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Bass: 1987 Kramer Striker into a a Gallien-Kreuger 700 RB-II bass head to a 1970 Orange 8x10 cabinet.
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Guitar: Cycle through 4 settings. 2008 Fender American Standard Stratocaster into a Fender Twin Reverb reissue
Echoes of the Past
It’s no wonder that the Bass Octave Fuzz’s main inspiration is the Bass Brassmaster pedal, which originated in the late ’70s. The Brassmaster has been used by some of rock’s most famous bassists, including Chris Squire of Yes and the Who’s John Entwhistle. Since the Brassmaster’s debut in the heyday of aggressive and progressive rock, it has become a highly sought-after collector’s piece, likely commanding hundreds of dollars. Its sputtery, sometimes synth-like sound defined an era of rock ’n’ roll when bassists began to take a stronger role in a world dominated by huge guitar tones.
The Bass Octave Fuzz employs the same control scheme as its ancestor, using three knobs and two toggle switches to manage its wide range of tones. The Bass control is effectively a mixer control to balance the effected and dry signals, and I was happy to have this simple but useful feature available on the Bass Octave. It allowed me to alter the mix of clean bass tone with the distorted signal for plenty of nuanced tonal tweaking, and my desired mix really came through with only slight adjustments—depending on the amp and bass being used. It’s an indispensable control and thankfully being added to more and more bass effects manufactured today.
The other two knobs—Drive and Fuzz— work in tandem to produce the pedal’s fuzz effect. The Fuzz control doesn’t affect the amount of fuzz as it implies, but rather controls the volume of the fuzz tone itself. It’s the Drive knob that manages the additional signal gain needed for the desired distortion.
The Filter and Harmonic toggle switches are the unique features of the Bass Octave. They’re designed to react in the same fashion as the Brass and Harmonic switches on the original Brassmaster, altering the harmonic range and intensity of the octave-up effect. Using different combinations of range and intensity can produce tones that not only sound drastically different from one another, but also change the playing feel considerably.
Getting Down to Brass Tacks
Grabbing a 1987 Kramer Striker USA bass, I plugged the Bass Octave into a Gallien-Krueger 700RB-II bass head cabled to a 1970 Orange 8x10 cabinet. Both of the toggle switches were set to their left positions, and all of the controls were set directly at noon. A massive wall of fat fuzz hit me in the back after plucking the low E string, with the grit and snarl of unwieldy early ’70s fuzz tones. Interestingly, the pedal was dead silent as I turned the Drive knob up to higher settings. It also remained super tight on the low frequencies—even while doing chord work.
The Orange cabinet has strong midrange tendencies, and in some cases, the sheer amount of air that the cabinet was pushing with the pedal engaged was almost too much. This is where the simple mix control came into perfect play, allowing me to easily dial back the raunchy fuzz tone and have it sit nicely on top of the smooth and naturally clean tone of the rig.
Once I achieved the tone I was happy with, I moved into further sonic exploration by switching the toggle controls into various combinations. The left position of the Frequency toggle seemed to let the natural high end of the fuzz cut through a bit more than the right position, which slightly rolled off the sharpness of the effect. The tonal change resulting from switching the Harmonic toggle back and forth was much more evident. Some really trippy, lo-fi tones with scooped mids can be coaxed out of the pedal with the Harmonic switch in the left position. When toggled right, the switch coaxes the pedal into some utterly bizarre, space-age tones with increased volume and harmonics.
The key to getting a great sound out of the Bass Octave is to approach it with a conservative and “not-so-knob-happy” attitude. Just a touch of drive will go a long way with this pedal, so rely on your fingering or pick attack for producing subtle dynamics. All said, really pushing the Drive control will give you some extremely aggressive sounds, reminiscent of the opening dirge to King Crimson’s "Red," by bassist John Wetton. But if you’re in the mood for adding fuzz as more of a texture, start with lower settings and use different combinations of the Filter and Harmonic toggle switches to find what you’re looking for.
Though gear companies traditionally haven’t given bassists the amount of attention bestowed on guitarists, bassists have had a few gems to call their own in the past—such as the original Maestro Bass Brassmaster. Like its predecessor, the modern-day Black Cat Bass Octave Fuzz produces a powerful, detailed, and—most importantly—unique fuzz tone that harkens back to that famous bass grind of the ’70s. Though the pedal can be dialed back and tamed, it’s not meant to be a smooth-sounding device, meaning these tones are not for everybody. But that’s what made the original Brassmaster pedals so popular in the first place—tones that stand out from the crowd.
you’re in the market for a vintage Brassmaster, but are shy on the scratch it takes to get one.
you need a smooth, subtle overdrive.
Street $225 - Black Cat Pedals - blackcatpedals.com