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Country Pickin' Hardware Review

Country Compressor Pedal Shootout
By: Jim Moulton, CSO Staff Journalist

Greetings Friends, well I guess you wonder where I disappeared to, but I have been up to something different. After almost seven years of doing CD reviews, I decided to review another type of musical product that involves country music, guitar pedals, specifically, compressor pedals. I have played guitar most of my life except for a couple of breaks, I am a bit limited now due to chronic pain, but that condition has become better of late so I have been playing more and playing with a worship team at my Church every other Monday night, playing country-style worship songs.

Let me tell you the ground rules of the Shootout, and how I have tested the pedals and with what. This kind of put me out on a limb, because it is the first time that I ever had to buy stuff to review stuff. I used my 20 year old Fisher Stereo that I review CDs with, plus the same Sennheiser HD485 headphones that I use for reviewing music. I used my Alvarez Dreadnought with a Fishman NeoD soundhole pickup ,so I could basically make it sound acoustic or electric. I picked up a small Kustom KGA10FX Amp thru Amazon, that has been great to check out the pedals in my apartment., sure couldn't use a big Fender amp, also, a Fishman Platinum EQ DI, which I have been playing thru at Church, I got one to use at home thru the Kustom to make it tonally a lot better, a great piece of equipment, I had been using a LR Baggs Para DI at church, but one broke and they picked up one of these, I just love the tones it adds. Finally, playing the pedals thru the great sound system we have at church, our auditorium seats 2000 folk, so we have a very hi end system, in fact, I heard that the same sound system company that did the Grand Old Opry did our Church.

So here is what I would do with each pedal, basically the Stereo headphones first, because it would give me a very defined mental picture of what the pedal was doing then the hifi speakers because it would give a different musical spectrum than the guitar amp which is made specifically to amp a guitar. Then, I would move on to the guitar amp and finally play the pedal live at Church. There are three pedals that I am going to get into, The HomeBrew Electronics Retro Compressor, The Keeley Two Knob Compressor and the Eden Analog Nashville Hot Boost. I want to thank Joel at HomeBrew, Nathan at Keeley Electronics and Robert at Eden Analog all for sending me these pedals to review. And also thanks to Theo Hartman of Hartman Electronics for being my electronic resource, thanks for answering my dumb questions. I also would like to give Donner Rusk credit for making me a compressor geek, by reading his twenty seven page treatise on compressors.

HomeBrew Electronics is a small Arizona based company dedicated to hi quality custom hand crafted guitar effects. They have a respectable catalog of about fourteen effects with the "Power Screamer Overdrive" being their flagship Product.

I checked out the CPR Compressor modeled after a vintage "Ross Comp" like the Keeley comp. It is more of an over-easy compressor than a hi squash unit like the Keeley. Quality wise, it does a good job. All HBE pedals are cased in a heavy metal powder coated box, (you can get the compressor in different colors), the standard color is a turquoise color white sparkle in it and an innocuous yellow LED. It comes with a true bypass foot switch, like all three pedals that I am reviewing here. This is very good to have in a chain of pedals, because this type of switch really turns the unit all of the way off, you would be surprised at the tone sucking that occurs with pedals that do not have true bypass and are partially on. In fact, most products, including televisions are not really all of the way off when you hit the switch.

Each pedal is made one at a time, and it is extremely neat inside. I like the battery clip on the lid, most boutique pedals do not have this, the battery just lays there in the empty space.

The CPR is extremely quiet, it is a compressor that you can put in the chain and leave on. You are not going to have enough compression to be imitating Brent Mason's chickin' pickin', with both knobs maxed out, It is still relatively quiet, but not giving a good squash like a hot comp. Mix this with an overdrive pedal and you will be able to pull up those country/rock sounds. All in all, a very good product, very hi quality, just not enough compression for me.

Now to the main attraction, The Keeley 2 knob Compressor, I had to check out this pedal right away when it came in, I hooked it up to my stereo, and was playing a Grateful Dead toned jam on it with it's super squash powers. The Keeley is a much smaller pedal, like a mxr size box. It is a beautiful powder coated metallic chrome with black knobs. What will tell you this is a popular compressor? Just look on the website and check out the users, that tells the story. The list starts with Dan Huff, Brent Mason, Brent Rowan, Sonny Landreth, Buddy Miller, and many more. Included in that list are some of the top Nashville sessions players right there.

This pedal is all about sound quality, period. All parts are new except the nos (new old stock) CA3080 chip which powers the pedal. Keeley's Catalog only has about five original pedals, the Compressor being his flagship pedal, which comes in two knob or four knob. The other 2 knobs on the four knob pedal can be adjusted inside the two knob Keeley comp. One is for attack, classic Keeley is attack on full, and the other adjustment is for a line in, so you can adjust for different inputs and instruments. Keeley does a ton of mods ,which is a smart idea, take a pedal with a good metal case , change out a diode and a couple of transistors, add a switch and you have a different sounding pedal.

Back to the comp, in a much smaller enclosure, he puts a lot more parts than the Homebrew. Both use the nos CA3080 chip (typical for Ross comps and the popular dynacomp). The MXR dynacomp came first, then the Ross was the first boutique of the dynacomp. There is another descendent of the dynacomp called the Saffron Squeeze, which is out of make now. Analog Mike Piera makes a pedal that emulates the Saffron Squeeze for those interested.

Keeley's sound clips are very accurate, not all pedal clips are, they have been doctored with other pedals and amps and you name it. I have used Keeley's comp in many situations and it always sounds great, very quiet noise floor, I was talking to two owners of local stores asking about OD pedals they had, told them what I was doing and they start telling me about their Keeley Comps.

The basic job of a compressor is to make the loud parts quieter and the quiet parts louder , giving you a more uniform signal and one that will stand out in a mix more without the need for more volume. Now, in country music, we like to turn them up so the sustain is high and you can get some neat percussive clicks and makes chickin' pickin' easier. If you don't know what that is, think of Vince Gill's solo on his older song "Liza Jane". Toy Caldwell was a great chickin' picker, he would even talk about it in his songs. There are various ways of doing this, most of it has to do with your fingering, but extra sustain and grit help.

Playing the Keeley at Church thru that system is a great experience, using the Fishman, EQ, DI, the Keeley makes my Dread sound like it cost a thousand dollars more, more than a compressor, I would put under the category of sound improvement also. So, my pick for the Shootout is obviously the Keeley , in it's category, it's the best.

The final pedal I would like to briefly mention is Eden Analog's Nashville Hot Boost, I'm giving it The Horizon award for new pedals for great country picking. This pedal blew me away, the clips blew me away first, the fellows at Eden Analog were happy to send me one to try out. And it greatly lived up to what I had heard, plug your guitar thru it, and it sounded like you were getting country tones , don't know how they did all of it, but figured out a little bit. I use a Hartman "Orange Squeezer" Compressor sometimes and it uses a 4558 opamp. This opamp is used in Overdrives too, So I asked them if there was a jrc4558 in the pedal and they did admit there was a form of a 4558 in the pedal, so that explains part of the puzzle. Using this with my country worship team at church was fun, it has a drive knob, level knob and a tone knob, I couldn't get a bad sound out of it. This is just a great hot boost, that does not fuzz out, just gives great tone.

So, that's all folk, back to the world of CDs, if you are a player, try these pedals out, they will help your craft.

Jim Moulton




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Click on the photos to view  larger versions.

Keeley Two Knob 


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HomeBrew Electronics 
ComPressor Retro (CPR)


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Eden Analog Nashville 
Hot Boost



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