always wanted their Delta-Trem pedal. But Effectrode was always just waaaay to much money for me to spend on a pedal. They look so cool tho.

If I ever get another compressor, (I've been through several, Boss, Keeley, Wampler, Barber)... I have always wanted to try the old standby Carl Martin. Now they have it where it no longer requires an AC plug, it operates on a standard 9V power tap!

24

I wish they made an ES-16. I could use an ES-24. That would be so handy.

This.

But I looked at toolboxes big enough to hold 24 pedals and they weigh more than I do, so that's not gonna work.

I got concerned when there was no mention of the Diamond compressor, which I've adored since I bought one. But then I see you still own one, which is an effective vote of confidence, so I feel better. Ditto for the Xotic SP, which sits on my other board. The Effectrode sounds intriguing, heck, just the name "Effectrode" sounds intriguing all by itself, but its capabilities likely exceed my simple needs, and I needn't go looking for new ways to spend money these days.

As always, the discussion here is most enjoyable.

25

The Diamond is never leaving. It goes in the rotation just because - or whenever I want its particular fat-enhancing special sauce. And the Xotic, thanks to its size, is the after-gain/drive comp on my main board.


I do like the idea of shelves in a toolbox for pedal deployment - but yeah, a toolbox capacious enough for all my caprices would have to be one of those rolling red mechanic’s behemoths with the handy flat work surface on top (for chest-high pedals, of course).

I’m imagining such a beast: integrated distributed power to every level with a single fat cable to the mains, no need to fasten pedals down as they’d stick to micro-cellular grippy pads on every shelf, neat cable management, patch bay for ins and outs, and a suite of ES-8s on the floor to run it all, connected with snakes terminating in custom multi-pin sockets (along with a board full of expression pedals and the few loopers and droners that require direct interaction).

Man! You’d need a roadie and a ramp into a cargo van to move it around, but it would be Pedal Trek in a box for sure.

Back on earth, I’m just deploying multiple Temple boards for the fleet, and patching them together as necessary.

Out. Of. Control.


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