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September 2014
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MXR Custom Shop '76 Vintage Dyna Comp Review

MXR '76 Vintage Dyna Comp
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Recorded with a 2008 Fender Strat in various positions through a Carol-Ann OD2r head into a Mojave 2x12 cab with 1963 Celestion Alnico Blues
For over thirty years, the MXR Dyna Comp has been a staple of many guitarists’ rigs and has rightly earned its reputation at the top of the heap of stompbox compressors. Musical styles ranging from chickin’ pickin’ country to rock to metal have all made use of the Dyna Comp, and we’ve heard that tone on thousands of recordings. Pete Townsend used one in his live rig in the eighties and nineties as a boost for solos, and studio guitarists have utilized it to stand out in the mix since its introduction. And you’d be hard pressed to find a Nashville session guitarist that doesn’t have one in his rig… or at least a boutique derivative. With the introduction of the MXR Custom Shop version, Dunlop has focused in on recreating an exacting replica of the 1976 script logo Dyna Comp.

According to MXR, the ’76 Vintage Dyna Comp features the exact same circuitry as the 1976 version—right down to the component layout, silkscreening and handmade wire harness. But where it really counts is in the original CA3080 “metal can” IC that apparently offers quieter operation, a more transparent sound and increased dynamic range than current issue ICs. Though these particular ICs have been out of production since the eighties, MXR has procured a batch of them and is producing this limited run of pedals. How many they will produce hasn’t been announced, to my knowledge.

So what exactly does it do? Is it a boost? Is it a signal clarifier? Is it a sustainer? In a word, yes. The Dyna Comp is a device that tightens up a guitar signal by making the quiet notes louder and the louder notes quieter. By shaving off the peak levels and bringing up the volume of quieter notes, you get a fuller sound that is richer in harmonics and stands out in a mix without necessarily being louder. Country guitarists get that clicky and percussive sound by cranking up the sensitivity level so the effect is engaged faster to “grab” the note. It also makes playing a lot easier because you don’t need to exert as much pressure to get notes to jump out… it does some of the work for you. It’s sort of a “more-me” pedal, and it’s highly addictive. And because of the design, it’s near impossible to wrangle a bad tone out of it.

I tested the Dyna Comp out through a variety of combo amps and guitars. With a Fender Strat, I was able to get fantastic sustain out of a stock clean sound on my Legend Rock ‘N’ Roll 50 combo. Chords rang out for days and had a rich texture that simply didn’t exist without the pedal. Cranking up the Output knob brought the overall volume up, as well as a bit more of the inherent grit the amp had hidden inside. It definitely thickened up the sound and gave it a rounder and smoother tone. One thing that I noticed right away was that although you could tell the notes were being clamped down on, I never lost the clarity of the attack. The notes were clear but bold, solid but not overly aggressive. Backing the Output down and pushing the Sensitivity level up brought out that familiar chickin’ pickin’ percussive tone with ease, and made my Strat cluck somewhat like a Tele. Switching over to a Les Paul and playing through the neck pickup, I could pull up thick, cello-like sustain with a bit more gain on the amp. Once again the Dyna Comp let all the good stuff through yet added more harmonic detail to the sound. It was really inspiring to hit a note and hear it go on and on and on. With the Sensitivity and Output controls maxed out, you could hear the “grab” of the attack being much more pronounced, creating an almost backward effect as the gain rushed to fill in the space after clamping down on the dynamics—a great sound even if just used for effect.

When accurately recreating vintage electronics something to keep in mind is that certain modern conveniences may not have existed when the original piece was made. In the case of the original Dyna Comp there were no status LED, AC adapter input or true bypass switching, and therefore the reissue pedal doesn’t include them. Most pedals of that era didn’t have those features either, and we got along just fine without them. What you get with the Custom Shop version is an accurate replica with all the tone and style of the original and that’s that.

The ’76 Vintage MXR Dyna Comp is a fine pedal that does a lot of heavy tone lifting with minimal effort and a reasonable price tag. It was addictive as all get-out to use, and will no doubt become another tool in my arsenal. And because there are limited quantities of the CA3080 IC, it would be a good idea to pick one up while you can. You won’t regret it.
Buy if...
You’re a vintage buff who loves classic MXR compression but can’t find an original and want a trouble-free modern equivalent.
Skip if...
You want modern conveniences like true bypass, LEDs and an AC adapter jack.
Rating...
4.0

Street $175 - MXR Custom Shop - jimdunlop.com