Review: Red Witch Zeus Bass Fuzz Suboctave

As a now-frequent synth-bass player, I often find myself queried as to how someone can get the keybass sound with a bass guitar.
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As a now-frequent synth-bass player, I often find myself queried as to how someone can get the keybass sound with a bass guitar. My knee-jerk response is generally: “Buy a synth.” And while it’s true that there’s nothing other than an actual synthesizer with a keyboard that sounds the same, there’s a lot you can do with effects and a bass that gets sort of close. A key ingredient of the recipe is almost always an analog octave pedal. In order to produce the octave-down effect, analog octaves transform the complex output signal of a bass into a simple square wave. Thus, in an instant, the overtone-rich electric bass waveform has been converted into a waveform that is almost universally included on a synthesizer. To make the output signal even more square while introducing additional crunchy overtones, a fuzz or distortion pedal can be added to the octave signal. Finally, for the lowpass-filter quack common to a lot of keybass tones, an envelope filter comes in handy.

As you can see, all of the above takes two or three pedals to accomplish. The Red Witch Zeus, however, handles the octave and fuzz duties exceptionally well. And thus far, I’ve only discussed the synth-emulation role—the Zeus can also produce fast-tracking octave and fuzz effects separately or combined to be used in any other way imaginable.

The two-in-one pedal has one of the best-tracking analog octaves I’ve encountered. It locked on to pitches quickly and accurately, even those in the low register of my bass. Octave mix goes from a pristine dry signal through continuously variable degrees of blend with the octave-down signal until it’s fully clockwise, where it’s a soloed octave tone. I dug that Red Witch reduced the more typical dry/wet-level, two-knob setup with this single mix knob.

While the octave is straightforward, the pedal’s fuzz section is slightly more involved. In addition to the fuzz mix control, there are sputter and fuzz (amount) knobs and two switches, one adding gain, and the other cutting high frequencies. The sputter control, which interacts with the Zeus’ silicon-transistor’s DC bias, takes the pedal from clipped, glitch, and bizarre to singing and gloriously uncontrolled. No matter the setting, the Zeus is one of the quietest fuzz pedals I’ve heard—almost as if a noise gate is helping control things.

Blended together, the Zeus’ octave and fuzz yield a huge variety of tones, from synth-y to sonorous to utterly mad. It’s built ruggedly (although the chrome finish gets smudgy) and sensibly laid out. There isn’t much to criticize with the Zeus, and while it’s expensive, it also can perform the role of two other pedals. Definitely worth a look.

SPECIFICATIONS

RED WITCH

Zeus Bass Fuzz Suboctave
Street
$230
Pros Excellent-tracking octave; versatile fuzz; big palette of sounds
Cons A little pricey
Bottom Line The combination of an analog octave and versatile fuzz makes perfect sense, and Red Witch executes the concept with skill and good design.

SPECS

Input 1/4"
Output 1/4"
Power 9-volt tip-negative (Boss-style) power adapter

Made in New Zealand
Contact redwitchpedals.com

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