Monday, September 27, 2010

Going Low: The Boss OC-3 Super Octave

In addition to blogging, I record, sing and play out with my ukulele as a solo singer/songwriter. While I prefer ukulele to guitar, I do miss the rounder tone of an instrument with notes below middle C. Uncomfortable playing a low G, I did discover another way to introduce some bass into my sound – the Super Octave OC-3 octave pedal by Boss.

I am not a big fan of effects pedals, as I think they can be easily overused, but with a little restraint I’m able to get a pretty subtle bass effect with the OC-3.

Like all Boss pedals, the OC-3 is a well-made, all-metal stomper that runs on a 9-volt battery or optional AC power adapter. It has four knobs; furthest to the left is the direct knob, which allows you to determine the amount of original, unprocessed sound in the mix. The next knob controls the level of the tone one octave below the original. The knob furthest to the right sets the pedal to one of its three modes—Drive, Octave 2 and Polyphonic—while the knob to its immediate left controls the level of the particular mode setting.

The most useful mode for ukulele players is Polyphonic, as it allows chord playing without producing a muddy digital mess . When in poly mode, one can use the multi-purpose knob to select the range of original notes to be “doubled” one octave lower. When playing with a high-g, the range needs to be set at about the one or two o’clock to take effect. While the high-g and A strings are pretty much unaffected by this, the E and C—particularly the C—sound with the original and lower octave tones.

By setting the Octave 1 level knob to around nine o’clock and the direct to around Noon, I get a pretty nice, un-muddied bass accompaniment. It will also work with single note or arpeggio playing as well, but, again, will only be noticeable on the C and E strings.

Overall, the effect is subtle but pleasing and really rounds out the tone. Use modestly, the OC-3 gives the appearance that there is a bass player hiding in the wings. It would be cool to sample this with a low-G, as that would effect three of the four strings, although that might get a little too deep.

By the way, there is a direct output which allows you to run another effect, such as a chorus, on your unprocessed sound. You can then run the octave and other effects into separate inputs on a board or even two separate amps if you wanted. A nice touch that gives a little more control over where the effect comes in.

The OC-2 mode, which adds a tone two octaves lower than original (can you imagine using this with a bass?) is designed for single-note playing only. Indeed, playing chords or even two notes in anything but the poly mode makes for a harsh digital tone that is not at all musical. Playing single notes in the OC-2 mode can produce some cool sounds bordering on Chick Corea-like synth patches. Not something you would use everyday, but I am certainly planning on using that mode on the unison part of Corea’s classic, “Spain.”

While I have no use for drive mode, it does add a solo octave fuzz. Having sampled this with my electric guitar, the OC-3 in Drive does make for a decent distortion sound, and the poly mode can also make your six-string sound like a twelve. Amazing stuff.

The OC-3, which added the polyphonic mode to its already popular OC-2 pedal, has been around since 2004. It comes with a short but complete manual and is covered by a five-year warranty. Street price is about $119 and they go for around $50 to $70 used on Ebay (obviously holding a good deal of their value). The closest thing to the OC-3 is the Electro-Harmonix Micro POG, which not only does polyphony but also goes an octave above the original tone, but it costs over $200 new. The OC-3 has been reviewed well and while it is mainly used by guitarists and bass players, I am finding it does have its place for high-g players looking to go a little low.

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