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This article was originally published in issue #23
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The original Tech 21 SansAmp Bass Driver DI Pedal or 'BDDI' as it is well known amongst bass players, is probably one of the most famous 'simulator' pedals on the market. It has possibly found its way into more bass rigs (mine included at times) than any other tone shaping amp simulating pedal. Now there's a new model - the VT Bass DI
So here's a whistle-stop tour of everything on board the VT Bass pedal - but to hear it, you're going to need to check the video for an outline of its functionality or, better still, get one of these boxes of joy in your hands (at your feet, surely? Ed) as soon as possible!
So, what is it? It's a clever box of tricks that manages to recreate the sound and feel of a big, hard-driven valve amp, miked up in all its tonal glory but without the need for the room, probably an engineer to set it all up and, of course, the amp itself! The VT takes its sound cues from legendary Ampeg tube bass amplifiers, for example the round clean tones of the B15 through the grind of an SVT II or Classic that can all be pushed in to valve-like distortion heaven.
What's important is that this is an all analogue pedal - there's no Digital to Analogue conversion going on inside here, no DSP, nor any virtual modelling. This pedal uses premium components to provide organic and true tone. Now, don't get me wrong: I think DSP is incredible nowadays and the quality of processing has surely produced some of the best sounding effects units we have heard yet, but there is still 'something about analogue’ and while analogue purists will love the VT Bass, we think it will warm the cockles of the DSP lovers too - it does what it does, so very well.
The front panel is easy to understand. The Level control is simply the master level of the pedal when the effect is engaged and the blend gives you the option of mixing in your clean direct bass signal with the 'simulated amplifier' sound. This is a similar method to miking-up a full stack in a studio and then taking a clean DI signal from the bass to the mixing desk or recording system. This can be useful for adding clean bite or low-end punch should you be using high gain settings that make the bass amplifier signal fuzzy and wish to add a bit of coherence back in.
There is also a three band EQ section that works interactively with the Character and Drive controls, altering the simulated amplifier’s tone radically. The EQ is active and a little turn can make quite a big difference, so be careful - especially with the bass control if you are running in to small speakers that can't take the lows. There is some real low-end power available!
Next up, the Character control alters the simulation tonal structure of the sound and filter sweeps from vintage cleans to modern dirt and plectrum friendly grind. By advancing the Drive control you push the circuit into distortion for a more aggressive sound. The circuit is sensitive to pick attack too. The harder you dig in the more drive you experience. A word of warning here. You can get some truly superb sounds out of this pedal, but given the scope and breadth of change on each of the knobs, it's possible to truly get some awful sounds out of the pedal too. Maybe that's what you're after, but I'd say start with small adjustments to see what you can get from this little beastie before unleashing all sorts of grungey noises on your band mates. Hang on, scrub that... max it out, turn it up and treat them to some incendiary bass sounds!
Rounding up the front panel are five function push-buttons. First up, left hand side is the Phantom power and Ground Lift option for the DI socket on the left hand of the pedal shell. There is also a button marked with a graphic, linked to the XLR output that allows for a -20dB attenuation in case the signal you are sending out to the PA, or your recording device is a little on the hot side.
The two final switches include a bite button that adds extra top end presence to the simulated amp tone. This is very handy for extra plectrum attack or top end for distortion sounds. Then to the far right, another with the option of disengaging the built in speaker simulation circuit. Incidentally, the speaker emulation is based on, as Tech 21 describes, American 10 inch speakers “multi-miked … without the peaks, valleys and notches associated with single miking.” Tech 21 goes on to say that even with the emulation engaged, it won't interfere with the response curve of your own speaker cabinets, should you be using them with the pedal.
So, to sum up. The all-metal construction is of course very welcome and the pedal sounds as great as you could hope for. It's a real Swiss Army knife bass player's tool and if there was one pedal you should have in your gig bag in case of amp failure, or maybe if you just wish to travel light, then this will be it. Just plug in to the PA (or that questionable bass rig that was hired on your behalf!) and away you go with a fabulous tone! I feel it's better than the original BDDI - it has more to offer. Even with the effect disengaged you have yourself a superb DI Box and a fine example of pro quality gear.