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This article was originally published in issue #27
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If you'd have been stood outside the door to my personal 'bassment' recently, you may have wondered what was causing the truly gnarly and ugly distorted bass tones from within! Well, here it is. EBS has recently upgraded its previous ValveDrive pedal. And as the name suggests, it is indeed a pedal, with valves in and it produces lots...and lots...of drive!
Of course, that's not all it does. Whether you need just a clean DI output with a rich tone produced by valves, or something that can heat up the signal a bit, the ValveDrive has it. It not only has it, but it also crosses the line, gets in your personal space with it and then slaps you round the face with some fairly outlandish distortion, should that be your 'it' thing.
The pedal features a simple control layout with a gain control handling the amount of drive and distortion available placed, unusually, on the far right, rather than the usual far left. Next to that there's a 'vintage' style interactive EQ system which is much like old school passive tone stacks in its operation and perhaps a little confusing for some users at first. For example, all the controls facing 12 o'clock on this pedal certainly doesn't deliver a 'flat response' Much like passive tone controls on vintage and vintage style amplifiers, the 12 o'clock setting (or 'all knobs pointing upwards' as it is often referred to) (by those who can't tell the time? - Ed) already has a preset bass and treble boost applied, making the pedal sound immediately deeper and crisper, as opposed to bypassed, which is what you might expect if you've never previously encountered this traditional layout. The 'flat' setting for the EQ alone is actually with the bass and treble controls all the way down at zero and the middle control all the way up at maximum.
Below the EQ and level controls there are two sturdy foot switches labelled 'vintage' and 'bypass'. The latter switch is indeed, a bypass, sending the bass signal direct to output. However we found that when we hit bypass, we lost the signal coming out of the DI output in the studio altogether, so I chose not to bypass the pedal in the review. This may be a problem if you are trying to use this pedal as an effect and are monitoring from the DI output alone.
While on the subject of the DI output, there is a ground lift switch on board and the pedal features 1/4” input and output sockets. The input of the pedal has a signal pad button too - and I needed this engaged as my active bass has a high output signal that easily distorted the pre-amp without the pad engaged. This is a very useful inclusion if it's an ultra-clean signal that you need.
With the pad disengaged and the gain control advanced, the ValveDrive starts at a gentle warming of the signal then passes to a grittier tone before bulldozing its way in to your face with a fat, gnarly drive. For me, this is where I would have stopped. For my taste, anything past 12 o'clock on the gain control started to become mushy and lacking in definition. This may be due to the amount of low end that was being distorted in the signal too. Of course, this is just my opinion and tastes in distortion and no doubt there will be plenty of bass players shouting out at the computer screen that this is exactly what they prefer. Ya know, that's cool. I'd have preferred the distortion to take place just around the mid frequencies, with the cleaner top and bottom allowed to show through (sometimes known as 'band-pass' distortion). But try one for yourself and see what you think.
That said, I've still been won over by this pedal's milder drive settings and the fullness it brings to your bass signal.
On tap is a monstrous 60dB of gain and further tonal shaping is taken care of by the second footswitch labelled 'vintage' - this second option enables a shaping circuit that adds, as the name suggests a 'vintage vibe' to your bass tone. Full mids, slight compression and a softening of the top end to my ears, that takes you from a clean modern sound with a crisp top end back to vintage amplifier territory.
Again, as always with EBS, this pedal is built for the road and is pretty bullet proof. I like that the supply voltage required is now 9v making it more suitable for use with standard pedal board supplies, though EBS does include a power supply in the box anyway. That's another good touch - it's not been snuck into the deal as an 'optional extra'. Well done, EBS!
So is it a good buy? You have to consider it as a very versatile package that you could find yourself using all the time, even plugged in to a power amplifier alone, or straight to PA as a DI box, due to its effective EQ stage. In fact it would be great for the travelling bass player who can't travel with a rig. Just tuck one of these in your gig bag and plug into the PA! It's a Swiss army knife of useful functionality - or should that be a Swedish army knife? Either way, it's a veritable tool kit in one box.