If you are a bass player, you may have noticed that there are some effects pedals that have the word “Bass” labeled on them.
This label has created a separation between guitar pedals and bass pedals, which inevitably leads us to ask… Can you use guitar pedals for Bass?
In this article we’re going to answer that very question.
We’re also going to look at why bass pedals exist, what the differences between bass and guitar pedals really are, and my recommendations for bass players looking for great pedals.
So… Can You?
The simple answer to whether or not guitar pedals can be used for bass is a resounding YES.
YES. Absolutely. You can use just about any “guitar effect” with a bass guitar and it will function for you.
Guitarists can also use bass pedals!
Whether or not guitar pedals will sound good with bass is another matter entirely. Understanding whether or not guitar pedals sound good on bass comes down to two factors:
- How bass and guitar pedals differ in their design.
- Your personal preference.
What is the Difference Between Guitar and Bass Pedals?
Pedal manufacturers find it necessary to label some pedals as “bass pedals” and others as unlabeled “guitar pedals”, so there must be a difference between these circuits, right? What makes a bass pedal different from a guitar pedal?
It All Boils Down to Frequency Ranges
The fundamental frequency ranges, or the audible frequencies that instruments predominantly occupy to create their identifiable sound, are different for guitar and bass.
Fundamental frequency range for Bass sit between 40Hz and 400 Hz.
This is much lower than the fundamental frequency range for guitar, which is typically between 80Hz and 1.2kHz.
This varies for both instruments as you add strings to them. See the diagram below for a full illustration of the fundamental frequency ranges for a wide array of stringed instruments.
Bass pedals aim to preserve the low end frequencies that are natural and integral to the instrument’s sound, while rolling off high end.
Guitar pedals also focus on the frequency ranges that are fundamental for the instrument, cutting out bass frequencies and preserving mids/highs. What sometimes happens when you use a guitar pedal on bass is that the guitar pedal will cut low end frequencies out, as these frequencies often leave guitars sounding muddy and loose.
Do Bassists Need Bass Pedals?
Now that we know the differences between guitar and bass pedals, do bassists need bass pedals?
Paul McCartney sure didn’t need a Tone Bender to say “Bass Tone Bender” on it when he used the famous fuzz pedal on the Beatles’ “Rubber Soul” album in 1965.
Boss didn’t even make their first line of Bass pedals until 1987 – ten years after they began producing pedals.
Are bass pedals just a marketing ploy? Is it a case of manufacturing for the sake of manufacturing? We see it today in technology all the time as tech companies continue to put out new models of things regardless of whether we need them or not.
On top of that, a lot of bassists prefer a simple, clear, and clean bass tone. This can be achieved simply by getting a good bass guitar and plugging into the right amp. This often allows bass players to play the music the way they need to.
That being said, there are plenty of bass players that absolutely need guitar pedals. The band Royal Blood, for instance, uses octave and distortion pedals (among others) to make it sound like their bass is playing both bass and guitar at the same time.
Let’s take a look at when it’s a good idea to opt for bass pedals or guitar pedals…
What Bass Pedals Are Good For
As it turns out, Bass pedals have their time and place. If you need to preserve your low end frequencies, like if you’re in a three-piece rock band and you’re responsible for holding down the bass frequencies, then bass pedals are a great choice.
This is especially true when it comes to overdrive pedals. Guitar overdrives shape the EQ of the instrument as well as distort the signal. If you opt for an overdrive that was designed for guitar, you’ll likely notice that your low end disappears. If this isn’t what you want, you may want to look at a bass overdrive pedal.
Recommended Bass Overdrive Pedals
- MXR M89 Bass Overdrive – Best for Clarity
- Ibanez TS9B Bass Tubescreamer – Best Crossover
- Behringer BOD400 Bass Overdrive – Best Budget Option
What Guitar Pedals Are Good For
Is it ever a good idea to roll off low end when playing bass?
Turns out it can be. It all depends on how much low end information is being brought to the mix by other instruments.
For instance, if you are playing in a band that has a synthesizer playing bass lines, deep vocals, or a lot of kick drum, there may be enough low frequencies in the mix. Adding your Bass guitar on top of that may muddy the sound, cancel out some frequencies, and leaving the band with less clarity.
In these circumstances you may be tempted to turn up to be heard, but more often than not adjusting your EQ can have a bigger effect than adjusting your volume. A good guitar overdrive or boost pedal can do just that.
Recommended Guitar Overdrives for Bass
How to Fix Low-End Roll Off with Guitar Pedals
What if you have a guitar pedal and you like the way it works with your bass, but you want to bring back some of that low end you lost?
The easiest solution, and likely what was done by audio engineers in the 60’s when bass pedals didn’t exist, is to compensate using an EQ. This can come in the form of an EQ pedal, the EQ faders on a mixing console or plugin, or even on your amplifier. Using an EQ pedal gives you the ability to bump up the frequencies that get cut out by guitar pedals.
Another thing to consider is whether you are playing through a monitor, aka the Front of House (FOH), if you are playing Direct Into the FOH, or if you are just playing with an amp on stage.
If you are going through the FOH, either with a mic or DI, you can use an EQ pedal or DI box to bring low-end back. You could also ask the sound engineer for the FOH to bring some bass back in on his end.
If you’re just using an amplifier, adjusting the EQ on your amp can be surprisingly effective.
Pedals That Work Well for Bass
There’s definitely a lot fewer “bass pedals” than there are “guitar pedals” out on the market. Sometimes it’s helpful to stick by these terms when you’re new to the instrument, or if you need a specific sound and you want to narrow your search, but sometimes it can be just as helpful to ditch these terms and just call all effects “pedals”.
If you start to look at all effects as fair game, as opposed to restricted to one instrument or the other, a lot more doors open up.
Here are some pedals that work great with bass guitar.
1. EQ Pedals
As I touched on before, EQ pedals are often an easy solution for reviving loss low-end when using pedals that roll those frequencies off. They aren’t just great in combination with other pedals though. They are incredibly versatile and arguably the most useful tone-shaping tool you can have in your arsenal of effects.
Bass EQ pedals have a lot of merit to their design, as the frequencies that you have control over are specifically picked and voiced for the bass guitar.
That being said, standard 7 – 10 band graphic EQ’s often cover the frequency spectrum well, so standard EQ pedals will get you by if you already own one.
Recommended EQ Pedals for Bass
- Boss GEB-7 – Best Bass EQ Pedal
- JOYO R-12 10 Band EQ – Best Budget Option
- EarthQuaker Devices Tone Job V2 – Best Parametric
2. Compression Pedals
Compression is often seen as the only pedal on some bass player’s “board”. This effect alone can smooth out your dynamics for smoother walking bass lines.
Compressors are a great way to tame harsh high end frequencies that may result from brand new strings or from using a pick as well.
Perfectly happy with your tone? You can still use a compressor during choruses or solos to add sustain in addition to a nice volume bump.
Compressors normally don’t EQ or alter your low-end, making them a great effect regardless of how they are labeled.
Recommended Compressor Pedals for Bass
- Aguilar TLC Bass Compressor – Best Bass Compressor
- Xotic SP Compressor – Best Mini
- Keeley Compressor Plus – Best Overall
3. Octave Pedals
Octave pedals work especially well on bass because of the way that bass is usually played. More often than not, even with polyphonic octave pedals, octave effects normally work best when you’re playing Monophonically, or one note at a time. When playing one note at a time on bass, these pedals track extremely well.
Not to mention, octave pedals sound so much cooler on bass. Whether you’re adding an octave up to make your bass sound like a guitar (or a bass and a guitar simultaneously), or an octave down for synth-like tones, octave pedals make your bass sound huge.
Recommended Octave Pedals for Bass
- MXR M288 Bass Octave Deluxe – Best Bass Octave Pedal
- Digitech Whammy 5 – Best High-End Option
- TC Electronic Sub ‘N’ Up – Best Overall
4. Synthesizer Pedals
Synthesizer pedals just sound better on bass than they do guitar. There are entire analog, keyboard synths dedicated to creating bass sounds that were used by house bands, prog rock bands, and hip hop artists.
You can emulate many of these sounds using synthesizer pedals, many of which are already designed to be integrated into bass rigs.
Whether you’re looking to emulate your favorite keyboard synthesizer or if you’re wanting to experiment with sounds well beyond the normal scope of the bass guitar, bass synthesizer pedals are an effect that are sure to make the audience look at you.
Recommended Synthesizer Pedals for Bass
- Electro Harmonix Bass Mono Synth – Best Budget Option
- Source Audio C4 Synth – Best High-End Option
- Boss Synthesizer SY1 – Best Overall
5. Fuzz Pedals
Fuzz pedals take to bass guitar extremely well, as they often don’t shave off the low end the way overdrives and distortion pedals do. Fuzz pedals often come across with the same kind of effect as synthesizer pedals depending on what kind of wave form they sound like.
Octave fuzz pedals are especially fun with bass when you’re playing above the twelfth fret, as this can make it sound like there’s a distorted bass and a distorted guitar playing at the same time.
If you’re looking to add true, full sounding distorted tones to your bass rig, I would start with fuzz pedals before overdrives. They are much more friendly for bass.
Pro Tip: Use in conjunction with a Noise Gate pedal for maximum effect!
Recommended Fuzz Pedals for Bass
- EarthQuaker Devices Hoof V2 – Best Hybrid Fuzz
- JHS Pedals Supreme Fuzz – Best Octave Fuzz
- JHS Pedals Mini Foot V2 – Best Mini
“Pedals” are Awesome for Bass
Whether a pedal is labeled as a Bass Pedal, a Guitar Pedal, or neither can be helpful in telling you what the pedal’s original design concept is.
That being said, the best way to determine whether or not you can use guitar pedals for bass is to try different pedals out, listen back, and decide for yourself.
I listed some pedals above that I think are a good place to start when it comes to choosing pedals for bass, but there are a lot more effects to explore. Reverb, Delay, and Modulation, for example, all sound awesome with bass – just ask Justin Chancellor from the band, Tool.
Try a bunch of different pedals and see what works for you.
This is art, after all. Anything goes!
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Davis Wilton Bader is a professional guitarist/writer based out of St. Louis, MO. He plays in the bands Lumet and The Outskirts.