February 23rd, 2023 | John Dines & Simon Keats
This week, our BASSRIG pedals celebrated their first birthday! We couldn’t be happier with the reception they’ve had over the past year, from appearing at the Super Bowl to appearing on the pedalboards of ordinary bassists. It’s reasonable to assume that the BASSRIGs have a few fans out there, so we asked Origin Effects founder and designer, Simon Keats, to talk us through the entire process of designing these now highly regarded pedals. Happy birthday, BASSRIGs!
Bassists have been running direct to recording consoles and PA systems for decades, but it’s always been difficult to get a truly realistic vintage amp tone, even with modern amp modellers. We think there’s a certain immediacy and tactile feel that only analogue gear can provide, so we set out to deliver most convincing, amp-like direct preamp we could.
The result was the BASSRIG pedals – two Analogue Amp Recreations, based on two classic vintage bass amps. The Super Vintage is modelled after the Ampeg SVT while the ’64 Black Panel recreates the tones of two popular mid-‘60s Fender heads – the Showman and the Bassman.
We call these analogue amp recreations because we really do go so far as to recreate every stage of the amp’s signal path. It’s this level of detail that allows us to capture the finer nuances of a valve amp’s tone, breakup characteristics and feel, in a solid-state pedal. We wanted to provide bassists with a preamp and overdrive pedal capable of delivering true valve amp tone. A solution without compromise whether running through an amp and cab or running direct.
The BASSRIG pedals feature a unique analogue cab sim, applied to the XLR-equipped DI output. Each cab sim was developed to further enhance the level of realism experienced by the player, and there’s a real sense of synergy between amp and cabinet circuitry. Each pedal has its own highly optimised filter, precisely matched to the frequency response of either the Ampeg SVT 8×10 or Fender’s 2×15 Showman bass cab. Model-specific driver resonances and reactance curves are employed in our power amp modelling to accurately recreate the power-amp-to-speaker interactions found with each amp and cab combination. With bass in particular, the cab is a massive part of the sound, so we’ve taken as much care in replicating the cab response, and associated tonal mechanisms, as we have in recreating the amp circuitry.
Of course, plenty of players still use a traditional amp, so we wanted the BASSRIG pedals to also work as simple, amp-like overdrive pedals. Because bass amps – and cabs – can be so varied, we developed our AMP OUT EQ controls to allow the BASSRIG to function in any rig and still deliver consistent vintage tone and character. We tested this with numerous amps and a great many cabs, from vintage cabs to modern, full-range cabs to make sure the BASSRIG works with all of them. This removes the need to compromise your core clean sound when dialling in your drive tone. Just turning on the BASSRIG makes even the most modern rig sound like a vintage valve amp.
When we developed these pedals, there were two sounds we really wanted to nail. Firstly, the Ampeg SVT because it’s a real monster and an engineering marvel, and quite possibly world’s favourite bass amp. Despite having a very distinctive tone and overdrive character, it’s a sound that works in pretty much every genre, which is why you see it used by so many great players. Depending on what you’ve grown up listening to, you’ll have your own idea of what the typical SVT sound is all about – it could be Tim Commerford of Rage Against the Machine, Pino Palladino or Bootsy Collins – we made sure the BASSRIG Super Vintage does them all.
With the ’64 Black Panel I was keen to chase down the tone of one of my heroes, bassist Berry Oakley of the Allman Brothers Band. Like many bass players in the late ‘60s, Berry used multiple Fender Showman heads driving 2×15 cabs, equipped with high efficiency JBL speakers. By today’s standards, these were certainly not powerful amps and the result is a tone rich in harmonics and occasional crunch. A few of years later, higher-powered valve amps would be universally adopted, and there would be a marked shift in tone. Whether it’s the Allman Brothers, the Grateful Dead or numerous other US acts from the time, there are some particularly sweet, mid-focused, and musical bass tones to be heard from this era.
It takes a lot of time and effort to develop an Analogue Amp Recreation – it’s not just a case of making a few voicing tweaks to a typical overdrive pedal – the circuit needs to be designed from the ground up and the first step is to really get to know the amp. For me, owning the real amp is essential, I prefer to hunt down a great sounding vintage example and really fall in love with it. Taking the time to learn how it sounds and responds and how it feels to play. And, of course, once you know how to coax the best tones out of it… well the whole process involves lots and lots of tests and measurements.
We record sweeps of every stage in the amplifier, matching the gain and response curves in our pedal circuitry. We match the way each stage clips. We disconnect feedback networks take more measurements. Connect speakers and do more measurements. Measure power supply sag. Match output stage crossover distortion. Listen. Optimise noise. Listen again. Overload the input and match overload characteristics. Listen again. And we’ll repeat the whole process multiple times. It becomes a real mission and ultimately a labour of love.
This is where it really helps having a passion for vintage gear and an understanding of the way technology has evolved throughout the last century. It’s not just about knowing how a pedal goes together, it’s as much about understanding the circuit topologies and design approaches that were applied across musical eras. When it comes to recreating the behaviour of an old valve amp, you need to understand the sonic contribution of each stage, including any external factors. Again, each generation of amps has its quirks and peculiarities. It’s only by understanding these that you can correctly utilise the tools available to us today as pedal designers.
Look at any Origin Effects Analogue Amp Recreation pedal and you’ll see this principle in practice. To properly recreate the feel and breakup characteristics of a real valve amp, we’ve built a Class A preamp, phase inverter and complete push-pull output section complete with its own reactive load. This simulates the interaction between an amp’s power amp and speaker cabinet, which is central to the playing experience and tone of a real valve amp. This is crucial to the playing experience and tone of a real valve amp and it’s just like the test rig I use to develop these pedals.
Because an Amp Recreation pedal works just like a real amp on a reactive dummy load, we can compare the two easily – and there are lots of comparisons to make. Once there’s a working prototype of the pedal, there will be another round of extensive listening and measuring until it’s literally indistinguishable from the real thing. There’s no secret formula or quick fix to making these pedals as convincing as they are. It’s just a matter of understanding amp and pedal design and, most importantly, not giving up until it’s perfect. We wouldn’t release anything unless we thought it was the best out there.
Because we’ve engineered the BASSRIG range to behave just like real amps, they react to pedals like real amps too, so you don’t need to change your approach or worry about headroom. They work in any rig, whether you’re adding a vintage-sounding “second channel” to a very modern rig using the AMP OUT EQ, or doing away with an amp altogether using the cab sim DI out.
From a user perspective, all this work behind the scenes added up to a pedal that can completely replace the vintage amp in your rig, without you ever feeling like you’ve had to compromise on tone and feel. An attractive prospect if you’ve ever carried an 8×10 up a flight of stairs.