Whether you’re a guitarist learning to play bass or a bassist looking at getting something different from your tone, you might wonder whether you can use guitar pedals to play with your bass.
Yes, you can use guitar pedals for bass. Almost all guitar pedals can be used for bass without problems. Some guitar pedals will sound great on bass while others will sound terrible.
In this guide, I will go through some useful tips on how to get the best tones out of guitar pedals with bass, some interesting pedals to try out, and other guitar pedal advice for bass.
After reading this guide, find out if you can play bass with a guitar amp in this guide.
If are looking at building a pedalboard, check out this guide for advice on powering your pedals.
Do Bass Players Use Pedals?
If you’re thinking of adding some guitar pedals to use with your bass, you may stop and wonder whether bass players use pedals at all.
Yes, some bass players use effects pedals. Bass players using pedals arent as common as guitar players using pedals, but there are bassists that use pedals.
The reason it’s not very common for bass players to use pedals is that bassists tend to prefer a simple and clean bass tone.
For many styles of music, a simple and powerful clean bass tone is all that is needed.
But bassists who never try adding a pedal to their rig are missing out on a lot of potentially great tones.
Some pedals can be used to shape and control your tone.
For example, using a compressor pedal with your bass can give you pinpoint control over your tone like nothing else.
Other pedals give you a way of accessing brand new tones and sounds.
A simple fuzz pedal can completely open your bass playing up to new ideas and vibes.
Or an octave pedal can immediately transform how you write riffs.
I’ll go through some great guitar pedals to consider later in this guide and explain why you might like to use them with your bass.
Difference Between Bass and Guitar Pedals
You may have noticed that some guitar pedals also have a bass version.
The difference between bass and guitar pedals is the frequency range they are designed to interact with. Some guitar pedals cut out low frequencies, which sound great for guitar but terrible on bass. In these pedals, a separate bass version is needed for proper use on bass.
To understand why some pedals have separate versions for guitar and bass, let’s look at the main difference between bass and guitar frequency ranges.
The below chart compares the frequency range of me playing a note on bass compared to a guitar:
You can see that the peaks in the chart for guitar mainly sit in the mid-range, but also continue all the way up to the high-end. The bass sits completely in the low end and drops off in the mid-range.
The difference between the two frequency ranges is important because some effects pedals focus on different areas of the frequency range.
Some guitar pedals are designed to focus on the mid-range and may even cut out some low frequencies, which is great for guitar but may sound like garbage when used on bass.
Other guitar pedals can work perfectly fine on any frequency range, which is why they can be used for bass, vocals, or keyboards.
It’s hard to know whether a guitar pedal will work with bass, which is why pedal manufacturers are able to release bass versions that are essentially the same circuit with a different name.
Essential Effects Pedals for Bass
Some effects pedals are more useful than others for bass. Let’s go through some of the most useful guitar effects pedals you can use for bass.
A compressor is a powerful tone-shaping pedal that can give you a great deal of control over your bass.
The simplest way to think about a compressor is that it gives you a way of tightening up your volume range whenever you want.
This means you can have a more consistent volume level whether you’re playing aggressive or soft.
Find out everything you would want to know about compressor pedals in this guide.
Even if you’re not interested in using effects on your bass, a compressor pedal can be extremely useful.
Fuzz is a type of distortion that can dramatically change the vibe of anything you play on bass.
You can get some gnarly and aggressive tones, saturated tones that seem to ooze energy or a light drive that adds some spark to your playing.
If you’ve never tried to play bass with a fuzz pedal before, I highly recommend it. It’s incredibly fun to jam with.
Check out this Ultimate Guide to Fuzz for the best pedals and features to look for.
Pretty much any guitar fuzz pedal will work for bass, so you can choose from any of the options covered in the above guide.
If you want a fuzz pedal designed to be used on bass, check out the legendary EHX Deluxe Bass Big Muff Pi (link to Amazon for details).
I highly recommend this as the best fuzz pedal for bass as it gives you fantastic control over the effect (something many fuzz pedals for guitar lack).
One of the more important controls this pedal gives you is the ability to dial in the perfect crossover point as well as a blend between wet/dry signal.
It even includes an XLR DI output for more control over how you incorporate fuzz into your tone.
An octave pedal can double your tone an octave higher or lower which is very popular with guitarists, but also works extremely well with bass.
If you’ve ever seen an 8-string bass, think of an octave pedal as a way to get an 8-string bass tone on your regular 4-string bass.
Guitar pedals like the EHX Micro POG or POG2 (shown above) give you an easy way to dial in different octaves and work extremely well for bass.
You can see in the above photo that the POG2 gives you a crazy amount of control over the effect. The Micro POG is a simpler and smaller pedal that is still quite versatile.
Effects such as chorus, phaser or flanger all fall into a category of effects called ‘modulation’.
Modulation effects are popular with guitarists, but not as common on bass.
This is a shame because a subtle use of modulation can be a great way to give your bass tone a unique edge.
Find out about modulation pedals here:
While modulation pedals aren’t as essential as some of the other pedals such as fuzz or compressor, when used properly they can become a key part of your unique tone.
You don’t hear reverb often on bass and normally that’s for good reason. Adding reverb to a bass during a live performance can quickly turn your tone into a wash.
But when you’re playing at home, reverb can be an incredibly fun effect to play with.
A reverb pedal can virtually transport you so you feel like you’re playing in different venues such as large halls, chambers, or caves.
Find out more about the different types of reverb and some great reverb pedals in this guide.
Reverb is a great effect for when you’re playing at home, but also essential for ambient styles of music.
Wah is one type of pedal where I recommend not using a guitar pedal and using a dedicated bass version.
This is because how good a way sounds depends completely on the voicing. The voicing on wah pedals meant for guitar won’t suit a bass and will sound terrible. The voicing on wah pedals meant for bass will sound significantly better.
The Dunlop 105Q Cry Baby Bass Wah is one of the most popular bass wah pedals and is worth checking out.
Envelope filters and auto-wahs are very popular with bassists who play funky styles of music.
An envelope filter is a filter that reacts to how hard you hit the strings. You can adjust the settings for some really interesting effects.
This is another type of pedal where I recommend using a pedal designed for bass. Some guitar envelope filter pedals may sound fine on bass, but you’ll get the best results with a pedal designed for bass.
Check out the MXR Bass Envelope Filter for a popular envelope filter that has been designed for bass frequencies.
If you’re looking for something very different, try a synth pedal on your bass. A synth pedal can be used to create ambient textures, organ and pad sounds, or extreme electronic sounds.
Out of all of the effect pedals covered in this guide, I’ve had the most fun with synth pedals for bass.
Some synth pedals such as the BOSS Synthesizer SY-1 will work perfectly fine for both bass and guitar. This is a great option if you play both instruments.
The SY-1 gives you 11 types of sounds and 11 variations for each sound. That’s a huge number of different sounds you can dial in from one pedal.
While it’s fun to jam with some of the extreme synth sounds, you can use synth pedals in more subtle ways to add unique texture to your tone.
Why Use Effects Pedals for Bass
Seeing as the default option for bassists is to use no pedals at all, you might wonder whether you should use them.
Here are some examples of why you might want to use effects pedals for bass and when they’re great to use.
Fun to jam with at home
When you’re jamming at home, having a variety of tones to play with allows you to keep things fresh.
While a rock-solid clean tone is incredibly satisfying, a gnarly fuzz tone or an exotic synth tone can be just as fun to play with.
Experimenting with different effects and tones on your bass at home can take your playing in new directions and give you new ideas.
Better live tones
Some of the best bass tones I’ve heard from local bands playing live is when the bassist used pedals to shape and sculpt different tones to suit the music.
A simple example that I still remember years later is how a bassist added a subtle phaser to add some color to the band’s sound.
The guitarist has a dry and lifeless tone, so the subtle phaser on the bass was more than enough to give the entire band a fresh sound.
Effects on bass work extremely well when the guitarist in a band doesn’t use effects. If you play in a band and your guitarist uses simple dry tones, then you might want to experiment with some subtle effects.
Give yourself a unique edge
Using effects on bass helps you stand out from the crowd.
Imagine a band auditioning for a bassist. They’ve heard ten other bassists that are all good options.
Then you come in and make use of your pedals in a way that compliments the rest of the band’s sound. Depending on the music you might add some fuzz, modulation, synth, or even a simple compressor.
Effects pedals can make your bass tone memorable – even if the listener doesn’t even realize you’re using effects.
Guitar Pedals for Bass FAQ
Here are some common questions you may have about using guitar pedals for bass.
What pedals do I need for bass?
You don’t need any pedals for bass. Optional bass pedals you may want to add to your rig depends on what styles of music you play.
Pedals you may want to add to your bass rig can include tuners, fuzz pedals, octave pedals, wah pedals, modulation pedals, or filter pedals.
As explained earlier, each type of pedal can take your tone in completely different directions.
Can I use a guitar compressor for bass?
Yes, you can use any guitar compressor for bass. Some guitar compressor pedals will sound better than others for bass, but all of them should work.
If you’re serious about getting a high-quality compressor pedal for bass, consider getting a compressor pedal designed for bass such as the TC Electronic SpectraComp.
What does a bass compressor pedal do?
A compressor pedal gives you control over the tightness of your bass volume. A compressor pedal evens out the differences between loud and soft notes and gives your bass tone a more consistent range.
A compressor is one of the most useful tone-shaping tools you can use with your bass.
Find out more about how compressor pedals work in this guide.
Do bass players use reverb?
Bass players can use reverb, but you need to be smart with how you use it. If you’re playing live, too much reverb can turn your bass tone into a mess. But if you’re playing at home, reverb on bass can sound fantastic.
Getting the best out of a reverb pedal with bass depends on the location you’re playing and the style of music.
How do you chain bass pedals?
The order you chain your bass pedals depends heavily on what type of tone you want to achieve. While there are suggested rules on how to chain your pedals, it’s better to learn how each pedal fits in a rig rather than blindly follow rules.
I created an entire Guitar Effects Course to fully explain how each type of effect works and how to chain effects together.
Learning how to experiment with the order of your bass pedals is the best way to learn the best position for each pedal.
While you can use pretty much any guitar pedal for bass, amps are a different story. Find out if you can play bass with a guitar amp in this guide.