Distortion aficionados, take note-Malekko has served up the indie-stompbox scene with a doozie. The B:Assmaster is a contemporary tribute to the exquisitely rare Maestro Bass Brassmaster, a '70s-era pedal that was intended to impart trumpet-like tones onto electric guitar or bass. In truth, the original Maestro was a unique device capable of an absurd range of tonal variation, with the then-unheard-of feature of allowing the user to dial-in any amount of clean signal. These are so sought after, vintage units have recently been changing hands for well over a thousand bucks.
Seeing the demand for a modern version, the Malekko folks put on their thinking caps and came up with the B:Assmaster. It delivers the goods in spades. With just three knobs and two switches (besides the true-bypass footswitch), this box really does give up a huge palette of sounds just like its ancestor. The Ass Volume knob and Ass switch (for real) control the level and tone of distortion. The Bass Volume knob adjusts the level of dry signal to be mixed in. I found the sound of the dry signal was not quite the same as the bypassed signal; it's a bit more compressed and harmonically rich, but in a great way. This feature helps make the B:Assmaster quite possibly the ultimate bass distortion device. The Harm switch and Sensitivity knob adjust the harmonic shape and depth of distortion. Hard to explain, but those two controls seem to have the biggest range of tone. The Sensitivity knob, in particular, sometimes acts like an expander/gate and other times seems like a high-pass filter. The cool thing is that almost all of the sounds that can be conjured up are musically meaningful; it's hard to find a setting that yields chaotic, uncontrolled, atonal sounds.
Bonus points for a very hip orange, purple, and brown design, with a secret hidden LED for when the unit is activated! Extra bonus points-the people at Malekko have a toothy sense of humor. I don't want to ruin the surprise for anyone, but let's just say that when I unscrewed the bottom panel to install a 9 V battery, I was greeted with a bitingly funny revelation.
($255 direct; www.malekkoheavyindustry.com)
Tape Op is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to the art of record making.