The average decent-size pedalboard combines must-have effects with a handful of unique flavors. In the must-have category are the overdrive/distortion/fuzz effects, envelope filters, and octavers. A tinge of overdrive adds furry presence to a line; a squelchy envelope filter can up the funk factor; and an octave-down effect can thicken high-register lines or emulate the sound of an analog synth. These three effects used together can yield a wide variety of exotic and compelling textures. With the Factotum, New Zealand’s Red Witch has successfully realized one of the most obvious marriages in a stompbox, combining overdrive and octave in a pedal with a medium-size footprint. Combined with the filter of your choice, it kills three birds with two stones.
The Factotum is a purpose-built bass pedal, meaning it’s voiced to retain our instrument’s vital low-frequency content. Its construction is excellent, although my first test unit ceased working after a few weeks. (Its quickly sent replacement has worked flawlessly.) I dug the Factotum’s chromed-out exterior and sturdy metal switches and jacks. While the aesthetic is impressive, I wish Red Witch had picked a more legible front-panel font. The pedal’s stylized small-cap text is not easy to read from a distance, although its bi-colored bright indicator LED is. The pedal’s internal construction is superb, and it features true-bypass switching for both the overdrive and octave effects.
DEEP & DIRTY
Navigating the pedal’s parameters was initially confusing, until I realized that the octave effect has only one control, an octave mix knob that governs the ratio of dry-to-octave signal. The remaining knobs govern the overdrive mix with dry signal, its high-frequency content, its overall volume, and the intensity of the overdrive effect.
First, I tested each of the Factotum’s effects separately. The octave was smooth and buttery, and tracked to a degree that I would say was slightly above average for an analog octave. To create an octave-down signal, a flip-flop circuit converts a bass’s output into a square wave whose frequency is divided in half to derive the octave-down effect. Since the harmonic content and gain of a bass’s input signal varies so widely, analog octaves are not flawless. Yet, this is part of their quirky charm. While most analog octaves use some variant of the flip-flop-based circuit, there are further elements, like lowpass filtering and various gain-boosting strategies that distinguish each pedal from the other. The Factotum is a relatively sub-y octave, with a creamy and deep quality that’s less synth-like than, say, a Boss OC-2.
The Factotum’s overdrive tone is quite complementary to the character of the octave sound. Soloed, it reveals itself to be more on the harmonically rich, midrange-strong end of the spectrum, rather than being buzzy and fuzz-like. Varying the high frequencies with the d tone knob yields everything from intense grind to murky mud. I also appreciated its dynamic sensitivity; digging in or backing off yielded musically effective results.
The Factotum truly shines when its effects are combined. With many parameters available for adjustment, the tones can vary greatly. However, they all share one welcome thing in common: big and burly bass response. When I engaged both effects, my basses instantly gained a hugeness and presence in the mix that I found inspiring and fun. Paired with other effects I dig, like the above-mentioned envelope filter and some analog delay, I spent hours in pedal-geek heaven.
While the Red Witch is seriously expensive for a single stompbox, the sticker shock is mitigated somewhat by the fact that it’s really two effects in one. That said, it’s a boutique pedal from New Zealand, so the price comes with the territory. Regardless, it’s a great-sounding partner in crime for those who can’t resist the urge to tinker with their tone.
Pros Smooth and deep octave sound; responsive and warm overdrive; huge blended tone
Cons Front-panel text is a little illegible from a distance
Bottom Line An excellent partnership of two essential bass effects in one shiny box.
Power 9-volt tip-negative Boss-style ac adapter (included)
True bypass Yes
Made in New Zealand