Hartke VXL Bass Attack Tone-Shaper Preamp review

Hartke’s new bass pedal soups up the humble preamp formula. Gareth Morgan puts it to the test…

If you only ever use one pedal, a tone fixer – whether in the form of a booster, line driver or preamp – is a sensible choice. These usually offer volume boost with EQ shaping, often with a sweepable frequency control, and Hartke’s swanky new VXL Bass Attack pedal does not buck that trend. It also seasons the selection with the addition of a harmonics control, a tube emulation feature and a DI output with ground/lift switch – enabling use as a direct box for connection to a PA or for recording.

The VXL comes in the form of a  wedge-shaped metal box, the top and back having a businesslike black finish (save for the grey control panel) and grey sides. At 152mm wide, 167mm deep and 61mm high, it’s about twice the standard stompbox size and weighs about twice as much. Connectivity is around the sides, the previously mentioned DI being accompanied by input, parallel output and line output jack sockets – plus a pre/post switch. Press this for post mode if you’re using the VXL for shaping, leave it out if not, and note the parallel out socket always emits a clean signal.

Control-panel wise, it’s a dizzying array, but note that the cut/boost bass, treble and level controls are active on plugging in, so try to remember to set them flat ± specifically centre position, or 5 on the dial. The remaining features are enabled via two stomp switches. On the right, on/off activates harmonics, mix (dry to wet) and brite, the latter offering cut/boost to higher frequencies. The shape switch activates the sweepable shape control, offering various preset EQ curves as tonal starting points. The VXL can be either battery powered (accessed by quick-release cover on the bottom) or via a nine-volt power supply (not supplied).

Sounds

While not massively sophisticated, engaging the basic two-band EQ provides degrees of practical width without loss of definition and decent cut and bite. The remaining EQ control, brite, works in conjunction with the harmonics feature, adding extra sparkle to your tone in warm tube mode and upping the spiteful edge when properly overdriven.

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The overdrive itself is a decent facsimile of the warm snarl that valves provide, but the key to this function – as is often the case with distortion/overdrive effects – is the mix dial. You can have a bit of grunt tracking your clean notes, right through to full-on mayhem – Jack Bruce’s classic Cream-era snarl is pretty easy to approximate.

With the shape control, rotating anti-clockwise uncorks starting-point sounds that are thinner and more lightweight, with good barking, raspy variations you’ll find useful for gigs with hollow-stage bass trap syndrome, or where more contemporary, nuanced tones are required. If you’re surrounded by glass and stone, rotate clockwise and you’ll find plenty of thick, thudding boom on offer.

The basic EQ remains active at all times, so if you want more width and thud – or more cut and bite with any shape or harmonics variation – you’ll find judicious use of the bass and treble dials creates powerhouse punch or vicious, edgy overdrive.

Key Features
Hartke VXL Bass Attack Tone-Shaper Preamp pedal
• Price £79
• Description Designated bass guitar preamp/tube emulation (distortion), DI pedal without true bypass
• Controls Bass, treble, brite, harmonics, mix, shape, level; ground/lift (turns phantom power on/off) and pre/post switches
Features 2x stomp switches, XLR DI out, line out, parallel out and input jack sockets
Dimensions 152x167x61mm
Contact Korg UK
01908 304 635
www.korguk.com/hartke/
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