PIGTRONIX, BASED IN LONG ISLAND, NEW YORK, IS A SMALL company that has gained acclaim for its 21st-Century spin on vintage tone. Several of the company’s guitar pedals, including the Mothership analog guitar synth, the Envelope Phaser, and the Disnortion—a fuzz and overdrive with an octave-up function—have been popular with bass players, so it’s good news that Pigtronix has tweaked three new products specifically for us.
The Philosopher Bass Compressor, which specializes in sustain and optical compression with a side order of overdrive, is a bass-tuned remix of the company’s Philosopher’s Tone compressor. The bass version of the company’s FAT Drive is an analog distortion pedal designed to emulate warm, tube-like overdrive, and the Bass Envelope Phaser, a slim version of the company’s Envelope Phaser, does its own take on the sound many of us associate with envelope filters. All three groovy-looking bass-specific stompboxes feature true-bypass switching, and all three use slim 18-volt power supplies instead of batteries, affording them more headroom and higher output while maintaining a small form factor. Like all compact Pigtronix pedals, the input and outputs are smartly situated on the lower third of the pedal, a small plus that can make all the difference on a crowded pedalboard.
Okay, I admit it: I’m not much of a distortion guy. As much as I like to play around with razor-sharp evil in the privacy of my own home, most of my gigs require me to keep the bottom on the bottom and not get too sparkly up top. Sometimes, however, when I hear a passive bass pushing a tube amp just over the line, I covet gritty fuzz and warm overdrive. The Bass FAT Drive delivered the sound I hear in my dreams: No matter how far I turned the tone knob, it was always thick and focused and never abrasive.
I started out by plugging in my Ibanez ATK805 5-string, strung with Dunlop standard-gauge nickels, and adjusting the volume so that my effected tone was right in line (or a little higher) than my clean tone. With the ATK805’s tone knob set dead center, the Bass FAT Drive’s tone at noon, and GAIN around 9 o’clock, I got a ballsy tone with just a hint of fuzz. Putting gain at noon, switching to the back pickup, and opening up the treble on my bass gave me a satisfying rattle that made me want to spend hours laying down classic rock riff s. Turning down TONE put me back in Motown fuzz territory, and when I dimed GAIN and turned TONE all the way down, the sludge was a thing of beauty, especially when I grabbed 5ths and turned up the bass knob. Coming up from the deep was as easy as flicking the more switch and diming both TONE and GAIN.
The sound of the traditional envelope filter is such an integral part of our bass consciousness that most of us hardly stop to think of its imperfections. To the geeks and wizards at Pigtronix, however, sacrificing highs for the right “woof,” lows for the right “quack,” or diluting the effect by mixing in clean signal are compromises that are simply unacceptable. Their workaround? The envelope phaser, which derives its strength from a 50-50 mix of wet and dry signals and consistently fills a large chunk of the audible spectrum. Pigtronix phasers also include proprietary magic like two peaks that remain exactly two octaves apart and a staccato circuit that closes the envelope between notes.
Say what you will about the concept, but the Bass Envelope Phaser was so bootylicious that for a moment, I wondered whether it was adding low end. Sneaking sensitivity up to noon and keeping the switch in the up position put me on my way toward a more bottom-heavy variation on Anthony Jackson’s classic “Money” part and Phil Lynott’s groovin’ “Dancin’ in the Moonlight” line, especially when I stayed on the front pickup. But turning up RESONANCE brought the freakiness to a whole ‘nother level—the more I cranked it, the more pronounced the vowels were; the sweet spot seemed to be SENSITIVITY at noon and RESONANCE between noon and 3 o’clock. No matter what I threw at it—slow Bootsy ballads, reckless slap parts, 16th-note licks, harmonics—it sounded great.
HOLD IT, NOW HIT IT
Blending effected and clean tones may not be right for envelope filters, but it definitely works on the Philosopher Bass Compressor. Bypassing the usual attack, release, ratio, and threshold controls, this Philosopher gets lots of mileage from its three knobs: COMPRESSION, which blends compressed and clean signals; SUSTAIN, which stands in for a threshold control; and VOLUME, which sets the output level.
With VOLUME and COMPRESSION at noon and SUSTAIN at 9 o’clock, compression was relatively transparent. Inching up COMPRESSION made things fatter and reggae-ready, but adding SUSTAIN made all the difference, increasing volume, decreasing dynamics, squashing the tone, and adding a ridiculous amount of sustain. Harmonics seemed to go on forever. Turning SUSTAIN all the way on brought me right back to some of my favorite, over-squeezed slap tones of the ’80s. The Philosopher was clean and transparent, at least until I flicked the GRIT switch, which added a Jack Bruce-inspired overdrive that offered a looser version of the Bass FAT Drive’s thickness.
Pigtronix’s favorite acronym, FAT, refers to the company’s dedication to Futuristic Analog Technology—but it could also express the care with which its bass-specific pedals protect the low frequencies. The Philosopher’s Bass Compressor, Bass Envelope Phaser, and the Bass FAT Drive, which all boast studio-grade analog tone and road-ready construction, are three exceptional additions to any working bass player’s pedalboard. If this is the future, the future looks good.
Street Philosopher’s Bass Compressor; $209, Bass Envelope Phaser, $249; Bass FAT Drive, $189
Pros Strong and versatile options, no loss of lows, small form factor
Bottom line Pigtronix’ new trio of bass-specific stompboxes boast studio-grade analog tone and road-ready construction.