When we dive into the world of effects pedals, it becomes obvious pretty quickly that guitarists have the better end of the deal.
With hundreds of different effects pedals available for guitar and more coming out every week, it’s fair to say that bassists may feel a little left out of it all. Having only a fraction of pedals marketed specifically for bass, you may find yourself wondering, “what gives?”
Fortunately, there is an easy solution. The overwhelming majority of guitar pedals can work perfectly fine on bass guitar, with a few caveats.
Some will work perfectly, some will be alright while simply sounding worse, and others you probably shouldn’t bother with at all. We’ll go into more detail about how different types of guitar pedals work with bass in a moment, but in a nutshell, there’s no harm in trying.
Do Bass Players Use Pedals?
Because you don’t commonly hear about pedals being made for bass, it’s easy to ask yourself, do bass players even use pedals?
Although they certainly aren’t as commonly used as they are for guitar, there are still well worth using for bass as well – especially if you want to get creative or jam around by yourself.
However, many of them still have plenty of practical uses for real songs in a band scenario as well. Guns ‘N’ Roses bassist Duff McKagan and Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Flea are two notable examples who come to mind.
The primary reason they aren’t a bit more common though is that they simply aren’t desired in a band setting, where a crisp and clean tone fits best into the mix. Too many unnecessary effects, especially in the low frequencies that bass is made for, can muddy up the sound and make it difficult for each instrument to shine through the way that they are intended to.
This isn’t a hard rule though, of course. Compressors, overdrive, volume pedals, and even delay can lead to some unique capabilities and a nicer tone even in a band setting. Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters was notorious for using delay with his bass, for example.
We’ll go over the best and worst pedals for bassists in a moment.
Differences Between Bass And Guitar Pedals
If you shop around for pedals, you may have seem two similar pedals being manufactured, one for guitar, and one for bass.
If most guitar pedals work perfectly fine with a bass guitar, than why the need for two separate pedals?
This is more than just a marketing gimmick. The two pedals will have some differences between them in the electronics and the circuitry.
The first reason is that bass pickups have a hotter output, due to the larger strings (which vibrate in a wider pattern.) The second reason for this is that bass pedals are optimized for the low frequencies present in a bass, whereas guitar pedals are not. Guitar pedals are optimized for, well, the mid-range frequencies of an electric guitar.
Because of this, certain guitar pedals may deteriorate or drop out some of the low frequencies of the bass, leading to a thinner and less powerful sound with less low-end. Obviously, we want to avoid this if possible, so if you haven’t purchased any pedals yet and you’re torn between two, it is a better idea to go with the one that is specifically designed for bass.
It’s also worth nothing that not all pedals are created equal. For example, many overdrive and distortion pedals work in different ways. One may have little effect at all on the low-end, whereas others can be a disaster. It can be helpful to talk with others who have used the pedal on bass or try one out yourself before purchasing, to ensure you won’t have any issues.
Tip: Some bass players combat this by adding an EQ pedal at the end of their signal chain, or boosting the low’s on their amp. Although it may not be a perfect solution, this can make up for some of the loss in low frequencies. The pedal below works great for guitar, bass, vocals, and keyboard, but may not be necessary if you’re using an active bass.
Which Guitar Pedals Work Best With Bass?
Let’s briefly look over each major type of guitar pedal, and discuss how well they work with bass.
Of course, these are only guidelines. The only true test will be how you like them. If you like the way something sounds, that’s all that really matters. So, there are no hard rules here.
Starting out with perhaps the least exciting option, every bassist has a tuner. A tuning pedal offers a number of benefits over the clip-on tuners out there, such as muting the output while you’re tuning and providing a more accurate tune. Honestly, every bass player should have one of these. For obvious reasons, you’ll use it all the time.
We recommend the Boss TU-3, which even has a bass mode built into it. Heck, it even caters to 6-string basses. You can read our full review of the Boss TU-3 chromatic tuner by clicking here.
For the most part, all compressor pedals work about the same regardless of instrument. You could even put vocals through a compressor pedal and no harm would be done.
Compression also isn’t something that’s really that exciting, but it’s important – especially for bass players. It evens out the attack and volume of the notes to provide more consistent levels throughout the track.
Overdrive, Distortion, And Fuzz
These ones can be a lot of fun, and really take your bass tone to a whole other level.
You can get really aggressive with this and make your bass absolutely scream with gain, or just add a small amount of dirt to make your bass sound just a little bit heavier to help you stand out in the mix.
Unfortunately this is one area where results can vary quite a lot between pedals. Certain types of pedals will sound great, whereas others will definitely take a hit to the low frequencies of a bass.
If you don’t already own a guitar overdrive, distortion, or fuzz pedal, this may be one that you may wish to purchase a bass-specific version for. Most bass distortion pedals have a blend knob, allowing to blend the dry signal going into the pedal with the distortion that the pedal adds, allowing you to better keep in the low frequencies and have more control over the tone.
These are another one where it’s kind of a hit or miss. Octave pedals take the sound that you play, and layer it with another octave below or above. Some even let you go through multiple octaves, such as the Boss OC-3. You can read our Boss OC-3 review by clicking here.
The Boss OC-3 also has a separate input specifically for bass, so you know it will work just fine.
For octave pedals to work correctly, it’s important that the signal comes in clear. Some octave peals are specifically designed to work with the frequencies of an electric guitar, whereas others simply take whatever signal that comes in and shifts it up or down.
The Electro Haromix POG, Mooer MOC1 Pure Octave, and Aguiliar Ocamizer, are all solid choices in addition to the Boss OC-3 that should all work fine on bass.
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Modulation Pedal (Flanger, Phaser, Chorus, etc.)
If you’re looking to get creative and really play around with your bass tone, modulation effects are a great way to do that.
Thankfully, you won’t really run into any issues using guitar modulation pedals with your bass. The sound will be different of course, but they all kind of work in the same way regardless of instrument.
Modulation pedals aren’t commonly used with bass during band performances, but they can still be fun to play around with and can add a bit of flavor to your tone if used subtly. They also sound great combined with a little bit of distortion.
Reverb And Delay
These are another two that won’t really be affected at all, so you’re free to use guitar reverb and delay pedals on bass without issues.
The only reason that they aren’t commonly used however is that it’s very easy to muddy up a mix if they are used too strongly, and really just don’t sound that good on bass. Paying attention to EQ can help a bit with this.
If you’re a solo bassist or you’re just jamming around by yourself, both delay and reverb pedals can be a lot of fun! They’re also great for ambient-style music.
Due to the way wahs work, it is recommended to buy a bass-specific version to play around with. The ones designed for guitar just don’t sound that great when played with a bass, and you may not hear the full effect at all.
The Cry Baby 105Q Mini Bass Wah is a great option worth considering!
Frequently Asked Questions
1. Is it always safe to use guitar pedals with a bass?
Yes, there aren’t any problems with using guitar pedals. They shouldn’t damage your bass or your amp in any way, unless you’re already pushing the amp beyond its limits and are about to blow it out.
2. Can you use bass pedals with an electric guitar?
It works the other way around too! Yes, there shouldn’t be any issue with using bass pedals with an electric guitar, other than the fact that they may not sound the best (due to being optimized for bass frequencies.)
Although they do not always sound quite as great, most guitar pedals can be used on bass guitar without any issues.
If you haven’t yet purchased any pedals, we usually recommend purchasing ones designed specifically for your instrument. However, if you play both guitar and bass and you don’t want to spend the extra money, feel free to try out your guitar pedals with your bass. You may just find there are a lot of new ways to shape your tone!
We hope that you’ve found this article helpful. If there are any questions we can answer about guitar or bass pedals, feel free to ask using the comment form below.
– The Musical Sanctuary Team