We take a look at some of the best effects pedals for bass guitar
Essential in any guitarist’s rig is a set of pedals to help shape your tone and take you beyond the ordinary (not that there’s anything wrong with a nice clean sound!).
You may be asking “Can guitar pedals work for bass?” Yes, in many cases but not always. It generally depends on how the pedal treats the low frequencies. Some guitar pedals either ignore or completely filter the low-end. Specially designed bass pedals will keep them intact, while it can be pot-luck with others.
Here’s a run down of some of the best bass guitar pedals or see our complete series where we compare the best guitar pedals for the money.
Bass Multi-Effects Pedals
Multi effects processors generally offer an all-in-one solution, incorporating many of the most useful effects (often at a fraction of the price of a full pedalboard) which can be a great advantage. The main down sides are that they can limit your customization and tweaking options compared to dedicated stomp boxes, and you can’t swap out one effect for another like you can with a custom pedal board. You may also find it harder to find an analog multi effects unit, but they do exist. That said, they are a great and highly convenient solution for beginners and seasoned bassists alike.
Our Top 3 Best Multi-effects pedals for bass guitar
Bass Chorus Pedals
A shimmering Chorus pedal can add a rich, warm quality to your sound and while they are most often thought of as primarily guitar effects, you can find great examples of chorus on many a classic bass line. Think of Duff Mckagan’s thunderous, chugging riff in the intro to the 90’s rock anthem from Guns ‘n Roses “You Could be Mine” (which also featured in the soundtrack to the movieTerminator 2) for one such example.
The chorus effect works by duplicating the input signal, adding some modulation (in this case a slight pitch-shift) a slight touch of delay, and then mixing the resultant signal back in with the original clean signal. Be careful, this is one effect that should be used in moderation.
2 of the Best Chorus pedals for bass guitar
Bass EQ Pedals
EQ (Graphic Equaliser) pedals are very useful tools for bassists, especially when playing in a live setting such as a gig, rehearsal or jam session. Generally deployed towards the end of the signal chain, these pedals can help give a you boost when needed in the mix, give your bass guitar a little extra tonal flexibility for a wider variety of sounds, or simply to help compensate for tone deficits in your instrument.
EQ Pedals work by adjusting the amplitude of certain frequencies across the spectrum, cutting and/or boosting the treble, bass and mid-ranges providing a new shape and quality to the sound.
EQ pedals for bass guitar
Bass Octave / Pitch Shifter Pedals
Adding extra thickness and filling out your sound isn’t just reserved for Chorus, EQ, and Distortion pedals. While they are not as popular among bass players as they are for guitarists, Octave pedals are another option for you to consider.
They work by splitting the signal in two, and pitch shifting one of the signals up an Octave (eight notes in a standard major scale), doubling the note’s pitch. Some pedals can also shift down an octave (Sub-bass) adding a darker mood to your sound or helping you get a lower pitch without having to detune your bass guitar. Working in tandem with other effects, Octave pedals can really help your bass stand out in the mix, and can be heard in many of the most popular and well-known synthy hip hop, funky, and electronic tracks.
Octave / Pitch Shifter pedals for bass guitar
Bass Distortion Pedals
When I think of distorted bass, I think instantly of the classic, aggressive growling sound of Lemmy Kilminster and Motorhead in the classic “Ace of Spades“, but there are many other Metal, Rock and Djent bassists who have used some kind of distortion effect to great gain.
These pedals achieve a dirty, gritty tone by boosting the gain, leading to a hard-clipped distorted signal. This fills out your sound with a thick, distorted saturation.
Distortion Pedals for bass guitar
Bass Overdrive Pedals
Created to simulate an overdriven tube amp that has been pushed to its limits (and sometimes beyond!), OD pedals emit a soft clipped tone which sounds more organic, a little warmer and less aggressive than traditional distortion.
Overdrive Pedals for bass guitar
Bass Fuzz Pedals
Fuzz bass pedals have been used extensively since the early 60’s, by all kinds of artists from the Beatles to Pink Floyd, Motorhead and Nirvana, contributing to classic tracks across many genres from 60’s experimental psychedelic rock to 90’s grunge.
Similar to OD pedals, Fuzz pedals simulate overloading a bass amp’s tubes by cranking up the gain, except in this instance you can think of it as overloading low-quality, almost broken equipment!
Fuzz Pedals for bass guitar
Bass Reverb Pedals
Most reverb pedals can generally handle a wide range of frequencies so you don’t necessarily need a reverb made specifically for bass. They’re great for adding an extra dimension to your sound, and can often be used in tandem with other effects such as distortion or delay. If you need to add a little extra ambience to thicken up your sound or want to get experimental with ethereal, expansive, and spacey effects, then reverb might be for you.
Reverb Pedals for bass guitar
Bass Delay Pedals
Delay is another cool effect that works equally well on guitar or bass – think “No Shelter” by Rage Against The Machine for a great example. Delay pedals do exactly what you’d expect – they duplicate your bass signal, delay it based on your settings, and then mix it back in with the original dry signal.
Delay effects were originally achieved in studios using loops of tape of varying lengths played at speeds to duplicate parts of a guitar track. While you can still get tape delay machines, these days the effect is much more commonly created through digital circuitry, which lends itself well to more customisation than is offered by traditional tape delays.
Delay pedals for bass guitar
Bass Compressor Pedals
Often considered and essential component in any bass guitarist’s rig along with EQs, Compression pedals are used to control the dynamic frequencies of your bass guitar. They limit the amplitude of frequencies, adding punch to short notes and helping to sustain longer notes by raising the volume as the note decays. The Aguilar TLC is generally considered the best bass compressor around.
Compressor Pedals for bass guitar
Bass Envelope Filter Pedals
Envelope filters can be a staple part of any funk bassist’s armoury, adding the funky “talking” or “wah” sound effect provided by Wah-Wah pedals. The difference between this and a wah pedal is that the effect is generated and controlled automatically, not manually via an expression pedal. For this reason, Envelope Filters are often referred to as “auto-wah” or “Q-wah” pedals.
They can be tricky to master, but once you get to grips with it you’ll be sounding like Flea in no time!
Envelope Filter Pedals for bass guitar
Bass Preamp / DI Pedals
A preamp or Direct Input (DI) bass pedal can be used to amplify the signal from your bass’ pickups, bringing up to the required level for processing (known in recording and sound engineering circles as “line level”). This ensures a strong, clean signal is then passed into the amp or other pedals, reducing the chances of unwanted noise/distortion. For this reason, they are usually placed at the beginning of the signal chain, before other processors. Preamps are especially useful when plugging in direct to mixing desks or consoles for recording.
Preamp / DI pedals for bass guitar
Bass Wah Pedals
Famous for its vocal / talking effect, the “wah” pedal has been used extensively in funk, metal, rock and pop music for over five decades, by a range of artists as eclectic and diverse as Bootsy Collins through to Metallica’s Cliff Burton (RIP).
These pedals often have to stand up to lots of stomping so need to be very sturdy, and a smooth sweep is essential. A word of warning: Guitar Wah-Wah pedals often filter out the low end so aren’t generally suited to bass – you’re likely going to be better off getting a purpose-built bass wah pedal instead.
Wah Pedals for bass guitar
Bass Tuner Pedals
Staying in tune is essential for any self-respecting musician, so an accurate guitar tuner is an absolute must-have if, like me, you aren’t blessed with the gift of perfect pitch. There are several different types of guitar tuner on the market so the type you choose will largely come down to preference. Strobe tuners are considered the most accurate, but are also a little more difficult to use. Non-chromatic tuners are limited to the notes of the guitar (EADGBE) so if you only have 4 strings, and only play in standard tuning, then you may be OK with one of these pedals. I’d generally recommend a chromatic tuner (which detects the nearest semi-tone and will support 7-string basses if you decide to go down that route), with True Bypass to ensure that the pedal doesn’t interfere with your tone.