Most stompbox compressors do one of two unflattering things to a guitar signal: they either kill the attack of the instrument or let the sharpness of
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You use the Blend knob on the ¬Barber ¬Electronics Tone Press for mixing ¬compressed and uncompressed signals.

Most stompbox compressors do one of two unflattering things to a guitar signal: they either kill the attack of the instrument or let the sharpness of the attack through in a negative way, overaccentuating the harshness of the pick or pluck. Barber Electronics' Tone Press provides a unique and musical solution to this problem. A feature called Parallel Compression uses a phase-coherent wet/dry control usually not found on compressors. The ability to mix in a direct signal (a capability usually found only on time-based processors) makes this unit stand out in a crowd of currently available effects pedals.

Press Your Luck

The Tone Press is housed in a sturdy but surprisingly light 3.5 × 4.5 — inch cast-aluminum enclosure, its silver lettering stark against the matte black finish. You get standard TS input and output jacks, with the input jack doubling as a switch to engage the internal 9V battery. There's also a jack for an optional external DC power supply. The three pots are capped with ridged plastic knobs that are easy to adjust with your tennis shoe — a plus for a stompbox. The Volume knob determines the overall postcompression level of the pedal. The Blend knob sets the percentage of compressed signal, and the Sustain knob functions as an amount control. The higher it is set, the more compression is applied to the input signal. The final control, a tiny trim pot labeled Color located inside the unit, can be accessed only by taking out the four Phillips screws on the bottom of the box. (That is also how you change the battery.) According to the manual, Color sets the tonal attitude of the pedal, ranging from Open Snappy to Round Vintage. The pedal also has an LED that shows when the circuit is engaged and a high-quality footswitch that provides true bypass when off.

Tone for Days

Plugging a guitar into the Tone Press made me an instant convert to its compression method. I was sold on this pedal from the moment I engaged its switch. The box quickly and obviously improved the tone of every guitar or bass signal I ran through it at varying degrees of compression. With the Blend knob fully down, the Tone Press served as a clean boost (about 8 dB) pedal, which allowed me to sweetly overdrive my pretty clean Fender Bassman 135 and Ampeg SVT. With the Blend knob fully up, the Sustain control was highly responsive, and produced useful results throughout its wide range. At the extreme, it was a little too compressed for my taste, but backing it down a bit made for delightfully punchy bass sounds with lots of sustain and shimmering yet thick guitar chords.

As good as the Tone Press sounded on its own, the real fun came when I interfaced it with other effects pedals. With a distortion or an overdrive effect, the pedal gave me a wide range of tonal variations, from subtle to drastic. Putting the compressor before the other pedals yielded the most interesting results, and the reverse worked well, too. As for the Color adjustment, it sounded best when fully open, which is its default setting. (Any control that's reachable only by first removing four screws is best left alone anyway.)

I like testing stompboxes in the studio as inserts on drums and vocals and in other nontraditional applications. The Tone Press shone when processing a drum-room mic and taming a shouted vocal track. In both cases, the pedal sounded best with the Sustain knob cranked and the Blend knob favoring the dry signal, similar to the technique of heavily compressing one signal from a multed track and blending the result in softly with a dry version.

Stop the Presses

My overall impression of the Tone Press is very favorable, from its indestructible build quality to the sweet sounds it gave to my various tones. I highly recommend this pedal to anyone curious about guitar or bass compression. Those of you who are unsatisfied with your present compression pedal owe yourselves a listen to this one. At an unbelievably low $139.95 list price, what have you got to lose besides lousy compression artifacts?

Value (1 through 5): 5
Barber Electronics