MXR M288 Bass Octave Deluxe Pedal
Originally published in Guitar World, September 2009
The M288 is an excellent octave pedal full of thick-and-juicy analog goodness.
Bass players just love low notes, and while tuning down to low F# has gained popularity in some circles, the result sounds less like the roar of the devil than it does the gastro-intestinal fluttering of the devil after a truck-stop burrito. If you want to get into the suboctave range and retain pitch definition, you’re better off using an octave pedal. Octave pedals let you blend the original tone with a “synthesized” note one octave below, and this feature is key to producing clearly defined pitch rather than flatulent dreck. The octave pedal has been with us for a long time and has seen several developments over the years, but the low-frequency dudes at MXR/Dunlop have just added a significant page to the history of this noble device with the new M288 Bass Octave Deluxe.
The M288 takes a step backward in time with completely analog circuitry. While digital models are typically less glitchy, many players feel that the suboctave tones of these pedals sound thin and sterile. The M288 utilizes Dunlop’s Constant Headroom Technology (CHT), which is essentially voltage regulation designed to keep the circuitry supplied by a steady 18 volts for better headroom. It performs this function even when power from the pedal’s nine-volt battery drops as low as four and a half volts.
The M288 is a dual-voice octave device with controls for the dry signal level, Growl and Girth. Growl creates a throaty midrange one octave below the dry signal, while Girth produces deep and smooth tones, also one octave lower. The ability to blend these two tones is a real advantage when it comes to tweaking the effect for different basses and playing environments.
The Mid+ midrange boost button is another feature that distinguishes the M288. Located on the pedal’s upper left-hand corner, it activates a selectable midrange EQ for better definition. A small internal switch lets you toggle between a low-mid boost at 400Hz and a higher midrange pop at 850Hz, while an internal trim pot adjusts boost gain from +4 to +14dB.
In addition, the classic MXR smallfootprint casing is a plus for an overcrowded pedal board, and true-bypass operation keeps your tone unaffected when the M288 is turned off.
After many years of using digitally processed octave pedals, I found this box a welcome return to the lush, velvety tone I loved. The dual voice controls and midrange boost make the M288 more versatile and useful, and while it’s not completely glitch free, it tracked far lower and cleaner than my original analog octave pedal.
Octave glitch is a strange phenomenon. It is the combined result of the bass guitar’s note integrity and the manner in which the pedal processes the signal. For example, on several of my basses, the C produced at the G string’s fifth fret suffers from the classic “dead spot” shared by many bolt-on neck instruments. The M288 responds to that note with a less-than-stable suboctave. But play that same pitch on the 10th fret of the D string and the suboctave is full and clean, with great sustain. Understanding how your bass responds will help you maximize the performance of this, or any, octave pedal.
The Growl control adds articulation and presence, while the Girth adds depth and width. Between the two voices, I found it possible to dial in perfect tones with many basses. The real kicker is the Mid+ button, which comes preset from the factory at +10dB@400Hz. Its two EQ settings let you optimize the effect for your instrument. On a Music Man StingRay or the bridge pickup of a Jazz, the 400Hz setting added a low-mid focus that brought the suboctave to the forefront. On my Precision bass, or when I used both pickups on the Jazz, the 850Hz setting gave a presence peak that poked its way through the clean signal’s thicker texture. As good as it was, the M288 seemed to improve when I plugged in my fretless bass. The unit tracked like a Navajo scout and sustained like Nigel Tufnel’s Les Paul.
The dry signal is clean and clear, so achieving a nice sparkly slap tone with the suboctave was no problem. On the other end of the spectrum, dialing the dry signal out completely and maxing the Growl gave me a tone reminiscent of the cheap-synth bass lines of late-Eighties dance hall reggae (which is also great for playing the theme music from Pac-Man).
THE BOTTOM LINE
The M288 is an excellent octave pedal full of thick-and-juicy analog goodness. The dual voices and EQ options make it possible to dial in an optimal tone for many different basses.
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