Ashdown SZ Funk Face Review
The Brit amp outfit teams with founding Jamiroquai bassist Stuart Zender to deliver a 12AX7-fueled drive pedal that's seriously funky.
Recorded with Sanberg TM 5-string direct into Focusrite Saffire 6 interface into MacBook Pro using GarageBand.
Clip 1 - Bridge pickup soloed. Drive at 8 o'clock and sensitivity at 10 o'clock.
Clip 2 - Both pickups engaged. Drive at 1 o'clock and sensitivity at 11 o'clock.
If you were to find yourself in a conversation about game-changing bassists of the 1990s, Stuart Zender’s name would likely be in the discussion. His technique laid the funky foundation that brought Jamiroquai to prominence and compelled a slew of bassists to sit by their CD players to copy his effects-seasoned style. Through a recent collaboration with Ashdown Engineering to create an effects pedal worthy of Zender’s name, the SZ Funk Face was born. It offers tube-driven distortion and auto-wah articulation for steering your bass from funk to punk and beyond.
The Funk Face’s stout chassis and rugged components make it feel road-ready. A 12AX7 is at the heart of the drive section, from which you can conjure tube warmth to heavy distortion with the centrally located drive dial. The output dial to its left provides the means of balancing the signal, and to its right is the wah section, which is comprised of a single knob for sensitivity. This control sets the level of the signal that passes through the filters to vary the wah’s personality.
Activation of the effects is confirmed through the topside SZ logo, where a blue light shines through when the drive is engaged and a red light illuminates when in wah mode. (Both letters light up when both effects are engaged.) It’s a handy feature, for sure, and looks super-cool, too. Adding tonal flexibility is a pre/post valve button on the lower right side of the pedal, which changes the signal path of the wah to go either before or after the drive.
The SZ Funk Face requires a 15V or 18V power supply, and the pedal reduces the incoming power to 12V, which is the preferred level to drive the valve and internal circuitry. (A 15V supply is included.) The Funk Face can operate with a 9V supply, though the drive may not be as effective and an increase in noise is likely.
Like Chocolate and Peanut Butter
To explore the tones of Zender’s signature pedal, I placed it between a Sandberg California 5-string and a Bergantino B|Amp and HD112 rig, and got started with the drive section first to give it a listen on its own.
While some drive pedals are plagued with low-end loss, the Funk Face manages to maintain a thick foundation. Because it takes advantage of actual tube tone rather than modern emulation circuitry, it offers full, punchy sound with harmonic detail. A little goes a long way with the drive control, and its range impressed throughout—from the nice taste of grit and warmth it offered in the lower settings all the way up to burning distortion with the drive dimed. I was also impressed with the manner in which the effect intensified when pulling the strings harder.
The same could be said about the wah’s sensitivity control. Depending how hard you pluck the strings, the effect can deliver dramatic, sweeping sounds. I actually became a bit tentative with my plucking hand at times, as the wah occasionally created some intense sonic spikes. With a controlled touch, however, the wah effect delivers a unique vocal quality with sweeps, swells, and popping transients that gave my bass a lot of character.
The tonal palate was expanded by combining the effects, whether giving the wah a little teeth or bringing synth-like timbres when pushing the dials to their extremes. And the pre/post valve switch turned out to be a thoughtful component, as it helped create dramatic tonal changes simply by shifting the wah’s signal path in relation to the drive effect.
Despite the apparent simplicity of the Funk Face, I’d still advise spending time with the intricacies and sensitivities of the pedal before hitting the stage. Once I found settings that suited my taste, I took the pedal to a blues/R&B jam, where it gave a number of tunes some extra attitude. Using the same Sandberg bass and Bergantino rig, I set the pedal’s drive around 8 o’clock and kept the wah disabled, which provided a wonderful tube warmth that really thickened up the class-D amp. It also made my slapping and popping more harmonically rich and powerful. While I didn’t completely cop Larry Graham’s sound by cranking the drive to 3 o’clock for a take on Sly and the Family Stone’s “I Want to Take You Higher,” it sounded plenty gnashing and gnarly.
I later combined the pedal’s forces on a heavy jam of Bill Withers’ “Use Me,” where I set the drive around 12 o’clock and the sensitivity to 10 o’clock. It’s hard to imagine making this classic song any groovier, but the Funk Face accomplished it with bubbly, rhythmic wahs with tons of personality.
Ashdown’s SZ Funk Face is no one-trick pony. It can be used to warm up your tone, burly up your bass, funk your sound out, or get super synth-y. Its price tag is on the steep side, but it would take at least three effect pedals to accomplish what the SZ Funk Face has to offer. And despite having a bit of a learning curve, the pedal will suit many in the greater bass population. Stuart Zender and Ashdown have successfully created a pedal that defies the sometimes “virtual insanity” of modern pedal design, and rewards players with the means to take their bass on a seriously funky odyssey.
Watch the Review Demo: