Filter Or Fuzz - Which Comes First?

Posted on April 20 2018

Filter Or Fuzz - Which Comes First?

Hello! Please allow me to introduce myself. My name is Benjamin Wright. I am a musician, a bassist mostly, but I can make my way around a few other instruments too. I live in Brooklyn, NY. I am very fortunate to have a loving and supportive partner in my wife, as well as a constant source of inspiration (and fatigue) in my two children. I am also very fortunate to have had the opportunity to work at music for most of my life so far. Over the years I've made some albums, toured the country with bands, done some teaching, and, most recently, written a bunch of music for movies and television.

For the most part I'm a purist when it comes to bass tone. I've always loved a solid P Bass strung up with a set of flat-wound strings through a tube amp. Before getting involved with the good folks at SolidGoldFX, my experience with pedals was limited to a Boss OC-2 and an old Tube Screamer, painted gold from a video shoot, that a friend gave to me. I have since replaced the tube screamer with some of the more bass friendly options from SGFX. I still love my old OC2. Musically speaking, I'm happiest playing soulful music with friends, my P bass plugged through a tube amp, a cold beer on hand, and people having fun dancing and listening. Good times. 

Now that we got that over with, let's get to the good stuff!

Which Comes First - Filter Or Fuzz

Here I am again, stripping away all the cables and tangly DC plugs from my pedalboard, taking off all the pedals and starting with a clean slate. I’ve got a gig coming up playing some funky music at one of those all night dance clubs and I need to work out some sounds that will stand in for the keyboard bass on the record. This calls for a filter and a fuzz! Many programmed synth bass sounds start with a simple wave and then add some sort of drive and some sort of envelope to create an expressive and earth shaking tone. There are many ways to combine pedal effects to create some killer synth bass sounds too. One of my favorite places to start is with an octave down effect into a fuzz and then into either a filter or modulator. The sound changes dramatically when you switch the order of effects. Starting the chain with an overdrive, for example, will produce a very different sound after processing through multiple effects than starting with a clean or filtered tone.

In this experiment, I’m using the Beta MkII overdrive, the 76 octave (up) fuzz, and the Funk-lite envelope filter. The bass line is a loop, so the performance doesn’t alter through the pedal combinations. Let’s see what happens when we change the order of pedals.

One thing I notice right away is that controlling the amount of signal you are sending to the Funk-lite changes it’s performance radically. I’ve got the bass volume all the way up with the Funk-lite ahead of the Beta. The quick sweeps from high to low coming from the filter are warmed up nicely by the Beta. It’s a bit tricky to dial in the depth of the filter and the gain on the overdrive, but I think I’ve found a sweet spot. The tone is overdriven and warm and funky. Switching the order, placing the Beta MkII up front, gives you the option to send a lot more signal into the Funk-lite than just the bass alone. Again, I think I’ve found a sweet spot, but the tone is quite different. Less of the crunch is coming through from the overdrive, but the filter sweeps are more present. It’s a darker tone down low but the mids are popping out nicely, and the filter is sounding killer when playing around the tenth fret, picking up the warm saturation of the Beta.

Now for some fuzz! The 76 is a nasty pedal in the best way. The color switch proves particularly useful in this setting. With the filter up front, the 76 is owning the tone. The sweeps coming from the Funk-lite are handled beautifully by the spongy natural compression in the 76, and the octave up resonates with the expression of the filter wonderfully. This is a huge bass sound. This tone would be great for a bass feature in a song or in a sparse arrangement where the bass could really fill a big space. Switching it up, I’ve now got the 76 in front of the Funk-lite. A click of the color switch and a few small knob tweaks later and I’ve got it. Similar to the Beta into Funk-lite combination, the fuzz is more tame after it passes through the envelope. The filter sweeps are fully present and sound synthier than ever. There’s a ton of low end coming through which is carrying the mid range expression of the filter beautifully. This is on the way to sounding like an old analog bass synthesizer. The attack is sharp but not at all harsh, almost as if there were a subtle 808 thump in the attack of the low notes, and the compressed dynamics of the 76 push the filter perfectly.

These kinds of pedal combinations are super fun to work out, and I’ve only scratched the surface here. A simple twist of a knob or a signal chain swap can lead to some great and drastically different sounds. Whether serving a song and finding a place in a mix, creating a killer lead tone, or filling up the room with swirling swashes of sound, may your experiments take you to the edge of the tonal universe! Godspeed!!!

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