Amptweaker Bass TightRock Jr
By Phil O'Keefe |
Amptweaker Bass TightRock Jr
A top-flight distortion pedal heads for the bottom
by Phil O'Keefe
Amptweaker's guitar pedals have been causing quite a stir in the effects world. If you're unfamiliar with their builder (James Brown), his impressive product design history, and rather unique customer-centric approach, check out my review of their large format two-button Amptweaker TightDrive Pro guitar pedal for a bit of background. In addition to their larger pedals, Amptweaker also makes a more pedalboard-friendly line of standard-sized pedals called the Jr Series. Not to leave bass players out of the fun, and in keeping with the Amptweaker philosophy of seeking out ideas for products and features from their customers and incorporating those into their offerings, there are now bass versions of the popular Jr Series pedals too. Let's take a closer look at the little cherry bomb called the Bass TightRock Jr.
- The USA-built Amptweaker Bass TightRock Jr is a compact pedal measuring 2.7" W x 4.65" L x 2" H and weighing in at 9 ounces. It's based on the guitar version of the TightRock Jr, but with various tweaks to make it better suited for use with bass.
- The Bass TightRock Jr is powder-coated bright cherry red with high contrast white labeling, which makes it easy to read just about everything.
- The beefy folded 2mm thick case is all aluminum, and is angled near the top to keep the controls out of the way of your foot, but so they're still easy to see and adjust. A "roll bar" further protects the controls. To open the pedal housing, you unscrew a single thumbscrew at the top of the pedal.
- The bottom plate has holes cut into it for bolt or screw mounting directly to pedalboards, as well as cutouts on the side edges for use with nylon ties. Even with the pedal mounted in one of these semi-permanent ways, the top of the pedal can still be removed and the battery replaced. Rubber feet for the bottom of the pedal are included in the box, but are left unattached.
- Speaking of power, in addition to the internal 9V battery option, there's a 2.1mm center-negative power receptacle on the pedal's right side. This can accept anything from 9V to 18V DC, with 9V operation providing more compression and crunch and 18V giving a more open sound with greater headroom. Current draw is 13mA at 9V and 17mA at 18V.
- The 1/4" input and output jacks are side-mounted on the Bass Jr Series. Unplugging the input disconnects the battery.
- The main knobs are typical for a dirt pedal, with Volume, Tone, and Gain controls. Volume sets the overall output level (which can go way past unity gain), and Gain dials up the dirt, which is more like distortion than overdrive - it's thick and explosively crunchy. The Gain knob covers a wide range too, from semi-gritty breakup all the way to heavily saturated. The Tone control has been tweaked to operate at lower frequencies on the Bass version of the TightRock Jr.
- The side-mounted Dry Low knob is a blend control, but one with a twist: it lets you blend in unprocessed low and low-mid frequencies independent of the Volume and Gain controls. Since the highs are typically what you want processed by a bass distortion pedal (and mixing clean and processed highs can lead to phase issues), and the lows are what you want to keep at least somewhat clean (for improved bottom end), this makes a lot of sense.
- Right below the three large main knobs is a second row of controls, with two slide switches and a small knob. The knob sets the threshold for the built-in Noise Gate. Like the Gain knob, this has a broad range and depending on how you set it, can subtly reduce noise or clamp down hard on note tails.
- The noise gate has no effect on the Dry Low signal - it's left completely unprocessed.
- The left-hand switch is for EQ, with Plexi, Normal (indicated by a center diamond) and Smooth settings. Smooth is the warmest of the three on top, with a touch of added midrange growl, while the Plexi setting has more of a scooped-mids tone.
- The second switch is called the Tight switch and offers Fat, Normal and Tight settings. These adjust the distortion's attack and feel, as well as the overall low frequency content. As with the Tone control, these settings have been optimized for lower frequency instruments.
- The main footswitch is true bypass, and a red LED illuminates when the Bass TightRock Jr is active.
- The Amptweaker Bass TightRock Jr has a five year limited warranty.
- It can be a bit tricky to see how the small Noise Gate knob is set. A bit of white paint or glow-in-the-dark marker added to the indent on the knob would make it easier to see, but most people will probably set and forget this control. Chances are you won't be adjusting it a lot on stage anyway, and it's easy to adjust by sound alone if needed.
- The thumbscrew isn't "captive," so be careful not to lose it.
- Depending on the type of plugs you use, the side-mounted Dry Low knob can be a bit tricky to reach and manipulate.
I'm extremely impressed with Amptweaker's customer-centric approach to pedal design. They take their considerable experience and expertise, along with direct input and suggestions from their customers, and put it all together in a great-sounding, elegantly engineered pedal. The Bass TightRock Jr is a perfect example. Darker and warmer than its guitar-oriented counterpart, this little cherry bomb is equally at home blowing up the sound of your bass, baritone or 7/8 string guitars. I had a blast using it with both my four-string basses as well as my Danelectro baritone and Squier Bass VI. It can work on regular electric guitars too and may be worth trying if you have a very bright sounding amp, or want to warm the sound up more than you can with the typical mid-boosting overdrive pedal.
This is a feature-rich compact distortion pedal. The side-mounted blend control can be a bit difficult to reach if you have a tight pedalboard with a bunch of cables in the way, but it's really brilliant in what it does. Most blend controls just mix in everything, when all you really want or need is the unprocessed bottom and low-mids. This gives you exactly that.
As the builder himself notes (see the demo video below), you may not like all of the different Tight and EQ switch position combinations, but they do give you a lot of, uh, tweakability over the sound of the pedal. If the amount and character of dirt itself is too much (or not enough) for you, Amptweaker also offers the Bass TightDrive Jr and Bass TightMetal Jr pedals, so odds are excellent that there's one you'll really like. No matter which one you choose, you'll be getting an exceptionally well thought-out pedal that's extremely well made, flexible, and sounds terrific. -HC-
Amptweaker Bass TightRock Jr ($170.00 MSRP including shipping in the USA)
Amptweaker's product web page
You can purchase the Amptweaker Bass TightRock Jr distortion pedal direct from Amptweaker or from:
Phil O'Keefe is a multi-instrumentalist, recording engineer / producer and the Senior Editor of Harmony Central. He has engineered, produced and performed on countless recording sessions in a diverse range of styles, with artists such as Alien Ant Farm, Jules Day, Voodoo Glow Skulls, John McGill, Michael Knott and Alexa's Wish. He is a former featured monthly columnist for EQ magazine, and his articles and product reviews have also appeared in Keyboard, Electronic Musician and Guitar Player magazines.