A germanium compressor/preamp—and a magical tone masseuse.
Describing the merits of germanium transistors can turn a casual gear nerd into a tongue-tied mess. Explaining compression’s advantages is an even faster way to transform a player into a mumbling, stumbling gob of goo. Which may make Wren and Cuff’s Germanium Gold Comp one of the most difficult-to-describe effects ever.
But no matter how you describe it, the Gold Comp a marvelous sounding thing—a sometime magical tone masseuse that lends body and control to distortion/fuzz tones and airy-sounding compression to clean ones. And it works better as a clean boost than most dedicated clean boosts.
Given Wren and Cuff’s fine reputation as a fuzz builder (their Big Muff clones kill) it’s no surprise that the Gold Comp circuit looks sort of fuzz-like. Two germanium transistors hover prominently over the circuit board. One is dedicated to the compression effect, while the other drives a post-comp amp that’s one of the keys to the pedal’s flexible and agreeable personality.
The Gold Comp is very quiet—except for the bypass switch, which sometimes pops during switching. (Wren and Cuff decided that the benefits of mechanical bypass were worth the occasional racket.) My low-volume sessions (where I’m very likely to use a compressor) suggest that this could be a distraction in quiet settings, but anyone using the pedal with a loud band is unlikely to notice.
Strong and Subtle Squeeze—Simultaneously
There’s nothing tricky about using the Gold Comp. Getting great sounds can be as easy as plugging in and setting the level. It does classic compressor chores with aplomb—it’s a clucking country picker’s dream. Individual notes acquire percussive heft and harmonic evenness amid fast-fingered fretboard dashes.
But exploring and appreciating the Gold Comp’s subtleties requires a little concentration. Like a germanium fuzz, the Gold Comp is extremely dynamic. It’s highly responsive to guitar volume changes, especially when the pedal’s volume, compression, and attack/release controls are set high. Adjusting your guitar’s volume at these settings can clean up your signal or add grit and gain. (There’s a lot of extra boost on tap.) You can also reshape the compression in cool ways, from soft contours to thick, near-claustrophobic squeeze. The Gold Comp responds to changing input levels with a nuanced, natural-sounding curve.
I tend to use compression with small tube amps (and cheap solid-state ones) to generate clean sustain at low volume. The Gold Comp is one the sweetest-toned paths to this sound I’ve ever worked with. Clean, Richard Thompson-like flurries of hammer-ons and bends were fluid, sonorous, and lyrical, making my Champ sound and feel more like an old tweed Deluxe. Snappy Nile Rodgers/Prince-style funk riffs were equally exquisite and sassy.
Tricks for Trips and Dirty Licks
As an avowed disciple of granny-shades-era Roger McGuinn, I love aggressive compression on 12-string electrics. To approximate his double-squashed, ultra-sustained ‘66 tones (and generate the volume and presence I need when performing with a live band), I typically use an old Boss CS-3. While the Gold Comp doesn’t quite deliver the Boss’s surreal super-squish, I got close by maxing the attack, release, and compression. While the Wren And Cuff lacks some of the odd studio artificiality I love for those Byrds licks, many will prefer the Gold Comp’s airy, open-ended chime. (Don’t even get me started on the glory of double-compressing with the CS-3 and the Gold Comp, which took my Rickenbacker and me to pseudo-raga heaven.)
McGuinn wasn’t the only killer “B” to use crushing compression to intoxicating ends. I lust equally for George and John’s swirling, vari-speeded Revolver-era sounds (“Rain, ””She Said, She Said”). The Wren and Cuff approximates those swooshing, Fairchild-crushed tones beautifully if you use modest release times, hot volume settings, and a touch of bright overdrive or low-gain germanium fuzz.
Wren and Cuff touts the Gold Comp’s ability to massage dirty sounds, and it’s no lie. I tried the comp after my original Rat 2—a potentially unruly pedal that generates killer grinding chords, but can be scathingly spiky in the high frequencies. With Wren and Cuff’s suggested post-dirt-box settings (plus a little extra volume bump) the Gold Comp smoothed the most ear-lacerating peaks without sacrificing harmonics or muscle. (Actually, I sensed even more muscle that before.) It’s a perfect setup for layering punky, hard rock rhythm tracks. In fact, it was difficult not to think about Butch Vig’s wall-of-sound rhythm production on Nirvana’s Nevermind and Sonic Youth’s Goo.
The same settings were equally magical on fuzzy leads. A MkIII Tonebender clone took on much of the brawny clout of a Big Muff without sacrificing its toothy presence. Placed after a less gainy Mk 1 Tonebender clone (with my guitar volume halfway down) the Gold Comp turned a thin, crispy, sub-fuzz tone into beautifully heavy and bass-rich crunch. I wouldn’t hesitate to use the setting for Neil Young or Dinosaur Jr.-flavored leads and arpeggios.
Wren and Cuff’s Gold Comp is a powerful little box. It’s a formidable preamp and clean boost. It feels and sounds exceptionally natural. Its compression curve is nuanced and classy. Whether you use the pedal in classic compression applications or to more in-your-face or psychedelic ends, it provides a wonderfully forgiving musicality. The Gold Comp may cost a few bucks more than most stompbox compressors, but you may find that you rarely, if ever, turn it off.
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