To paraphrase William Shakespeare’s Sonnet 59, there ain’t nothin’ new under the sun. Though Bill was spouting this more that 400 years ago, the concept often holds true today when it comes to music products—especially new pedals or amps that always seem to include references to existing amps or pedals, while still touting themselves as “new.” Engineer James Brown of Amptweaker boasts an impressive resume with his 25-plus years of bringing a number of amp designs to market, but he still admittedly contends that “tweaking” sounds is his specialty. And while Brown didn’t invent distortion, he has definitely found a way to harness and sculpt it to new levels.
With his company Amptweaker, Brown has been making quality guitar and bass pedals with direct input from players on features and tone. This open-door approach has endeared his gear to the likes of Reeves Gabrels, Doug Pinnick, and Steve Stevens, as well as many lesser-known players that have just as much input into the construction as a superstar musician. One such user-tweaked bass pedal is the new Bass TightFuzz, an extremely versatile bass distortion that’s packed with smart features and great tone.
That Warm, Fuzzy Feeling
An evolution of Amptweaker’s original TightFuzz for guitar, the Bass TightFuzz is a stocky 2-pound beast that is most likely not going to move once planted onstage. Sporting a silver finish that contrasts its black knobs and settings-saver bar, this pedal looks like it would be at home on an Apollo mission. The Bass TightFuzz runs with either a 9V or 18V power supply, or any voltage between, with different performance specs depending on the adapter chosen. (Rumor has it the pedal works with as little as 6 volts as well.) When powering with a 9V supply, the signal is the most distorted, and with an 18V, the tone is cleaner and louder. Using a supply also powers the LEDs imbedded in the knobs.
For the 9V-battery purists out there, Amptweaker has one of the most ingenious battery compartments I have ever seen: It’s a slide-out chamber that is held in place by magnets. With no screws to drop or plastic tabs to break, it enables what could arguably be the fastest 9V change in history. That said, 9V swaps shouldn’t be happening too frequently with the pedal’s on/off battery switch that saves battery life when not in use.
The Bass TightFuzz is packed to the gills with controls, but don’t worry, the manual is one of the easiest I’ve read. And if five knobs and three switches sounds like a lot for a fuzz box, it’s really not. You’ll quickly realize why each control is important and how they add to the overall function of the Bass TightFuzz. If you have used bass distortion before, you will find the typical volume and fuzz knobs intuitive. And when digging into the tone and tight controls, you’ll notice that the distortion spectrum opens up considerably. Rounding out the pedal’s control panel, literally, is the dry low knob, which adds clean low end to your signal.
Tucked just below the knobs are the three switches that hold the keys to making this pedal special. First up is the ’60s/’70s switch, and it toggles the fuzz between a bright tone to a fuller, beefier tone. To its right is the germanium/silicon switch which moves from a lower-gain germanium output stage to a high-gain silicon transistor. And finally, the edge/smooth switch can keep your fuzz relatively even and contained when set to smooth, or give it a more aggressive but not overbearing attitude when in the edge mode. These three extra features take the contour and flexibility of the Bass TightFuzz to another level, yet still keep the tone usable and warm.
If these controls weren’t enough, the pedal also features 1/4" effects send and return jacks to create your own series loop, enabling you to add pedals to alter this fuzz box even further. And underneath the Bass TightFuzz is an effects loop pre/post switch to set according to your signal chain and preferences. With everything this box has packed onboard, it really wouldn’t be that surprising if the Swiss Army ordered a few to de-engineer and figure out how Amptweaker got so much into one pedal.
Here Comes the Fuzz
Setting up the Bass TightFuzz between a Warwick CCL 210 and a vintage StingRay for an initial run through, I went to town. I was impressed with the options afforded me, and with so many tones available, it was hard to stick with just one. I found myself making small adjustments to each knob and finding a sweet spot that had me rocking, but would then move one of the switches over, and poof, yet another great tone.
Starting with all of the controls off, I slowly eased up the tone, dry low, and tight knobs, while leaving the fuzz control down. What I found was a great little preamp of sorts—fuzz free—with the dry low giving the StingRay huge bottom end. Switching from edge to smooth took the fuzz-free signal from crisp to more subdued, again creating another useful setting. And after setting up a nice, clean tone, easing the fuzz control up a little at a time took me from a slight dusting of dirt to a John Entwistle-esque solo tone in just a half a turn. Only when the fuzz is cranked does the square-waved chainsaw sound arrive, but even then, the tone still stays in check because of the pedal’s tight circuit.
When A/B’ing the two modes of the ’60s–’70s switch, it was like switching amp heads, with the ’60s mode boasting more bite than its ’70s counterpart. Yes, the bass tones from the 1960s and 1970s are in there, but I also was pleasantly surprised to find more modern, hard-hitting dirty tones as well.
It’s the tight knob that really keeps the whole pedal together by taming the signal and slightly squashing it the more you add. Getting to an SVT-like driven sound is just a matter of rolling it all the way up. But if you do like a wide-open, harmonics-ringing fuzz tone, leave the tight knob off. I got to the Bass TightFuzz’s edgiest sound—though still useful and musical—by taking it to the extreme through spiking the tone and fuzz, and turning off the tight control. However much I tried to make this pedal sound bad, I just couldn’t.
It’s rare you find a pedal with this many features and a $220 price tag. The Bass TightFuzz is well made, well thought out, and most importantly, it’s a fuzz pedal that’s truly tuned for bass. A common issue with many bass fuzz boxes is the lack of low end, but this pedal keeps your signal intact and gives a boost with its dry low control, which helps to keep your tone authoritative and massive. The tonal possibilities are so wide and effective that you’ll want to try out all your basses through this box. You can emulate a lot of eras and familiar tones with the Bass TightFuzz, and its spectrum of tones truly inspires with even the slightest adjustments. So if you need a fuzz box that keeps the fuzz beefy and doesn’t compromise your tone—while simultaneously packing a lot of character and range into a user-friendly presentation—the Bass TightFuzz is worth a long look.