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Amptweaker Bass TightDrive Pedal Review

Amp guru James Brown''s debut pedal is tweaked for bass

The Bass TightDrive was born after amp guru James Brown met Greg Weeks, bassist for the metal outfit the Red Chord, at the January 2010 Winter NAMM show. Weeks played the TightDrive guitar model and, based on the extreme settings he seemed to favor, Brown suggested making some circuit alterations to better accommodate his playing style.

Controls and Features
The Bass TightDrive’s controls are identical to the guitar model. The basic setup of Volume, Tone, Gain, and Tight controls are still there, nestled securely on the pedal’s rear flank. Behind the knobs is a sturdy metal roll bar, which covers a rocker switch that disengages the 9-volt battery circuit. This is handy for players who use batteries, but don’t want to unplug the unit on their pedalboards when they’ve finished playing. The sturdy, 14-gauge steel chassis feels substantial and offers a magnetically latched battery door that slides out from the side. A simple solution to a common problem, this is one of the best ideas I’ve seen in a pedal in a long time. I realize cost is a consideration for pedal designers, but every battery-powered pedal should provide tool-free access to the battery compartment. For those who hate having to reach for a screwdriver every time they change a cell, the Bass TightDrive’s battery door is a godsend.

The Tight control on the standard TightDrive offers a multitude of distortion flavors, mostly affecting the amp’s attack and response. With the Bass TightDrive, the Tight control presents a whole new way of helping the bass fit in the overall mix. The adjustment knob still allows the player to fine-tune the amplifier’s attack, but since bass serves an entirely different purpose of filling out and supporting the rhythm section, the control comes into play in a very different way.

Plugging In
I tested the Bass TightDrive using a 1987 Kramer USA Striker bass plugged into a Gallien-Krueger 700RB head. My cabinet, a 1970 Orange 8x10 with Ampeg SVT speakers, really allowed the whole rig to open up and clearly reveal the Bass TightDrive’s capabilities. With the Tight control turned fully counter-clockwise, the low end was very expansive. My notes carried across the room quite well when I played at the lower end of the fretboard.

As I turned the Tight control up, the low end decreased steadily and the midrange slowly started to creep out, along with sharper high-end frequencies. For a standard guitar, this feature would probably be most useful for adding sting to notes in a lead passage, but with bass it offers a whole new world of texture. Hard rock and metal bassists are often left out in the cold in the final mix, and their lines are often hard to hear. The Tight control allowed me to adjust exactly where I sat in the mix with my band, whether or not I wanted a really fat, rounded tone à la Jack Bruce, or a more aggressive, punchy one in the vein of Motörhead’s Lemmy Kilmister. I was astonished at how much influence that control had over my tone, and it was really fun digging in and seeing how far it would take me. It was as if I could choose my own voicing for the pedal. If the low end wasn’t present enough, all I had to do was turn it up on the amp. Having the Tight control up too high did create some feedback, though. Carefully balancing the Gain and Tight controls, in tandem with not dialing in too much low end on the amp, helped keep the feedback in check.

Brown also included another cool feature from the original TightDrive: an effects loop. I saw this as a way to revisit effects I’d unsuccessfully tried in the past, such as octave or auto-wah devices that can sound too weak on their own. Placing them in the Bass TightDrive’s effects loop really helped emphasize their special colors. As on the guitar TightDrive, a switch lets you select whether you want the loop before the pedal’s first preamp stage or after its final output stage. This option really helps if you’re using a time-based effect, such as chorus, and want it to sound clearer by placing it after the TightDrive’s circuitry.

The Final Mojo
For bassists looking to cover a lot of sonic ground, the Bass TightDrive is a magnificent choice. The foundation of great bass overdrive tones is there, along with plenty of gain, if that’s what you need. Having an effects loop opens a lot of creative doors, especially for players who have never experimented with one before. With its great sound, tonal versatility, and rugged construction, the Amptweaker Bass TightDrive is a clear winner.

Buy if...
you’re looking for a highly versatile, great sounding bass overdrive that lets you choose where you sit in the mix.
Skip if...
bass fuzz is more of your thing.

Street $180 - Amptweaker -