Happy anniversary to me! This is the twelfth “Aaron’s Bass Hole” blog, and it only took me fourteen months. Okay, so I didn’t write a blog while I was on vacation or during NAMM. Whatever. It’s fine.
Anywho, I’m going to share one of my favorite pedal combinations for a faux-synth / sequencer effect that’s a real doozy. A quadruple threat, if you will. A fearsome foursome. Two terrible twosomes. And so on.
One of the challenges of using modulation pedals with the bass guitar is finding an interesting sound that still locks in with the groove. I view my role in any musical situation as “half of the rhythm section,” rather than just the bass player. So, it’s important that whatever sounds I’m using enhance the rhythm without cluttering the beat. And I’m no fan of being chained to a tap-tempo button all night, because that’s just not who I am.
What if the bass was the beat?
The idea behind this particular effects chain is to let the bass guitar take the lead by using effects pedals to simulate a sound similar to the sequencer module of an analog synthesizer.
My basic synth sound is the Bit Commander, which I covered in detail in an earlier blog. From there, I chop up the input with a Hummingbird to set the tempo. Then I use the Depths to add a syncopated accent by timing the Rate to a subdivision of the Hummingbird speed. Finally, the Grand Orbiter really ties the room together, adding subtle phasing to make this sound come to life with some gentle movement.
To illustrate, let’s begin with everything all at once and peel away each layer to reveal the constituent sounds within.
Here it is with everything - Bit Commander, Hummingbird, Depths, Grand Orbiter:
Notice how the Hummingbird’s distinct “ping” maintains a steady pulse while the other elements (including the notes I play) dance around the beat.
When I disengage the Grand Orbiter, the individual elements of this sound take on a harder edge and become more distinct.
Deactivating the Depths removes the lilting syncopated feel, exposing the Hummingbird’s inner tyranny as it and the Bit Commander throw down a steady hard-chop rhythm.
Now that we’ve stripped away everything but the Bit Commander, take a listen at the simple four note phrase behind this insanity.
And here are the other parts isolated, starting with the Hummingbird:
and finally, the Grand Orbiter.
What’s it all mean?
Beats me. But, I hope that by building up a sound and isolating each unique voice I’ve illustrated in some small way that effects pedals (and by proxy the musicians who use them) aren’t one-trick-ponies that you set and forget on the fast track to gimmickry. Think of each pedal you own as a paintbrush or a voice in a choir and ask yourself, “Am I using the right tool for the job?”