So Far Down
Bass. The low end. The low down. On the down low. The dirty lowdown. The Boz Scaggs. The beefy warmth. The chesty growl. The thunder from down under. The [whistles provocatively]. Rolling in the Deep.
You know it. You love it.
But what if you need more? Like what if the guitar player in your band has already tuned down to sub-audible levels and you can’t afford to put the bridge cables on your bass that would allow you reasonably hold down the bottom end in the range where cycles per second would be better expressed in seconds per cycle? Or when you’re in a two-piece act with your wife and/or sister drummer and need to thicken up the sound of that guitar from a defunct five-and-dime?
The answer is Abysmal: an effect pedal that can sometimes add an octave down effect, occasionally add a massive two octaves down, and when it feels like it, add an undertone that is tuned down by an arbitrary amount.
In Beyond Good and Evil, Friedrich Nietzsche said, “…when you stare for a long time into an abyss, the abyss stares back into you.” But perhaps more apt is Geoff Andrew’s Time Out review of the 1989 James Cameron film The Abyss: “This overlong concoction is scuppered by dire dialogue, histrionic performances and maudlin sentimentality,” which also applies to most of the work at Dunning∿Kruger FX.
That is the sad, sad truth; the dirty lowdown.
Some friends of mine were talking about octave pedals, and I was doing that thing where I was chiming in based only on my limited knowledge of pedal lore and a general understanding of the differences between a digital and analog effect. I felt kind of dumb that I had no firsthand knowledge, so I found one to build. It’s the U-235 Suboctave Generator, which is an original design from Parasit Studio.
I will admit that at first, I thought the name U-235 was a reference to a German U-Boat (suboctave/submarine, get it?) I was probably thinking of the movie U-571, which I inexplicably saw in a theater. U-235 is, of course, the only naturally-occurring fissile isotope of uranium.
In principle, an octave down pedal just needs to be able to take the frequency of the signal and divide it by two, since half of a frequency is always an octave lower. In a digital pedal, that’s probably done with arithmetic in code or something, but it’s not straightforward in the analog realm, and is always more complicated with real-world signals that are often not pure sine waves of a single frequency or even individual notes. This is definitely an analog pedal, and uses a CD4046 Phase-Locked Loop (PLL) chip to…do something. I ran the schematic by the serious pedal heads, and their interpretation was that it was “cursed.” I certainly don’t understand what the circuit does either, but it works (in the quirky way that analog octaves work).
The only controls are the octave toggle and a knob to set the relative level of the octave effect (the clean pass-through is always present). The toggle selects either one octave down, two octaves down, or “somewhere between 1 and 2 octaves down,” which is intentionally not an interval on the standard western scale. The worst part about this pedal is that I couldn’t figure out how to mount the jacks on the top of the enclosure without elaborate offboard wiring and potentially running wires over a cursed PLL chip kicking out high amplitude square waves, so I had to put the jacks on the sides as if I’d time traveled to an era before the invention of neat pedalboard wiring. (In all seriousness, I realize that there are a lot of strong feelings about jack placement, but I think both sides can agree that once you choose an approach, having one pedal set up the opposite way is annoying.)
I’m not certain that I have it dialed in correctly yet—there are two internal trim pots for sensitivity and the tuning of the de-tuned mode—but it will make some low tones. It works better if I play to it, staying in certain areas of the fretboard and tweaking the guitar controls to cater to its mood. It may be even cooler on synth. I’ll continue to mess with it.
For the following example, I wanted to go with the worst case scenario to test its tracking, and explicitly did not play to it. I made a direct-in recording of a passage that spanned a few areas of the fretboard on my Coronacaster, then re-amped it through several different settings on Abysmal into a clean SansAmp. I also tested it through the Do Attend fuzz and on bass.