Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Tech 21 VT Bass Pedal Review


I have yet to own an Ampeg SVT amplifier, although they have been widely used in the industry forever. They are the definition of bass tube amp sound, and I have seen them on stages everywhere. But, they are ungodly heavy, and cost quite a bit of coin.

Enter the Tech 21 VT Bass pedal. This thing aims to provide all of the rich tube-ish goodness, in a small and affordable package. And it does this pretty well.

Tech 21 has been around since 1989, and gained fame with the original SansAmp. They have since branched out into effects and amplifiers as well. This pedal is part of their Character Series, which emulate different amplifier sounds. I do not know about all of their products, but the VT Bass pedal I got was labelled that it was made in the US.

The VT Bass is a medium-sized pedal that measures about 3.5 inches wide, by 4.5 inches long and 2 inches tall. It does not take up too much space on my pedal board. I peeled the little rubber feet off the case so I could add velcro to the bottom. It takes a 9-volt battery, or you can plug in a standard power source.

I had better get it out of the way, and start with my 2 biggest dislikes of the pedal. 1. It looks hokey: a picture of grill cloth and tolex is not going to make this thing sound any more like an Ampeg. 2. This thing is made of sort sort of really light metal, and it just feels cheap.

For this test, I used a very good passive Fender 57 re-issue Precision Bass strung with D’Addario Chromes (volume and tone pots dimed). I also used a 2-band active Musicman Stingray 4H (all controls set at 1/2).

For amplification I used my Genz Benz Shuttle 6.0 through a Genz Benz Uber Bass 410 cabinet. I changed my usual amp settings ti include less gain (9 o’clock, or so) into the tube pre-amp and not much boost to the low frequencies.

I plugged the pedal both directly into the input jack, as well as through the amplifier's effects loop.

The VT Bass has 1/4-inch input and output jacks. I was a little surprised to find that there is no XLR output. Not that I ever use one, but they seem to be on most of their other SanasAmp products.

The controls are not too weird: an ON/OFF footswitch, LEVEL, LOW, MID, HIGH, DRIVE and CHARACTER. Ahhh, CHARACTER.

And CHARACTER is where the magic happens on this pedal. This thing lives up to the hype. As you turn the CHARACTER knob up, the sound progresses from classic SVT to heavy tube to nasty/crunchy distorted sounds. This pedal is a rocking dream.

I never found the need to dial in much DRIVE. I mostly left this knob adjusted between 3 and 6 o'clock.

And I left the LOW, MID and HIGH equalizer knobs mostly around 6 o'clock. The pedal is pretty easy to set up the way you like it. I mostly left it alone once I got the tone I wanted.

The VT Bass does not add any hiss or offensive noise to my signal chain, and the switch does not pop when the effect is turned ON or OFF. I do not know if it has "true bypass", but I suspect it does not.

Here are some final details:

The VT Bass comes in a nice metal tin along with the paperwork and instructions. I will probably give the box to my kid to put his stuff in. How much crap do I need?

Tech 21 pedals come with a 1-year limited warranty. I wold like to see a bit more of a warranty. It cannot cost them very much to build these things, and better warranty would provide more peace of mind.

The list price of the Tech 21 VT Bass is $199, with a street price of $149. It certainly is cheaper and lighter than an Ampeg SVT.

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