Aguilar Tone Hammer Review - The truth down under :D

Discussion in 'Effects [BG]' started by Heart of bass, Feb 5, 2009.

  1. Hey guys,

    I just went and bought myself an Aguilar Tone Hammer from! I was so lucky as i bought it just before the price rise and before they were sold out... :D

    Before i went to buy this pedal i was searching EVERYWHERE for a good review that was actually had more information than the Aguilar tone hammers specifications page... but nothing really existed, i did find the thread here were someone was kinda enough to record and make some tone hammer samples! But i still felt like writing my own review :)

    So here we go...

    First impressions -

    The design is very nice, and is aesthetically pleasing, i think its quite an attractive little unit which and is also smaller than it looks in pictures (but looks massive next to my EBS multicomp haha...). The controls are comfortable and easy to use/read. If you didn't already know the pedal is a Dark green colour, which i wouldn't exactly call metallic but more of a sparkle green which needs to be seen in strong light/day light for you to really notice it.

    The only design concept that i dont really like with the pedal is how there are those flaps of metal that hang over the inputs, although many other D.i.'s out there have this same design concept which functions as protection for the cable inputs (i guess this would be in the instance that if you were to step on them right next to the input jack) and also helps make the pedal look 'cleaner' because you don't see all the ends of leads, XLR, DC in etc. The reason i didn't like it is because on a pedal board its difficult to use 45o patch cables, but its only really a minor personal disliking. Also the battery compartment i find is very easy to open as you dont need any tools because it unscrews at the bottom by hand. I think Aguilar should have added a battery compartment to have the batteries sit in so they aren't just free floating... But if you use the power supply like me it doesn't matter... Also with the power supply, its great small and light, but for the Australian converter plug it makes the adapter sit long ways across my power board which is inconvenient...

    Sound -

    Now down to real business...

    [Playing it in the music store]

    Okay, as the Tone hammer has only just been released in Australia i got to try one out in Billyhydemusic a few weeks back where it retailed for a whopping 599!!! ps. i bought it for 420AUS including the power supply and international shipping :). Anyway... I had big hopes for this pedal, my hopes were somewhat based on G.A.S... and the 'HYPE' that's been surrounding these things...

    In the store to try it out i plugged in a New Stingray 5 H, and i was mildly happy... In the store i couldn't really tell what difference it made to the original bass sound. Though the Stingray was an active bass the TH's preamp worked beautifully, and if you didn't know the Stingray 5's 3 band eq is baxandall where as most other basses have a linear format like jazz's etc... so i found the Aguilars preamp's treble control more usable than the Stingrays onboard, and the sweepable mids control is also very nice, and offers tonnes of boost which is usable in all frequencies between 180-1000hz. Obviously this preamp is best used with a passive bass over an active but i found that it worked equally well.

    I tried the AGS circuit with both a MM stingray 5 and a passive Fender jazz, and wasn't really happy with it... i found it harsh and not very usable and very tricky to adjust, and also the gain boost you get from the distortion (around 12-15db) is very overpowering when you go from AGS off to AGS on.

    Now a review of the Tone Hammer when i had mine delivered and had some time to play with it

    Okay, now i am at home, in a quite room, using my own Stingray 5 HH through my own rig so i can have a bench mark of what it sounded like before and when the pedal is engaged. p.s. my strings were fairly dead at the time.

    I first plugged it all in, set my bass head flat, my Stingrays onboard flat and the TH flat with the gain and volume at 12o'c. In the music store i didnt notice any difference, but when i played with it off and then turned it on set flat i noticed a difference straight away. My stingray's pickups are wired in series so they have a very loud, harsh mid rangy sound but once i turned the tone hammer on with the AGS off my sound changed in that the Bass was very contained and very rounded, the mids were also controlled and not as harsh as they were with it off, the treble was a bit smoother but relatively the same.

    So overall set flat my bass was thicker and smoother sounding than it was with the TH bypassed. Personally i was very happy with this because i never really liked how harsh my 06' MM Stingray 5 HH was, and was even considering selling my bass... But this little pedal saved me :).

    The TH's preamp was very nice, the bass boost is very usable and the treble is great, set at 4kz its more usable live than the 'ray's stock treble pot.

    Before i forget... i noticed no real hiss or static sounds when the pedal was engaged, well that is no more than usual and any bit of hiss that i heard was because im running a PC, stereo, bass head, routers/modems/clocks/lights/chargers/ the 18v power supply and my 9v power supply off ONE power point which has 3 power boards connected to it hahaha!

    There is however some big treble hiss at the top end of the treble pots rotation, so when you turn it up to max on the TH you'll get definite hiss. However if you roll it back just a little bit all that hiss will go away.The sweepable mids and bass was fine however.

    The tones that come from this pedal are beautiful and have great clarity and richness amongst all the smooth low end you get! Also a little eq goes a long way in my books, so adding a few db of treble and bass gives you a great sound that fits rock, rnb, etc. And the sweepable mid control lets you bring up some mids to help cut in the mix, which frequency you choose depends on your bass, pick/fingers, personal tastes, etc.

    You can get a variety of slap sounds from it, which you probably don't realize until you cut the mids and turn the mid frequency selector switch up and down the frequency band (Its best to experiment with this). With this option you can get that usual scooped slap sound, or you could take out some of the low mids which gets you a slightly hollow breathy sound or you can take out the top mids 500-1kz and get a thumpy sound as that band has a fair bit of bright tones and harmonics in it. Also if you did the reverse and boost your mids you get very punchy tones, and each mid frequency has its own sonic character which will help accommodate for the wide variety of basses and player choice, etc.

    Now onto the AGS...

    In the store i tried it and didnt really like it, however when i tried it at home and set the gain and volume appropriately, gain about 9o'c and the volume at about 5-6o'c (close to minimum) i got a more usable tone which is very right hand controlled (i.e. hard attack, vs soft attack) alternatively you could also just put the gain all the way up and volume down to almost 0 and get a warm over driven tone). So that you know... i have the feeling that the TH's mid control is a part of the AGS circuit as the amount of boost you apply to the mids is what really determines the amount of distortion/fuzz you get. So in a way you can think of the Mids control as a saturation dial, so generally you wont have this up at about 2-3o'c. Also when you push the gain and mids up you'll end up with a very synth like sound which is CRAZY!!!!, but you need to fine tune it so that each note is identifiable and not indistinguishable as a note. Also if you push it a lot you cant play more than one string/note at a time because it just rings and resonates indistinguishable, unless thats your thing... At sensible settings you can get a good overdriven pick sound similar to the one that Tim Foreman from Switchfoot gets. You can get close to that tube overdriven sound, but you have to really sit down and fine tune it for your own liking.

    Also if you think that you will be able to run the tone hammer on and turn the AGS on for solos or riffs, i think its pretty much impossible to do so as the boost is just too great over the non AGS sound. My solution to this would be to set the AGS settings with the volume to match the bypassed Tone hammer volume, which essentially means that you'll use it as if it were a distortion pedal instead of a preamp and distortion at that time.

    Also with the AGS on, the bass is very full, and treble if maxed out isnt overly screechy (remember i have deadish strings) and the tone you can get ranges from
    Slight overdrive to
    Strong Mid overdrive
    Fuzz to
    Synth like Fuzz
    and beyond, but not that far beyond...

    I think the tone hammer only provides 15db max boost so dont go thinking you'll be getting as much boost as a guitar distortion i.e. 20-30db.

    The D.i.

    This D.i. seems very capable, and offers clear true tone unlike those cheap d.i.s which suck your bass dry... and appears to be very clean sounding with no hiss that wasnt already in the line (i.e. the way my room is set up, or bad stage grounding issues etc). Remember that the D.i. is pre/post eq switchable.

    Just a quick update on the D.i. now that ive been using it for a few weeks now...

    I've found one BAD thing about it... its more of a design fault i think...

    It really needs a D.i. -20db cut! Because what ive found is that the unbalanced 1/4inch ouput with gain at half and volume at half is enough to easily power the input of my bass head but the XLR output is WAY too hot, hot as in clipping the desk with half gain and half volume... So i have to turn the volume basically down to 0. This helps stop the XLR being so hot, but at the same time it turned down the 1/4 output which means i have to raise the gain on my bass head up really high...

    I thought i would just put that out there... im just hoping that ill magically find a trimpot on the circuit that allows me to lower the output of the XLR... wishful thinking maybe?

    Also i noticed that the engaged volume is lower than the bypassed, both through XLR and unbalanced output.

    Final thoughts

    Ive not had it for a great deal of time, but i really like this pedal, i feel its very usable and was justifiable for me to have purchased. It really offers me a means to tame my Stingray and make it the smooth player that i want it to be. Note i mostly play at church through a P.a. system with an onstage bass rig, and think this was a great option for me to have better control over my sound as it reached the board and FOH. I'm also going to be doing some recording through it in the up coming weeks and will probably record 2 live albums with it this year. I also wanted this pedal to play at smaller venue's where D.i'n is the only option.

    I play lots of styles, from rock to jazz to african beats, hip hop, etc and also use most techniques fingers/slap/victor wooten styles/thumb/ tapping/chords etc so ive given this little pedal a work out and think its definitely a keeper and i think that if you are considering picking one up, it might be one of the best decision you make, but its best to weigh up your finances first because if you just want a distortion, you might want to look else where, but as far as a quality preamp and D.i. goes this is pretty tough to beat, but not quite in the REDDI/Groove Tube league, but for what my opinions worth... in a live situation people wont notice the difference between a TH and a REDDI and even on a recording you have to have amazing ears to really notice the difference between a full band, singer and loops etc.

    Also you can ask me questions about it, and hopefully i can answer them. Im Australian so i might not reply straight away because of time zone differences etc.

    Thanks for being a great audience,
    Hope its helpful to someone at least
    Take care talkbass
    Driven Crane likes this.
  2. Great review- you are selling the review short calling it a mini review.

    I agree with pretty much all you said, I love my TH I won't be gigging without it.

    Did I read wrong or did you pay $420 for yours?!?
  3. Ha, thanks i edited the title to suit.

    Ah, i realize the mistake i made :), i meant 420AUS, which was more like 265US. But buying one here in Australia is pretty close to that 400US haha at a RRP of 599 and 50 for the adapter in Aussie music stores... its crazy... my EBS multicomp was RRP399AUS locally! But i got it off ebay new for 260AUS, but that was the time when our Aussie dollar was a strong 0.94US...

    Thanks for catching the mistakes, it was soooo long and took me about 40mins to write that i couldnt be bothered re-reading...
  4. I'll say it again, great review.
    The only thing I can't comment on is the DI as I have yet to use it.
  5. warwick.hoy


    Aug 20, 2006
    Spokane, WA.
    Beta Tester: Source Audio.
  6. lovenotfear


    Aug 15, 2007
    Las Vegas, NV
    i totally agree with your review, and i love my tone hammer, i wont play without it now.
  7. irvinz


    Nov 23, 2006
    has too much gas
    thats cool. i dont i'll be gigging without mine. the DI is top notch. ive mixed someone live, and i've also used it live.

    so from the review im gathering that.... you are using the tonehammer to get rid of that stingray sound =)?

    thats ok...i dont like the stingray sound =) good job
  8. Haha you COULD say that but that's not exactly what i meant...
    If you look at the schematics and wiring arrangements for Stingray basses over the years you'll notice that they have swapped between ceramic and alinco magnets, and the pickup switching has also changed, so some 'rays are wired in parallel (which is the sound i prefer over series) and some wired in series, and some with a combination of both, and a filter position and phantom coils etc.

    My stingray is '06 HH so it has ceramic magnets which are supposed to be warmer, but the biggest problem is that my pickups are all wired in series, and most of those pickup positions on the pup switch gives me series combination's that are too harsh for me as i like that more smoother parallel sound, which i get in the middle position which is 1+3 & 2+4 (+ being series and & being parallel). For me i could only run it in that middle position because the sound was nice and warm and smooth, and gave the best finger/slap sound, so all the other positions were useless to me, which even lead me to selling my bass on ebay for a Fender MIA deluxe Jazz V... but this little pedal helped save me from a BIG mistake.

    As i said in the review, the TH helps tame the harsh mids which were the biggest dislike of my series wired stingray, but now they are very usable, but that middle position is relatively the same however. If i wanted that harshness back i can get it by using the mid control so i haven't REALLY lost the original sound, its just waiting there if i want it...
  9. slaerts


    Aug 3, 2006
    A shame your in Vic. it would be nice to sit down and compare it to my EBS Microbass II.
  10. Yer... i was looking at the microbass a little while back as well, they seem alright and if its good enough for Stanley Clarke its good enough for anyone haha, but then again pretty much anything from EBS is quality stuff :)
  11. 1kinal

    1kinal Supporting Member

    Jan 18, 2006
    Montreal, Qc. Canada
    Endorsing Artist: SIT strings
  12. cheshirepig


    May 14, 2008
    Portland, OR
    i think there is a battery compartment, kind of. the foamy part of the bottom that slides out can fit two 9 volts nicely. i'm not looking forward to changing the batteries, as there isnt a lot of slack in the wires as you connect them to the batteries, but i think that what the foam stuff is for: to hold the batteries in place.
  13. lovenotfear


    Aug 15, 2007
    Las Vegas, NV
    I have one, and i agree, the battery wires are a little tight, i dont like that design, but now i just use my dunlop power brick for power and it works great.
  14. Hey guys i just wanted to post an update for this pedal...

    I've found one BAD thing about it... its more of a design fault i think...

    It really needs a D.i. -20db cut! Because what ive found is that the unbalanced 1/4inch ouput with gain at half and volume at half is enough to easily power the input of my bass head but the XLR output is WAY too hot, hot as in clipping the desk with half gain and half volume... So i have to turn the volume basically down to 0. This helps stop the XLR being so hot, but at the same time it turned down the 1/4 output which means i have to raise the gain on my bass head up really high...

    I thought i would just put that out there... im just hoping that ill magically find a trimpot on the circuit that allows me to lower the output of the XLR... wishful thinking maybe?

    Also i noticed the the engaged volume is lower than the bypassed, both through XLR and unbalanced output.

  15. Aguilar/Dave B.

    Aguilar/Dave B. Aguilar Amplification Commercial User

    Nov 8, 2003
    New York City
    President: Aguilar Amplification
    Hi guys,

    Every board now days is designed to accept a very large range of signal level. If you need to bring the gain down at the fader, the proper way is to use less input gain (on the board) and the -20 dB pad on the fader if needed. This is much better for your signal path and noise floor than starting with a lower level coming from the Tone Hammer.

    Regarding the level of the unit in "engaged", vs. bypassed. It's designed to be at unity with bypass when all the knobs are at 12:00.

    Hope this is helpful.....I'm glad you're enjoying the Tone Hammer.
    We appreciate the feedback too!

    Dave B.
    organworthyplayer337 likes this.
  16. sonicnuance

    sonicnuance Commercial User

    Aug 30, 2003
    California, USA
    Engineer & Owner, Sonic Nuance Electronics
    To me, this is where the real power of this forum shines through.

    I'm not in the market for one of these but I wanted to compliment you on the fantastic review. I always appreciate someone taking the time to write an unsolicited, intelligent and detailed review. I'm sure other people who are interested in this product will find your insight useful.

    keep it up
  17. Yeh, ive always looked to the talkbass forums for some quality reviews... because harmony central and even bassplayer magazine doesn't seem to provide us with real world opinions of gear... although maybe forum user reviews may be a bit more subjected to bias and personal reasons such as finance/limit in experience/limited understand of bass gear and the bass market....

    I just wish that people on talkbass would do a similar reviews of the Fender MIA dlx jazz V and Fender Custom Classic V jazzes :D *HINT HINT*... hahaha...

    I'll also just add how COOL it is to have Dave Boonshoft, the CEO of Aguilar comment on my post! :D

  18. i've got a question about the AGS, how do you control it? Is it just the gain knob that's the main thing controlling it?

    edit: btw, thanks for the review!
  19. Its mostly the mid boost and mid frequency you use that determines the type/extent of distortion you get. Ive been playing with it for a while now, and unless u have distortion on all the time, its prob best not to use the AGS for distortion as the volume increase is way too loud to be useable within a set...

    The best that ive found u can do to deal with that is set your settings on the pedal to what u want and make sure u like how it sounds both with AGS on and off. And during a song when ur about to engage it, kneel down and turn the volume knob down... and then back up again when u turn it off.

    It would be convenient if you could just turn your basses volume pot down, but the result of that is not enough gain to drive the signal = no distortion.
  20. TonyP-

    TonyP- Excuse me but you have your I-IV-V in my II-V-I Gold Supporting Member

    Aug 21, 2003
    Boston Mass
    A-Designs Mike Lull GK Tsunami Cables GHS Strings RMI Basswitch Nordstrand Pickups Darkglass
    Yet another real great review...

    I'm not fan of the AGS as well...But I really like this unit as a quick on the run pre when needed.

    I have not used the DI but that great to know.

    Like what said earlier that whats makes the forum great.

  21. Primary

    Primary TB Assistant

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