Denmark's Carl Martin has a reputation at the top end of boutique effects - not least for the much respected Bass Drive pedal. We let Tim Slater into the Bassment to try one.
Modern trends in bass amplification have seen many bass players switching to the new generation of lightweight yet very powerful bass amplifiers. However, whilst there is a lot to be said in favour of a 1,000 Watt bass amp that can virtually fit inside the glove compartment of your car, some bassists have noticed that for all their amazing ultra-efficiency, many of these modern bass amps lack a certain tonal gravitas…something commonly known among bass playing circles as 'balls!'
So, how does one put the bite back into one's bass sound? An overdrive pedal might do the trick but it also might be a bit too one-dimensional and fuzzy-sounding…you may want extra muscle and punch but not necessarily pure distortion, preserving your core tone's integrity is non-negotiable as far as most bassists are concerned.
The Carl Martin Bass Drive pedal could be the ideal solution. The Bass Drive is a tube-driven stomp box style preamp designed to goose up a hi-tech bass head or combo that might sound a bit too clinical in certain situations where a bit more growl is required.
Professional build quality is something that Carl Martin pedals are renowned for and the Bass Drive features a typically sturdy shell, complete with a removable ventilation panel for the single 12AX7 preamp tube. Mains powered via an IEC cable, the Bass Drive features a built-in 12v switchable power supply that can be reconfigured to run between 115-240 volts; a very tour-friendly feature that travelling professional musicians will doubtless appreciate!
The user-friendly control layout includes a basic but nonetheless versatile 3-band EQ, plus a pair of rotary controls that adjust the volume level and gain. Carl Martin is keen to stress the importance of these latter two control knobs in helping to set the correct balance between your amplifier's dry signal and the pre-amp pedal when it is connected directly into the amp's front end via the main instrument input, especially allowing for the big differences in gain between passive and active passive pickups.
With up to +40dB of gain under the hood the Bass Driver has enough muscle to easily overwhelm your amp's input gain but with a careful bit of adjustment before you get going it is very easy to engineer a smooth transition from a super clean sound to a grittier classic Rock bass tone.
Even at fairly low gain levels the Bass Drive instantly adds a darker, hairier sounding growl to an otherwise pretty sterile bass sound. It's probably not unfair to describe the Bass Drive's earthy influence as something akin to introducing an exciting 'SVT' type tingle without the inconvenience of burying your tone under a mass of pure fuzz.
Starting out with the gain level set around half way and playing using a pick, the Bass Drive armour plates the bass tone with an aggressive punky edge that instantly captures the spirit of 1977! The steroid-enhanced grunt is no less impressive because the picked notes still retain a clarity and edge; the low frequencies sound particularly tight and punchy despite the extra gain and our test bass's naturally throaty bark remained clearly intact.
However, what happens when the irresistible urge to urge to do a 'Lemmy' kicks in and you really start to grind things up? Well, apart from the dramatic increase in the crunch factor as the gain increases the Bass Drive still sounds clear and articulate right across the board. The treble frequencies sparkle whilst the all-important low end still occupies its space in the mix with an authoritative growl that actually enhances the low end by helping it create a nice warm sounding space to sit in that doesn't clash with the other instruments or cancel out the bass's natural range.
If you like the power and convenience of a modern bass rig but agree that in some circumstances it can all sound a bit too precise and clinical the Carl Martin Bass Drive drive pedal offers a simple way of capturing convincing crunchy sounding 60s & 70s style bass sounds:…think Geddy Lee, John Entwhistle, Jean Jaques Burnell, Jack Bruce and you're in the zone!