If you’re a bassist, you’re probably interested in exploring tones that aren’t so “one-note”. Beyond messing with your bass’s tone knob(s) and fiddling with the EQ on your amp, you’ve probably found two or three sounds that you like. But what if you want to get a bit more adventurous? You may think that delay, overdrive, chorus, and wah are only available to guitarists, but we’re here to tell you that you’re wrong! While most guitar pedals are created to be used with standard guitars, many of them work great with bass guitars and some are even made specifically for basses! The short answer to the question, “Can I use guitar pedals with a bass?” is YES. But there are some nuances you should understand before you drop cash on a pedal board.
Guitar Pedals vs Bass Pedals
In your research, you will have noticed that some pedals are designed specifically for bass guitars. Some are altered versions of existing pedals and others are entirely original. The key difference between guitar pedals and bass pedals is the frequencies to which they are designed to respond. A bass thumps out lower frequencies, so bass pedals are designed to listen in that lower range.
Guitar and bass play styles typically differ greatly as well, so it’s not just the audio frequencies that pedal designers have to keep in mind. Different string thicknesses, neck lengths, and pickup styles all contribute to what makes each instrument unique. Guitar and bass pedal designers take all of this into consideration when creating their products.
Does this mean you can’t use guitar pedals with a bass? Luckily, that’s not the case! If you already have a guitar effects rig and want to try it out with your bass, go for it! You can probably get some sweet sounds out of it. However, if you’re starting from scratch and want to build a pedal board specifically for bass, you will probably get the best results from bass-specific pedals.
Popular Pedals for Bass
Are some pedals must-haves for bassists? Most pros will tell you that there are a few pedals every bassist needs, so let’s take a look at those next.
Compressors do what the name implies: compress your tone. A compressor pedal will smooth out those harsh highs and near-silent lows to create a more balanced and even sound. The Keeley Bassist Compressor is a perfect fit whether you’re putting together your first pedal board or are looking to upgrade from a beginner’s pedal.
Overdrive ain’t just for guitars! Whether you’re into classic bass tones or modern alternative rock, overdriven bass is all over the place. Overdrive adds some edge and power to your tone that most amps are incapable of reproducing on their own, which makes it a great pick for your bass pedalboard. The Keeley Super Phat Mod is a great pick for bass overdrive.
With an instrument as low as bass, it can be helpful to extend the range with an octave pedal. Whether you want to go higher or lower, an octave pedal can help you achieve that sound with ease. Paired with a chorus pedal, you can create an absolutely huge sound by adding an upper octave.
A chorus pedal adds the effect of another instrument playing in unison (but just a little out of time/tune) to your tone. This can thicken your sound, add atmosphere, and give your tone more color. Bass chorus sounds great with a clean or overdriven sound, so you can get a lot of sweet sounds out of a few pedals.
This goes without saying, but you should ALWAYS have a tuner. Bass tuning isn’t as finicky as a standard guitar, but you still need to make sure your tone isn’t out of whack between tunes. Most tuner pedals are solid; you don’t need to pay $200 for one of these!
TLP’s Bass Pedal Picks
Show the audience how versatile your sound can be by adding some effects to the mix! The bass guitar is a fantastic instrument by its own merit, but it can always be spiced up a bit. With a compressor, overdrive, and maybe one or two more pedals, you can get a ton of different tones out of your instrument and maybe even be inspired to get even weirder.