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Bassist Brad Davis is known for the pedals he makes under the Creepy Fingers moniker, but with Fu Manchu he sticks to a basic rig of G&L SB-1 and SB-2 basses driving a 1969 Ampeg SVT. Photo by JJ Koczan.
Bass-man Brad Davis on His Fuzzy BottomSince joining Fu Manchu in 1995—replacing original bassist Mark Abshire—Brad Davis has made subtle tweaks in the tone department, preferring the sound of his trusty P-style G&L basses cranked through an Ampeg SVT. Davis’ bass tone is fuzzier than a laundered woolen poncho, but despite his considerable skills as the principal pedal builder at Creepy Fingers, Davis ditches stompboxes in favor of the natural overdrive that can only come from vintage glass.
What goes into your bass tone?
For all the Fu Manchu records, it’s been fairly consistent. On this record, I used two basses: my 1992 G&L SB-1—the first bass that I purchased to play with the band—and my custom 2007 G&L SB-2, which was built to feel more like the original SB-1 but with a wider neck. Between those two basses, I could get all the basic tones I wanted. For amplifiers, I used the same 1969 Ampeg SVT that I’ve used on all the records. For tracking, I like using an 8x10 cabinet with speakers that aren’t completely worn down, so I can have clarity when I need it.
Do you have particular go-to settings for the head?
It’s pretty middle-of-the-road. I don’t use any of the “deep” or “bright” switches, and everything is usually set to around 7. I’ll set the midrange according to the room—if I need to cut through, I’ll set [the frequency center] a bit higher, but it’s generally in the middle setting.
With two fuzzy, down-tuned guitars, does the Fu Manchu sonic environment pose any challenges?
I don’t need to use a graphic EQ to notch particular frequencies out. My tone is fairly dirty, but it’s all natural amp distortion. On bass, pedals automatically knock out some of the low end, so I prefer the natural overdrive I get from an amp. The G&L pickups are pretty high-output, but they’re passive, so they don’t sound muddy. I prefer high-output passive pickups, because they help to drive the amp.
The bass sound for the whole album is just the amp and whichever bass I was playing. With that amp, once you set the volume around 6, that overdriven tone is the sound that naturally comes out of it.
Like Bob and Scott, you tune down a full step. Which strings do you prefer for that?
DR Strings Lo-Riders, .050–.110. When tuning down, I want to retain tension—but if the string is too heavy it gives too pure a tone for me. With medium-light tension, I feel I can get a richer tone.
Do you prefer playing with a pick or your fingers?
It depends. On [1999’s] Eatin’ Dust and [2000’s] King of the Road, for example, it was almost all fingerstyle. The Action Is Go  was almost all played with a pick. On the new record, I let the song decide—it usually comes down to tempo. I want to be able to accent certain parts on faster tunes, and if I’m playing a slow song, I want to use fingers to get that extra low end. Sometimes I’ll record a song playing with a pick, but find it’s more fun to play live with my fingers.
Tell us about things at Creepy Fingers.
Things are good. I generally split my time between production pedals—like the Creepy Face, the Fuzzbud, and the Pink Elephant—and custom work, which is the more creative side of pedal building.
How did you get into building pedals?
I was always obsessed with pedals, even before I was in Fu Manchu. I started by buying a lot of pedals—especially when eBay was first around—but it was getting to be a bit much. Like a lot of people, I got into BYOC [buildyourownclone.com].
I’d built a theramin from a kit for a few of our albums, and I thought, “Well, that went pretty well.” So I thought I’d try a few pedals. It quickly went from not being able to stop buying pedals to not being able to stop making them. It was fun to pursue the sounds I wanted instead of just buying equipment to find out if it fits my sound. I started making some pedals for friends, and then word got around.
What’s most important when it comes to building and tweaking pedals?
You have to have a decent ear. My understanding of the circuits themselves is limited, but I learn more every day. But without knowing what you want, it’s far more difficult. Personally, I like using vintage components, although I don’t think that’s a make-or-break kind of thing.
Which pedal builders do you admire in particular?
There are a lot of builders out there that have a common bond, in terms of trying to build vintage-style circuits, taking an old-school approach. David Main of Differential Audio Manifestationz is one. John Lyons from Basic Audio is another. Jerms—Jim Roth from Built to Spill—also makes a lot of nice handmade pedals.
Aside from Fu Manchu and Creepy Fingers, what else do you have coming up?
I’m headed into the studio with [Clutch frontman] Neil Fallon and [former Sabbath drummer] Vinny Appice. It’s an old-school metal kind of thing.