Coincidentally, the introduction of my most recent review focused on how vast the field of bass overdrives, distortions, fuzzes, and wave discombobulators has become (what a great time to play bass!). So it’s fitting that the subject of my focus here is another excellent offering in that general vein, but with some unique properties all its own.
In This Corner…
While not diminutive, the Low Blow comes in a very manageable size, relatively on par with the form factors of most similar stompers. I’m always happy to see input and output jacks on the top/back of the pedal, rather than the sides, as it alleviates the pedal board creep that many side-jack-mounted pedals exhibit. The power jack is also located on this panel, leaving the pedal able to buddy right up to your next closest effects. The metal enclosure is sturdy, as expected, and the robust knobs inspire a good deal of confidence and look pretty cool.
One of my favorite features – which we’re seeing more of these days than in years past – is the non-latching, momentary footswitch. This type of switch – when paired with a relay – still gets you mechanical true bypass, but the element you’re punishing all night with your boot isn’t the working part doing the signal switching itself. That means more longevity for the switch and quieter operation; a more costly touch, but so nice when included.
The first bass-specific distortion offering from Wampler, they clearly put some thought into what might work well for our typical use case scenario and needs. Control-wise, the Low Blow gives you most of what you might expect from a latter day bass distortion, and a couple options you wouldn’t. A 3-band EQ is always a very welcome feature on any bass wave shaper (to help better deal with the vast range of sonic ground our instruments are capable of covering), as is the Blend control, making it easier to retain just the right amount of fundamental and dry tone. Volume and Gain are separate operators, ensuring you can get whatever level of crazy you desire out of the unit, while not necessitating a three-fold increase in volume (if you don’t want it). Now for the more unique factors: a mini toggle to activate a predetermined notch filter and another to switch between “Smooth” and “Jagged” distortion type occupy center stage on the Low Blow’s layout.
Although it’s billed on the Wampler site as a “Bass OD/Dist,” I would characterize the Low Blow more in the weight class of a fuzz-type distortion, than overdrive or simple harmonic distortion. Its inherent tone tends to lean more towards a mid-focused, buzzier character than searing highs or softly churning growl. That said, at lower Gain settings, the Low Blow is definitely capable of a very nice and mild, familiar overdrive, allowing it to potentially serve double duty on your board.
With all EQ controls at noon, I found the Low Blow to be a bit shy on both highs and lows, but there is a lot of usable adjustability in those three parameters to be able to sculpt your favorite tone. The Smooth setting of the distortion character’s toggle switch provides more high-end presence, whereas the Jagged setting furthers the box’s fuzzy nature, increasing mids quite a bit and making for a pregnant, midrange-bursting-out-the-seams kind of sound. The notch filter is an interesting addition. When I first read about this feature, I had assumed it to be a variable, adjustable type of narrow-band filter one could tune to a specific room’s attributes and shortcomings. The implementation works a little differently. The filter’s attributes in terms of notch width and center frequency – as well as the amount of cut – are fixed, delivering greater ease of use, at the expense of increased versatility. In this way, it seemed to me to act almost more as a mid-shift style cabinet simulator, cutting out a good amount of midrange and low-mids to create a familiar kind of complete rig, sans-amplifier, tonality.
Favoring a lead-type distorted tone, I arrived at my favorite settings on the Low Blow with the Gain control at or below 2 o’clock in general, as venturing beyond this territory yielded more fuzz-like qualities than I am usually in the market for. I preferred to keep the notch filter bypassed, as I used the pedal through a full rig, although I can see it coming in very handy if recording direct without a mic’d cabinet in the mix. I favored the Smooth clipping mode for its perceived greater presence and upper harmonic content, with the Gain set at 1:30, Bass at 1:00, Mids at 9:30, Treble at 1:00, and Blend at noon.
A Challenger Appears
Wampler’s got a real contender in the Low Blow (come on, with that name, you knew that was coming!). Not only does it deftly do what many other bass dirt devils do well, but it offers some additional functionality in its notch filter and dual Smooth and Jagged clipping modes that usually aren’t seen on pedals in this arena, allowing it to fill more than one need or niche in your pedal lineup and offering some added value. It may lean more towards the fuzz side of the spectrum than other challengers, but that could be just the tone you’ve been searching for. It’s certainly worth putting up against other bruisers in your local music stores’ stable. A domestically designed and built, versatile and malleable bass distortion pedal, the Low Blow offers some exception value for the underdog who’s ready to step into the ring get a little (or a lot) dirty.
|Made in:||Martinsville, IN|
|Enclosure:||Aluminum, 0.10” thick|
|Inputs:||¼” input, 9v-18v power|
|Controls:||Bass, Mid, Treble, Blend, Volume, Gain, bypass switch|
|Other Features:||Notch filter, Smooth or Jagged gain structure|
|Dimensions:||3.5″ x 4.5″ x 1.5″ (88.9mm x 114.3mm x 38.1mm) – height excludes knobs and switches|
|Warranty:||Five-year warranty (original purchaser), and 30-day, “no questions asked” return policy|