Meet Dave Barnett a local legend…..
When I moved to the South Coast it wasn’t long before I heard talk of Dave, his reputation precedes him locally. If you need something fixing, something no one else know’s how to mend?… Call Dave, or if you have a dusty old piece of kit you want racked? Go see Dave..
Everyone from renowned record producers to local schools and church halls bring their vast array of broken gear to Dave..
This is also how I met him, I was passed his number by a friend, I called him and reluctantly he agreed to let me come by his workshop with my rack of SSL compressors that had an intermittent crackle on one channel, next was a Tesla Channel Strip I had that he built a PSU for and racked, then he built me a custom built PSU for another box full of Calrec modules I was putting together which without Mr Barnett and his kind and patient assistance would never have happened.. I use them lovingly everyday and am forever grateful..
So I have taken to staying in touch with Dave and seeing how things are going with him and his real passion, building handmade British Valve Guitar Amps with his partner Clive Davies under the moniker Barnett Davies, their Fifteen-Thrty Valve Combo Amp is very highly acclaimed and is a thing of beauty, it is a totally high end boutique product, all classic British hand Built legendary valve goodness, do a google search and if you are serious about your guitar sound you really do need one!
It was a summers afternoon on one of my visits to his workshop one day that I really got talking to a man who’s talents are thoroughly wasted on repairs!
His personal quest into audio sonics began many moons ago as a youngster building hi-fi amplifier kits and attempting ambitious projects such as converting his fathers radiogram into an electric guitar amp… My observation is that Dave has made this his lifes work, a kind of obsession, a passion… I have it on authority that even kicking back in the tropical sun on a beach in the Caribbean he will still be found with a pencil and paper working out new and interesting circuits he dreams of trying someday to investigate their sonic potential… True dedication.
One such idea is the Barnet Davies Valve Mic Pre Amp. Based on an intriguing vintage valve driven mic amp circuit by RCA, apparently at some point a while back he fixed and racked a couple of these mic pre’s for a client and during testing he was so impressed with their performance he was inspired to recreate the circuit and then go on to update it and even hopefully improve upon it…
He shows me his hand drawn circuit diagram, I can’t claim to understand much of what I see before me on paper, but my interest is peaked when he produces the circuit board hand built from amongst the multitude of parts, tools and critically ill pieces of gear in the middle of open heart surgery…
He explains the background to me and rattles of names of valves I vaguely recognise and specs I don’t fully understand but by the time he’s through I’m totally enthralled and I just want to hear this thing in action!
We part company on the premise that when it’s built he’ll let me know and I can ‘have a play’ with it and offer my humble opinion.. Which I gratefully agree to do… I drive of into the sun feeling the valve warmth to come..
Over the coming weeks periodically I check in and on the occasions when I actually bypass the ‘I’m Now Retired’ answer phone message and get through to the man himself I’m assured that when he’s got something clever to say.. he’ll call me..
Months pass…. In fact we reach Christmas, then New years…
Suddenly.. Out of the blue on January 5th I get a missed call from him, I call back and am unexpectedly told.. ‘It’s Ready!’
I go over the next afternoon and after being talked through the features onboard the box before me and after multiple disclaimers about the one off temporary nature of the presentation and case, how the actual product will look different when it eventually see’s release both inside and outside… I get to take home a two unit rack with two channels of hand built Barnett-Davies valve mic pre amp goodness to try out for myself..
One side using the original valve spec from the vintage RCA design and one side uses the updated configuration and i’m getting to try them both and compare!!!
I get home, plug it up, drink coffee and before long I have tried them both, I find I like the Barnett-Davies tone more, it’s close but it’s somehow fuller sounding, no i’m not a stooge just saying that, it makes me happy that it worked out that way but I wouldn’t let the fact I like Dave a lot sway me..
The sound is clear and lush, detailed and yet full, has a subtle character until pushed but can then break up a bit in a really nice way when driven a bit more.. Every nuance is audible, I’m only using pretty low grade mic’s such as an AT3033, AT4040, Shure SM7b and SM58
I also personally like the homemade look of this temporary unit, I try it on vocals, acoustic guitar.. Next is melodica.. All sound really good… It looks so cool in my rack..
I start feeling pangs of sadness knowing it’s not really mine to keep, knowing i’ll have to give it back is already hurting..
I begin plotting the sale of two of my existing pre amps on Ebay so as to justify offering Dave the proceeds to allow me to keep this unit..
I’m in love with it, knowing I won’t need another valve mic pre ever if I have this..
I’m avoiding calling him to tell him how much I am enjoying it because I know it’ll be a heartbreaking conversation or an expensive one.. I think the retail cost of this might work out at £300 per channel and he’s planning single channel half rack units..
But i’ll tell you what… when these are ready to buy…. You better get in there and grab one quick… It takes a while for him to get around to putting them together amidst the piles of repairs and back orders of their legendary Fifteen-Thirty guitar amp..
Like I said, this man is wasted on repairs, just like this mic pre he is a true individual and has tons of character..
Eventually he rings me to see if I’m still alive or if no news is bad news…
The only bad news is gonna parting with this baby… I’m trying to convince him to build another that I can buy in the time it takes me to come to terms with returning the prototype..
I hope he calls it the Barnet-Davies Mic Pre-Wrequisite 23-7
It’s sound is a thing of beauty and rare clarity…
Check the Barnett Davies Site at: http://www.barnettdavies.com/