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Phil Jones Bass Buddy

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Phil Jones Bass has entered the hi-fi bass amplification market in a big way with innovative products aimed at the connoisseur bassist. Top-notch engineering, rugged yet sexy construction and practical features are the calling cards of its product line. The Bass Buddy ($349) is the smallest item in the Phil Jones catalog, but PJB proves that size isn’t everything when it comes to delivering great sound. The Bass Buddy is a preamp, equalizer, optical limiter, headphone practice amp, direct box and practice amp all in one 7 x 5 x 2-inch package.

It’s a cute little box, but you can tell right away this is no toy. The 1/4-inch-thick aluminum front panel and stainless-steel chassis give it a confidence-inspiring heft. There are many applications for this little toolkit, but most notably it’s an instrument preamp. The passive/active switch changes the input impedance to match up with a wide range of instruments, both electric and acoustic. In passive mode, the unit’s gain structure brought out the best from my active basses when bypassing their internal preamps. The active input is optimized to match up with the high output of modern instruments. The five-band graphic EQ is tuned to what PJB considers to be the most useful frequencies for bass. The relatively short-throw sliders allow for 18dB of boost or cut-that’s a lot of control in a small space. Caution is advised; it’s easy to over-boost, resulting in distortion-a little goes a long way. The 50Hz slider provides nice full bottom or can cut the sub frequencies that wreak havoc in some rooms, while 160Hz adds punch. 630 Hz worked great for dialing in the trademark Jaco Pastorius tone on a fretless bass, while the 2.5KHz can add the presence a vintage ax needs to cut through the mix, or used as a cut to make it more slap-friendly. The 12KHz slider gives that sizzle modern electric bassists crave for slap-funk-and that’s where the Bass Buddy really shines. My hot-rodded Jazz bass pumped out pristine highs and velvety lows when I adjusted the Buddy for the classic “smiley-face” EQ curve. Not just suited to modern funk, it was able to handle my collection of basses ranging from high-end active four-, five- and six-strings to vintage passive basses with old, dead flat-wound strings-always delivering great tone with a minimum of tweaking.

The box also sports a switchable optical limiter, preset at the generally accepted 3:1 ratio for bass. The limiter is helpful in smoothing out the spiky transients that slap bass generates, and can prevent you from blowing up your speakers or headphones. Used sparingly, the limiter has a nice musical effect, but even at its max, it manages not to suck the life out of the tone. The Bass Buddy has several output options: a preamp out that will drive a power amp for live use (or to connect a tuner); a speaker output that uses the built in 10-watt amp to drive down to a four-ohm load, making it useful as a low-volume practice amp; and an XLR low-impedance balanced line out for recording or connecting to a PA system. A welcome addition here would have been a ground lift for live applications.

The Bass Buddy is also designed to function as a headphone practice amp. It has a dedicated stereo output optimized for headphones in the 16-60 ohm range. The stereo aux input on the back panel has a separate volume control for connecting a CD player, iPod, drum machine, etc. Unfortunately, the signal from this input is routed only through the headphone jack and not the preamp or XLR outputs. To make this musical Swiss Army knife even more useful, it can also run for up to three hours on two nine-volt batteries, though only in headphone amp mode.

Most boutique gear sounds great in your practice room; the real test is in how it functions on the bandstand. On a jazz-trio gig with an active six-string bass, the Bass Buddy provided clarity and detail. The full spectrum of the instrument came to life, making it easier to hear the nuances of right-hand placement and dynamics. On another gig using a vintage passive ax, the Bass Buddy distinguished itself once more, speaking with an articulate voice that was clearly discernable even in a boomy room with loud guitars and a heavy-hitting drummer.

The Bass Buddy is a perfect companion for the traveling player who wants a portable but pro-quality practice environment on the tour bus that can transition to a flexible, hi-fidelity preamp for the live rig, or for anyone who wants a small, multitasking box for live, studio or practice work.

Originally Published