Building a Bass PedalboardBuying Guide

Find the best-reviewed and most popular bass effects pedals right here.

Able to add new tone, texture, and dimension to your low-end presence, effects pedals are an addition every bassist should consider. Far more than just those extra toys for that lead guitarist who looks to noodle, bass effects can do everything from focus your sound for country tunes, add funky movement to your sound, and even turn your bass into a growling beast perfectly suited for heavy genres.

There are many pedals out there that have been specifically designed to use with the bass guitar. However, it’s worth noting that most, if not all guitar pedals can be used with bass too, albeit with varying degrees of success. Some sound great with bass; others, less so. Bass effects pedals are designed to cater for the lower frequencies, as that’s where the instrument usually sits, though many of them let you adjust your mids and highs too.

Bass pedals can be used for so many different reasons—to add more character to your sound, to alter or level out your dynamics, to add a volume boost, to change the entire sound of your instrument, or even to replace your amp. Whatever you want to do, here are some suggestions for building a bass pedalboard.

Tuners

A tuner might not be heaps of fun, but it’s a necessity for any pedalboard. Clip-on tuners are great, but a good pedal tuner is likely to be more accurate, easier to read, plus it’ll work as a killswitch. Most guitar tuners will work with bass, though the better quality ones are likely to wield more accurate results. When tuning your bass, it’s quite useful to do it by using natural harmonics around the 12th fret.

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Compression

If you’re putting together a bass pedalboard, then a compressor is high on the list of pedals you should consider. Even if you have a great technique, the bass is a really dynamic instrument. A compression pedal will help even that out, so that really loud bits are made slightly quieter, and vice versa—though you can set different pedals to do different things to your signal.

A compressor is particularly useful for playing slap bass—it will help smooth out any heavy-handedness that might make your signal clip. You might not feel the need to add a compressor to your bass pedalboard, but once you try it, you won’t go back!

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Overdrive

No bass pedalboard is complete without overdrive. An overdrive pedal pushes your signal and clips it slightly, resulting in a sound similar to that of a naturally driven tube amp. There’s a fairly fine line between overdrive and distortion, though the latter tends to be more dramatic. With some of these overdrive pedals, you can dial in big, fat distorted tones too.

You’ll also find that most bass overdrives have some sort of blend or clean knob that lets you blend in however much or little of your clean signal as you want. This helps retain the fundamental of the note that you’re playing, so it still sounds clear.

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EQ

An EQ pedal can be a really important part of your bass pedalboard. They’re useful for many things—shaping your tone, boosting your signal, helping with your mix in a band etc. If you’re not sure what amp you’re going to be using at a show, an EQ pedal can help you get the tone you like, so it’s always handy to have one on your board or in your bag.

If you need to cut through the mix a bit more in a certain section, dial in more mid and top end. Or, use it as an "always on" pedal to fine tune your tone, on top of your amp’s EQ. They’re also great for leveling out the volume and frequency differences between various basses and pickups, and between using a pick and using your fingers.

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Envelope Filter

An envelope filter sounds a little like a wah pedal if you were to use it every time you played a note. An envelope filter shifts a predetermined filter range activated by your attack and will react to the dynamics of your playing (the harder you play, the more it affects your sound).

The result is a sort of quacking, almost vocal-like effect. You’ll hear it a lot in funk and soul music, but you’ll be hard-pushed to find any bass player that doesn’t have fun with an envelope filter, which is why they’re so ubiquitous on bass pedalboards. Bass envelope filters also pair really well with fuzz, overdrive and octave pedals.

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Octave

An octave pedal can be an incredibly powerful tool for bass. You’ve also got bands like Royal Blood and Death From Above 1979 forgoing the traditional guitarist in favour of a bass player with a cleverly constructed pedalboard. Adding in an extra octave or two can make your bass sound huge.

By dialling in an upper octave, you’re filling the sonic space a guitarist would normally occupy. Adding a lower octave can fill out the sound massively and when dialed in right, can even lend a synth-like quality to your tone without sounding over-processed. Many octave pedals have a stereo output, so if you want, you can split your signal and send it to two different amps.

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Preamp

A preamp is the bit of an amp before the power amp stage. A preamp pedal is essentially an amp-in-a-box, though it will have to go into something that has power—like a regular amplifier, a PA system, powered monitor, etc. For bass, they’re incredibly useful pedals and there’s a wide range out there offering many different features.

A preamp pedal can be used instead of a traditional bass amp. They can give you many of the tonal characteristics that an amp would give you, but they’re much transported more easily. They can also be used in conjunction with a bass amp to really fine-tune your tone or to make sure that you get the same sound regardless of the backline you’re using. Many preamps have an onboard EQ, some have overdrive, some have a DI output, so you can take an XLR out and into a mixing console—there’s quite a wide range of features on offer.

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Fuzz

Fuzz tends to be a little wilder than overdrive. It alters your signal more by changing the waveform and it adds more distortion and harmonics. It’s useful for bass as an effect to kick in when you need a different sound, or as an always-on pedal if you want an aggressive tone. If you’re building a pedalboard for bass, and you’re playing rock, metal or anything along those lines, then you’ll want to consider a bass fuzz.

It also pairs well with an octave pedal for a synth-like tone. Plus, if you’re in a band without a guitarist, then a fuzz pedal can help fill some of that unoccupied sonic space. While there are bass-specific fuzz pedals, you’ll find that most fuzz pedals work well with bass, not just guitar.

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Chorus

Chorus is a great way of adding texture to your bass sound. A chorus pedal splits your signal and runs a slightly detuned and delayed version alongside your unprocessed signal resulting in a shimmery, pulsing, moving, sort of sound. It can be as subtle or as extreme as you like, but if you want to fill more space sonically, or if you need something that’s going to make the listener’s ears prick up, then you should have a look at adding a chorus unit to your bass pedalboard.

You can use guitar chorus pedals on bass, and they can sound great, however, some bass chorus pedals allow you to only add chorus to the higher frequencies, meaning that your lower, fundamental notes remain untouched. This gives you a slightly clearer sound, and will likely sound a little tighter if you’re playing with other musicians.

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Bass Synths

As the name suggests, this makes your bass sound like a synth. As with actual synthesizers, there’s quite a wide range of features and styles of synth bass pedals—some let you do a few things, some let you do a lot. They’re useful for playing synth parts if you don’t have a keys player, but they’re also great for adding a completely different sound to your arsenal of tones. Bass synth pedals are really cool to use on solos and song intros—absolutely worth looking at if you’re building a pedalboard for bass!

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Editorial content by Richard Blenkinsop

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