Roundup: Pedal Pushin'

FOR THIS MONTH’S ROUNDUP, WE TURN TO A HALF-DOZEN STOMPBOXES INTENDED TO TITILLATE the tone tweakers among us: an analog multi-eff ect from Electro-Harmonix, fuzz boxes from Tech 21 and Dwarfcraft, overdrives from Carl Martin and Fulltone, and an analog chorus from Jacques.
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FOR THIS MONTH’S ROUNDUP, WE TURN TO A HALF-DOZEN STOMPBOXES INTENDED TO TITILLATE the tone tweakers among us: an analog multi-effect from Electro-Harmonix, fuzz boxes from Tech 21 and Dwarfcraft, overdrives from Carl Martin and Fulltone, and an analog chorus from Jacques.

Street $220
Description Analog multi-effect combining the Electro-Harmonix Metal Muff fuzz, Neo Clone chorus, and Memory Toy delay
Bottom Line The Tone Tattoo offers lots of bang for the buck, and leaves us jonesing for a bass-centric Electro-Harmonix multi-effect.

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The Electro-Harmonix Tone Tattoo is a bit of an anomaly in these digital days of USB jacks and programmable pedals, as it’s an analog multi-effect. It’s the first of its type from E-H, and it combines three of the company’s most popular pedals: the Metal Muff fuzz, the Neo Clone chorus, and the Memory Toy delay.

True to E-H form, the Tone Tattoo is housed in an industrial-style box with sweet graphics, color-coded for each effect: green for fuzz, blue for chorus, and red for delay. Following the signal chain from the right, the first effect is the fuzz, followed by chorus, followed by the delay. Each effect is selected via its own individual footswitch. The pedal’s ergonomics are hard to fault, with an input jack on the right, an output jack on the left, and a 9V DC power adapter jack on the top side (no batteries for this stompbox). The knobs and footswitches are solid, and the Metal Muff ’s scoop mini toggle switch is tucked between knobs that would likely keep it safe if the pedal were tossed in and out of a gig bag.

With the Metal Muff fuzz in pole position, it feels as if the Tone Tattoo is targeting guitar players more than bassists. Be that as it may, there’s still a lot for a bass player to love about the pedal. While not my favorite fuzz from E-H (that would be the Bass Big Muff Pi), the Metal Muff is a perfectly fine bass fuzz; it can sound tinny in certain settings, but bumping its bass control and flicking its SCOOP switch to HI do a lot to tamp down overly harsh highs. If you’re looking for grunt or a subtle goosing of your midrange, the Metal Muff ’s probably not for you. But if you’re looking for face-melting fuzz, this Muff ’s got that in spades.

The Neo Clone—E-H’s popular chorus pedal, makes up stage two of the Tone Tattoo. No complex controls here, just a RATE knob and a DEPTH button. Engaged with a moderate RATE setting and DEPTH button set low (so the accompanying LED light glows red), the Neo Clone has a subtle, swirling chorus; setting the DEPTH button at high (so the LED glows green), the chorus takes on a deeper psychedelic churn. Both on their own and combined with the Tone Tattoo’s other effects, the pedal’s chorus effects go a long way in making the Tone Tattoo worthwhile.

Delay is an effect that’s never played a big part of my tone, but the Memory Toy stage of the Tone Tattoo makes me feel like I’ve been missing out on a whole lot of fun. For ambient solo work, a dash of delay can be a bassist’s best friend, and the Memory Toy offers a wide range of controls over delay time, the amount of echo, dry-to-wet ratio, etc.

All told, the Tone Tattoo is a whole lot of fun in a self-contained—and affordable—package. While it’s a worthy buy on its on merits, the Tone Tattoo is most exciting in that it opens the door for more analog multi-effect pedals from Electro-Harmonix. Hey, E-H—package your Bass Big Muff Pi, BassBalls, and Octave Multiplexer pedals in a single chassis, and I just might get your logo tattoo’d somewhere special. . . .

Street $150
Description Bass-oriented analog fuzz with 21dB clean boost
Bottom Line The Bass Boost Fuzz doles out delicious blends of fuzz and fundamental, and its ancillary BOOST control is a bassist’s best friend in moments of need.

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Like so many others, we’re big fans of Tech 21’s SansAmp Bass Driver DI, and we’ve been equally impressed by more recent pedal offerings like the Red Ripper dynamically-controlled distortion and the Bass Boost Chorus. [Note: As our January ’13 review of the formidable VT Bass 1969 amplifier attests, the company knows how to make righteous rigs in their own right, as well.]

The latest from Tech 21 is the Bass Boost Fuzz, which seeks to take the sound of classic germanium- transistor fuzz boxes—preferred by many tone nerds over silicon-transistor fuzzes for their smoother, more harmonically rich distortion—and tweak the tone so it works better in the bass space. Like the Bass Boost Chorus, the Bass Boost Fuzz also offers 21dB of clean boost.

Dressed in a blue and white powder coat, the Bass Boost Fuzz has a clean look and layout, with fuzz and blend controls in a top row of knobs and the boost control just below. A feature we dug about the Bass Boost Chorus was the ability to turn down the chorus effect and use the pedal as a clean boost. By installing a discrete boost footswitch on the Bass Boos Fuzz, Tech 21 has made a good idea even better.

But enough about clean—the BBF is all about getting down and dirty. As fuzz fans can attest, many pedals—especially those vintage models so coveted by guitarists—can suck out the signal’s low end. It’s a problem many players solve by running two signals, one clean and one dirty. The Bass Boost Fuzz effectively addresses the problem with its +CLEAN control, which blends a bass’s clean and dirty signals.

With all knobs at noon and the boost fl at, the Bass Boost Fuzz definitely dishes up some of the beefiest fuzz in the biz. The BBF behaves differently depending on the level you’re feeding it with your bass, and the controls interact to make the pedal surprisingly deep in terms of the range of sounds it can produce. With +CLEAN controlling the clean-to-dirty ratio, drive dictates the degree of FUZZ, TONE acting as a low pass filter and shearing off overpowering upper frequencies, and LEVEL controls the overall output level, the BBF has a surprising range of tones, all in a package that’s well-built, user-friendly, and compact.

Even at extreme settings—with the tone and drive cranked and +CLEAN eased back—the BBF maintains a deeply satisfying low end anchor for the fuzz.

With the Bass Boost Fuzz, Tech 21 has struck the balance between fuzz and fundamental that often eludes bass players. If you’re looking for an affordable, reliable, and versatile fuzz pedal with the bonus of a clean boost, the Bass Boost Fuzz is the pedal for you.

Street $275
Description Boutique fuzz box with freaky stomp-triggered feedback loop.
Bottom Line The Eau Claire Thunder delivers a wide range of wild fuzz sounds, each more demented than the next.

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And now for something completely different. From the wilds of Wisconsin and the delightfully warped minds at Dwarfcraft Devices comes the Eau Claire Thunder, a pedal modeled on classic fuzz boxes like the Big Muff , but with a few twists.

Kicking the BYPASS footswitch and working the VOLUME, TONE, and DISTORTION knobs, the Eau Claire Thunder’s fuzz has a slightly mid-scooped character, with ample bass and an aggressive high-end bite. The TRIM control is designed to keep the pedal from sounding too squishy when fed by super-hot pickups; I didn’t feel like I had a problem with the few active basses I played with the ECT, so I left the knob mostly at noon.

The Eau Claire Thunder feels dangerous—there’s a unhinged character to the fuzz, and playing with the pedal turned this tame tone twiddler into a mad scientist within seconds. Aside from the “basic” fuzz sound engaged by the BYPASS footswitch, there’s the TONEBLAST switch, which bypasses the pedal’s tone circuit and beefs up the midrange in a big way. It’s a boost that’s great for moments when you want to jump out of the mix—not that you’ll be anything but in-your-face with this pedal. . . .

The TIMEWARP switch lends yet another color to the Eau Claire Thunder, giving it a darker, more sinister sound. The FEEDBACK footswitch and FEEDBACK TUNE knob is where things start going sideways with the ECT, and in the best sort of way. Depressing the footswitch creates a feedback loop within the pedal, and twisting the feedback tune knob controls the pitch of the ungodly howl the pedal pumps out. If tone torture is your thing, the Eau Claire Thunder is the ultimate device of depravity.

Street $272
Description Bass preamp/overdrive with 3-bands of EQ and a 12AX7 preamp tube.
Bottom Line In the land of tube-loaded bass overdrives, the Bass Drive has emerged perched to rule the roost.

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Fuzz is fine when you want to shine in the spotlight, but for those of us looking for a more subtle way to flex, overdrive is the way to go. With three bands of EQ and LEVEL and GAIN controls, there’s little in the way of fancy accouterment on the Carl Martin Bass Drive, a bass overdrive with a 12AX7 preamp tube heart. Whether it’s the no-frills feature set, or the pedal’s large footprint, or its unusual power supply (it uses an AC power cable, rather than a DC adapter), I have to admit I was a little cold to the Bass Drive on arrival. But like the 12AX7 glowing under its grill, I soon warmed to the pedal’s charms.

The Bass Drive earns every inch of its oversized footprint; three bands of EQ voiced for bass offer a colorful palette of tones, and the grit imparted by the GAIN control ranges from ornery grunt to aggressive grind. With the GAIN, MIDDLE, and HIGH rolled back, the Bass Drive wraps an otherwise raw and sterile bass 4-string in Snuggie-like fleece, softening the edges while allowing the bass to breathe. For prog-approved tones, bumping up the MIDDLE and GAIN fetches a clang close to the edge.

Carl Martin set out to recreate the sounds of classic rock bass gods like John Entwistle and Jack Bruce. With the Bass Drive, it has delivered a distinguished tone tool capable of empowering the would-be bass deities among us.

Street $190
Description Overdrive with an eye toward midrange-rich lead tones from the ’70s.
Bottom Line The Secret Freq. might be a guitarist’s best friend, but it pulls double duty as a buddy to bassists, as well.

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Fulltone may have discontinued its Bass-Drive Mosfet pedal, but it doesn’t mean there aren’t other options from Fulltone’s tasty menu of overdrive and distortion pedals. One option is the Secret Freq. The pedal’s Freq-iness comes from its unique FREQ. knob, which offers 20dB of midrange boost aimed at recreating the lead tones of such studio savants as Brian May and Tom Scholz.

Though not voiced specifically for bass, the Secret Freq.’s midrange boost can be a useful tool for carving sonic space in a “lead bass” setting. Boosting HIGHS, the distortion takes on a searing character that’s guaranteed to make any guitarist jealous (though deep down, they probably already are). In all settings, the Secret Freq. does a good job maintaining low end on bass.

Street $215
Description Analog chorus
Bottom Line In the chorus of chorus pedals, the Meistersinger deserves a solo spot.

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Like a “Greatest Hits” of chorus, the Jacques Meistersinger seeks to take features of iconic chorus pedals and squeeze all of their best attributes in a single stompbox. With its analog bucket-brigade technology, the Meistersinger delivers warm, creamy textures that span from celestial and shimmery to tidal and roiled. Housed in a dense metal chassis with a rugged rubber bottom, the Meistersinger is built like a Panzerkampfwagen (thank you, Wikipedia), and its tough plastic knobs and industrial-strength pots stand ready for battle. All told, the Meistersinger’s luscious tones can make even the most jaded pedal snob take notice.



Controls Metal Muff, DRIVE, BASS (±18.5dB @ 105Hz), TREBLE (±20dB @ 700Hz), SCOOP (LO: -7.5dB @ 1.2kHz; HI, -11dB @ 1.2kHz), GATE, THRESHOLD, VOLUME; Neo Clone, RATE (0.4Hz-9Hz), DEPTH; Memory Toy, DELAY (30–550mS), FEEDBACK, BLEND, GAIN (+23dB)
Power 9v DC (no battery)
Switching Buffered bypass



Controls LEVEL, TONE (low pass filter, 10kH–1kHz), DRIVE, +CLEAN, BOOST
Power 9v DC or battery
Switching Buffered bypass



Power 9v DC (no battery)
Switching Buffered bypass



Controls LEVEL, BASS (±6dB @ 63Hz), MIDDLE (±6db @ 1kHz), HIGH (±6dB @ 4kHz), GAIN
Power 12v AC (no battery)
Switching Buffered bypass



Power 9v DC or battery
Switching Buffered bypass



Power 9v DC or battery
Switching True bypass


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Roundup: 7 Micro Combo Amps

GIVEN THE UBIQUITY OF GALAXIES, ANDROIDS, IPHONES, AND YOU-NAME-IT, IT’S EASY TO FORGET that just 10 or 12 years ago, the tools needed to execute the basic commands of a smartphone could easily gobble the surface area of your average credenza.

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Roundup: Short-Scale Basses

THE OLD ADAGE THAT “LEO GOT IT RIGHT THE FIRST TIME” WITH THE Fender Precision Bass is hard to dispute; the combination of styling, ergonomics, and tone from that design forms the core of our consciousness as bass players.