Pedals

You don’t hear much about Barber FX these days…

1

As I've had some time on my hands I've been making overdrive pedals and really getting into how to improve some circuits I have liked but felt needed some tweaking to be "just right" for me.

As I've been running out of candidates to try I thought I'd try building a Barber Direct Drive as on paper these have always seemed like they should be perfect for me but they kinda haven't whenever I've tried one. David Barber kindly posts the schematics of his pedals as service diagrams on his site so I drew up a layout for a LTD Silver Overdrive.

Well how surprised was I when I plugged it in and it sounded great! I didn't change much from the stock schematic. When I tried one of these when they first came out it sounded ok but as if something was wrong with it - there was some annoying harshness in the note decay and the clipping sounded wrong in a way I can't really describe. But the one I built sounds really good.

So today I built a variation of that circuit - the Direct Drive - based on parts of his schematics on his site. It sounds even better! The Direct Drive I bought years ago had similar issues to the LTD Silver but this one I built today sounds incredible!

So I'm really confused. Were the pedals I bought somehow defective? It's weird because I tried at least three and all sounded almost broken. So all this time I have been under the impression that Barber makes terrible pedals and all the reviews are somehow made up by people with tin ears and it's all really weird.

The other thing which is odd is that if Barber pedals do actually sound as good as the ones I built - and I can't see why they wouldn't as he knows how to build a pedal - why aren't more people raving about them? They're extremely fairly priced much as the Timmy was but I actually prefer these over the Timmy.

So I'm really glad I tried this. Funny what happens when you get desperately bored.

2

Interesting you come up with this topic, Jimmy. I considered the LTD for a long time when I was looking for a pedal that is just on the edge of overdrive. My first one ever was a Boss SD-1. Still I think it's a good sounding unit. Even better with a mod I did that brings back the bass. I was sure there's something I like better, especially when I first heard (or better: read) about the Timmy. They were not really available over here and when they came up they were ridiculously expensive. So I was very happy when the Danelectro Transparent Overdrive (v1) was released. The description of the tone was exactly what I was looking for. That was before I even knew that they copied Paul C.s original circuit. I got one of the Danos and it sounded great. But it was no Timmy. I got one of those for an okay price one day and was over the moon. Only to be surprised that it didn't sound like the Dano at all. Especially with Filtertons it was much more gritty and grainy which I didn't like. To this day I prefer the Dano but their reliabilty is ridiculously bad and so it stays in the shelf. I really wanted to love the Timmy but one day I was brave enough to confess that I didn't. Long story short: I never played the Barber LTD because I bought others before and ended up with a J. Rockett Blue Note v1 that is perfect for me for this application.

Back to Barber. I have first-hand experience with one pedal of his only. It is... drum-roll... the Direct Drive (in the bigger dark grey box). I'm no expert but it is said that it's basically a Tubescreamer with two internal mini pots for presence and bass and a pull-tone option for a more modern sound. In fact it has a mid-hump and even with the bass pot full up it cuts some lows. But it sounds glorious. I tried quite a few TS and TS style ODs ('82 TS9, 808RI, VoodooLab Sparkle Drive v1...) but for me this is the best of them all. It's on my board for many years now. The only thing that bothers me a bit is the low cut since I'm mostly a rhythm player and wish there was a little bit more bass available. I tried others over the years of course but none of them sounded better. The Seymour Duncan 805 attracts me. It's a TS with a 3-band EQ but it's too expensive for just buying and trying at the moment.

So, Jimmy, if you happen to have a Direct Drive with full bass on tap I'd be interested. I like the idea of having GDP mates' creations anyway. I don't need the pull function as I keep it in standard mode 99.9% of the time.

P.S. Recently I got a clone of a Vemuram Jan Ray (supposedly a Timmy circuit) that sounds fab but I'm not sure where to put it. I was thinking of using it after the Direct Drive as a boost (replacing an MXR Micro Amp) but that might give away some of its qualities.

3

Hey Sascha the two Direct Drive versions I have built so far have tons of low end - I can't see you needing any more! And they're not really a TS pedal - well they use a dual op-amp and diode clipping but they're not as much a TS-derivative as many other pedals are. One of my favourite pedals at the moment is a modded Xotic BB. I cut some of the mid hump and increased lows slightly and it is so punchy and clear it's crazy! It is more TS-based than the Direct Drives I've built.

And the Vemuram is very much a Timmy clone - they didn't change much.

As far as the DDs go the LTD Silver is a more rounded sound than the version of DD I built. There are quite a few versions of Direct Drive and I just picked one at random (Couldn't be bothered with all the switching options) and it sounds more Marshall-like than the Silver. In fact it sounds more Marshall-like than most Marshall-style ODs I've heard - it's very good. The Silver is sort of round and sweeter and possibly a better all-round OD.

4

Hey! I recently re-discovered Barber myself! I started with an LTD, then LTD-SR, I had his Tone Press and BarbEQ. Last one was the Small Fry. Years ago. Sold them all eventually.

Recently got another Small Fry (FANTASTIC), and also a BUSS - Burn Unit Super Sport. The Small Fry is a great, sweet overdrive... reminds me of my old Fulldrive 2 actually, and the BUSS is more of an OCD thing: it's higher gain, I'd classify it as an overdrive/distortion pedal.

Really loving the Small Fry, I'll probably keep it forever... the BUSS... I'm trying to use it more as a "fuzzy drive"... because I never get along with fuzz pedals, but like the textures... we'll see if it works out for me.

I had forgotten how good David Barber is at voicing dirt pedals... one of the best, IMO.

Also agreed about the Rockett Blue Note: that's one of my all-time faves; I'll never sell it (well, I have 2, so I might sell 1 lol). J.Rockett also has GREAT dirt pedals- I also recently got his Dude overdrive- OUTSTANDING.

From what I have been able to gather, the reason Barber isn't as big as they used to be is two-fold:

1) he simply couldn't ramp up the business (to the size of a Fulltone, for example)... firstly, he had problems getting retailers to carry NEW products for some reason; they would only sell "tried-and-true" designs, didn't want anything new

2) the boutique OD market exploded... and most builders became smaller fish in a much larger pond.

To do a run of pedals, it's a minimum of 300... he still does it, but I think he's kept it small, just to keep it easy... lower expense, lower overhead, max profits (well, max for the size of the company... it might be just him, not sure)

5

I won’t judge such a highly-regarded builder with a sample size of one, but I wasn’t able to figure out how to make the BUSS work for me.

It was okay, but my Timmy and OCD (one of the new, truly V2 ones I got with the Fulltone STIMULUS promo code a few months ago), both sound better to my ear when doing similar things.

I’m wondering if it’s the BUSS trying to do two things versus focusing on just one, like something was sacrificed for the simplicity of presets via the “dynamics/harmonics” toggle switch.

Whatever the case, I’ve given it one more chance numerous times, but it generally ends up back in its box, since it doesn’t do anything that another one of my pedals can’t do better.

6

the boutique OD market exploded... and most builders became smaller fish in a much larger pond.

I think it's likely to be something like this. And it's not only the OD market - it's all pedals. Of the guys we used to think of as "boutique" - well respected, small-run builders, generally specializing in one or two categories of pedal - many got lost in the flood of newer (and sometimes technically more proficient) builders. A few are still around, doing what they do.

Most have opted not to compete with most-likely-younger full-line builders with deep catalogs, the likes of Earthquaker, Wampler, and JHS - or the higher tech, high-end deluxe builders like Chase Bliss and Alexander (on the down-home end of the scale) and Strymon, Meris, and Source Audio (at the higher-investment end). Of old-liners who really stepped up, I think mostly of Keeley - whose explosion of product offerings over the past few years has been stunning - and Empress.

With all that, and with EHX and Boss having been driven (or innately inclined) to continued creativity and product proliferation, old-liners like Dunlop/MXR, TCE, and Digitech still cranking - not to mention the continually advancing state of the art among hordes of small specialist builders - it's hard to keep the market's attention. Thanks to the internet in general - and specifically the online culture around Reverb, ütoob's ever-expanding cadre of pro demo guys, and discussion boards - it's easy enough to introduce a product and get some sales, maybe even put a line of specialty pedals out there, create a following, and make enough work to bury one guy. But without an organization, it's going to be hard to break out of that category.

There's almost no in-between.

I see Barber has fewer pedals in the line than the last time I paid attention, and most of the models I knew then are gone. Presumably what's left, in long-overdue re-housed re-designs, are the distillation of the best features of his earlier line. As his marketing never fails to mention, the Tone Press popularized "parallel" compression, and I happily used mine for years, frequently recommending it. Unfortunately, newer pedals from other makers which incorporated that feature turned out inherently to sound better, and I moved along.

I also think his original pedal designs, in their original form factor, came to look perfunctory and dated in a market that honors iconic designs (a status his pedals never attained) but otherwise goes for graphics, colors, and presentation. They also took up more room on increasingly crowded boards than competitors' newer products.

His current pedals neatly address those market deficiencies, and I hope he can maintain the level of business he wants. His pricing model is conscientiously modest, and you definitely get more than you pay for by comparison with most of the competition. (In fact, his pedals might fall into the danger zone between the mass-market sub-100.00 level and the 200.00-plus world. New buyers moving up might not understand the pedals are worth the slight premium over mass-market - and boutique buyers might think they're not expensive enough to be good!)

Like I need another fuzz pedal, the Exacta looks interesting to me. At 129.00, it's a why-not? sort of buy.

7

You definitely have some points, Tim. And since choosing gear is not only decided by a sober brain I see myself very much in the 'in-between' zone Barber seems to be in. Maybe not as ideal for him business-wise but I feel connected somehow. The Direct Drive version I own has the most unspectacular looks you can think of. Nobody wants a dark grey box with light grey writing anymore, do they?

P.S. I just had a look at his recent offerings and was surprised I didn't see anything I remember. All those switching options rather confuse than appeal to me. I wonder how much the circuits differ from his original designs.

8

I wonder how much the circuits differ from his original designs.

Yes, an interesting question. I wonder when the line changed so drastically (presumably under market pressure - and hopefully neither too late, or the wrong decisions). You wouldn't think he'd throw away the baby with the bathwater, but I guess you can't know unless you try.

9

Over here Barber pedals are boutique with the corresponding prices. They come up from time to time used but if so it's the older one's like Fry, Burn Unit, LTD etc.

10

50 Shades of Orange (great handle!) makes a good point - I think one of the problems I had with the Barber pedals i had originally was also that I could never quite get them to work for me. I seem to remember trimpots and constantly adjusting things? It was a while ago!

I've had plenty of experiences where I tried something, didn't like it, only to try it again years later when my needs had changed and found I really liked it. But this is different. The Barber pedals I tried sounded like something was wrong. I wish i could get them back to try them again! These ones I have built sound so good that there must have been something wrong with those i tried way back.

11

Yes- Barber was a HUGE fan of internal trimpots. Actually, his pedals are what made me hate internal trimpots. Just too much to tweak, and not easily! His new compact pedals have no internal trimpots.

12

I have the Launch Pad, and it's perfect in every way except that it's bigger than it needs to be.


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