Read the full article
This article was originally published in issue #6
To read the article in its entirety, view the digital magazine
Well I have to say, here's an interesting addition to Fishman's product range! Better known for high quality piezo pickups and pre-amplifiers for acoustic instruments, Fishman has been busy designing effects pedals recently. The first for us bass players is something just a little bit different!
The 'Powerchord' is a pretty good description of what this pedal hopes to achieve. A 'Power Chord' (or part of) mixed in along with your original bass note with the added excitement of some raspy distortion in the mix. You have the option of selecting an octave up as your fundamental sound, mixed with the dry bass tone. You can then add a 5th above the octave on one button, then a 4th below the octave on the third button. By pressing both middle and right hand buttons an octave above is stacked on top as well giving you the 'powerchord' above your root bass note!
The pedal is able to do this through digital signal processing, much like a pitch shifter effect. Fishman uses top quality hardware, including 24bit Digital to Analogue converters and a state of the art 32bit signal processor. I have to say that I'm impressed with some of the sounds (and noises!!) on offer from the pedal. I say noises, as I managed to get some pretty awful warbles from the pedal by forcing it to do things it shouldn't when I played discordant harmonics through the effect whilst engaged. "YUK!" you may say, but I do like to experiment and sometimes make basses not sound like basses! I digress; when I actually stopped messing about and used the pedal as prescribed I found the harmoniser rock solid and quite fat sounding when used down low on the neck, however as can be expected from 'Octave Up' generators, a kind of 'Mickey Mouse on helium' sound when playing above the 12th fret on my six string basses. Possibly usable for some genres of music? Well that's up to you! The overdrive effect that I'd prefer to describe as 'variations of all-out distortion' worked really well with each or all of the harmonies and added to an overall 'synth' sort of sound that I think would be great for padding out the band sound when your guitarist stops playing rhythm to reach for his soulful bit of neck shredding. I think the effect would also be fitting in electro bands; maybe a bit of Squarepusher?!
Fishman is not the first company to attempt a stacking a power chord sound in an effect for bass players, but these sort of pedals are few and far between. You'd be more likely to see this functionality in multi-effect processors with intelligent harmonisers on board. Judging by the technology crammed in to this pedal, it would account for a price tag that is higher than your average 'name' stomp box. Fishman have designed the pedal logically having thought about a wider use than just crunching out root-5ths. I tried a pseudo eight string bass sound just using the octave up effect and with the right amount of level tweaking I think it could be passable - certainly cheaper than buying a separate quality eight-stringer for the job.. oh yes, and easier to store!
In the video I demonstrate the modes available to you, but there were a couple of items that I didn't go over specifically and would like to touch on. The input gain control on the side of the pedal was really handy for taming the output of a higher output bass, such as my own Shuker with active electronics. Or indeed could be used to up the input to drive the distortion more, though it's worth bearing in mind that you could drive the DSP circuit in to distortion and that would sound a bit ugly! The other thing to mention is if the effect and dry outputs are used separately, the effect output doesn't include the dry signal and thus the effect level control only affects this connection - a dry signal passes directly to the other output socket.
Here's another natty little inclusion in this all metal cased robust pedal: according to the manual, If you are playing away on battery and the clip LED comes on and stays on, you have approximately one hour battery life left. I suspect this will vary in time depending on the type of battery you use, however Fishman suggests you will see around 27 hours use from an alkaline battery and 40 hours from a lithium type. I have to suggest it's worth investing in a power adaptor, especially if you are running a chain of pedals. The Fishman typically uses only about 24mA and Fishman has a 200mA adaptor available to take care of such juice duties.
Have a listen to the video review on a decent set of headphones or Hi-Fi speakers to really get an idea of what the pedal is capable of, better still head out and try one! It's great for doing Muse-like impressions - Chris Wolstenholme, step aside.