Mostly known for their pickups, Seymour Duncan recently released a new line of guitar pedals, including the amazing Vapor Trail Analog Delay, the Tube Screamer-inspired 805 Overdrive, and a revamp of their famous Pickup Booster. I’m glad to see the Santa Barbara based company getting more active in the pedal game again, as they have consistently been manufacturing great pickups for very honest prices for over 3 decades. They’re somewhere in between a big company and a boutique operation, considering they have around 120 employees, and they have been around far too long to benefit from the hype that new companies generally get, so their pedals have perhaps been flying under the radar of many gear-heads. However, their new compressor, the Vise Grip, at first glance seems quite promising, and could be a serious competitor to some of the more expensive compressor pedals out there.
- Controls for Volume, Blend, Attack, Sustain
- Compression Ratio: Soft-knee, adjustable from 1:1 to > 20:1
- Maximum Compressor Gain: +50dB
- Attack Speed: Adjustable from 2.0ms to 50ms
- 3 Way toggle switch for selecting dry signal frequency range (mid/full/high)
- DC input (9-18v) and dedicated battery compartment with ‘easy access door’
- True Bypass
The build quality is straight forward and solid, on the inside there are three separate circuit boards connected via molex connectors, one for the foot-switch, one for the connectors and another for the pots and toggle switch. It’s clearly not hand built, but I’m a fan of the efficient layout and design. The enclosure, like the rest of their pedal range, is built especially for them, as it’s a little quirky. It’s slightly bigger than usual, it seems like the top side (where the jacks are located) is removable, which I assume makes the pedal easier to assemble, and of course there is that battery compartment with the ‘easy access’ door, which allows for battery changes without removing the backplate.
The glossy finish, a classy dark blue, is maybe somewhat prone to scratching, but mine still shines nicely after a couple of gigs.
Also, considering compressors sometimes aren’t the most straight forward effects to use, compression novices will appreciate the informative user’s guide, which had some very useable suggested settings.
Sound & Performance
A compressor when used in the conventional way isn’t really so much an ‘effect’, but rather a way of ‘polishing’ your dynamics and sometimes tone, making them more manageable and pro sounding while preserving the character of your guitar, and any time you clearly detect the signal being compressed you are probably using too much.
Most of the time I started off with one of the suggested settings, slowly tweaking as I went along, and as recommended in the user’s guide, I generally used it as the first pedal in my chain (unless there was a vintage style fuzz or envelope pedal involved). I also unfortunately did not have to the opportunity to try it in the effects loop of an amp, which is another useful placement, and this might be where the 18v operation can come in handy. Effects loop signals can be hotter than normal, so the Vise Grip might benefit from the added headroom here since I did notice some clipping when feeding it a heavily boosted signal.
The first thing I noticed when playing around with it was that I was able to dial in just the right amount of compression with the extremely useable ‘Blend’ control. This allowed me to keep the guitar sounding natural by blending in the unaffected ‘dry’ signal, a studio technique otherwise known as ‘parallel compression’. Important to note is that this control works somewhat counterintuitively from most compression pedals. When turned all the way down only the compressed signal is heard; when at maximum only the dry signal is.
The ‘Attack’ control adjusts how quickly the compressor reacts to the notes and allowed me to keep my picking dynamics intact, or get rid of them altogether for a more consistent volume level. At extreme settings, with the sustain on high and the attack low, the Vise Grip can create a heavy ‘pump/suck’ sound, which is way over the top for a lot of playing styles but certainly does have its uses, mainly when doing more ambient/swell type stuff where the attack is removed altogether. The Vise Grip did a great job in this regard, especially in combination with some delay and light modulation.
When using the compressor as an ‘always on’ effect I also generally set the level control to boost the signal, which also seemed to somewhat even out the overdrives further down the signal chain. When dialing in a more distorted sound (using either pedals or amp drive) for lead stuff, setting the Sustain to maximum would let notes go on for as long as desired while enhancing feedback and harmonics. It’s worth noting that placing a compressor before or after any drive effects will yield different results, especially when using it as a volume boost, and some experimenting is definitely advised.
One of the biggest issues regarding compressors is their ‘transparency’, or how much they color your tone, since in a perfect world only the dynamics would be affected, and not the harmonic content, but the Vise Grip performs surprisingly well in this department which is no doubt due to it being of the studio-grade VCA variety as opposed to the OTA type (à la Ross, Dyna Comp, etc).
If you are looking for some tonal changes however, using the toggle switch to compress only a certain frequency range can have quite an interesting effect. Although I generally preferred it set to ‘Full’ (i.e. neutral), the switch is capable of changing the character of your sound quite a bit, focussing on the top end or mids while leaving your bass notes intact. Keep in mind that this switch does not have any affect if no dry signal is blended in as it only affects the uncompressed signal. It’s clearly voiced for guitar, especially considering Seymour Duncan also released a dedicated bass compressor which I suspect is a tweaked version of the same circuit. And understandably, on the ‘Studio Bass’ compressor, as they named it, the ‘High’ setting has been replaced by a ‘Low’ toggle setting.
Like all compressors, depending on how it’s set, it also tends to bring out the noise in your signal, and although I didn’t feel like it adds much noise by itself, with single coils and some overdrive this can be a reason to not crank the sustain too far. And while there are much fancier and more flexible studio-grade compressors out there, those pedals are often at least double the price and footprint and are probably overkill for most pedalboards.
Having gigged with it for a while, I really like the solid overall feel of the Vise Grip. The fact that it’s quite chunky allows for clear labeling and plenty of space between the knobs, making adjustments in a live situation a breeze. The only thing I’m somewhat skeptical about is the ‘easy access’ battery door; being plastic, I’m not sure how it will hold up over time with regular battery changes. On the other hand, I’m often times somewhat worried about batteries being able to move around freely in the same space as the circuit board and wiring, so having a separate compartment definitely solves that.
The Seymour Duncan Vise Grip offers good value, great sounds, and plenty of flexibility for a straight forward guitar compressor without unnecessary frills. Stylistically, it’s quite versatile as well, thanks to its controls and Mid/High/Full tone switch, and I could see it working well in a variety of different genres. It might not qualify as ’boutique’ and definitely has more of a mass produced feel to it, but Seymour Duncan certainly had their priorities straight when designing this workhorse compression pedal. While some guitarists may never need a compressor, I do think the Vise Grip would be a great buy for the type of guitarist who is going for a slightly more elaborate setup than the basic drive/modulation/delay pedalboard. I have to say I’m enthusiastic about Seymour Duncan’s complete pedal line-up, and the Vise Grip is no different. I’m definitely a fan.
That concludes our Seymour Duncan Vise Grip Compressor review. Thanks for reading.
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