Fuzzrocious Heliotropic Bass Fuzz Review

This viciously intense bass fuzz nails the tone of the Failure song that inspired its name.

For many bassists addicted to distortion, the gut-wrenching dirge that opens the 1996 Failure tune “Heliotropic” is one of the finest modern representations of bass fuzz. The tone has an angry, almost industrial vibe—it sounds as if the entire bass rig is about to collapse under its own sheer power.

Greg Edwards and Ken Andrews split bass duties in Failure till the group disbanded in 1997. Nailing their signature bass grind is tough unless you’re rocking their specific setup: Ampeg SVT II, ProCo Rat, green Sovtek Big Muff, and a 2000-watt Ampeg 8x10 cab with Eden speakers.

Enter Ryan Ratajski of Fuzzrocious Pedals. A bassist himself, Ratajski has risen to this tonal challenge with his new Heliotropic stompbox. It’s a handbuilt fuzz device designed to emulate and expand upon Failure’s edgy bass tones.

Fantastic Racket
The Heliotropic is based on a heavily modified Big Muff-style circuit coupled with a custom preamp design. The pedal requires a standard 9-volt adapter—batteries aren’t an option. The circuit boards, switch, jacks, and controls boast impressively clean soldering, especially for a handbuilt pedal. Everything is neatly packed into a sturdy aluminum enclosure sporting a handpainted graphic.

There’s a quartet of knobs: pre-gain, sustain, volume, and tone. Pre-gain controls the preamp level, allowing you to hit the input of the fuzz circuit with varying force. Sustain adds even more gain, providing anything from light crunch to wildly intense fuzz.

Ratings

Pros:
Gets very close to Failure’s fuzz-drenched bass sound. Intense and unique. Great build.

Cons:
Noisy at higher fuzz settings. No battery option. Warmth-loving purists need not apply.

Tones:

Playability/Ease of Use:

Build/Design:

Value:

Street:
$250

Fuzzrocious Heliotropic
website.com

The Fuzz Who Loved Me
Wielding a Fender Jazz and running the Heliotropic into a Verellen Meatsmoke head paired with an Ampeg Isovent combo cab, I set the pedal’s controls to the manual’s suggested positions for a “Heliotropic-like” sound: pre-gain at 9 o’clock, sustain at 3 o’clock, tone at 2 o’clock, and volume a touch above unity. There was incredibly dense and vicious-sounding fuzz as soon as I hit the strings. The gnarly midrange, subsonic lows, and scraping industrial highs were eerily similar to the tone on the original recording. There was impressive note depth, even as I moved high up the neck, yet the pedal preserved the clarity and bite of my bypassed tone surprisingly well, even at the pedal’s most intense settings.

When I pushed the pre-gain control to about 2 o’clock, the fuzz’s attack began to soften and the sound displayed a strong upper-octave effect. This cool, synth-like tone was especially useful for Moog-ish sounds when soloing the neck pickup. Due to the ridiculous amounts of gain, there was quite a bit of background noise. I was able to partially tame it by dropping the sustain knob below noon, but at the expense of the fuzz’s previously fluidity. That said, this setting showed off the sustain control’s extraordinary ability to soften low-end response without sacrificing presence, yielding a new range of dark, subdued tones with exceptional growl.

The Verdict
Fair warning: The Heliotropic is most certainly not for the faint of heart. It’s for bassists who crave intensely abrasive fuzz. It lives up to its namesake, capturing much of Failure’s cacophonous bass tone. The Heliotropic’s extended range and remarkable detail make it somewhat versatile—you can get deeper fuzz tones with a relaxed attack. But it’s much easier to dial up fierce fuzz than to achieve a warm vintage growl. If you’re one of the many Failure fans who haven’t managed to chase down that famous bass tone—or a bassist looking for a fuzz that stands out in a crowd—put the Fuzzrocious Heliotropic at the top of your must-try list.

A few simple chords is all it takes.

Beginner

Beginner

  • Learn to play a 12-bar blues, in three different keys, using one shape.
  • Study an assortment of strumming and picking patterns.
  • Gain a basic understanding of the 12-bar blues form.
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As usual, there is more to this lesson than the title implies. We will be working with one chord shape at a time, but over the course of the lesson we’ll study three different shapes. The final example in this lesson incorporates all three shapes to demonstrate how a few basic ideas can provide us with infinite possibilities.

It is important to know that for every chord name in this lesson there are countless shapes—also known as fingerings or voicings—available. For this lesson, I chose what I consider to be the most practical and flexible shapes.

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My years-long search for the “right” Bigsby-outfitted box finally paid off. Now how do I make this sumbitch work in my band?

Considering the amount of time I’ve spent (here and elsewhere) talking about and lusting after Gretsch hollowbody guitars, it’s taken me a remarkably long time to end up with a big Bigsby-outfitted box I truly love. High-end Gretsches are pricey enough that, for a long time, I just couldn’t swing it. Years ago I had an Electromatic for a while, and it looked and played lovely, but didn’t have the open, blooming acoustic resonance I hoped for. A while later, I reviewed the stellar Players Edition Broadkaster semi-hollow, and it was so great in so many ways that I set my sights on it, eventually got one, and adore it to this day. Yet the full-hollowbody lust remained.

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