BY BEN ADRIAN
THESE DAYS NEARLY EVERY WORKING bass player knows about Markbass amps— they’re our little Italian friends that allow us to lug 500 watts or more to our gigs in a small shoulder bag or compact combo. Somewhat newer to the scene is the company’s line of effect pedals. Here we’ll take a look at three: the Distorsore distortion, the Compressore compressor, and the Super Synth.
The Distorsore looks slick and elegant, so I hardly expected any truly harsh distortion sounds out of the pedal. But looks can be deceiving—the TUBE DRIVE distortion is actually pretty fuzzy, and at its highest settings, it imparts a cool filter-like effect. With the mix knob balancing a clean sound and an extreme distortion, it actually sounded like I was playing through two distinct amps.
Rather than employing conventional boost/ cut EQ controls, Markbass opted for two filter controls: a LOW PASS filter that attenuates high frequencies, and a HIGH PASS filter that siphons off lower frequencies. These controls affect only the tube drive portion of the signal. While I found it a little counter-intuitive at first, I soon started to really enjoy this EQ circuit.
Ergonomically, the CLIP LED indicator is a nice touch, but I found the placement of the Distorsore’s concentric GAIN and volume knobs frustrating; with average-size hands, it’s difficult to make adjustments to the VOL control.
It initially seemed that GAIN is best set to get a clean level into the pedal, and that the TUBE DRIVE is for adding dirt. It may be designed to work exactly like that, but hitting the pedal hard with a high GAIN setting elicited a mild overdrive that I found really satisfying. Perhaps my favorite sound came from cranking both the GAIN and the TUBE DRIVE, using the HIGH PASS to filter out some of the lows, and then finding the perfect blend via the MIX knob.
A compressor is like a baseball umpire—if it’s doing its job right, you shouldn’t notice it at all. In this regard, the Compressore works exceptionally well. It evened out my signal, adding sustain to the note decay and thickening my overall sound, all without sounding artificial. The pedal also sounded good at more extreme settings. With RATIO cranked and ATTACK and RELEASE turned down, it became a nice limiter for picking or slapping styles. With GAIN turned up, it had a warm growl that could be used to punch through a loud section, or provide an “instant-vintage” tone to a modern amp. This is about as crazy as the pedal gets. If I had one gripe, it would be just that: While I could coerce some fairly severe sounds, there were no broken or truly over-the-top tones to be found. (I can’t help it—I always want to take every pedal too far . . . .)
While I found the recessed knob channel to be a hindrance with the Distorsore, it worked for me here, allowing me to setand- forget my levels without worrying that the knobs would be bumped out of place in transit. I also appreciated the visual feedback I got via the pedal’s LEDs.
With its yellow trim and crimson alphanumeric readout, the Super Synth might look more at home on the dashboard of a taxi cab than in the middle of one’s signal chain. But its flashy looks pale in comparison with the other-worldy sounds this pedal can produce: Hit a note and hear an angry robot come out of your speaker cab. Change the preset, and hear the din of the factory that built that robot. Change it again and witness the epic battle of the angry robots versus the funky aliens. And on, and on, and on . . . .
Let’s be honest here—bass synth doesn’t really fit in most musical situations. That said, I challenge anyone to play with this pedal and not have a blast. Most of its stock synth sounds are on the aggressive side, with a number of hard-edged filters and dramatic sweep effects that could easily stand out or cut through in a live setting. I also encountered a few pad-like sounds. Even though the synth is monophonic (allowing just one note at a time), the pads were great for texture. Tracking was a non-issue—the circuit responded quickly and accurately. The biggest shock for me was portamento: Sliding between notes produced a smooth, even sweep. After discovering that, I spent a long time playing dirty riffs with big slides.
This pedal goes deep, with a USB jack and software for editing presets and sounds on a Mac or PC. With just one knob that adjusts the synth parameters in real time (CUT FREQ/OCT- 1), computer editing becomes somewhat of a necessity to get the most out of the Super Synth.
With such an interesting synth, it’s easy to overlook the OCTAVER, which is in fact a very functional and musical octave effect that produces both an octave below and an octave above whatever note you feed it. It sounds great, but frankly it seems a little lackluster opposite the razzle-dazzle of the SYNTH mode.
Markbass seems to be cutting its own path. Every pedal here has basic standard sounds, but they can be pushed into unique sonic territories, as well. The stiff metal enclosures and solid switches look poised to take a beating. Is it enough to get past the large footprint and slightly higher price tags of these Italian imports? Time will tell, but I bet we’ll be seeing more bumblebeecolored stompboxes at the feet of bass players, well-heeled and worker-bee alike.
Pros Wide range of tones; cool filter controls
Cons Concentric GAIN/VOL knobs difficult to access
Pros Great tone; full featured; active LED
Cons A tad tame
MARKBASS SUPER SYNTH
Pros Delightful, insane synth sounds; deep editing options via USB; digital display
Cons Limited on-the-fly synth controls
Switching method True bypass
Power supply 12 volts DC
Dimensions 6.7" x 5.7" x 2.4"
Weight 1.6 lbs
Controls GAIN, VOL, COMP COMPRESSION, TUBE DRIVE, LOW PASS filter (20kHz–1 kHz), HIGH PASS filter (20Hz–1kHz), MIX
Jacks INPUT, OUTPUT
Input impedance 500kΩ
Controls GAIN, THRESHOLD, RATIO (1:1–1:∞), ATTACK (2ms–50ms), RELEASE (100ms– 750ms), VOLUME
Jacks INPUT, OUTPUT
Input impedance 300kΩ
Controls GAIN, CUT FREQ/OCT-1, TONE/OCT+1, LEVEL/DRY
Switches PRESETS selector, TRUE BYPASS, SYNTH/OCTAVER toggle
Presets 12 (9 synth + 3 octaver)
Jacks INPUT, OUTPUT (stereo), USB
Input impedance 200kΩ
Made in Italy
Warranty Two years limited