The idea of a guitar-plus-drums duo isn’t a new one. A lot of us even started out this way by pure necessity. I know I did: I’d been playing electric guitar for about two years before I met a bass player, so my earliest jams were all with a drummer. One time a buddy and I even played Poison’s “Unskinny Bop” as a duo, sans vocals (and probably sans awesomeness, if I’m to be honest about our seventh-grade skills). But even back then I took steps to compensate for the lack of bass, mainly by trying to throw in as many notes from the bassline as I could in between C.C. DeVille licks. Now there are all sorts of ways you can fill out the sound if you’re playing in a guitar/drums duo, and there are lots of great examples of duos doing some pretty amazing things.
If you’re playing in a guitar/drums duo you need to find a way to fill out the low end, because a standard-tuned guitar can lack a little of the fullness of a bass-driven band. There are all sorts of methods to achieve this. One I like is to drop the low E string down quite low – often to C or A. For me this was inspired by the Van Halen instrumental track ‘Baluchitherium,’ where Eddie drops his low string way, way down. This lets you play the stuff you normally would on the other four or five strings (depending on how you choose to tune) while also giving you access to a lower range for bass notes. Of course there’s no reason you can’t use a baritone guitar to get right down there for those lower notes.
Another useful method is to use an octave pedal or pitch shifter to generate a lower-octave tone to fill out the guitar sound. This can restrict what you play though, since many octave units don’t sound so great when you play a full chord through them. There are other options out there for generating a bass sound: the A Little Thunder pickup (which I’ve been messing around with in my Les Paul) generates a bass sound from the lowest three strings and sends it to a separate amp, and is even clever enough to only use the E string if you’re playing a six-note barre chord.
Or you could use a guitar synth, which also gives you the option of routing only particular strings to another signal chain, and letting you do things like muting the guitar notes on the bottom two strings so they’re not doubling the bass. Whichever method you use in a setup like this, it’s usually beneficial to send your faux-bass signal to a separate amplifier or direct into the mixing desk so you can achieve maximum sonic spread. Also, guitar amps typically aren’t designed to handle the frequency range of a bass amp, so you’ll get a more authentic sound if you send your bass-type signal to a bass amp.
Here in Australia there are two bands in particular who are doing some very innovative things in two-guitar bands: King of the North and DZ Deathrays. Both are guitar/drum duos. DZ is described as ‘dance-punk’ or ‘thrash-pop,’ and their guitarist/vocalist, Shane Parsons, uses a multi-amp/multi-effect setup to generate a dense, psychedelic, often alien-sounding guitar army. Although more recently Parsons has experimented with layering each element separately in the studio, if you catch them live the sound is all happening in real-time from the one instrument. King Of The North take a more direct approach. Guitarist/vocalist Andrew Higgs uses a three-amp setup which seems complicated on the surface, but he likes to explain it as “Angus Young, Malcolm Young and Cliff Williams” – that is, one amp cranks out his rhythm guitar riffs, one handles the simulated basslines and one kicks in for lead guitar. It’s interesting to compare King of the North and DZ Deathrays: if you closed your eyes at a King of the North gig you wouldn’t even realise you weren’t listening to a traditional ‘two guitars, bass and drums’ band, while there are times when DZ can often sound as much like analog synths as guitars.
Here’s King Of The North’s video for ”Wanted”
And here they are covering Led Zeppelin’s “The Immigrant Song”
The octave pedal is an often overlooked tool which can fill in the lower range while a funk or fusion bass player explores higher regions of the neck. It’s also a great way for rock and metal players to add some extended rumble and grind to their sound, or for R&B players to tap into some of the multi-octave vibe that their organ-playing bandmates enjoy. The EBS OctaBass offers a little more control for most, in a robust, reliable package.
There are two control pots on the OctaBass: Normal and Octave. This allows you to blend precise levels of both the octave and natural notes, from a little octave to nothing but, and anything in between. Sure, EBS could have gotten away with a single ‘blend’ pot, but this gives you finer control. There’s also a three-position Range switch which gives you three modes: High (synth), Mid (Classic divider) and Low (low, low low).
I’m a bit of an octave pedal geek. One octave down, two octaves down, one octave up. Analog, digital… my pedalboard always has at least some manner of octave-tweaking gadget. Sometimes it’s been a Whammy Pedal, sometimes a Boss OC-2, sometimes a Dunlop Jimi Hendrix Octave Fuzz, sometimes a Boss HS-2 Harmonist, sometimes a Boss GT-8… point being, I loves me some octave action. So I was psyched when the Aguilar Octamizer drifted across my desk. Aguilar best known for their bass amplification, but they produce a pedal range consisting of three models: the Tone Hammer preamp/direct box; the TLC Compressor, and the Octamizer Analog Octave.
Housed in a distinctive metal oblong case (a little longer than you’d expect such a narrow pedal to be), the Octamizer features include a clever sliding battery door which pops out at the bottom of the pedal; the standard ins, outs and power adapter jack; and controls for Clean Level, Clean Tone, Octave Level and Octave Filter. The latter is a multipole low-pass filter, and it’s one of two key features that set the Octamizer aside from other octave pedals. The other is the Clean Tone control.
I started with with the Clean and Octave levels both on 10, then reeling one or the other back to find just the right ratio. The Clean Tone control is a full spectrum tilt EQ, which boosts treble while cutting bass, or boosts bass while cutting treble. You can get a great idea of what this control does by turning the octave all the way down for a minute and experimenting, and it’s tempting to use the pedal just as a preamp for this feature alone. Turn up the Octave Level again though and you’ll remember what it’s all about. The Octave Filter gives you control over how smooth or furry the octave sound is. By the way, turn the clean level all the way down and you’ll hear just the pure octave tone, which is great for weird synth sounds and Muse-like fuzzy drones.
Using my Fernandes Jazz Bass copy with DiMarzio Area J pickups, I really dug the range of detail afforded by the Clean Tone control. It allows the original note to either rise above the octave signal, or to step back and let the synthy octave sound take the lead. You can also increase the bass frequencies, very handy on my Jazz Bass which is voiced more towards the midrange. The Octave Filter control usually works best when you set it to roughly the mirror image of whatever the Clean Tone is doing. This way you can increase the fuzziness of the octave while taming the clean tone’s treble, or boost the deepness of the octave while cutting through on the top end. Of course you can also max out both controls for wild electronic textures, or turn them both down for a molar-rattling rumble.
I also couldn’t help trying it out with guitar, plugging in my Ibanez Jem and having at it with the main riff to Vai’s ‘Blowfish.’ The tone was huge, and the added control provided by the Octave Filter and Clean Tone pots allowed me to dial in the perfect overweight yet defined octave voicing. If guitarists discover this little monster they’re probably going to be fighting bass players over who gets dibs on it. Next I plugged in my Ibanez UV777BK Universe 7-string and laid on some fat octave madness on top of a low B string riff. I was pretty freaking amazed not only by how good the pedal sounded, but also how well it tracked, even when using the bridge pickup. That’s a rarity for octave pedals, in my experience. Usually, whether they’re octave-up or octave-down, they prefer to receive a neck pickup signal, sometimes even with the tone control rolled back, before they’ll track accurately. Not so with the Octamizer. In fact, I dare say that it’ll be as popular with guitarists as with bass players once people hear it.
This is a great pedal for funk and jazz players who want to explore higher ranges on the neck while still holding down the low end, as well as for rock and metal players who want to add a subsonic rumble to their tone – be they bassis or guitarist. It’s super tough, super quiet, and sounds incredible.