Turn your bass into its own "power trio"
By Craig Anderton
Editor in Chief, Harmony Central
So you play bass in a power trio. The drummer is flailing away, the guitar player is windmilling power chords, the vocal harmonies sound amazing, and the crowd is going nuts. Then the guitar player starts soloing. Uh-oh . . . What happened to that giant wall of sound?
If this sounds familiar, Fishman wants to talk to you about Fission Bass. It’s designed to transfer that wall of sound over to you, so your bass can roar with harmonies and fill in the hole that appeared when the guitarist switched from rhythm to lead. Sure, it can do more than that; any time bass needs a power trip, Fishman Fission Bass is there. But it was made for a specific purpose, and as a result, hits that target like a laser.
I couldn't resist the reference, because it makes sense: Fission Bass’s heart is harmony generation, as called up by three footswitches. The main one switches between effect off and one octave higher. The second adds in a parallel harmony a fourth below the octave, while the third switch adds another parallel harmony a fifth above the octave. Pressing both the second and third switches simultaneously creates a power chord—octave higher, with fourth and fifth above that—just like the one the guitarist was playing before the solo started, and with a touch of formant processing to sound more guitar-like.
You can do much more than switch harmonies in and out. There are four controls: Overdrive (for harmonies only; it doesn’t affect the straight bass sound), a Tone control that pulls back highs, Noise Gate, and Effect Level control. The latter works with the two 1/4" output jacks—Mix Output blends the dry bass (going through a buffered, analog path to retain the bass tone) with the processed sound, whose level is set by the Effect Level control. Effect Output has no dry sound, but processed sound only—with the Effect Level control again setting level. (By the way, special props for the stomp-friendly knobs; they’re metal, low-profile, and easy to adjust, but hard to move accidentally.)
You’ll also find a Trim control for matching levels to your bass, as well as LED indicators for harmony status, signal present, and a dual-purpose clip/low battery warning. Fission Bass can run off a 9V battery (housed in a quick-release, recessed battery compartment), but I measured a current drain of 27mA—pretty hefty, so you’ll probably want to buy the optional “global” (100-240V/50/60Hz) AC adapter.
On the right track(ing)
The concept is solid; in “power chord” position, it really does sound like there’s some type of synchronized guitar playing along, and the Overdrive adds a wonderful growl. Had this been around during the prime of Emerson, Lake, and Palmer, I bet they would have used it in their live act . . . and been grateful for its existence.
Anyway, the most important hands-on aspects relate to tracking and tone. Sound quality when transposing up is always difficult to pull off, but Fission Bass acquits itself well. There’s a little bit of warble on the octave-higher note, but you have to listen for it. The fourth and fifth work really well. Although pitch shifters generally prefer single-note lines, I was pleasantly surprised that Fission Bass didn’t get too antisocial if you accidentally hit more than one note at a time, and actually handled fifths fairly elegantly.
As to tracking, there’s no problem with slides, bends, and slaps, which to me is crucial. You’ll hear a very slight “scoop” as the unit homes in on the pitch tracking, but I wonder if perhaps this was done on purpose, as it helps differentiate the harmony tone from the bass just a little bit more.
And don’t overlook the Effect Output jack’s value. For the stage, run it through a guitar amp for the power chord thang, and in the studio, it’s just begging to go through parallel amp sims—I split the signal into two chains, one with a guitar amp, the other with a 4x10 bass cab emulation. It rocked.
I like effects that go boldly where no effect has gone before, but I really like effects that are especially clever and succeed at what they do. Fission Bass definitely delivers. Within 10 seconds of plugging it in, I had the fourth churning away, and a strange urge to play Swedish death metal. But that faded away as I checked out the power chord option, and started going down the power trio road—sparse notes; serious sustain; and big, muscular sounds.
This effect isn’t for everyone, but I think everyone it’s intended for will totally dig it. The Overdrive and Tone controls are a great addition, as you can get more sounds out of the box than you might think at first. Fishman gets an “A” for effort, and they also get an “A” for execution.
Features & Specs
- Unique design for bass players only
- Generates octave above, fourth below octave, and fifth above octave
- “Power chord” option generates octave above with fourth and fifth above that
- Battery or AC power (“global” adapter optional)
- Tone, Overdrive, and Noise Gate controls
- Mixed output or effect output only
- Sturdy construction and footswitches
- Trim control matches passive and active pickups
Fishman’s Fission Bass is a creative effect for creative bassists, adding a new dimension to standard, single-note bass lines.