Small Supro-inspired simplicity leads to growling, raunchy, bad-attitude drive tones and lead sounds with venom.
Dynamically responsive. Sounds a lot like a little amp made enormous when used with bigger amplifiers. Great build quality.
Some players won’t dig the midrange focus here.
Most of the pedals I play that are built by Skreddy’s Marc Ahlfs feel like the product of a lot of deep listening and diligent research. They always seem to go a layer deeper—more detail, more authentic, and just more moving when you plug in and play loud. That certainly goes for the new Skunk Drive Model 1606, a simple, straight-ahead stomp designed to add vintage small-Supro sounds and dynamics to a player’s crayon box. Skunk nails a sort of sound, feel, and responsiveness that strongly evokes Supros and other low-wattage classics. And it can transform the sound of a high-headroom amp while retaining a very organic sense of touch.
If you’re familiar with Skreddy’s work, you’ll know Marc Ahlfs has an affinity for old-school stomps and the players that made them famous. A few of his fuzzes are revered by the David Gilmour cult. His Little Miss Sunshine is as enveloping as any Phase 90-inspired pedal you’ll ever play. And his love of Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin, among others, inspires fantastic Fuzz Face- and Tone Bender-style stomps that effectively enhance and expand upon the potential of those platforms. The Skunk is, at least in part, another product of Ahlfs’ affinity for Jimmy Page—specifically Pagey’s dalliance with a Supro, and, quite probably, a Solo Tone Bender, on Led Zeppelin I. To many Zep’ fans (this author included), those tones are at least tied for Pagey’s most-bitchin’-ever sounds. There are many such textures hiding in the Skunk. But Zep’ tones are not the whole ball of wax here.
As is typical for a Skreddy pedal, the Skunk, which is fitted into a pretty gold-finished 1590B enclosure, is a tidy piece of pedal manufacturing. The circuit is made up of a fairly modest number of components, but they are arranged on a through-hole board with plenty of space between them. Skreddy will repair any pedal that malfunctions due to defects for three years. The build quality I see here suggests that’s unlikely. But if it happens, servicing the pedal should be no sweat.
Rippin’ with Le Pew
For most of the time I spent with the Skunk, I had it hooked up to an old black-panel Fender Vibrolux Reverb. I mention this because my Vibrolux is an especially “surfy” specimen. It’s clean and sparkly, the reverb is deep and splashy, and the treble will rip your head off if you’re not careful. In many respects, it’s the antithesis of the kind of amp the Skunk is built to approximate. And what impresses in this configuration is the Skunk’s ability to transform the sound and feel of an amp like my Vibrolux without sounding or feeling like you splashed a cheap coat of paint over your direct tone. Most overdriven sounds have an organic, natural aggression. And though the pedal creates a vivid illusion of a small amp, which flips the character of your amp completely, in a dynamic sense it feels seamlessly integrated with the amplifier on the receiving end. The Skunk doesn’t seem to rob the amp of its intrinsic energy, like some overdrives will—even though it adds a pretty squishy, almost tweed-like helping of compression to the base tone. It retains responsiveness to guitar volume attenuation and can essentially approximate the clean bypassed sound of the amp (save for loss of a little top-end zing) with a just-right reduction in instrument volume. The Skunk excels at clean-boost tasks, too, with the gain low and the output volume up high, adding a little midrange focus, but never clouding over an amp’s essence. At the other end of the gain range, the Skunk flirts with near-fuzz sounds that brim with delectable raunch.
”Though the pedal creates a vivid illusion of a small amp, which flips the character of your amp completely, in a dynamic sense it feels seamlessly integrated with the amplifier on the receiving end.“
The pedal’s midrange emphasis won’t float everyone’s boat. Depending on the Skunk’s settings, and the pickups driving it, it can sound a bit honky and filtered, not unlike a cocked wah at some settings. (Check out “Communication Breakdown” for reference to hear what I’m talking about.) Depending on your affinity for these types of colors, the tone profile could sound narrow at first. But the midrange emphasis does not obscure clarity. The first and second strings snap and pop with authority and definition that adds heat to leads, and you hear very nice balance between strings in chording situations. Incidentally, situating a Tone Bender fuzz before the Skunk, in true Led Zeppelin I style, generates amazing nastiness. Again, the midrange focus in these sounds won’t be everyone’s idea of fuzz perfection, but they will stand out in a mix like Wilt Chamberlain in a third-grade-class picture. Personally, they left me giddy.
Even though it delivers the surprise of awesome clean-boost tones. It’s not transparent, and it will shift the voice of a louder amp noticeably and profoundly. But in the process, it really does create the picture of a little amp writ large. How this sound aligns with your tone ideals will be very personal, and you should consider my tone score here as very subjective. If you dig Jimmy Page, Mick Ronson, and other sprouts from the glam, punk, and raw, electric Mississippi blues vines, you’ll find a lot to love here. But any guitarist keen to carve out a distinct, visceral place in an ensemble or mix could well find the Skreddy Skunk invaluable.
With funky-cool looks, a comfy short scale, and built-in fuzz, this 4-string is a whole lotta cool. The PG Serek Grand bass review.
Great feel and vibe. Big tone. Onboard fuzz circuit.
I'm like Janet Jackson. I need control … tone control.
Recorded direct using PreSonus FireStudio and PreSonus Studio One 3.
Clip 1: Tone switch off
Clip 2: Tone switch on
Clip 3: Fuzz circuit engaged
You know what I would love to do? Tour the world in support of some heavyweight bands, then maybe intern at a respected bass builder's shop, and then, just maybe, design bass guitars that make a big impact among players in the know.
Or, I could just live vicariously through Jake Serek, who has done everything on my list, and then some. Jake has pulled from his experience on the road, his work at Lakland, and—through his own trial and error—made Serek Basses into a Cinderella story about an independent builder who hit the jackpot.
In a relatively short period, Serek's Chicago-based company has made a name for itself by designing unique, vintage-inspired basses. Even though Serek makes 34"-scale instruments, industry heavies such as Tim LeFebvre (David Bowie) and Brandon Boone (Tedeschi Trucks Band) lean toward its short-scale offerings. We recently got to look at Serek's latest 4-string shorty: the Grand.
The Grand Design
The Grand's appearance is just that. Opening Serek's very stylish gig bag, I giggled a little at what I saw. First, there's the body shape, which is vintage-inspired and sits like a race car. There's the gold racing stripe, the bowling ball scratch plate, and the offset TV Jones Thunder'Blade pickup. And finally, there's the simple control set that just begged me to say hello.
The Grand basses are made in small batches. A 30.5" scale is how manufacturers typically design short-scale basses. But Sereks play bigger, so there's no loss of bass integrity just because the instrument is shorter or lighter. (This Grand weighed in at just over 7 pounds.) The roasted-maple neck has the right amount of heft and feel, with an easy C-shape, and the bone nut measures at 1 5/8", so it's very Jazz-like in that regard. The nickel frets were perfect, with no edges or anomalies, and the action from the factory was set very comfy. The oversized headstock with Hipshot Ultralites balances the Grand quite well, and the 4-bolt design is solid, with a super-tight neck joint.
A Grand Vernacular
I plugged the bass into an Eden Terra Nova head pushing a ported 2x10 cabinet. The controls on the Grand are minimal, with just a volume dial and a 3-way toggle switch. Instead of a traditional tone control, the toggle essentially offers “tone open" or “tone off," plus a mystery third position to be revealed in a moment.
With the tone open (middle position), I rolled up my lonely volume pot and got to work. Thunder'Blade pickups are true supercharged engines on basses, and this one's no exception. The bass sounded big and authoritative with tons of low-end air movement and all the articulation you'd need. But to isolate the Grand's bass tone to one lane wouldn't be fair. This isn't a P- or a J-style setup, because it speaks a language all its own. The Grand is a touch throaty, which allows it to cut through the mix, for sure.
Flipping the toggle to the tone-off position, I wasn't quite as excited with the prospects. The tone-off vibe certainly has a place in the musical universe. (Earth-shaking reggae and dub bass players take note.) I'm not a designer or audio engineer, but maybe a “half-tone" option would have been cool on this bass, as opposed to the nothing-or-all approach.
The third position on the toggle is the activation point for the “Skuzz Serkit," a very clever passive-fuzz circuit. I am a fan of onboard effects. I know that some companies back in the day went a bit overboard at times, but being able to hit some fuzz on the fly is a wonderfully freeing feeling. And it adds to the nostalgia this bass evokes. Plus, the fuzz circuit sounds really good, so that certainly helps. It's beefy and impactful, without being overbearing.
While I appreciate the design of the controls, I do wish I could have a bit more, well, control over the tone. In my world, a tone control is my “situation adjustment," so I like being able to go higher or lower depending on the vibe of the session, the push of the effects, or even the genre of music. This option is not available here, but it's also not necessarily a bad thing. To many players, this won't be an issue at all, because the tone in the open position is a great one that will work in numerous situations. Those few times adjustments might be needed, players will just need to take a different route to their exact tone.
I really like this bass. For those of you thinking a short-scale isn't your bag, you'd be pleasantly surprised with this one, simply because it plays and sounds much bigger than it really is. Being an old soul with retro love, I like that the Grand has an onboard fuzz switch (and no battery required!) that gives plug-and-go purists an option to dive into some grit without a pedal.
The Grand is well-balanced, super comfy, and just looks cool. With the absence of a traditional tone control, I did, however, wish there was maybe a “half-tone" setting, or maybe an additional mini-toggle. Sure, the price might be hefty for some, but there is something to be said for a well-built, U.S.-made instrument that will mature with age—and with grand style.
Power to the pinky—the variety of sounds in this homage to the 1960s Colorsound Fuzz is damn near astounding. The PG Vick Audio Lucky 13 review.
Clip 1: Eastwood Sidejack Baritone DLX with Curtis Novak Widerange Jazzmaster pickups into a Goodsell Valpreaux 21. Neck pickup, first with pedal bypassed, then engaged with Lucky 13 level at max and neck pickup selected, then middle position, then bridge, then back and forth between positions, adjusting guitar volume to various levels throughout.
Clip 2: Curtis Novak Tele-V Telecaster bridge pickup into the Lucky 13 (bypassed first, then engaged with level at 3 o’clock and guitar volume at max) then into the boost side of a SoundBrut DrVa MkII and a Ground Control Tsukuyomi mid boost, then into a 1976 Vibrolux Reverb with a Celestion G10 and a WGS G10C/S.
Myriad fuzz tones—from thick and gnarly to reedy and sqwonky—via guitar-volume tweaks. Cleans up really well with humbuckers. Pretty decent price.
Somewhat unpredictable sounds, guitar to guitar/rig to rig. Can be quite noisy with single-coils.
Vick Audio Lucky 13
Ease of Use:
Inspired by the 1960s Colorsound Fuzz designed by Dick Denney (also of Vox AC30 fame), Vick Audio’s new Lucky 13 is one of those stomps whose full potential can only be accessed via guitar-volume tweaks.
Silicon fuzzes sometimes have the reputation of being jagged, harsh, or trashy, but at full guitar volume, the Lucky 13 has a warm, thick, germanium-like sound. Its single level control (which governs a simple, two-transistor circuit) goes from nada to woolly-bear beef at its extremes, but for my money there’s no reason to set it below 3 o’clock. The higher you set it, the more tonal variety, dynamics, and clean headroom you can conjure with your instrument’s volume knob—though different rigs can have surprisingly different results.
For instance, with my Tele’s single-coils, lowered-volume sounds were more lo-fi, less varied, and considerably noisier. Meanwhile, driven by a baritone with Curtis Novak Widerange Jazzmaster humbuckers, the 13 churned out a deliciously smooth chocolate-destruction milkshake with the neck pickup at max, a chunky, slightly sweeter explosion with both pickups at max, and a velvet-fisted bruising with the bridge dimed. But these doom-friendly sounds were just occasional stopping points, as the ’buckers yielded a plethora of in-between tones that didn’t just vary in cleanness but also in EQ profile. With baritone volume near minimum, the tones were surprisingly clean, though also scooped and thin—but not quite Mosrite Fuzzrite-thin—yet more mids crept in as I increased guitar dBs. At mid volume, the ’buckers brought out wonderfully sensitive, even, and amp-like overdrive/crunch, and as I nudged volume further, the tones bloomed beautifully … until bursting into a filthy mushroom cloud at full throttle.
Test Gear: Eastwood Sidejack Baritone DLX and Squier Tele Custom with Curtis Novak pickups, silver-panel Fender Vibrolux Reverb and Vibro Champ, Goodsell Valpreaux 21, Jaguar HC50