Bass players are increasingly discovering the joy of FX. But where can you find the best tone? Dan Veall checks-out two stomp boxes from one of America's most respected makers - Tech 21.
Tech 21 is a bit of a legend. Started by B. Andrew Barta, a gigging musician whose day job was repairing and customising amplifiers, the company first came to prominence with the fabulous SansAmp - a valve/tube amp emulator that was a revolutionary product when it was launched and which has gone on to spawn a whole range of exciting emulators and other products developed from Barta's basic principles, which seem to have been keep it analogue, keep it handmade, make tone the priority. So successful was the initial idea that the company has since expanded to offer a wide range of products, including FX pedals, two of which we've had the opportunity to interrogate down in the Bassment for this issue - the Bass Boost Chorus and Bass Boost Fuzz pedals.
Looking at them in the same order as the video review, we'll take the Chorus pedal first before moving on to the Bass Boost Fuzz pedal. But I couldn't resist opening up with an ad-libbed introduction featuring both pedals engaged!
The Bass Boost range of pedals all feature a clever addition that I really like. Very simply, the ability to preset a boost to the output level. In the case of the Chorus, you set the level for when the effect is engaged. The Bass Boost Fuzz pedal we are looking at includes a separate button that engages the volume 'boost', thus allowing not only a fuzz effect but also the ability to boost the level completely separately. I often have to decide where in my signal path I insert an additional effect (sometimes another physical pedal) to give me a volume boost. This may be for a solo section, or if I'm switching to a picking technique that will require more volume in an on-stage mix - tapping springs to mind, as this technique can be lost if it can't be heard.
So in addition to having a boost functionality, the Bass Boost Chorus is a superbly flexible effect. It uses both the 'speed and depth' controls that you'd find on many similar pedals for richness and speed of the chorusing effect but also included are both mix and tone knobs for additional tweaking of the wet/dry mix, in the case of the former, and boosting or cutting of top end sparkle via the latter. Think old school Jaco to a bit of Mark King!
I think these two controls are very important, especially as it is very easy to lose bass end definition by having too much modulation in the sound - of course that maybe exactly what you want, but I'd expect that pitching could become more difficult on, say, fretless bass if the chorusing is over-powering. It's nice to be able to find that sweet spot and with this pedal you certainly can!
Tech 21 isn't content with just making a good chorus pedal though. The company goes two steps further, it appears. Another method of getting a chorusing effect is by using pitch shifting technology. As a simplified description of how this works, the effect path takes your original pitched notes and (depending on position of the 'detune' knob) detunes the note sharp or flat. This signal is then added to back the original signal. The difference in frequencies causes a chorusing effect. This is really interesting as, on its own it doesn't have such a strong modulating sound independent of the note frequency, but a more interacting chorus sound. This 'detuning chorus' can be used on its own, or in conjunction with the speed and depth controls for a truly crazy, thick underwater tonal extravaganza!
The Bass Boost Chorus has yet another ace to deal, with the inclusion of the 'multi-voice' button. When engaged, an additional 'choral voice' is added to the effect output. Indeed, as I understand it, this extra richness, which is beautifully lush, can be further controlled with the detune knob whose action switches to more of a 'width' control, affecting the detuning of all of the voices in comparison to the original signal. This is achieved by spreading the voices apart, both up and down in pitch respectively.
What does it sound like? As we always say - check-out our video! In words, the best I can do is say the sounds available were simply wonderful.
Used in conjunction with the Bass Boost Fuzz, incidentally, harmonics rang out with clarity and a richness that urged to be played more and more!
OK, so on to the Tech 21 Bass Boost Fuzz.
Controls atop the pedal casing are simple and clear, without too much need for additional description, though calling this pedal simple is to do it an injustice. Underneath the bonnet is a carefully sculpted circuit design delivering those familiar tones from old '60s funk tracks to bang up to date rock/pop bass lines - just without the noise and fragility of those old boxes.
The level control is self-explanatory, along with the tone control. It's the use of the drive and +clean controls that define this pedal's character and flexibility. The +clean knob acts much like a 'mix' control and dials in your clean bass signal, thus refocussing your low end and supporting bass punch. In the review I found that I reached for both the clean and drive controls to set that 'sweet spot' interactively, so that they merged in to one huge bass sound - the drive control for setting the intensity of the distortion.
If you're a fan of fuzz, you'll really like this pedal, not just because of the angry fuzz available but because it also features the 'boost channel' too. The left hand footswitch, as mentioned earlier, engages that boost. How much is available? Like the Bass Boost Chorus, a massive 21db!! Not just brilliant for solos, but feeding this pedal into a distortion pedal, you could really create some sonic decimation!
Both of these handmade pedals are wonderfully finished in white powder-coat with an underwater themed paint job for the Chorus and a super cool blue graphic for the Fuzz. The cases are metal and house a 9v battery, or you can use an external 9v adaptor to power when on a pedal board etc.
Tech 21 has delivered a pair of great bass pedals here. They have clearly been designed with bass in mind (in other words, they're not guitar FX breathed-on to make then ' bass friendly'). This is top quality, professional class equipment, so not cheap - but they are of the best quality so make a point of checking them out. I predict you are going to be very impressed.