Drybell Module 4

The Drybell Module 4 is a two-mode compressor pedal by a Croatian company that, after perfecting one of the best Uni-Vibe replicas on the market has shifted its focus to tone-shaping tools inspired by legendary vintage units.

In this case, the source of inspiration is the Dan Armstrong’s Orange Squeezer, a little box from the ’70s with a unique compression character that changed not only the dynamics of the signal but also its color, applying a pleasant shift in the mid and top-end frequencies that’s more pronounced on heavier struck notes.

In other words, the compressor also acts as a (subtle) envelope-triggered EQ.

This Orange mode is warm and vintage-sounding, but when you need a more precise and transparent compressor, you can simply turn the Orange Squeezer mode off by pressing the small black push Mode button on the right of the pedal. This will turn on the Full Frequency mode which transforms the pedal into a full-range compressor with a more modern, brighter, and clearer tone.

The Drybell Module 4 recreates this effect by adding a lot more control, not to mention modern upgrades to the circuit, which boasts lower noise, expanded headroom and sound resolution.

While the original unit had no controls whatsoever (only an on/off switch) the Module 4 provides six knobs including Tone, Preamp, Attack and Release, but also a useful Blend control that allows reintegrating the dry signal for subtler parallel compression.

The Preamp attenuation/gain control (placed after the Front-end circuit) is particularly useful to allow compatibility with any kind of pickups, single coils or humbuckers so that the signal can hit the compression stage at the right volume. The Output knob is essentially a clean boost that can help you push your amp into saturation.

There’s a lot this pedal can do, have a listen to it in the videos below.

Drybell Module 4, Builder’s Notes

Module 4 – Orange flavored compression

The Module 4 is our highly versatile take on a classic vintage compressor – Dan Armstrong’s Orange Squeezer from the ‘70s. Some people may know this, but two interesting facts contribute to the unique tone, player’s feel and iconic character of this type of compressor. Direct cable connection between the electric guitar (pickup) and the Orange Squeezer’s (OS) front-end circuit results in a specific EQ change – a shift in the mid and top end frequencies. This provides a pleasant vintage tonal character, similar to low impedance inputs on some other types of gear. On top of that, the frequency shifting is controlled by the player’s pick attack; you can feel this warm dynamic tone response while playing. In other words, the OS unit acts as a kind of envelope followed EQ. This combination of unique signal EQ ‘treatment’ followed by a precisely biased vintage JFET compressor is the key to this historic tone and feel. This is the reason why guitarists love this unit and why it’s used on so many great records in rock and roll history. The Module 4 has the same spirit in its analog core. But, it’s equipped with several useful, colorful and practical options, all packed into our new enclosure line.

A little bit about the Orange Squeezer’s history

Back in the 1970’s, an American guitarist, luthier, and session musician Dan Armstrong developed a whole series of small, box-shaped guitar effects. The original units are collectible, hard to find and therefore pretty expensive. They were designed with a plug which was meant to be inserted directly into your guitar. One of them is called the Orange Squeezer, a cult vintage compressor and one of the most popular units in the lineup. In the vast sea of compressors, the Orange Squeezer has its own special place in the hearts of many musicians. It became legendary for its unique colorful compression which can be heard on countless recordings throughout the decades, most notably by Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits, Jeff “Skunk” Baxter of Steely Dan fame and Ry Cooder.

On the surface, the original Squeezer design is very simple, but its impact on the guitar’s tone is far from it, especially with passive guitar pickups connected directly to the circuit. Depending on the signal level of the pickups being used, it brings you a wide range of compression, from subtle to extremely squishy while adding sustain and quite a bit of grit to your tone. The OS attack & release settings were fixed internally. One great feature of the OS is its ability of stacking with different drive pedals. If used in moderate drive settings, the long sustain and multiple harmonics would evolve into note bloom resulting in beautiful feedback.

The original OS circuit varies in terms of sound from unit to unit and could be quite noisy at certain bias settings. When bypassed, the unit still changed some tonal characteristics and the (make-up) volume varied, all depending on the unit’s temperature, how it was adjusted internally and the pickups used. The usage of those little boxes was also limited, for example, they couldn’t be used with a Stratocaster because of the recessed output jack, unless modded. Also, later reissues weren’t very close to the original in terms of build and tone. But in essence, the Orange Squeezer’s tonal uniqueness in terms of pick-attack controlled EQ combined with a spongy organic compression, most noticeable with the single coils, is the key reason for the iconic status gained among many artists throughout guitar history.

We’re excited to present the Module 4!

Team behind the Module 4 development

As with all previous DryBell designs, we wanted to bring something special and inspirational to your gear arsenal. The R&D team behind our pedal ideas has three members now: Zvonch, Kruno and Kiki (our new engineer). Kruno is an award winning professional guitarist with many years of live and studio playing time. Zvonch (DryBell owner) and Kiki are two expert electronics engineers with huge audio and industrial electronics design experience and both are also guitarists. So, we continue combining the best of those worlds to bring you something very special.

The Module 4 analog compressor is engineered with the highest precision to achieve versatility, low noise, expanded headroom and sound resolution, while keeping Armstrong’s magic inside the pedal. You get that classic tone but you can tweak it to the finest detail. All of the Module 4 circuitry is completely original and unique in its design.

The Module 4 can be transformed to a standard Full Frequency range compressor by switching the Orange button off. Basically, you have two flavors available and they are easily distinguishable. ORANGE mode is warm, vintage sounding while Full Frequency range mode has a more modern, brighter, clearer tone. In either mode, you can easily avoid ‘pumping’ or unwanted transients with the external ATTACK & RELEASE controls, even on high compression. One of the greatest features of the ORANGE mode is the playful interaction with the guitar’s pickups which makes playing feel really pleasant. In order to experience that feeling, you’ll need to use it first in the chain and avoid any kind of buffers in front of it. Think of it as a great vintage Fuzz, if you use it right, it will sound right!

One essential improvement from the original design is an added PREAMP attenuation/gain control. This ensures that you can use various low or high output pickups, single coils or humbuckers. For example, in order to achieve a longer sustain, it was sometimes necessary to boost the guitar signal going into a compressor. In that case, the magical impedance interaction between the guitar’s pickups and the Front-end circuit was gone. That’s why in our Module 4 the PREAMP stage is placed after the Front-end circuit, so you can easily adjust compression level to your needs, while keeping the original ‘Orange’ feel unaffected.

We have also included a very useful BLEND control; it sets the mix of dry/compressed signals. You can balance the tone with this smooth parallel compression circuit, while retaining pick attack dynamics. OUTPUT control (make-up gain) is a high headroom clean boost, useful for pushing your amp harder and adding even more sustain to your tone.

Do you want a more rounded, darker tone or high-end sparkle harmonics? The TONE control is tweaked just to the right frequencies, for a wide spectrum of usage on any guitar or any amp. Also, we have added the LOW END cut option which allows you to remove certain low-end frequencies.

If you look at the silkscreen on the pedal’s front panel, you will find dot marks around the knobs. Well, when the control knobs are set to those dot marks and the ORANGE button is ON, Module 4 faithfully provides all the tonal flavors of the original! Also, those dots are a great starting point to explore the Module 4’s various possibilities.

To make it even more versatile, we have included the powerful EXPANDER so you can easily remove any trace of noise and hum from your tone. You’ll be surprised how quiet the noise level becomes! The expander’s fade operation will automatically attenuate incoming background noise when you mute strings or vice versa.

Even with the added TONE control, the noise floor of the Module 4 is more than 10dB lower than the original. Even without the Expander enabled! This is one of the quietest takes on this classic vintage compressor.

The included 3-color compression level meter gives you a nice visual representation of gain reduction. When a signal appears, it lights up green, then fades-to-orange for moderate compression, and the color changes to red with hotter signals showing that you are getting the strongest compression.

That is not the end of the Module 4’s usability list. We have added two bypass options to the pedal. You can choose between true and buffered bypass modes with a simple push of the switch. The pedal comes in classic buffered, smooth and ultra-silent bypass by default. Switch to true bypass operation if you use another pedal that has to be connected directly to the guitar (like fuzz). For example, if your Module 4 is in true bypass mode, it can still be physically located first in the chain and it won’t interfere with your fuzz pedal.

One additional feature of the buffered bypass mode is that the ORANGE button can also work when the pedal is turned off. In this case, the buffered bypass reacts like the Orange Squeezer’s Front-end, keeping the bypass EQ very similar to the EQ when the pedal is active (you can read more about this in our technical article). You will find it helpful for resolving certain pedalboard buffer EQ issues, when using various pedals in the chain. It’s a pretty cool feature, give it a go! ?

And to push things even further, for the first time in DryBell history, we’re using our custom-made aluminum enclosure and our own specially designed silent switching system.

Compressor is one of those effects that once you try it, you’ll question how you ever lived without it. It can do so many great things, making the soft parts louder and the loud parts softer while adding sustain or changing your EQ, making it ideal for funk, country chicken-pickin’ tones and many other different styles. And it’s not designed for guitar only, it will sound great on bass, keyboards and vocals. We have tested it in many applications with great success.

Whether you choose to use it as a subtle always-on tone enhancer, dynamic changer or as a very powerful booster, the compressor is a must-have pedal in any gear arsenal and the Module 4 will help you experience the best of its kind.

We are always doing our absolute best to design good sounding, road tested and user friendly pedals, with really useful features.

The best thing about this job is having the opportunity to provide you with pedals of both musical and practical value. We are very proud of our entire Team, who are always making things the best they can and the best way they know, evolving with every new product.

With all that being said, it has been a challenging but fun almost two year journey for us and now it’s up to you to try the Module 4 for yourself. A burst of inspiration is guaranteed! ?