When it comes to firsts for a company as influential as Fender, the primary landmarks that come to mind are the introduction of the Precision Bass in 1951, followed by the release of the Jazz Bass in 1960. Of course, there’s all of that brilliant innovation on the guitar side of things, too — but that’s not really our point of interest in these parts. Regardless, with all of those decades of monumental releases in the realm of instruments, it’s surprising that Fender would wait to unveil its very first bass effect pedal until 2019.
Wanting to strengthen its foothold in the realm of effects, Fender has dished out quite a few stompboxes in the past few years, but finally the company has given us one of our own with the introduction of the Downtown Express Bass Multi-Effect. Offering three effects in one box, the Downtown Express features a compressor, 3-band EQ, and an analog overdrive. Each effect can be used on its own or combined with the others, which is when this pedal truly shines. But even at first glance, the sonic options this pedal provides will make tone junkies giddy.
To fully experience each function of this pedal, we first explored each effect individually, so we decided to give the compressor a spin first. With three knobs to control the blend, gain, and threshold, the true-rms compression can be dialed in with either a light touch to tighten up the sound of slapping and plucking, or given a heavy hand by increasing threshold and blend to get an almost muted feel that sounds stellar with more of a staccato approach. Even when dialed in with all three controls at high levels, each note maintains its clarity, making this an excellent tool for tightening up the sound of your groove.
The equalizer has your basic bass, mid, and treble controls, but the great part about the middle band is that it includes a conductor that cops some serious amp tone similar to that of models from the ’60s and ’70s. Boosting the mids in this setting gives your bass a full and cutting tone, with tons of vintage-sounding gain. “Scooping” the EQ (by boosting the lows and highs and cutting the mids) produces a full-bodied, almost dub sound — some serious rumble, but without the pitch center being compromised.
The overdrive is a fairly standard setup with your basic level, tone, and drive controls, and it sounds reminiscent of similar drive boxes. With all three knobs cranked, the distortion cuts loudly, with a solid amount of depth. However, the drive function really shines when you activate the EQ and boost the low, mids, and highs — this gives the drive phenomenal body. Boosting the EQ changes the game for the overdrive, making this element of the pedal invaluable for players who want a full-bodied overdrive with a heavily customizable range.
To continue exploring the combined effects, we paired the EQ with the compressor. This provided a wonderland of tonal options, from tight and plucky to low and punchy. The pedal’s easy navigation and layout makes it simple to adjust your sound on the fly; it’s immensely fun to toy with, yielding a plethora of sounds that complement both passive and active basses. The low-B rumble of a 5-string pumping through the overdrive and EQ, and the tight, muted-palm punch of a shortscale sent through the compressor, show how much range this diverse box has.
With its first foray into the world of bass pedals, Fender has proven that some things are worth the wait. You’d be hard pressed to find a 3-in-1 pedal as diverse and precise as the Downtown Express, and for its price, you definitely get a lot of bang for your buck. This pedal is sure to become a cornerstone in the pedal chains of bass players everywhere, as it’s rare to find a multi-effect that has a multitude of settings that you’d be happy to leave on through your entire set. Rather than reinvent (or rather, invent) the wheel, as Fender has done so many times, the company simply put basic sounds that bass players want into one convenient box — and knocked it out of the park.
Fender Downtown Express
Pros Three dynamic effects in one pedal, great range in merging effects for specific tones, perfect as an overall DI, lots of bang for the buck
Bottom Line Fender’s first-ever bass pedal offering successfully rolls three effects into one box to give bassists a wide array of tone options.
Controls master volume; overdrive level, tone, drive; compressor blend, gain threshold; equalizer bass, mids, treble; od/comp switch, di signal path, ground lift
Switches mute, equalizer, overdrive, compression
Jacks Input, tuner input, output, XLR DI out
Power 9-volt 400mA power supply (sold separately)
Lights LED backlit knobs
Weight 1.2 lbs
Body Anodized aluminum
Made in China