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This article was originally published in issue #33
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In keeping with the house style we've come to expect from this still quite new range of pedals from pickup guru Seymour Duncan, the brand new Studio Bass pedal looks smart and has a clear control layout. As for those controls: I think the inclusion of a blend on any bass-centric pedal is very important. The ability to mix in your clean bass signal with a 'wet' effected path means that you are able to retain the punch of your low end and the dynamics of your instrument's sound. Some modulating effects, no matter how cool they sound, play havoc with your clarity in the mix if they are over-cooked a bit.
Why would you want to retain your natural dynamics if this pedal is supposed to be 'compressing' it? Well that's just one area of this pedal that makes it very cool and we'll come back to that in a moment!
Top right hand side is the 'attack' control. For those unfamiliar with the action of a compressor, this control could be described as being able to vary the time delay before the compressor kicks in after a note (over the compressor’s threshold) is played. On this pedal you can control between 8ms and 27ms. A very short attack will clamp down on the initial peak of a bass note, whereas, for a more percussive sound (think about the 'chicken-picking' effect that Country guitarists often use), the attack control is advanced clockwise. For the slappers amongst us, this is a great way to tailor your punchy tone very accurately. Softer effects are possible by keeping the attack very short with leanings toward 'bowed bass' sounds.
Below the attack control is the compression knob. This control adjusts the 'dynamic range reduction' applied to the signal. The compression ratio available is from essentially 'no change' at 1:1 all the way up to a very squishy 20:1. The control can be very subtle and in the review I pulled the control way down to almost zero - there was the very slightest detectable compression apparent, but of course maxing the dial out rewarded us with that lovely sustaining sound sucking every last bit of dynamic out of the bass sound. The downside would usually be that you often lose top end and bottom end as well as overall clarity when using these very high settings. This is where the blend control and the three way switch come in and I've saved the best bit till last: The blend control determines the mix of dry unaffected bass signal and compressed signal at the output. This is actually a very well-known studio technique, often used for making drum sounds in a recording more punchy. It is known as Parallel Compression and has been part of my own bass rig for many years because I love the effect so much.
If you set up the compressor with an even mix of clean signal, you'll find that in normal operation the compressor isn't really noticeably doing anything in terms of signal peaks as the dry signal overrides its effect on the bass signal. I control the volume of my slap technique, plectrum work or finger style at my hand, not using pedals. However, when I find parallel compression very useful is if I switch from slap technique to maybe a tapped part, or if I want to use harmonics or indeed some softer chords. The compressor automatically lifts the level for me so that those passages are given a helping hand and volume boost. Again, the effect is also very useful for those using drive pedals as it adds a bit more drive to your quieter played passages without touching your louder passages.
The fun comes with dialling in a really squashy effect on the pedal, which frankly on its own would have limited use - but that blend control, used carefully puts the beef pack in your bass tone. Pinched harmonics will ring out and notes will sustain longer, but you'll still have access to the punch of your clean bass guitar sound. For me the best of both worlds.
The three way switch I demonstrate on the video, so please check it out. Essentially it's a 'shape control' that only affects the clean signal mixed in with the blend control. It is marked 'Mid', 'F', and 'Low'. The top position creates a mid hump in the dry bass signal that I found useful for emulating vintage valve amp sounds. Again, driving an amplifier will give you an aggressive mid range bite. The middle position allows the full frequency response of the signal to be mixed in and I found this very useful for maintaining clarity on an instrument that naturally has a softer top end on high compression settings. Pull the switch downward and the top end is rolled away giving you access to the lows of your dry bass guitar sound. Percussive players will approve of this setting, especially on bright instruments with active pickups. Big lows will remain intact but the compressor will take care of reigning in those snaps and pops. Keep an eye on that attack control!
There's a master volume control included too for balancing the effected sound with the bypass volume. You can also boost your signal using this control too.
I can see how the Studio Bass would quickly become a Swiss army knife in your kit bag or on your pedal board. I didn't notice any unusual noise or artefacts in the sound in our studio and I really liked the way it conveyed the transparency of my bass signal and how it was easy to set up a sound that I can only describe as 'more' of my bass! Offering added punch, sustain and energy this is an impressive pedal with a wide feature set that will please even the fussiest of audio geeks.