Barber pedals get high-end tone freaks excited but theyre affordable, too. Review by Huw Price
First, let’s just list the specs. This Barber effects pedal contains precision-matched components to ensure symmetrical clipping and reduced intermodulation distortion; it has true bypass switching with a nice, bright LED indicator; it’s wired with solid 20 gauge copper hookup wire, has full-size potentiometers, sturdy cast aluminium enclosures, military-spec double-sided PC boards with plate-through holes and posh parts such as carbon resistors and metalised polyester/silver mica caps. It all sounds pretty impressive, and each Barber pedal is handmade in the US.
LTD SR boost
There is a school of thought that using overdrive pedals is somehow cheating. I don’t subscribe to that, although few would deny that a great guitar plugged straight into a juicy valve amp via a simple 10-foot cable is hard to beat.
But in the real world where volume restrictions, convenience and tonal variety are factors we have to consider, a overdrive pedal can make life a lot easier.
Barber recognised that not every player wants high-gain overdrive – sometimes they need to add just a hint of hair to a basically clean tone. The concept behind the original Barber LTD was to provide an overdrive that has been designed from the ground up for mild break-up.
This LTD SR version came about when one of Barber‘s beta testers requested a clone of his early LTD prototype. When Barber examined his pedal, they noticed that it had a particularly distinctive ‘uncoloured’ tone, so the Barber custom shop decided to make the SR version for players who want a sound that’s extremely faithful to the way their guitar and amplifier sound without anything in the way.
However, that’s not all. If you shift the LTD SR‘s Tone control off dead centre, you’ll find it’s even more powerful than the regular LTD‘s. As you turn up it adds treble, while cutting bass; turn it the other way, and it does the opposite. There are also two internal trim pots to adjust the bass and presence response.
Outside the diecast aluminium box, the Volume and Drive controls interact to create a range of tones. Back inside, the LTD SR has a special ‘recovery’ circuit for the frequencies that are lost in the overdrive stage which works like the RIAA curve of an old vinyl preamp.
After a bit of fine-tuning via the internal trim pots, the LTD SR lives up to its billing by producing a unity gain sound indistinguishable from the bypassed tone. I got there with Volume set dead centre and the Drive control rolled back to nine o’clock, so there’s plenty of extra clean boost if you need it. I did back off the tone control slightly, but only to match the bypassed sound. In reality the treble cut was probably just mimicking treble loss through cable capacitance.
There’s plenty of chewy gain in there too, but even at maximum it’s still very much an overdrive rather than a distorted sound. The Drive control, like the Tone and Volume controls, has a gradual response that allows you to fine tune your tone. Low-gain players will also enjoy having an overdrive pedal that lets them explore all the possibilities rather than being restricted to a small section of the gain structure.
The treble is very sweet and clear; in fact I couldn’t coax a harsh sound out of this pedal. As I pushed up the gain I did notice a degree of compression coming in, but that stops things getting spiky which is often beneficial with overdriven sounds and helps the sustain for soloing. On balance I found the LTD SR better suited to single coils than PAF-style humbuckers, where I did detect a slight loss of definition across the low strings.
The LTD SR does exactly what it's supposed to do, and it's up there with the best of the clean boost/low gain overdrive pedals. The factor that might swing players in its favour would certainly be the scope of the EQ controls. On the other hand, some might be less keen on its compressed feel at higher gain settings. Overall, though, Barber pedals are fantastically well constructed with chassis-mounted pots and jacks plus high quality components - and we were just as impressed with the sounds.