Monday, 31 January 2011

Interstellar Overdrive

As the latest orgy of music technology pornography that is the NAMM* show fades slowly into a distant memory of smug postings/tweets/other annoyances from people who were in attendance to ogle and fondle its diverse splendours, and the next "International Day Of Kitsch Tat And Misery" looms hard on the horizon, perhaps this is the ideal moment to consider what you might proffer the bass player in your life as a token of your everlasting affection.

Well, given the plethora of the noisy little beasties that keep appearing on the market, what better than an overdrive/distortion pedal?

There are, (as an hour spent trawling Google & assorted music shop websites revealed), at least 46 different models to choose from that are designed specifically for bass - and that's a conservative estimate, given that I didn't count the various pre-amps which have a "drive" knob, purely "fuzz" pedals, or any multi-effects units, most of which contain several distortion options (usually stuck in amongst the digital amp simulators - which, it should go without saying, are the first thing you should turn off when using such units).

And if being spoilt for choice wasn't enough, they also come at prices to suit almost every budget - pre-Government spending/welfare cuts in the UK, that is. Once those really kick-in, the only affordable equipment for many people will be whatever they can obtain by employing their skills with a brick and Parkour. You can pay less than £30 for, say, a Behringer BOD400, all the way up to a wallet-jarring £240 for a Zvex "Woolly Mammoth". This might, however, even be topped by the Daring Audio "Laser Cannon" (pictured above), whose $349 US price tag could well translate into a retail price of £250+ once shipping, import duties and the inevitable inexplicable extra mark-up (because it's "not from round here"..?) have been taken into account.

At this point, we could (but in all probability won't) spare a grain of sympathy for guitarists, who, in their never-ending (and almost always pointless) quest for their absolute, ultimate, no-expense-spared-or-thought-applied "tone of utter perfection-ness", could easily hand over £330 for a "Tonebone Radial Plexitube" pedal. Much good that it'll do them, but still...a lot of money.

But (and you might have sensed this was where we were all headed), I really don't think you should buy any of these - assuming anyone out there could actually love a bass player enough to want to shell out hard cash on us in the first place..but that's a different issue.

No, the problem here, as I see it, is that all this huge array of distortion boxes demonstrates is an enormous failure of imagination. Maybe there are so damn many because the basic circuits are relatively simple to design. Or perhaps the companies look at bass players and say to themselves - "I'll bet they're all frustrated guitarists, and guitarists want distortion - so we'll give it to 'em...again and again and again and again...!".

A few more of them on the market and we may even be facing the "Distortion Pedal Event Horizon"**, where so much money is being spent on mediocre distortion pedals (as we search for the aforementioned "tone of utter perfection-ness"), they become the only type of pedal that it's economic to produce...eventually leading to the collapse of civilisation as we know it. Or something like that. Worst case scenario. The asteroid'll probably have wiped us out by then anyway, so I wouldn't worry too much about it.

Seriously though, please don't purchase one. There are so many far more interesting "boxes o' noise" out there - how about the joyous hours of neighbour-tormenting an Electro-Harmonix POG2 ('polyphonic octave generator' - as demonstrated with fretless bass [and a few other effects] on this track here) could bring? And of course, in all probability they've already got several overdrive pedals kicking around - none of which they're satisfied with.

Best alternative? Give the bass-playing object of your desire a hug, a big smacky kiss, and possibly a small-yet-considerate gift voucher for their favourite music shop...?

Just a thought.

* NAMM = National Association of Music Merchants, in case anyone cared.

** Blatantly copied from the late, great Douglas Adams' idea of the "Shoe Event Horizon" in "The Hitch-Hiker's Guide To The Galaxy".

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