This Article was published in Issue 19 in SUMMER 2016.

While not all pedals can offer a totally novel, previously unimaginable experience, all effect pedals are definitely fun. You step on something, and suddenly you have a totally different sound, which creates a feedback loop; because you’re hearing yourself differently, you play differently. You’re inspired to try things or play in a way that perhaps you wouldn’t have if you hadn’t stepped on that little magical wonderbox.

Without a doubt, there are many flavors of distortion, overdrive, and fuzz out there to choose from, and while each offers something in the same general ballpark(s) that we group them in, it’s certainly understandable if one comes to feel overwhelmed when embarking on that sometimes long and somewhat mystical Journey to Dirtsville. However, there are substantially fewer options for one-knob, active tone-shaping stompboxes that promise to instantly take you from whack to smack, with the level of smack being fully variable. If you’re in the market for either of these solutions, the Creation Audio Labs Grizzly Bass and Funkulator deserve your investigation and attention, but each to a different extent.

Fender 950×120

Tough Stuff, Ace Appearance

Based just outside of Nashville, Creation Audio Labs make some seriously cool (and cool-looking!) effect pedals. Unusually, their designs’ emphasis on form does not detract from their function, nor the other way around. Both the Grizzly Bass and Funkulator are overbuilt in an almost ridiculously sturdy, 2-piece, somewhat heavier than usual metal enclosure. Both pedals share the same basic form, while they’re clearly drilled, cut, and internally LED-lit differently for their respective lot in life. Each features input and output jacks on the top of the pedal, rather than the sides, which many of us with crowded pedal boards seem to prefer, these days. Between these ¼” jacks is the standard barrel power receptacle. A white label, sealed under a clear and thin adhesive sticker, denotes which jack is which, the typical power draw and polarity needed of the power supply, hand written serial number, and other identifiers. Both pedals feature heavy duty latching switches in the same location, which are easily accessible without interfering with the controls.

Grizzly Bass

I’m going to be frank; I like this one. A lot. And I’m happy to explain just why that is, and where this box could be improved. The Grizzly Bass features five controls on the surface panel, comfortably clustered above the footswitch, but not so close together or small as to be unmanageable when changing settings on the fly. From upper row to lower, left to right, they are: Gain, Overdrive, Distortion, Mid Scoop, and Hi Cut. The Grizzly Bass features two distinctly different types of wave-shaping distortion, which is then able to be filtered through the two lower EQ-oriented controls, and finally, attenuated or boosted, via the Gain knob. The Overdrive function sounds just wonderful, with an excellent, saturated tube-like quality that I really dug, while the Distortion setting offers more of a fuzz-type tone up until about 3 o’clock on the dial, after which point you get into some real high-gain and compressed territory. The two distortion types are not mutually exclusive; you can (and should!) add different levels of each simultaneously, and they’re highly interactive and responsive to playing dynamics

I found the Hi Cut to be a very nice touch and was ultimately surprised by how useful it was in practice, allowing for just the right amount of highs to be attenuated to sound really pleasing with the various types of gnarly tones that may be conjured. The Mid Cut I found useful, but to a slightly lesser extent, although I did prefer it in the signal path at around 4 o’clock (fully counter clockwise at 5 o’clock is effectively “off” for each of these filters, while fully CCW at 7 o’clock is fully engaged).

I regularly use a SansAmp BDDI, Bass Big Muff, and an MXR Bass DI on my board for different purposes – the SansAmp for my “dirty” sound, the Big Muff specifically for a fuzzy, synthy tone, and the MXR for a great high-gain, singing lead tone. The Grizzly Bass is capable of nailing each one of these, often doing a better job (with the possible exception of the more sawtoothy settings possible on the Bass Big Muff). My favorite setting ended up being as an overdrive pedal, with the Gain set close to unity with my dry signal but offering a little boost, the Overdrive between noon and 3 o’clock, and the Distortion between fully off at 7 o’clock and about 11 o’clock. I then preferred to cut highs slightly with the Hi Cut at 3-4 o’clock, either keeping all my mids intact or utilizing the Mid Scoop sparingly. This tone absolutely put my SansAmp to shame, sounding much more organic and more like my bass – just overdriven – than the much more characteristic sound of the BDDI. Though this ended up being my favorite sound from the Grizzly Bass, it’s capable of much more than there is room to write about! I also enjoyed higher Distortion and Overdrive settings with more of the Hi Cut engaged to deliver tones that evoked the synth bass on Parliament’s Theme From the Black Hole, all the way to Cliff Burton Anesthesia-style shredding.

The Grizzly Bass is an incredible sounding effect, but that sound comes at a modest price in the form of 250mA of required juice; it’s energy thirsty. However, opting to run both pedals separate from my main board and off a single One Spot power supply, they both worked flawlessly. One neat feature worth mentioning is that both of these pedals incorporate Creation Audio Labs’ voltage-boosting circuit that takes the 9V input and transforms it into +/- 18V, for tons of clean headroom. Aside from requiring a bit more juice than normal from an all-analog pedal, one other tone shaping element I feel would be extremely useful on the Grizzly is a variable high pass filter. This pedal is capable of such earth shaking sonic mayhem that when plugged into a Genzler MG800 head through a 2x12 Genz Benz and additional 1x12/4x3 Genzler Amplification Bass Array cabinet, the subharmonics and low bass frequencies could seem overpowering and muddying at times. I wished for the ability to cut just a bit of those frequencies out of the signal, with the same delicate touch that the Hi Cut provides. Having a Low Cut would certainly aid in further shaping of an amazing distorted tone, especially for high volume, live applications. Finally, although the LED scheme is incredibly cool, the symbols/letters that denote which control is which were a little difficult for me to interpret without the use of the included guide, but more importantly, the white LED-lit bear’s teeth that roar to life when you turn the effect on are so highly contrasted with the rest of the pedal and so bright that it can be a bit distracting on a dark stage or in a dark room. I loved the look, but if I could, I’d adjust the brightness downwards just a notch or two.

Funk You Now, Funkulator

I will offer the same frank opinion that I did with the Grizzly Bass: while I could see the intent and imagine the use case scenario for it, I didn’t love the Funkulator. This effect is a continuously variable one-knob EQ solution, similar perhaps to those you may have used on many different bass amps. Taking further effect and increasing the severity of the filtering as you turn the knob clockwise, it starts with a mild mid cut and continues to boost lows and highs and cut mids to a greater extent. Although Creation Audio Labs doesn’t list the specific frequencies at which the magic is happening, they claim that the EQ centers selected are more advantageous than those typically seen on amp-based, one-knob EQ contours.

I can see how it would be useful to players that may prefer a more mid-focused tone for general playing, while desiring to immediately cut any upper midrange offensive honk and clank when switching to playing slapped or picked passages. And I would imagine that the group of players who’d most benefit from this type of effect would be those using cabinets not equipped with high range drivers or tweeters, while perhaps also preferring all passive electronics and less bright strings, due to the way those elements interact when attempting a sudden change to a more modern sounding tone that they’re not readily EQ’d for. But my favorite settings on the Funkulator were from 8 o’clock to 11 o’clock – just barely engaged to less than half way. True to my intuition, I found it the most beneficial when switching away from my active/active Warwicks to my all-passive Fender Jazz Bass Special with flats and my Jerzy Drozd Soul with roundwounds and its preamp bypassed.

One thing is certain: Creation Audio Labs are not following any kind of rule book, and in my own book, that generally equates to the potential for some really outstanding stuff. To anyone looking at experimenting with any kind of wave-shaping distortion, be it in the vein of fuzz, overdrive, high gain, or otherwise, I’d strongly suggest spending some quality time with a Grizzly Bass. And it is going to take some time; part of the trade off for excellent EQ and tone shaping controls is the slightly longer time it takes to get to know the effect intimately and being able to command the sounds you’re looking for. Just watch your low end at extreme settings, and don’t look directly into the bear’s eyes on a gig – it may devour your soul. For those of you that prefer a really warm tone and perhaps play in a cover band, wherein you need to be able to turn on a dime and go from Marvin Gaye to Bruno Mars in no seconds flat, the Funkulator will probably be the fastest, easiest, best looking and potentially best sounding vehicle to get you there. Just use your ears and watch those dancers out there; a little will likely go a long way.

 

Manufacture:Creation Audio Labs
Website:http://www.creationaudiolabs.com/#!grizzlybass/cpvs
Model:Grizzly Bass
Made in:Hermitage, TN
Enclosure:16-gauge stainless steel
Inputs:¼” input, 9v DC center negative (250mA)
Outputs:¼” parallel, ¼” out
Controls:Gain, Overdrive, Distortion, Mid Scoop, Hi Cut, foot switch
Other Features:Redeemer buffered circuit (true bypass is optional), voltage-boosting circuit
Dimensions: 3.1” W by 4.25” L
Battery Operation:no
Warranty:One-year warranty
Price:$195 (limited time price)
Manufacture:Creation Audio Labs
Website:http://www.creationaudiolabs.com/#!funkulator/c1d3s
Model:Grizzly Bass
Made in:Hermitage, TN
Enclosure:16-gauge stainless steel
Inputs:¼” input, 9v DC center negative (150mA)
Outputs:¼” out
Controls:EQ control, foot switch
Other Features:Redeemer buffered circuit (true bypass is optional), voltage-boosting circuit
Dimensions: 3.1” W by 4.25” L
Battery Operation:no
Warranty:One-year warranty
Price:$149 (limited time price)