Bassists who enjoy a chunk of crunch in their tone will be delighted to hear that amp manufacturers Aguilar have added a distortion to their small but perfectly-formed pedal range, which also features an octaver, envelope filter, preamp and compressor. Eyebrows will rise at the news that the Agro distortion retails at around a mere $180. The brief, Aguilar tell us, is to replicate the Saturation channel of their AG 500 head in a pedal: quite a challenge by anybody’s standards. Can they pull it off?
The Agro pedal has clearly been designed with efficiency in mind rather than a pointlessly high number of features. Constructed from solid, heavy-duty steel which would come in handy for self-defense against stage invaders (luckily, it comes with a three-year warranty), it’s a bassist-friendly gizmo, with the quickest battery-replacement mechanism we’re ever encountered. Just spin a single screw head with your finger and thumb and the battery compartment pops out – no need for desperate signals to the roadie to bring a screwdriver. In case the screw head gets in the way of your board, Aguilar have been thoughtful enough to include a replacement, smaller screw.
Apart from the engage switch (which illuminates a very cool blue LED) and the usual in/out and DC power sockets, the Agro has four controls – Level, Saturation, Presence and Contour. The whole thing is gun-metal grey, which looks slick in your studio but which might not stand out on stage too well, especially if you’re in the kind of band which regularly has to dodge bottles and mud.
We’ve all played through distortion pedals that remove your bottom end at the flick of a switch, causing your band-mates to assume that you’ve fallen off the stage. Not so with the Agro: even tested with our combo’s low-end boosted, there’s no discernible loss of bass and sub-bass frequencies, leading to a massive sound that takes no prisoners – especially with the Saturation control at maximum. It’s this control which dominates, of course, although the Level pot offers a cone-shredding volume spike if you inadvertently switch it to max. Dialed to its halfway point, the Saturation supplies a warm, subtle crunch, particularly when twinned with Contour at a high setting – think Nick Oliveri rather than Jean-Jacques Burnel. In its upper range, the Saturation turns you into Lemmy on ‘Ace Of Spades’, or Chris Wolstenholme on ‘Hysteria’ – although with more low end in both cases. Chords sound vast but clearly defined: if you want a big, foggy sludge sound, you need to deliberately seek it out by taking the Presence and Contour right down.
The ace in the Agro’s pack is the Contour control, which scoops the midrange EQ drastically when applied counterclockwise and leaves it flat at the other extreme. It’s a major variation in tone across its range: applied rapidly to and fro during your nightly 64-bar bass solo, you could even achieve a tremolo/wah effect. Used more judiciously, the Contour pot will help you find your place in the mix, giving your bass distortion the chance to stand out without being drowned out by those irksome guitarists.
The Agro is a step forward in bass distortion, at least at this price point. There are better fuzz pedals with just as much retention of low frequencies, but not for the price of a dinner for your band and roadies at Pizza Hut. Playing with the tone settings is a lot of fun too, with plenty of depth available. Have Aguilar pulled it off? Yes – without a doubt.
Features: Level, Saturation, Presence and Contour controls, LED.
Power requirements: 9 V DC
Dimensions: 68(w) x 42(h) x 140(d) mm
Weight: 557g (1.23 lb)
What we think
Plus: Plenty of tone variation available, from mild crunch to all-out fuzz attack
Minus: Presence control doesn’t contribute much; colour scheme not particularly practical for stage use
Overall: A very tasty little pedal with a remarkable array of tones for its cost. Highly recommended