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DryBell Module 4

Croatia‑based manufacturer DryBell’s Module 4 design aims to recreate the famous Orange Squeezer compressor.

DryBell Module 4 effects pedal.Anyone familiar with the early history of guitar effects will almost certainly be well acquainted with Dan Armstrong’s innovative designs from the early 1970s. This was a time before the establishment of the now common format of a floor‑mounted box with controls and a footswitch, and the Dan Armstrong effects featured an integral jack plug, designed to be connected directly to your guitar, with a jack socket then serving as the output to the amp or an inline connection to another box in the series. There was an on/off switch for each effect but often nothing else. Dan was a very clever guy, but it has to be said that the physical format of these boxes was not among his best ideas: the integral jack plug meant that they couldn’t be connected to anything with an even slightly recessed jack socket. So, no good with a Strat or a Tele, and when connected to the bottom‑mounted jack of a Les Paul, gravity wouldn’t exactly be on your side.

Despite the inherent limitations that undoubtedly limited the commercial success of the product range, one of these boxes, the Orange Squeezer compressor, would go on to achieve cult status for what it could do, rather than what it couldn’t. Orange Squeezers became a secret weapon of the 1970s LA session scene, where, coincidentally, most of the big names such as Lee Ritenour and Jay Graydon et al were using Gibson 335s — one of the few designs with a conveniently located, surface‑mounted jack output. The Orange Squeezer circuit is a long way from transparent, and given that all the parameters (threshold, attack and release) are fixed it’s remarkable that it was able to play a central role in tones as far apart as Jay Graydon’s searing solo on Steely Dan’s ‘Peg’, Ry Cooder’s slide tone, and Jeff Baxter’s distinctive, jazz‑tinged, clean DI sound on the Michael McDonald‑era Doobie Brothers albums.

The reputation of the Orange Squeezer never quite went away, despite some lower‑quality manufacturing attempts to maintain an association with the original, but recent years have seen a number of very accurate circuit recreations housed in conventional floor boxes. Many of these, especially the Analog Man designs, reproduce the original circuit characteristics and sound very accurately, and those are now joined by Croatia‑based manufacturer DryBell’s Module 4 design.

Most Accurate Recreation

The Module 4 offers not only, to my ears, the most accurate recreation of everything that the Orange Squeezer had to offer, but also the ability to further tweak and optimise that performance through access to a number of additional parameters. If you want the original sound, you just line up five of the six controls with their top‑panel markings, and activate the ‘Orange’ switch. The preamp control’s marked position gives you the original input sensitivity: fine for single coils, but somewhat susceptible to being overdriven by high‑output humbuckers. No problem here though: just tweak the preamp gain up or down to match whatever you’re putting into it, whilst keeping all the other characteristics the same. There’s a dry‑blend control, too, that allows you to create some really nice long sustain effects whilst keeping the attack of the original signal, without having to touch the attack characteristic of the compressed contribution. Orange Squeezers were not really known for their subtlety, but the blend facility makes a world of new, more nuanced compressed sounds available, even before you start thinking about touching the attack, release or tone controls.

I mentioned the Orange switch earlier. When activated, this replicates an unusual aspect of the OS circuit, exhibiting an input impedance that is not only quite low by modern standards, but also varying with input level. This is actually an essential component of the original Orange Squeezer sound, not just darkening the tone overall, but giving the player a subtle, touch‑dependent tone parameter, too. You can switch it out to achieve a conventional, more open‑sounding compressed sound, making the unit much more than an Orange Squeezer clone. You can also choose to retain the quirky response of Orange mode even in buffered bypass, if you want — I can’t quite think why you would, other than perhaps to maintain more tonal consistency in the whole chain, whether the compressor is in or out.

I can’t think of another OS clone through which I might choose to track a bass part, but I can confirm that it works beautifully with Module 4.

There are several ‘hidden’ parameters, too, activated by multiple presses of either the Orange switch or the footswitch: audio‑path low cut on/off, buffered or true bypass, integral expander on/off, as well as slow/fast response. These are all confirmed by the colour and flash count of the footswitch LED, with the latter also serving as an effective gain‑reduction meter. If that sounds like a lot to set up, you can store your favourite parameter set as the power‑on status. The flexibility here really is one of the greatest assets of the design. I can’t think of another OS clone through which I might choose to track a bass part, but I can confirm that it works beautifully with Module 4 in non‑Orange mode with no low cut activated. If you want the full, authentic Orange Squeezer effect, with a bit of thump and occasional over‑squash evident on cleaner sounds, you’ll need to leave low cut deactivated on guitar signals, but unless that is specifically what you are seeking, it will often just sound better with low cut switched in, especially with a dry blend.

The robust, slightly stepped aluminium housing features pedalboard‑friendly top‑mounted jacks, where you’ll also find the external DC power input (there’s no battery option). A range from 9 to 18 V can be used, and the internal performance of the Module 4 remains the same regardless of DC input. Unlike many pedal compressors, the circuitry exhibits very low self‑noise and should always be the first thing in the signal chain as it really does need a direct connection from the guitar to work at its best. Other than for test purposes, I felt no need to employ the expander circuitry at all, noise just wasn’t an issue, but it is good to know that it’s there to deal with a more hostile electronic environment, if necessary.

I’ve owned and used a lot of compressor pedals over the years, starting with, of course, an original Orange Squeezer and then an early MXR Dynacomp, through to some of today’s sophisticated, parallel‑path, optical designs, but DryBell’s Module 4 just feels like home. It’s what I have always wanted a compressor to be and seems to have the vocabulary of compressed guitar sounds as I want to hear them. From the same box, however, I can get most of the sounds I look for in many of my other compressor pedals, too. Strong character and great versatility are not often to be found in the same product, in my experience.

The guitar effects market is a highly competitive one, flooded with both big‑name volume manufacturers and smaller boutique makers, but there is always a place for innovation and quality. The meticulous attention to detail and real‑world usability across DryBell’s relatively small but growing range of designs marks them out as a rising star in this market sector, in my view. I look forward to seeing what they do next, but this one is a keeper, for sure.


£260 including VAT.