The Fat General is built in Wiltshire, England and is based on the Dinosaural OTC-201 compressor. As such, The Fat General is quite transparent. It is also very quiet with little to no signal "pumping" action. Adrian Thorpe and Dinosaural OTC-201 creator Dan Coggins collaborated to build the Fat General.
There are four controls.
The Mode switch puts the Fat General in Blend mode or Juicy mode. Juicy mode puts the compressor in a state where 90% of the compressed signal is blended with 10% dry signal. Blend mode is a parallel type compression where the device mixes both the dry signal and compressed signal together on top of each other. I definitely preferred Blend mode. More on that later.
The Sustain knob controls the amount of compression with subtle compressed signal (fully CCW) to a more clamped fully compressed signal (fully CW). With the Mode switch set to Blend, I most liked the Sustain knob somewhere around 9:00 - 11:00 for somewhat subtle but clearly there compression. The kind of compression where you notice it when you turn the device off, but not so obvious that it sounds like an effect. In this setting you get nice smoothing out with some added fatness.
Here's where it gets real interesting. The knob marked Balance on the compressor itself (interestingly called "Blend" in the included manual) balances the output of the pedal OR the mix of dry and compressed signal depending on which mode you have set the Mode switch. In Juicy mode, the Balance knob acts essentially like a typical volume knob. In Blend mode, the Balance knob moves from 100% dry signal at fully CCW to a parallel mix of the compressed and dry signal as you turn more CW.
But here's the thing. In Blend mode, there really isn't a great way to dial in any makeup gain. In other words, I liked the tone/compression I dialed in with Blend mode and the Sustain knob at about 10:30. I wanted a balance of signal favoring dry to minimize the overall effect of the compression so I set the Balance knob to about 11:00 which one would assume is more balanced toward letting more of the dry signal through to the output. I loved what I heard, but I was barely at unity gain. As I turned the Balance knob more CW the overall perceived volume increased, but of course so did the compression effect as I was dialing in more wet (compressed) signal. As expected, the feel and tone changed as a result.
With the Mode switch set to Juicy, the Balance knob becomes an overall volume control but again, unity was not achieved till I had the dial set at 4:00 or higher. That might be fine if you have something after the compression to increase overall output but I definitely prefer having the ability at the compressor device itself to regulate the signal I am sending further down the chain.
I contacted Adrian Thorpy about this and received this reply.
So the ratios are a little bit shifted between the two modes. In Juicy mode it goes from 0-90 Wet with 10% dry remaining in the signal. In blend mode the ratio is 80/20 maximum. In blend mode the dry signal is fixed and added to the acw end of the level pot and the wet signal is at the other end but attenuated down so that it doesn’t ridiculously dominate the dry and a relative mix of the two can be had down here in the middle. Are you using an active bass with really high output pickups? if so, that’d be why as they will overshadow the available level through the circuit when bypassed. Short of a redesign (or a mod to the FG) there’s no easy answer other than to use it with a lower output/passive bass.
The interesting thing is, that with an electric guitar, the dry signal sits above the wet with ease and blended mode has more output than juicy on the whole.
Sure enough, I am using basses with preamps (9 volt and 18 volt). That said, the Fat General does react differently with a passive bass. It is downright awesome when it is being fed a lower output signal and the make up gain problem is not so much a problem anymore. Maybe a bass specific version will be released sometime. I did suggest to Adrian that would be a fantastic idea and that I would be in line to purchase.
The Treble dial allows you to add in some treble for a little more "sparkle" or to just help vitalize any high end loss that might occur during compression. I'm always skeptical of these types of controls and their usefulness with a bass guitar but on the Fat General, it really works. I found I liked the dial set around 1:00 which did introduce a little more "liveliness" in my sound. You will notice more noise added into the signal as you dial in the treble but that's probably to be expected. The dial is much more useful, and noticeable, than the Treble dial on the Wampler Ego.
There is a LED that illuminates an orangey yellow color when the pedal is activated. Power is supplied by 9 volt DC which is top mounted along with the input and output jack. The footswitch is true bypass. The enclosure itself is very high quality, rugged, and of good weight. The etched chrome has an upscale feel and the pedal itself is not much taller or wider than a standard MXR type pedal but it is quite a bit taller. The trade off is that you get shielding around the dials to help prevent accidentally knocking them. Quite nice in fact.
But you probably want to know, is the Thorpy The Fat General actually, well, "fat" sounding? Well yes, yes it is. But not so much more than the likes of other contenders like the Diamond or Milk Box or tube compressors like the Markbass Compressore or Effectrode PC-2A or Retrospec Squeezebox or even the Becos Stella. But it does deliver a nice full and rich effect that remains quite transparent overall. It has a real nice feel to it and is more of a set it and forget it always on type device. It's really fun to play through. I would not call it the most versatile of compressors and it is a bit "fussy" with the control configuration (especially with active basses).
Yet it is very appealing and I would be quite happy using it as an always on device. It is more smooth than the Markbass or Becos Stella. Compared to the Diamond, both add fatness but the Diamond does so in a more mids forward bump that you won't get out of The Fat General (which could be a good thing depending on what you are going for). You also get more useable compression with The Fat General. The Becos Stella and Effectrode compressors seem to have a bit more "bite" that the Thorpy doesn't. It's not that the Thorpy is wooly sounding, its very smooth. In Juicy mode, I felt I lost too much of my dynamics but I suspect some readers will really like the feel of The Fat General in Juicy mode. This is especially true if you seek a compressor to overall smooth out your tone. Compared to the likes of the Keeley Bassist or Empress compressors The Fat General will feel darker in flavor which again might not be a bad thing depending on what you are looking for.
To my ear there was no loss of low end. At higher compression settings I do think the highs are attenuated but the Treble knob is there to dial it back in. My 5 string basses played nicely and I didn't feel like the lows were getting unevenly compressed (or squashed). Nice!
So there you have it. Fun device. A little quirky, but sometimes that's just the ticket.
Retail price: $267.66