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Review: Ampeg Scrambler Bass Overdrive

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  • Review: Ampeg Scrambler Bass Overdrive

    Ampeg Scrambler Bass Overdrive

    Let me start out with a disclaimer. I have long held that critics shouldn't review things they don't care for. For example, movie critics who don't like horror movies shouldn't review horror movies, because even if it's a great example of the genre, they're not going to like it. There are exceptions, of course. If the movie critic is the only one on staff, and the editor directs him to review the hot new horror movie everyone is talking about, of course he's going to write that review. What else is he going to do, quit his job over it? But in wrting the review, I think he has an obligation to set aside his biases as best he can, and give a fair assessment of the film.

    As you might have guessed from the previous paragraph, I am not a big fan of overdrive units for bass. I've never owned one, never used one. I tried out one or two guitar distortion units on bass and really didn't care for the sound. When I hear a bass player with a lot of distortion, my first thought is that he probably needs a bigger amp so that he can play cleanly. Get some more headroom. But a lot of players like that sound, and a lot of great bands played with their bass amps turned to 11, so what do I know? Given all that, what did I think of the Scrambler?

    Well, let me dodge that for a moment, and give you the technical details.

    Like it's sibling, the Ampeg Classic Analog Bass Preamp, it comes in a cardboard box. Thin, but corrugated, so it provides some protection. Inside, the pedal is in a plastic bag, along with a desiccant packet and a little booklet called the Quick Start Guide. The instructions are in English, Spanish, French and German. Standard Setup is as you'd expect, bass into the input, output to the amp. The PA/Recording Setup is similar, with the output going to an amp, which then goes to the board.

    The next page shows the controls: Drive, Blend, Treble and Volume, along with a footswitch for cutting it in and out. Inside the box is a space for a battery and a jumper for reducing the gain by 15 dB.

    Technical specs are as follows:
    Signal to Noise Ratio >85 dB
    Maximum Gain +18 dB
    Power Requirements Internal 9V battery
    External 9VDC, ≥20 ma
    Size (H x W x D) 2.2 x 2.6 x 4.5 in
    56 x 66 x 114 mm
    Weight 0.6 lb
    0.3 kg

    The pedal looks and feels solid. It has a flat black finish with white graphics that were easy to read under stage lights. The Ampeg logo is in silver. The knobs are a kind of mini-chicken head design with a white stripe at the "beak" making them easy to see, too. The bottom plate has four rubber feet and four #1 Phillips screws holding it on. These have to be removed to access the battery or change the gain, as there is no battery door.

    I used the Scrambler with a 9V power supply rather than a battery, as I have a few around. No issues with that. Not even noise, which can sometimes happen because the DC on a DC wall wart is not as clean as one might hope. The controls are all easy to read on stage, and the blue LED indicator is really bright.

    The Drive control determines how much overdrive is generated, from none at all (at least none I could hear) to quite a lot. The Blend feature is a nice touch, blending the overdriven sound with the clean signal from the bass. Most distortion units are either on or off, and the sound of an overdrive unit with the drive turned down is not the same as blending it with a clean signal.

    The Treble control is another good feature. Overdriving an amplifier generates a lot of upper harmonics, some of which can sound downright nasty. For guitar players, that's not usually an issue, as their speakers tend to roll off around 5KHz, cutting off the top two octaves. Take a typical guitar overdrive and run it straight into the PA instead of miking the amp, and you'll see that this is not a good idea. But many modern bass speakers are equipped with tweeters. Not only are we going to hear all that ugly high end distortion, but there's a risk of burning out the tweeter, too. Listening to the bass on old Grand Funk Railroad or Deep Purple albums, there's not a lot of treble coming out of those bass speakers. The Treble control lets you roll off those highs and get the sound of an overdriven old school bass amp. I was able to get a pretty good approximation of running my Sunn 200S well past its rated 60 watts, then back to my usual clean sound at the touch of a foot switch.

    With the drive cranked, the Blend on full overdrive and the Treble control all the way up, it really sounded as if my speakers were dying. Not a sound I'd use, but it's there if you need it. Freaked out the other band members, too! Rolling back the Treble a bit and adding in some clean with the Blend, and you get a less scary, more conventional overdriven tone. Turn down the Drive, and you can ride just below the overdrive, clean when you play softly, but adding some edge when you play harder.

    As I said, I haven't used this sort of unit before but, as good effects do, it started us thinking about where it would be useful. It gave a scary monster tone to the Blue Oyster Cult's "Godzilla", and it's perfect for that Made In Japan bass on "Smoke on the Water". In fact, it sounded so good that it's got us thinking about adding "Space Truckin'" to our set list. So, even if I'm not a total convert to overdriven bass, I have become a fan in certain circumstances!

    Downsides? The only criticism I have of it is that, like its sibling, it has no battery door. To use a battery, you have to remove the four screws to install or replace it. That's a really minor thing, especially a it seems that almost everyone uses external power supplies these days.

    I've read elsewhere that the Scrambler and Bass Preamp are true bypass units, and that certainly seems to be the case. Turned off, it has no discernible effect on the tone, and the signal goes through unimpeded with the power supply removed.

    So yeah, I have never been a fan of overdriven bass, but I have come to see the light. I'm not going to use it on every song, or even most, but I find that it's a useful texture when done right, and the Scrambler does it better than any other unit I've ever tried.
    "The Web puts all of the world's knowledge at our fingertips; unfortunately it's mixed with all of the world's bull****************."
    -- Bob Parks

    "A thing is not necessarily true because a man dies for it."
    -- Oscar Wilde

    "No man dies for what he knows to be true. Men die for what they want to be true, for what some terror in their hearts tells them is not true."
    -- Oscar Wilde

    "It is a trap of history to believe that eyewitnesses remember accurately what they have lived through."
    -- Theodore White

  • #2
    Originally posted by isaac42 View Post
    Ampeg Scrambler Bass Overdrive

    I am not a big fan of overdrive units for bass. I've never owned one, never used one. I tried out one or two guitar distortion units on bass and really didn't care for the sound. When I hear a bass player with a lot of distortion, my first thought is that he probably needs a bigger amp so that he can play cleanly. .
    You have a very similar attitude to mine :-) But in fact a great review, thanks for that!

    Comment


    • #3
      Thank you.
      "The Web puts all of the world's knowledge at our fingertips; unfortunately it's mixed with all of the world's bull****************."
      -- Bob Parks

      "A thing is not necessarily true because a man dies for it."
      -- Oscar Wilde

      "No man dies for what he knows to be true. Men die for what they want to be true, for what some terror in their hearts tells them is not true."
      -- Oscar Wilde

      "It is a trap of history to believe that eyewitnesses remember accurately what they have lived through."
      -- Theodore White

      Comment













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