Note: This is the first of two reviews covering EBS Bass Pedals.
My Path To Righteous Compression
The first effects pedal I ever purchased was an Ibanez SoundTank CP5 Compressor. I was in a somewhat serious band and was told by the other members that a compressor pedal was not optional on bass. They were right about the need for compression. I was wrong in my choice of pedal. But at the time, many pedal makers did not exist (1992) and even fewer were made for bass.
My plastic 'SoundTank' had three knobs on it; Level, Attack, and Sustain but I always suspected a hidden fourth knob labeled Suck. It was a guitar pedal so it was not voiced for bass frequencies. Goodbye, bottom end. Hello, thick layers of hiss and noise.
Fast foward to today and you will find no shortage of bass compression in a pedal format. Still, you might be asking, "What is compression?"
Compression is not considered an effect at all and is rather unsexy in that it doesn't dramatically change one's tone like a chorus, flanger or distortion pedal. Instead, compressors even out playing by making the quieter notes louder and the louder notes quieter. This is especially important for bass as loud transient sounds can be murder on some equipment and sound engineers. Compression is particularly useful for bass players employing a slap and pop method of bass playing. In fact, one can even argue that compression defined the sound of 80s slap bass (Hello, Mark King?) that continues to this day.
That's All Great, How About The MultiComp?
I cannot state enough how much I love the EBS Multi Comp. Of all the outboard gear I have, it is the only pedal that I take everywhere and use in every situation. To better understand the strengths of this pedal, it is important to mention the compressor it replaced - the extraordinary and venerable Electro-Harmonix Black Finger Compressor.
The Black Finger is the closest thing you can get to high-end studio compression in a floor pedal and I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to anyone. Unfortunately, there were some trade-offs that left me wanting something different.
Black Finger Drawbacks:
- Huge Pedal - Takes up a lot of room on the pedal board
- Tubes Under Foot - I love the sound of glass but not where I can step on it
- Power Supply - Uses a unique 12VAC/1000mA adapter. Felt like I was plugging in a refrigerator
Can We Get To The MultiComp, Please?
When I came across EBS pedals I was really taken by the design and thoughtful approach to construction - most specifically the small size relative to all other effects pedals. True to the adage that good things come in small packages, EBS pedals are packed with features.
The pedal has not one, but three modes of compression - Tubism, Multi Band, and Normal. Normal mode is the standard compression setting that compresses all frequencies evenly and is basically the same way compression is achieved by the vast majority of pedals on the market. Multi Band is where this pedal really shines and allows for maximum compression to really tighten up your sound. Multi Band splits your signal into two bands of highs and lows, compresses each path separately so that high levels of compression can be applied without introducing compression artifacts. The signal is then recombined before being sent to the pedal's output jack. Lastly, the Tubism mode uses the standard compression but adds some warmth and tube-like harmonics.
Opening the pedal with a screwdriver reveals the internal trim pots that adjust threshold levels for the high and low bands. This is necessary to boost the sound coming from low-output instruments or to tame particularly hot output instruments. There is also a toggle switch located on the side for Active or Passive Instruments. Handy if you change basses during a set as it will buffer or pad the input from active circuitry.
This is a very musical compression pedal in that nearly every setting creates warm and beautiful tones. Even highly squashed settings still sound great. This pedal tends to cost more than your average bass compressor, but the extra cost is more than worth it.
I tend to buy American when it comes to musical equipment but the Swedes at EBS just make fantastic products. The controls are remarkably easy to use, compression ratios from 1:1 to 5:1, multiple compression modes, and a tiny footprint make this pedal indispensable.
In 2008, EBS refreshed its Black Label line of pedals with True Bypass. Coupled with new analog circuitry and an additional 3dB of headroom for the Multi Comp make a great pedal even better.