MusicMan Sub Ray 5 – basswood body, rosewood fretboard, active preamp
Darkglass Microtubes 900 – 900W bass amp head
Boss TU-3 Chromatic Tuner Mooer Pure Octave Boss LS-2 Line Selector Ibanez Mini Tube Screamer Boss ODB-3 Bass Overdrive Fowl Sounds The Lifer Electroharmonix Key9 Mooer Shimverb Boss DD-3 Digital Delay Boss RC-1 Loop Station
To wrap up our gear chat for the time being, before we release our debut album next week, we thought we’d talk through Richard and Nick’s pedal set ups that were used for the writing and recording of the record. First up it’s Richard’s fairly chaotic, multi-purpose board used for the bass and even some of the viola…
Caline 5 Power Supply
Mooer Pure Octave
Ibanez Tube Screamer Mini
Starting at the start of the chain… I actually picked up the TU-3 very recently, as my old Behringer tuner has always been a bit hit-and-miss with actually picking up my lowest string first time. We used Nick’s TU-3 in the studio and it had no trouble, so I grabbed one second hand post-haste.
The little brown Pure Octave pedal has a lot packed into such a small unit. You can go 1 or 2 octaves in each direction, and a little knob lets you pick any combination of -1, -2, +1 and +2 at the same time. On Ellipsism I just use the standard -1 setting on one of my higher bass lines at the end of ‘Long Live’, but I’ve been messing around with getting some weirder sounds out of the other settings more recently.
I should say at this point that despite the dusty, tangled mess that my board often is, it’s laid out the way that it is for the purely practical reason that I play bass in Ba’al and guitar in another band, and I don’t want to have to keep switching things around every week for practice. This board serves both purposes, and as such some of the pedals were obtained primarily for one band/instrument or the other. However, in many cases I’ve found that something I bought for one ends up getting used extensively for both.
The LS-2 line selector is up next, which has two loops of other pedals hooked into it, which I can switch between, making transitions between sounds a hell of a lot easier on the fly, and meaning that I can switch some things on or off in advance of needing them, without the sound being affected until necessary.
Loop A continues along the chain to the bottom left corner with my overdrives and distortion. As you might expect, the Tubescreamer was bought with guitar in mind, and the ODB-3 for bass. The ODB is the basis of my main heavy sound in Ba’al, and is on almost all of the loud parts of the album. This particular one I’ve actually had since I was a teenager first learning bass. I will sometimes throw the Tubescreamer on top of it to boost the frosty high end and cut through a blasting section, particularly if I’m playing in a higher register. This happens a few times on ‘Long Live’ and also ‘An Orchestra of Flies’.
The big orange pedal is a guitar distortion pedal by Vox – the Trike – which I did actually buy second hand in the early days of Ba’al specifically for bass. It has a + and – octave option, but mainly it just causes absolute filth to happen. It’s got an incredibly nasty, buzzing drone quality to it (particularly with the octave up layered subtly in the mix), and when combined with the ODB it can rumble and disgust people for miles around until you tell it to stop. I tend to deploy this secret weapon only in the slowest, most crushing riffs, as well as if I want to get some nasty feedback going. It’s used on the most funereal of the riffs on ‘Jouska’, the intro and outro drones of ‘Father, the Sea, the Moon’, and the noisy outro of ‘Tarred and Feathered’.
Loop B coming from the line selector contains just one pedal: the Electro-Harmonix Key9. This is part of EHX’s stunning range of organ/keyboard emulating pedals, along with the likes of the B9 and the C9. The Key9 focuses on making your instrument sound like one of various keyboards and electric pianos, like the Wurlitzer and Rhodes, plus some other organs and some wildcards, like a pretty hilarious steel drum setting. This was a prize purchase made for my other band, but some of the more textural settings have found their way onto each of the main Ba’al releases thus far. On Ellipsism, the section in the middle of ‘Long Live’ with the odd time signature has me impersonating an organ. It’s in it’s own loop partially so that I can switch from it straight to my overdrives, but also because it creates it’s very own special brand of weird digital noise when not in use. The scrap of yellow tape in the corner reminds my dumb brain that it is in loop B, which has a yellowish LED on the line selector.
Coming out of the line selector entirely, my chain ends with a Mooer Shimverb reverb pedal and a Boss delay, which are used quite sparingly in this band, pretty much just in the drone/ambient parts. The DD3 is there very sparingly on some of the clean sections throughout the album, and Tom also used it some of his cleans when he needed something more simple than his massive arsenal of more complicated delays would allow. The ‘shimmer’ setting on the Shimverb adds an eerie 7th above the note you’re playing (as well as the reverb), and this feature gets its moment during the drone section of ‘Long Live’.
Speaking of that section, you may or may not be able to pick up a few viola lines layered in there. Those were also run through my pedal board, specifically into the Vox Trike, for a scratchy and unnerving sound.
My power supply is a very cheap one that was recommended by my other band, and it does the job with almost enough supplies for all my pedals; technically I’m one short, but thankfully the Boss LS-2 has an extra power output that I use to supply the Shimverb.
You’ll also notice a few extra loose bits and bobs in the top right of the board. These are my emergency gig supplies: spare patch cables for when things go suddenly dead onstage (let’s be honest, I usually keep them on hand for Nick rather than myself); a pair of shitty rubber earplugs in case I forget my normal, fancy ones; a small pack of hairbands in case I forget to bring one and I need to get my sweaty hair out of my face after a set so I can see where I’m loading my gear to. All essential.
Just to balance out Tom’s encyclopedic knowledge of all things gear-related, now it’s our resident tall man’s turn to talk about his string baby, despite openly acknowledging that gear is not his forte…
When I joined Ba’al, I’d been wedded to 5-string basses for about 5 years already; I was invited to join a Meshuggah-esque math metal band in 2012, which prompted me to find the cheapest 5-string I could find, which was a second-hand Stagg for £50 on eBay, which was posted to my student halls without a case and wrapped in about 5 inches of bubble wrap. Said band never came to be, but I really enjoyed the extended range that the instrument made available to me, so I continued to use it for all bass purposes anyway and got used to writing and playing across 5 strings.
That purple Stagg enjoyed heavy use for the first year of Ba’al, including all our early shows and a demo recording that never saw the light of day. To be honest, it sounded pretty good and I was continually impressed by the tones I got out of something that cost me £50. However, when it came time to think about our first EP proper (In Gallows by Mass), I thought I should probably step it up a bit so started shopping around. After trying it out in a music shop, I was pretty set on getting an Ibanez SR505, mostly because it was such an easy play and felt great. However, our singer at the time then pointed me towards local Sheffield legend Niall Kingdom (of Santiago Kings, Deltanaut and more), who was selling off a small portion of his large bass family, specifically his Music Man Sub Ray 5. I tried it out in his kitchen, and then he let me borrow it for the initial guide tracking for the EP, and although it was a close-run thing between it and the Ibanez (I even briefly considered buying both), the Music Man won me over and I made the purchase on the strength of its recording quality – and the fact that I’ve always secretly wished I was John Myung.
Although it’s the affordable ‘little brother’ of Music Man’s flagship Ray series, the Sub Ray 5 really packs a punch. It’s got a beefy solid hardwood body and all the warm low end that I’m always looking for in a bass tone; I hate it when metal bassists run the mids on their tone to the extent that it just sounds like another guitarist making noise. It also really takes well to the myriad distortions and other effects I subject it to without losing that gut punching power. It’s a pretty hefty beast, too, so it survives a lot of assault both intentional and accidental (though I have thrown it about sufficiently for one of the tone knobs to have fallen off and been lost to the void). Its also a really lovely colour, and I’d be lying if I said that wasn’t a reasonable factor.
Strings-wise I’ve tried a few, but I’ve been using D’Addario XLs for a while and they’ve served me well. I used to use heavy gauge just because I thought that was what I should do when we’re tuned to either B or drop A, but in the past year or so I’ve been using lighter gauge (.045-.130) and it’s actually been much more comfortable. And let’s face it, I could still tie you up with with the bottom string even with those.
It doesn’t take a long time speaking to me to realise that I’m the absolute opposite of a gear nerd (especially compared to a certain someone in this band whose name rhymes with ‘bomb’). I know next to nothing about the workings of basses, amps or pedals, and will often glaze over when people talk circuitry, valves or even guitar models. I had to search my Amazon orders to even find out what string gauge I use. But I know what I like when I hear or see it, which does often make my decision process pretty long and aruduous and based very much on trying things out. However, the Sub Ray 5 was a pretty easy decision and I’ve not regretted it for one moment. It’s versatile enough to hit all the right spots live as well as in the studio and the practice room, even when the guitars are flying above, below and all around me in terms of frequencies and sounds. I’ve got no complaints and I think it’s really pushed me to improve my playing and writing to match it’s tone and range.