A tiny bass amp for plug-and-play practice just about anywhere.
I plugged in a Fender P, set the MicroTour’s tone knob at noon, and pushed the volume to 10 o’clock. The MicroTour delivered enough juice for pleasant, discernable volume that worked for riffing, but was quiet enough not to bug your family or co-workers down the hall. Don’t expect classic Eden tone or big volume from this little box—it’s just a plastic enclosure with a small speaker and 2 watts of power. (Push the volume beyond 2 o’clock and things get buzzy.) But with the volume around noon, MicroTour lets you to hold your own in a living room jam with your dreadnought-toting buddies.
Portability? Check. The MicroTour fit perfectly into the topside compartment of my Ritter gig bag. This fun and cool-looking little amp lets you power up your bass just about anywhere. At 60 bucks, why not?
Test Gear: 2001 Fender Precision
A compact, affordable Uni-Vibe-style pedal with downloadable textures and tones.
Compact, affordable Uni-Vibe-inspired pedals have become abundant in recent years—an excellent development for psychedelically aligned modulation fiends like this editor. What makes this proliferation of swirl machines extra-cool is that builders are also looking beyond mimicking the original Uni-Vibe (a thankless task for digital engineers in particular), adding extra features and sounds that expand on the original’s possibilities.
At its core, TC Electronic’s $129 Viscous Vibe is a digital-modulation machine for Vibe fans on a budget. For plug-and-play types it delivers a fundamentally Uni-Vibe-like voice colored by a low-end-heavy, tremolo-like intensity. But Viscous Vibe also incorporates TC’s Tone Print technology, making many more flavors available via download. While many of these extra textures aren’t authentically Uni-Vibe-like, they make the Viscous Vibe a formidable and versatile modulation unit.
The Viscous Vibe comes in TC’s signature Tone Print pedal enclosure. It features the same basic controls as a Uni-Vibe: A small switch toggles between the commonly used “chorus” effect and the 100%-wet vibrato function. (Its middle position activates downloaded Tone Print voices—more on this in a bit). Three knobs control effect intensity, volume, and modulation speed.
The speed control is a large knob you can probably operate with your foot if your pedalboard isn’t too crowded. Holding down the footswitch activates a ramp-up sweep. The big knob and ramp-up function are game attempts to capture the functionality of the original Uni-Vibe’s pedal-controlled rate setting, though neither can match the pedal’s expressive potential.
Opening the pedal (by twisting a single, substantial screw with a coin) reveals little—a removable protective hood covers the IC. But you’ll see DIP switches for true-bypass/buffered switching and a kill-dry function that mutes the direct signal when using the pedal in an effect loop. There’s also a 9V battery compartment. On the exterior are a 9V DC jack and the USB 2.0 port used to download Tone Prints. Like all pedals in this series, the Viscous Vibe feels rock-solid.
Smorgasbord Of Swirl
In chorus mode, the Viscous Vibe’s bass-heavy coloration can be both virtuous and problematic, depending on your style and rig. With bridge single-coils and hot humbuckers, it can sound throaty, vowely, heavy, and huge, especially for chords, arpeggios, and slow, liquid solo passages. It can also be a killer companion for an unruly fuzz. My buzzy, hot, and spiky silicon Fuzzrite clone sounded much more substantial, and the fuzz’s extra highs helped animate the modulation sweeps.
There are drawbacks to that ample low end. The relative lack of high-mids means sweeps can sometimes have an on/off, almost tremolo-like quality. This can be a killer effect for chord riffs, but some players may miss the original Uni-Vibe’s smoother harmonic curve.
But if the default chorus voice doesn’t suit your rig, more options are available among the Tone Prints (which are easy to access and great fun to experiment with, regardless of your needs). The “Vintage Vibe” download seemed to smooth and de-emphasize the low-end content that made the default chorus setting a poor match for my Fender Bassman. Other downloads are less conventional: “Space Vibe” adds a flanging effect whose intense sweeps move in subdivisions parallel to the Vibe modulations. “Thirsty Hearts” adds Tri-Chorus with similarly intense and disorienting results. Clearly, the more radical Tone Prints have little to do with replicating vintage Uni-Vibe tones, but they greatly expand the pedal’s range for experimentally minded players.
Vibrato mode (widely underutilized on vintage Uni-Vibes) adds another cool dimension. While not as versatile or intense as TC’s own Shaker, it’s more organically queasy and animated than some digital vibratos I’ve encountered—a damn good thing in my book. Slower vibrato speeds are particularly effective, especially with buzzing ‘60s-style fuzz.
Duplicating the smooth contours of an original optical Uni-Vibe circuit is tough, especially in the digital realm. While the Vicious Vibe doesn’t precisely capture the depth and harmonic complexity of a good optical unit, its Tone Prints make it far more flexible than the original, especially if you want to move beyond well trodden and hard-to-top Hendrix moves. Built tough and sensibly priced, the Viscous Vibe is an appealing and affordable chorus/vibrato option.
Watch the Review Demo:
Few guitarists are able to combine soul with a healthy amount of down-home rock like the Gov’t Mule frontman.
• Understand how to play expressively with the blues scale.
• Learn how to use space effectively in your solos.
• Develop standard-tuned slide skills.
The best part of writing a column like Beyond Blues is getting to look at a few of my musical heroes and without a doubt North Carolina native Warren Haynes falls into that category. Haynes has had a long association with the Allman Brothers Band—who he’s been playing with (minus a short gap in the late nineties) since 1989. While that obviously meant standing up and playing classic Southern rock jams for many years, Warren would lend his voice and playing skills on tunes characteristically his, such as the beautiful duet with Derek Trucks, “Old Friend.”
Outside of the Allman Brothers he has played with the Dead, David Allan Coe, and the Dickey Betts Band. He’s probably most known for his own solo work and fronting Gov’t Mule, who have released no fewer than 18 albums in 20 years!
Haynes has the full package. He’s a phenomenal rhythm guitar player with groove for days, a powerful electric blues player, a scarily talented slide player, and he wraps it all up with an ability to write (and sing) fantastic songs.
For this column we’ve got a backing track with an A and B section in the style of something you might hear in a Gov’t Mule song. Let’s start by taking a look at the riff in the A section (Ex. 1). We’re just using notes of the E Dorian mode (E–F#–G–A–B–C#–D), going between a punchy riff and an open-string fill. This one can present quite a challenge if you’re not comfortable with 16th-note rhythms, so be careful!
The solo (more on that in a bit) happens over the B section shown in Ex. 2. It’s a simple idea based around a straight-ahead A power chord. Keep those 16th-note rhythms tight and really lock in with the drums. In the 2nd and 4th measures, make sure to bounce off the downbeat of beats 3 and 4.
Our first solo example (Ex. 3) is based almost entirely on the A blues scale (A–C–D–Eb–E–G) and uses plenty of space—a hallmark of Haynes’ sultry and economical style. This example is all about phrasing, vibrato, and tone, so it’s important to spend time on how you play the notes in addition to accuracy. Shades of big benders like Albert King and David Gilmour appear in measure five with a jump from A to E before a huge minor-third bend and a walk down over the essence of the blues scale—the b5.
For the next example, we bust out the slide. Haynes is known as one of the modern masters of soulful slide guitar, and it’s an essential part of his style. In a previous column, [“Standard-Tuned Slide”], we touched on some of these elements, so go back and check it out to brush up. As this solo demonstrates, Haynes is a big advocate of combining regular fretwork with slide playing. We’re sticking with the E blues scale (E–G–A–Bb–B–D), and the trick here is to focus on the muting. To keep any unwanted notes from ringing out, use both your right and left hands (let your fretting fingers rest lightly on the strings behind the slide).
Finally, we have a backing track, which you can hear with or without the slide solo, so you can experiment with the ideas shown here and then try some of your own. Have fun!