Alright, I liked my Dirty Bomb and I needed a compressor. It just so happens that some years back David Barber made a compressor that a lot of folks like, to the point that he describes it as his most successful pedal, so I decided I’d check it out.
While I have not experienced some that I have heard great things about (notable never-trieds: Keely comp, Dyna-Comp script reissue, especially Diamond Compressor, Wampler’s compressor), of the compressors I have used (many more common units) The Barber Tone Press is hands down the best. Comparing it to my BBE Orange Squash is unflattering to the Orange Squash, despite my appreciation for its round, mellow compression. Specifically, while my Dyna-Comp is easily the worst offender for the “pop” at the start of notes, now I can notice that the Orange Squash has a slight bit of that going on as well, because the Barber Tone Press has none at all. Parallel compression is a really useful trick in the studio, now it’s a really useful trick all the time. It honestly seems that there are no downsides to this compressor, it can be either very colorful and effect-y up there with the Dyna-comp, or it can be totally transparent, and anywhere between. The internal “Color” trim pot is really interesting, too, it has an effect on the high end and seems to have something to do with the comp’s general response. I adjusted it through its range of motion when I first plugged it in, and there are definitely a lot of flavors in this unit – I imagine a lot of vintage compressor tones could be had with counter-clockwise Color settings and the blend control adjusted for just the compressed signal. I don’t know that I might not even get some use out of some really subtle compression effects while using it as a boost; as advertised it is a very good clean boost when you dial the compression out, and adding a little compression to the otherwise clean boost could make this a great tool for solos. I haven’t tried that but it’s on the list of things to do.
Here’s a little demo of the Tone Press. There’s a lot that this comp can do, but this is how it sounds with one of my strats. Volume set at 2 o’clock for unity gain on transients; blend at 50/50; sustain at 2 o’clock. Internal “color” control set fully clockwise (which is how it ships, I adjusted it and then put it back there because I like it, it’s more transparent and snappy this way).
Start on the neck pickup, I switch to the bridge somewhere in there. First I play something without it, then you’ll hear a tiny click which is the unit switching on, then I play something with it. There’s only one pair of sounds in there that it isn’t totally obvious when the compressor is on, I may have forgot to turn it off when I started playing at the 12th fret and then had to re-start the clean->comp->clean->comp pattern afterward. Anyway, if it sounds fuller, sustains better, the comp’s on; if it sounds thinner and sustains less well, the comp’s off. Pay attention to the fact that transients are not impacted despite the notable presence of the beneficial effects of a well-designed compressor. That’s sort of the “point” of the Tone Press, as I understand it, though of course you can set the Blend however you would like and if what really does it for you is that poppin’ fresh pop on every note, it’s possible – set the compression to taste, blend all the way to the compression side with the Color knob more counter-clockwise and it will get you the vintage Ross/Dyna-Comp sounds you’re after. Personally I really prefer it with the blend set 50/50 or even higher on the clean side of things, because I am not a big fan of the pop. After trying a lot of compressors it’s very neat to have one which appears to have no detrimental effects, only positive ones.
Barber Tone Press -> Boss Dimension C -> Fender Twin. Delay and reverb are post.