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Bass Pedal Wars

Bass Pedal Wars
Bassists Jonathan Hischke and Juan Alderete put up their dukes and get their stomp on.

What happens when two of the most sonically adventurous bassists go head-to-head in a pedal shootout?

Bassists can sometimes be neglected when it comes to the weird and wacky side of effects. Holding down the low end is of utmost importance in an ensemble, so for many players, anything more than compression, chorus, and dirt can get in the way. But that’s not the case with Juan Alderete and Jonathan Hischke. Both bassists are top-notch sidemen who aren’t afraid to dive head first into sounds that are peculiar, if not downright obscene.

Alderete’s resume ranges from the hip-hop of Deltron 3030 to the twisted prog jams of Mars Volta. Hischke’s main gig these days is with experimental shoegazers Dot Hacker (though Hischke wasn’t allowed to borrow anything from bandmate Josh Klinghoffer’s seemingly endless pedal stash).

Premier Guitar had a challenge for Alderete and Hischke: Can you come up a more interesting, useful, and versatile set of 10 bass stompboxes than your fellow four-stringer? Both guys were up to the challenge, but first we set two ground rules: Once a pedal was picked, it was off-limits—no repeats between boards. Also, you must actually own each pedal you choose.

The following 20 pedals run the gamut from boring but essential to outlandishly geeky and specific. Alderete and Hischke recorded a short audio example for each device to give a hint of what it does. Be sure to tell us in comments section which player you feel emerged victorious.

Round 1

DOD FX32 Meatbox

Jonathan Hischke: I have to kick things off with the DOD FX32 Meatbox. I’ve had one since 1999, when I heard that it was obnoxious and awful. All the people who bought DOD pedals and played them through Gorilla amps in their bedroom didn’t understand what the Meatbox was about. They just thought it sounded like crap. I thought it probably had something interesting in it, and it turns out it’s this gigantic, enormous, earth-shattering, bowel-quaking harmonic synthesizer pedal. It’s very useful in a lot of contexts, especially ones that involve big PAs. It’s a really great dynamic tool because if you just want to make everything bigger than you can even imagine, you hit that one little pedal and it just brings the whole room down. I think I do damage to every piece of equipment when I use the Meatbox. [Laughs.]

DigiTech PDS 20/20

Juan Alderete: This next choice is purely strategic. In addition to the Meatbox, the DigiTech PDS 20/20 is the other pedal I have to credit Jonathan for turning me on to. Actually, in the Premier GuitarRig Rundown, I think that pedal got more comments than anything else. It’s a sampler that regenerates in the delay, so you can do some wild stuff. I used it a ton in Mars Volta, especially anyplace I get to sustain a note. I hit the multiplay, and it modulates it down or does weird skipping stuff. I also use it at the end of songs. There are a lot of Mars Volta bootlegs where between songs you hear this rotating [sings stuttering sound], and that’s it.

Hischke: Damn. This is getting competitive.

Round 2

Sovtek Big Muff Fuzz

Alderete: I have to go with my Sovtek Big Muff fuzz. Tyler Bates, a really great film composer, gave it to me. I went to record with him and he said, “Use this.” I thought it was awesome, so he told me I should keep it. He loved it, but he could see how lit up I was about it. That was in the early ’90s, and I’ve used it a lot since then. It’s the best-sounding fuzz. We do all these fuzz pedal shootouts on my website,, and it’s still the number one fuzz pedal. I have several other Sovteks, but that is the one.
“All the people who bought DOD pedals and played them through Gorilla amps in their bedroom didn’t understand what the Meatbox was about. They just thought it sounded like crap.” — Jonathan Hischke

DOD FX10 Bi-FET Preamp

Hischke: I’m going with the DOD FX10 Bi-FET Preamp. I think it was made in the late ’80s or early ’90s. I don’t know its secret, but psychologically speaking, it does the thing that a lot of guitar players get out of a Klon preamp pedal. It’s a subtle boost with a tone knob. You can turn the tone down for a really deep but focused and dense tone. It cuts through, but under the mix. How would you describe it, Juan?

Alderete: It was designed for acoustic guitars. It has such clarity, but it also has that sweet spot for the sound of fingers hitting the strings like on an acoustic guitar. That pick was very strategic.

Hischke: I also like it because it’s simple. It’s one of those pedals that you don’t have to think about. I have it on every board now in case I need it for a boost, or a lead where you put the treble up for more presence.

Alderete: And thank you for just driving the price up! [Laughs.]

Hischke: I know, I know. Maybe someone will make a clone. They’re really cheap now, so we better get on it. When is this going online? [Laughs.]

Round 3

Mantic Conceptual Vitriol

Hischke: This is a new discovery for me. It’s by a newer company out of Denver that’s doing some really interesting things. They told me the Mantic Conceptual Vitriol is a distortion based on an old DOD pedal, but souped up. It’s really beefy but clear, and very present and articulate. It can be as bassy as you want without getting muddy, with this layer of distortion that doesn’t get lost in the mix. I’ve used it a little bit live and for recording, and it sounds great in both circumstances, which isn’t always the case. It doesn’t have a blend because it doesn’t need it—the bass goes straight through it. I love it. I got it a few months ago, and it has already become an essential piece.
“The biggest sound I ever make with my bass is the combination of the Sovtek fuzz with the Micro Synth. When I use those two together, it’s just huge. Nothing else fits in the mix.” —Juan Alderete

Electro-Harmonix Micro Synthesizer

Alderete: My pick is the Electro-Harmonix Micro Synthesizer—but it has to be an old one. I use them a ton. It’s on half of the Vato Negro Bumpers record. Anytime you hear those swooping synthesizer envelopes, it’s that. It has a huge sub octave. It’s a little noisy, but you can deal with it. The biggest sound I ever make with my bass is the combination of the Sovtek fuzz with the Micro Synth. When I use those two together, it’s just huge. Nothing else fits in the mix. [Laughs.] I take up the entire spectrum.

Round 4

Boss CS-2

Alderete: I’m surprised it took me this long to get to it, but I’m picking the Boss CS-2 Compressor Sustainer.

Hischke: Yeah, that’s your bread-and-butter pedal.

Alderete: I used it in Racer X, and it came from watching Billy Sheehan play. When you’re a kid and don’t really know how pedals work, you wonder why the harmonics just pop out of his bass. I could never get those harmonics to pop on my bass rig. Part of it is because his tone was so distorted. Somebody told me it was a compressor, so I tried a bunch of different ones, and I found the CS-2 just brought everything to life. I’d hit harmonics, and it would sound like Jaco. I didn’t want to distort my sound, but I wanted giant low end, so I always use it with my fretless. It really kicks every other effect up a notch. It’s like it grabs all the best frequencies and stuffs them into the next pedal. The Sovtek sounds better. The Micro Synth sounds better. Everything I use sounds better when this is on.

Tech 21 VT Bass

Hischke: My next pick is the Tech 21 VT Bass because I don’t want to carry around a gigantic 8x10 cabinet. I can have it on the board and dial in something I like so my clean DI sound is already warmed up by the time the sound guy gets it. If you don’t really like your rented or borrowed backline, this pedal can help quite a bit. I never feel good not having it around, like that blanket that the kid in Mr. Mom carries around. It’s my wooby.

Round 5

EarthQuaker Devices Dispatch Master

Hischke: I’m in love with a few products from EarthQuaker Devices, but the Dispatch Master is the one I use the most. It sounds great in a lot of contexts. I don’t use a whole lot of delay or reverb. I mean, I use them, but I don’t build an entire sound around them. The Dispatch Master doesn’t crap out or sound digital. Plus, it’s small and relatively cheap.
“I found the CS-2 just brought everything to life. I’d hit harmonics, and it would sound like Jaco.” —Juan Alderete

Endangered Audio Research Analog Delay AD4096

Alderete: The Endangered Audio Research Analog Delay AD4096 is probably my favorite delay. It doesn’t have the modeling functionality of a lot of the newer delays, but it’s just the best analog delay. The expand button that brings out the feedback is just indispensible. Every time it’s at my feet, I’m inspired to do something with it. A lot of other delays suck up the low end somehow, but this one doesn’t. I just wish he had given it a name [laughs]. I don’t think some of these pedal builders realize how important a name is.

Round 6

EarthQuaker Devices Hoof Reaper

Alderete: There are so many reasons why the EarthQuaker Devices Hoof Reaper is a great pedal. First, you have two fuzzes in one box, which is always awesome. It also has this magic octave button in the middle. I use that octave alone quite a bit too—it was smart of them to allow it to be used separately from the fuzzes. I like running both fuzzes at the same time and then hitting that octave. There’s nothing that sounds like it. It’s essential to today’s small-pedalboard world, since real estate is so priceless and it costs so much to ship gear.

TC Electronic PolyTune Mini

Hischke: Speaking of usefulness in a tiny package, my next pick is the TC Electronic PolyTune Mini. This is the most useful pedal of them all. You need a tuner, but why have a big one? This frees up more space for other pedals. Plus, it’s a great tuner with a nice, bright readout.

Round 7

Electro-Harmonix Superego Synth Engine

Hischke: The Electro-Harmonix Superego Synth Engine is relatively new. It’s a takeoff on the Freeze pedal, which was a very useful idea. The glissando and portamento functions are the most interesting to me. I used it a lot on the new Dot Hacker record. It’s another one I don’t think I’ll ever get rid of. I love it when a piece of equipment gives you the ability to do something that was previously impossible. I wish more people were doing that.

Red Panda Particle Granular Delay/Pitch Shifter Pedal

Alderete: Damn. That was a good one. My next pick is the Red Panda Particle. I wouldn’t have heard about it as soon as I did if it wasn’t for Josh [Klinghoffer], who plays with Jonathan in Dot Hacker. I always have a hard time explaining it because I don’t know if I’ve fully wrapped my head around how I’m going to use it. I just know that I always try to have it on my board. I like having the bass line going, and then hitting something that takes you out of that world and puts you into some weird computer-generated world. It’s noisy and wild. Basically, it grabs a particle of your sound and flips it inside the pedal. You can control it, but it can also do its random thing. If The Edge gets a hold of this and puts a riff to it, everyone in the world will own one.

Hischke: I think the only way you can do some of what that pedal does is through a computer program. I think they call it granular sampling. They’ve probably had that for a long time in the computer world, but this is the first time I’ve seen it in a pedal.

Round 8

Boss VB-2 Vibrato

Alderete: I do like the Chase Bliss Audio Warped Vinyl, but the Boss VB-2 Vibrato is just home for me. Unfortunately, it’s pretty expensive. It’s just the best vibrato ever made. I guess you can emulate that sound, but I don’t think that chip exists anymore. Maybe in the modeling world they will get close.
“I think of digital delays as samplers with parameters you can mess with. That’s more interesting to me than an echo pedal. I use them for modern, glitched-out stuff.” — Jonathan Hischke

DigiTech TimeBender

Hischke: I think of digital delays as samplers with parameters you can mess with. That’s more interesting to me than an echo pedal. I use them for modern, glitched-out stuff. The DigiTech TimeBender came out maybe five years ago. There are some things that make it short of perfect. I’d like to talk to DigiTech to see if they can do another version of it. It does all of the things normal delays do, plus all this wild shit. It’s more of studio tool for me, but there are things I’ve done in Broken Bells and Dot Hacker that would be impossible without that pedal. Unfortunately, mine is broken right now, and I need to get another one.

Round 9

DigiTech XP300 Space Station

Hischke: I’m going to pick the DigiTech XP300 Space Station for pure weirdness. There’s nothing normal about it. It does things that have yet to be replicated. I’ll hear things on records and immediately think “That has to be the Space Station.” It has 40 sounds in it, and 15 to 20 of them are solid gold. I’ll always have that around for weird stuff.

Dunlop 105Q Bass Wah

Alderete: I have to pick the Dunlop 105Q Bass Wah. It’s just the best filtering wah for bass. It’s all over the Vato Negro record and a lot of Mars Volta stuff.

Round 10

Line 6 DL4

Alderete: I use the Line 6 DL4 so much. My favorite features are the reverse function and the ability to drop the sound an octave. When Mars Volta would end a song, I’d kick on the octave drop just to make the speakers rattle. Hit something with the Meatbox, and then sample it and drop it an octave on the DL4—there’s nothing more low-end and subby.

Aguilar Octamizer

Hischke: I love the Aguilar Octamizer. I feel it’s more versatile than the Boss OC-2, since you have tone control over both the dry and effected signal, plus it tracks really well. I know a lot of people are attracted to the glitchyness and the warmth of the Boss, and that’s cool. But this one is so clear, dense, and perfect. It almost sounds like a different instrument.