When I first started playing bass,
I was enamored with bands that
made the instrument sound like a wrecking
ball. Watching bassists who played massivesounding
power chords just enthralled me.
It seemed to add a musical element that I
hadn’t really noticed before as a guitarist,
and it gave me a new appreciation for the
importance of bass. Alas, when playing with
my first distortions and fuzzes, I seemed to
be lost in a sea of noise when the rest of the
band kicked in—an issue that has plagued
many bassists for decades. It hasn’t helped
that available options for bassists have
always been in shorter supply than for guitarists.
Fortunately, the folks at Jim Dunlop
have taken a stab at helping bassists get over
this hurdle with the new MXR M84 Bass
Fuzz Deluxe, a pedal that possesses more
than enough all-encompassing fuzz to make
even the most jaded stoner-rock fan blush.
Fuzzy Around the Edges
Housed in the familiar MXR enclosure
we’ve known for decades, the all-analog
Bass Fuzz Deluxe is just as sturdy as the rest
of the MXR line. As noted in the manual,
the rust-hued box was inspired by a rare
vintage fuzz that’s been modified for the
lower registers of a bass. And while the
company doesn’t name names, I have some
ideas after spending time with the pedal.
The idea behind this circuit modification
was to emulate the sound you get when
playing through two amps—one clean and
the other dirty. To accomplish this, Dunlop
packed in separate volume controls for
the dry and wet signals instead of a more
conventional blend control. One of the
downsides of a blend circuit is that the wet
signal tends to lose some of its kick in lower
settings. The M84’s fuzz and tone knobs
adjust the amount and tonal sweep of the
fuzz. Other than that, the rest of its features
are pretty standard MXR fare—an option
for a 9V battery or power supply, a bright
LED, and the company’s true-hardwire
bypass circuit. The Bass Fuzz Deluxe’s
power draw of 11 mA is pretty low, so players
who prefer to drive the fuzz with batteries
can breathe a sigh of relief—a 9V should
last a good while.
Ambassadors of heavily distorted low end
should rejoice. The Bass Fuzz Deluxe is here
to satiate your need for stoner-rock goodness.
It packs quite a kick for fuzz tones
in the vein of Scott Reeder (Kyuss), Nick
Oliveri (Kyuss, Queens of the Stone Age),
and Brad Davis (Fu Manchu), but it’s also
tight and versatile enough for muscular,
defined tones à la Tool’s Justin Chancellor.
With a late-’80s USA Kramer Striker
bass, a 300-watt Verellen Meat Smoke
amplifier, and the Bass Fuzz Deluxe’s wet
tone set at 100 percent, I was walloped
in the chest with the very first pluck of
the low E. Overall, the pedal had a very
smooth, organic tone and an absolutely
mammoth amount of low frequencies
that shook the walls of my practice space.
Dialing back the fuzz and playing pentatonic
riffs conjured thoughts of Blue Cheer and
John Paul Jones’ dirtier Led Zeppelin work.
There was plenty of room for the amp to
breathe in and out with dynamic intensity,
depending on how hard I hit each note.
What was really fascinating was how
well the lows responded to different types
of attack. They tightened up when I used
a pick for fast, Cliff Burton-inspired
chugging, but they also loosened up very
naturally, depending on how fast or slow I
played. While I’m not certain which exact
pedal (or pedals) inspired the Bass Fuzz
Deluxe, the sounds I heard reminded me
of a healthy, vintage Tonebender with a
revoiced gain range, mixed with the heft of
an old Sovtek-built Big Muff.
But, this pedal isn’t just a one-trick pony.
When I moved the dry control up and
dropped the wet so they were roughly at
the same levels, it brought in the Verellen’s
rounded high end and aggressive voicing,
while preserving its bypassed detail quite
well. After fiddling with different amounts
of level from each control, I realized how
effectively they could be used for voicing the
pedal for any particular amp and bass combination—
because every rig has varying distinctions
in voicing, gain, and response. The
traditional blend control can go a long way
toward making sure these little details aren’t
lost in the mix, but the Bass Fuzz Deluxe
goes for the gusto with separate controls
that make it much easier. In no time at all, I
was able to go from the aforementioned oldschool
tones to a very close approximation
of Chancellor’s refined, muscular tones.
Though the cliché “not for the faint of heart”
is often overused, it’s definitely apt with the
Bass Fuzz Deluxe. It probably wouldn’t be
your first choice for a blues jam—although
careful tweaking of its dry and wet controls
would allow it to serve that purpose.
However, it’s greatest potential centers on
making sure your heavily-fuzzed bass tone
doesn’t get lost in the mix—the bane of existence
for many a bassist. You can get some
trebly tones out of it, but nothing razorsharp
in the top end that will tear your head
off. The name of the game here is a full,
driving fuzz that can fill a room with ease,
along with a powerful punch that’s guaranteed
to rattle more than a few chests.