KHDK Abyss Review
Bi-amp technology and a secret-weapon voicing switch combine to unearth a treasure trove of bass overdrive flavors.
Recorded with Sandberg TM5 bass into Mesa Boogie Subway D-800 amp paired with a Mesa Boogie 2x12 cabinet. DI out to Avid Mbox and using Logic Pro 9.
Clip 1 - Palm-muting style with voicing toggle set on “lo.” Gain at 2 o’clock, clean at 2 o’clock, dirty at 10 o’clock, and treble at 10 o’clock. Lick starts with pedal disengaged and then repeats with aforementioned setting.
Clip 2 - Aggressive fingerstyle with voicing toggle set on “hi.” Gain, clean, and dirty set at 12 o’clock, and treble at 2 o’clock. Lick starts with pedal disengaged and then repeats with aforementioned setting.
I have a love/hate relationship with bass-overdrive pedals. I’ve often preferred the sound of hot tubes and 10" speakers being pushed to the limit to any stompbox, but some of my bass colleagues here in Nashville are obsessed with overdrive and fuzz pedals. So much so that if they come out to one of my gigs where I’m playing through a vintage SVT and later ask me what dirt pedal I was using, it’s much to their surprise when my answer is usually “none.” That said, I think the market in recent years has been infused with several worthy contenders for bass-specific overdrive that provide good low-end retention and an alternative means to the vintage-tube growl I love. So yes, I might be a tough customer, but I was looking forward to checking out the Abyss overdrive from KHDK, the relatively new pedal outfit founded by Metallica’s Kirk Hammett and industry vet David Karon.
On the Surface
The Abyss communicates boutique straight out of the box, with its included velvet pouch, and my very first impression was that of a lightweight yet solid-feeling, high-end pedal. The footswitch is sturdy and requires a good amount of pressure to click and engage the pedal. Once engaged, there’s not only one but two LEDs to indicate operation—an original visual touch I didn’t mind at all. The Abyss can be powered by either 9V battery or DC power supply (not included).
Four vintage-style, cream-white knobs marked with black position-indicator lines sit against the deep-ocean-themed graphics. Along with the blue hue of the enclosure, it all makes for an easy-to-read pedal for dimly lit stages.
The clean knob controls the volume of the direct signal. Next is the gain dial for setting the distortion level, and to its right resides the dirty knob for controlling the output volume of the overdriven signal. The treble dial is a cut only control, which means it doesn’t boost the high end when turned all the way clockwise, but instead simply gives you the full spectrum of your bass’ normal sound. The final control is a rocker switch that’s tied directly to the gain dial and is tucked in the middle of the four knobs to maneuver between the “lo” and “hi” settings.
For those of us who don’t get the luxury of having a separate rig and/or extra channel on the mixing board that’s solely designated to the highs for our distorted tone (and leaving the low-end completely unaffected), having separate clean and dirty controls on an overdrive pedal is heaven sent. While manufacturers have employed different solutions to this predicament, most of the time it involves some sort of mix or blend knob. I’ve never found these types of controls to be as effective in dialing up exactly the right amount of two vastly different sounds. For me, two separate controls is the way to go.
Digging in the Dirt
To hear the true nature of the pedal, I ran it through what I consider to be a very clean rig: a Mesa/Boogie Subway D-800 amp paired with a Mesa/Boogie 2x12 cabinet. For my bass, I plugged in a Sandberg TM5 with the pickup blend at 75 percent towards the neck pickup and kept it in passive mode for a P-bass-oriented tone.
With the pedal engaged and the dirty knob set to zero, I noticed a slight difference in tone—versus having the pedal disengaged completely—but it was absolutely within an acceptable level. (Actual true bypass is hard to come by.) The clean (or direct) knob on the Abyss retains punch and low end exceptionally well. And I found that the gain control provided an even distortion increase across its sweep.
The showstopper on the Abyss is the lo/hi rocker switch. With the lo setting, I had a warmer, more vintage-sounding overdrive at my fingertips. I set the gain control at about 2 o’clock to keep the distortion somewhat up front in the mix and to not venture into muffled-fuzz territory. I got to my ideal mix by setting the clean dial at 10 o’clock and the dirty dial at 2 o’clock. And to keep the sound buttery smooth, setting the treble control at 10 o’clock provided the ideal amount of warmth with the dirt for mainstream rock.
The hi setting roars the Abyss to life and turns the pedal into quite the wild beast. It took me into Tim Commerford-like territory and beyond as it provided a small low-end boost and quite a bit of compression, which I personally enjoyed since I was coaxed by the pedal to dig in harder with this setting engaged. It was here in the hi mode where I found my set-it-and-forget-it sound that will demand attention once engaged in the middle of an otherwise distortion-free song: all controls at noon except for the treble set to 2 o’clock. It’s a bright, in-your-face overdriven tone that still retains a soft low-end and musicality to its high overtones.
Versatility is the selling point of the Abyss, thanks to its two-in-one overdrive capability. Anything from warm and subtle to all-out screaming distortion was at my fingertips. In fact, I believe it could potentially replace a few different pedals for the bassists who—like some guitarists—currently use several different overdrives and distortions side-by-side. Its built-in compression will likely impress players who normally employ a separate pedal or plug-in for that purpose when using higher-gain distortion settings. The solid build-quality and appealing exterior doesn’t hurt the pedal, either. I found myself playing very differently with each setting I tested, and when creativity comes in a small box, that makes for a good day.
Watch the Review Demo: