Combination Overdrive/Distortion/Fuzz Pedal with parallel blending and 3 band eq.
A brief admission: I purchased this Empress Multidrive fully intending to use it in my electric guitar rig, not my bass rig! However, I’ve found that the other Empress pedals that I previously acquired all worked quite well with bass – I regularly use an Empress ParaEq on stage and in the studio. Empress seems to have put high sound quality and low noise at the forefront of their design approach & all of their pedals that I have tried (and bought each time) have proved to deliver to this end. Just like my other Empress effects, the Mutidrive works just as well on bass as it does on guitar with a full-spectrum frequency response and with the high headroom necessary to reproduce modern bass sounds well.
The Multidrive features the same robust Hammon steel enclosure as its brand’s brethren. The same high quality brushed aluminum knobs and flawless finishing & labeling are also consistent. Despite the multitude of knobs and switches (10 knobs, 5 toggle switches and 2 footswitches), the layout is logical and fairly easy to read. The input/output jacks are metal and the standard Boss-style 9v adapter jack is side-mounted next to the output jack.
Empress’ pedals all are very feature laden & as such the internal circuit boards employ lots of mini-components. Still, like all of the Empress pedals, there is no space inside for a 9v battery. This is an increasingly common trend in pedal effects and tends to be seen more in the ‘boutique’ brands offerings. You’ll need either a ‘wall wart’ style adapter or a pedalboard power supply (such as VoodooLabs or T-Rex, etc...).
The white on gray lettering on the pedals surface is perfectly rendered, but could be hard to see on a dark stage or studio as there are so many items and the lettering is so small. The control scheme is logical & consistent, however, which helps to make identification easier and intuitive.
The footswitch and 3-way mini toggle switches are all top quality & operate flawlessly. The Multidrive features true mechanical bypass.
A note on the 3 ‘effects’:
‘Overdrive’, ‘distortion’ and ‘fuzz’ are all terms that describe a similar audible effect. Essentially these effects clip the dynamic range of the soundwave to various degrees & thus impart a different texture to the sound. “Overdrive” is generally used to describe a guitar or bass sound that exhibits only a little bit of clipping & still retains much of the source instruments pure tone. “Distortion” is often applied to all 3 of these clipping effects, but can also refer to a more hard-rock oriented clipping that compresses the dynamic range somewhat and begins to impart added harmonic content. Fuzz is used to refer to the most obviously clipped tones & can sound either very compressed or wildly out of control! Fuzz tends to add so much clipping and harmonics that it is difficult to hear the original instruments inherent tone. Varying degrees and textures of fuzz keep many a guitar & bass player awake at night, pondering the sonic peculiarities and possibilities…
Function & Features:
The Empress Multidrive is unique in how it incorporates the 3 different effects into a single integrated unit. All 3 effects blocks (overdrive, distortion and fuzz) are fed independently from the input jack, process the sound independently, and then are mixed in parallel into the eq circuit & out of the pedal. Most of us are used to using effects in series, where one tone is fed into the next, not “mixed”. So, if you are using both ‘overdrive’ and ‘distortion’ modules of the Multidrive simultaneously, you don’t get the expected relationship of “an overdrive making a distortion sound more distorted & louder”, but rather the type of sound you might expect from running two different pedals into 2 identical amps. It’s an almost 3-D sound & has lots of experimental potential!
The 'Distortion' module features an extra 3-way toggle that selects 3 very different distortion textures. Crunch, Mild and Lead. The Crunch texture is a very typical thick Marshall type drive. The Mild setting is rather low-gain and sounds more like an overdrive, but a tiny bit more compressed. The Lead setting has lots of gain on tap & is perfect for, well,.. leads!
Each of the 3 effects modules has a 3-position filter control. The options are 'none' (full range signal), 'lp' (only the lows are let through) and 'hp' (only the highs are let through). The filters are centered at 500hz, so if you select 'hp', all frequencies below 500hz will be muted. In 'lp', all the sound above 500hz is muted. This is useful when combining different blends of modules. You can, for instance, only apply fuzz to your high end, while simultaneously using overdrive on your low end. Wicked! This is where things start getting creative!
The eq section of the Multidrive is post-clipping and acts as a master eq that is active at all times on the signal. There is also a master ‘level’ control for setting the final output volume of the pedal. The ‘Low’ eq control is a shelving control that starts at about 150hz and offers +10/-10db of boost or cut. The ‘Hi’ eq shelf begins at 3khz and also features +10/-10db of boost or cut. All 3 eq knobs feature a mid-detent for easily finding the flat setting. Nice! The mid control offers +10/-10db of control at a selectable center frequency of 250hz, 500hz or 3khz. It’s an extremely powerful eq capable of dramatic sculpting of the final tone of the pedal! There’s not a deeper sub eq relevant to bass guitar, however the Multidrive passes the full audio spectrum through & sounds big and full with no low end cut that plagues many distortion units for bass use. The ‘Bass” control @ 150hz is very effective for adding massive girth!
Perhaps the most confusing feature of the Multidrive is the ‘Select’ feature. It does not switch directly through the 3 effects types, but is rather a 2-channel preset system for selecting either individual effects or combinations of the effects blocks. There is a dip-switch terminal inside the pedal that configures the two preset choices. Either choice can include none, one, two or all three of the effect modules. For example, you can set up one ‘selection’ as all 3 modules activated & the second ‘selection’ as just the fuzz module. Or, you could set up your first ‘selection’ as overdrive + fuzz and the second ‘selection’ as everything off (muted). Any combination is possible, but you are limited to 2 footswitchable presets! In order to use all 3 modules, you must make sure that your 2 ‘selections’ have all of the modules enabled. Using each modules dedicated ‘Volume’ control enables you to use effects independently by simply turning them down all the way.
It would literally take me weeks to record all of the possibilities that the Multidrive is capable of. Plus, every instrument & amp combination imparts its own tonal factor to the equation (not to mention the player!). I have attempted to record a series of simple, brief clips that demonstrate some of the range of the pedal. These sounds also represent tones that I personally would find useful in real-world musical situations on bass guitar.
Each clip was played on a stock Fender ’57 Reissue Precision bass. The bass was plugged straight into the Multidrive, then into a Line6 LowDown bass amp. I use the LowDown’s xlr out straight into ProTools with absolutely no compression or eq, hardware or software! I use the LowDown because it’s my opinion that bass guitar sounds best through an amp, particularly with clipping effects! I’ve used and tested many small studio-friendly bass amps & the Line6 Lowdown’s react very much like a “real” amp. None of the clips were treated with any post-recording eq or processing other than volume normalization (minimal) and mp3 conversion. If I used a pick, it is noted below – otherwise all clips were played traditional ‘fingerstyle’. While I didn’t record clips, I did test the Multidrive with an active bass. It responded equally well and as predictably as the passive instrument.
-First off, the raw bass-through-amp tone. just to give you an idea of what the more subtle Multidrive settings are doing to this clean tone in the clips to follow.
-Next, A very light amp-like overdrive setting. Just a hint of break-up and growl. Overdrive module, with 'Gain' and 'Volume' at about 1o'clock. Eq set flat
-More clipping for a vintage fingerstlye-rock tone. Distortion module set to 'crunch', 'gain' a little past 1o'clock, 'volume' at 11o'clock. Just a touch of 'hi' eq boost- about 1o'clock.
-A more aggressive distortion with a pick. Good for riff-rock with a little bit of mid-scoop. Distortion module set to 'lead', 'gain' at 1o'clock, 'volume' at 10o'clock. Slight 'hi' roll off and 'mid' set to 500hz and cut at 11o'clock.
-A more polite fuzz tone. Fuzz module with 'gain' at 10o'clock, 'volume' a little past 12o'clock. Just a teeny-tiny amount of 'low' boost.
-A nice modern scooped, angry fuzz! Played with a pick. Fuzz module set to 3o'clock on the 'gain' knob, 'volume' dialed back to 10o'clock. 'Hi' eq cut slightly back, 'mid' eq cut to 10o'clock at the 500hz setting and a tiny amount of 'low' boost.
-Example of 2 tones blended together employing the low & high pass filters! Clean low end courtesy of the overdrive module set to 'lp' mode, 'gain' a bit above 9o'clock, 'volume' at 1o'clock. The righteous grit comes from the distortion module set to 'hp', the 'crunch' setting, 'gain' at 4o'clock and the 'volume' set to 10o'clock.
-And finally a blend of clean lows from the overdrive module + sizzling highs from the fuzz module. A pick was used. Overdrive set to 'lp', 'gain' a little above 9o'clock, 'volume' set 1o'clock. Fuzz module set to 'hp', 'gain' a little past 1o'clock, volume on 10o'clock.
There are many, many more combinations and tones available. This just scratches the surface as to how I would use the Multidrive. It's a very versatile machine in a remarkably small package! About $299.00 retail.