WHAT IT IS ABOUT FUZZ, OVERDRIVE, AND DISTORTION? OUR ATTRACTION to the full range of sizzling, brash frequencies makes perfect sense, especially in a world where guitarists hardly ever use clean tone, but these three effects have been known to kill low end— our bread, butter, meat, and potatoes—faster than a speeding bullet. While players with roadies and bigger budgets dedicate entirely separate rigs to their clean and overdriven tones, I’m always on the lookout for pedals that off er a variety of distorted tones without taking away my low frequencies. Fortunately, the last few years have seen an explosion of nasty, grainy pedals specifically made for bassists. Z.Vex’s Basstortion box and the Deluxe Bass Big Muff Pi from Electro-Harmonix are two of the latest additions to the fold.
The Basstortion is Z.Vex’s bass-tastic version of their Distortron distortion pedal. Released last year, this little monster is modeled on the sound of an Ampeg SVT getting pushed to the max, and everything it does is a variation on that theme.
I started by turning up the volume to match my unaffected tone, and I dug how the Basstortion could also function as a pretty cool clean boost. Opening up the tone control added top end, and the drive knob took me from subtle sizzle to polite fuzz to thick overdrive all the way to crucially cracklin’ crunch.
With Bartolini-loaded passive Jazz and Precision Frankensteins played through a Yamaha PB1 preamp, a Symantec 501 compressor, and a QSC RMX2450 power amp pushing two Acme Low B 2x10s, the Basstortion was raggedy and impressively dynamic; it was more focused than I expected, and it did a great job of delivering warm tone that screamed organic. With an active Ernie Ball Music Man SUB, the results were a bit smoother and not as detailed or crunchy, but tweaking the SUB’s tone control and messing with the Basstortion’s bright/dark switch helped me get closer to something I liked.
The differences between the Basstortion’s bright and dark settings are subtle but still effective. Flipping the switch to the dark side cuts off high frequencies, but those frequencies gave me tones I couldn’t get from opening up the tone control. After an initial period of being intimidated by the Basstortion’s single-minded intensity, I fell in love with it.
In some ways, the Deluxe Bass Big Muff Pi is the exact opposite of the Z.Vex; it takes up twice as much real estate, it offers many more options, and it specializes in a distortion that would never be mistaken for tubes.
Fans of previous iterations of the Big Muff will note the addition of a few extra pieces to this Pi. The new pedal shares its predecessors’ circuitry, as well as its SUSTAIN and TONE controls, and it adds a wet/dry BLEND, a GATE control, a -10dB input pad for active basses, a DI output, VOLUME, a direct output for sending dry signal to a secondary signal chain, and a buffered bypass with extended low-frequency response.
Thanks to the TONE control, dialing up just the right amount of nastiness and top end was a snap, and the GATE came in handy for the hot EMG preamp and pickups in my Lodestone 5-string. The SUSTAIN control made a huge difference in whether my effected tone was in the background or up front. Players who like to keep their clean and dirty signals separate will the direct out (which sends dry signal) and output (which sends effected signal, as does the DI output).
The real stars of this pedal, however, are the CROSSOVER footswitch control and the high- and low-pass filter knobs, which control cutoff frequency ranges. When I plugged in my ’62 Jazz, stepped on the CROSSOVER, and slowly turned up the HPF knob, I started dirty (125Hz) and eventually reached sinewave territory (1.75Hz); turning up the LPF knob, allowed me to make the eff ected tone jump out by diiming the cutoff frequency range from 60Hz to 10Hz. The high-pass filter gave me crunchy tone that cut through while still maintaining low end, and the low-pass filter added mids and focus. This pedal’s controls allowed me to dial in a surprisingly wide range of tones, and I could’ve spent several more hours exploring the possibilities.
The Basstortion and Deluxe Bass Big Muff Pi off er two distinct takes on distortion, both of which have their strengths and limitations. If you’re looking for a kind of grind you can leave on for an entire tune—or longer—the Basstortion emulates the sound of an SVT being driven hard quite well. If a more in-your-face fuzz is what you seek, the Deluxe Bass Big Muff Pi takes the legendary sound of the Big Muff and adds key features in its crossover and filters. Both American-made stompboxes are worthy additions to any wouldbe rocker’s signal chain.
Z . VEX
Pros Pumps out tube-like analog warmth
Cons Sideways form factor might frustrate some
Bottom line The Zvex despises subtlety and delivers aggressive, analog crunch.
ELECTRO - HARMONIX
DELUXE BASS BIG MUFF PI
Pros Crossover feature, high- and lowpass filters
Cons Large footprint
Bottom line Bursting with options, the Deluxe Bass Big Muff is a worthy inheritor of the classic Big Muff sound.