Choosing and Using a Bass Overdrive Pedal

If you’re a bassist who uses effects, you’ve likely dipped your toe into the vast sea of overdrives. Today’s market is flush with more low-end-friendly units than ever before, which is great for having a wealth of options but can be overwhelming if you’re just starting out.

Unlike guitarists, bassists have to make sure that their overdriven signal contains enough low-end content to fulfill their function in the band and that the amount of distortion they’re getting from their drive isn’t overwhelming. Some drives achieve one sound very well, while others have the capability to emulate a variety of different drive tones. You might want to try a digital drive if you’re looking for more flexibility, or maybe an analog option will sound warmer and more organic to your ear.

And of course, you don’t need to stop with just one great pedal. There are tons of supplementary products that can help maximize your new drive's utility, like clean boosts/preamps, bypass loopers, bend pedals, and dedicated pedal power supplies.

Today, we’re going to highlight some of the best overdrive pedal offerings currently on the market, as well as a selection of supplementary products that can help you maximize your OD’s potential.

Modern Tube Tone: Darkglass Electronics Microtubes B3k

Darkglass was only established in 2009, but its products have made a huge impact on the world of bass effects, and the B3k is no exception.

While conventional-looking, the B3k is quite unique, utilizing a complementary metal oxide semiconductor (CMOS) in place of more common methods to produce its overdrive. This is what produces the sound that’s inherently associated with microtubes.

The pedal is also equipped with attack (highs) and grunt (lows) adjustment switches on the top right. These allow the user to shape the overdrive quality to their liking, adding some serviceable flexibility to the platform. A blend knob is a prominent feature, as well as a relay bypass that prevents any noise on activation.

The pedal itself provides a more modern overdrive tone, as well as some tonal coloration in the vein of an all-tube amp. With the gain knob lowered, this pedal provides coloration that can be useful in generating a more tube-like sound even while using a hybrid or solid-state amplifier.

Though only on the market for a relatively short period of time, the B3k has earned a fantastic reputation and is a great option for any bassist trying to get into overdrive.

Digital Flexibitlity: Source Audio Aftershock

Despite its release just over a year ago, the Source Audio Aftershock has amassed quite a following. It’s part of Source Audio’s “One Series” — a line of digital pedals that seeks to bridge the gap between the versatility of digital effects and the straightforward operation of their analog counterparts.

The Aftershock is a distortion pedal with all of the flexibility of digital processors that operates with the simplicity of four knobs and a selector switch. On its face, the Aftershock is already a versatile pedal that provides different overdrive types and a secondary preset memory mode. Six settings are available without ever plugging into the Neuro App.

However, once the pedal is connected to a phone or tablet and the Neuro app is opened, the options on this pedal become almost limitless. Multiple drive types, various EQ adjustments, drive stacking, and preset sharing are all accessible to the user within the app, making the Aftershock one of the most versatile bass pedals on the market. It’s a great candidate for any player seeking one pedal to cover all of their overdrive needs.

Organic Analog Drive: Amptweaker Bass Tight Drive Jr.

Amptweaker is a relatively young company that has been releasing some very interesting products. The Bass Tight Drive Jr., for instance, offers a versatile range of classic analog tone. Its olive green chassis and robust construction make this stompbox look like a little tank sitting on your pedalboard.

The primary controls are gain, tone, and volume, but it’s the secondary switches that really make this pedal stand out. The first two switches are "EQ" and "Tight." The EQ switch can be run in Plexi, Normal, or Smooth modes, with each setting adjusting the equalization of the pedal to different points. The Tight switch running in Fat, Tight, or Normal modes will adjust the quality of the overdrive itself. These controls grant the pedal flexible enough voicing to suit a wide variety of needs.

A built-in noise gate is also included to manage extraneous noise when the pedal is set at higher gain levels. This Amptweaker also sports a unique blend knob that takes the concept in a new direction. The control is a low, dry blend, meaning that only the low frequencies of the dry signal are mixed back into the overdriven sound.

According the Amptweaker website, this idea is not to “add weird phase-shifty sounds to the distorted high-end.” What this yields is a full-sounding overdrive where the bass’s natural low frequencies are supporting the pedals overdriven highs, creating a unified and more cohesive sound.

If you find yourself seeking an analog overdrive with innovative features and a flexible control layout, the Amptweaker Bass Tight Drive Jr. is one worth checking out.

Vintage Boost: Xotic EP Booster

The Xotic EP Booster has long been a faithful go-to for guitarists, but its functions can translate surprisingly well to bass, too. If you are running a vintage instrument, and you’d like to get a little more volume out of it, the EP booster is a great option.

With regard to overdrive, it works wonders when used in concert with lower-output basses that don’t quite push an overdrive hard enough to make it sing. Certain pedals will react differently, depending on the output level of the bass being used.

Low-output pickups, for example, will generate far less overdrive than will a high-output active bass. This is because the higher-output instrument will hit the gain stage of the pedal harder, causing a more dramatic effect.

Since it may be impractical or you may not want to install high-output pickups in all of the basses you own, a clean boost is a great way to achieve uniform drive quality with multiple basses.

Blend Pedals & Bypass Loopers

One of the chief concerns among bassists while using overdrives is losing low-end frequencies. Newer offerings are doing an excellent job to combat this issue by offering integrated clean blends, but for those stompboxes that don’t include such features, a dedicated blend pedal is an excellent way to ensure you’re not losing low-end by running an OD.

Xotic makes an excellent blend pedal called the X-Blender, which offers EQ controls, a polarity switch, boost switch, separate bypass and blend footswitches, and an oversized blend knob. But its stellar feature set comes at the price of space on your pedalboard, with the X-Blender taking up more room than a standard-sized stompbox.

If you just don’t have the space, the One Control Mosquite blender is another excellent choice. While it doesn’t offer the EQ controls of the X-Blender, it has a polarity switch and onboard buffer that can be deactivated for true bypass operation.

While blends are useful for ensuring a single pedal does its job without getting in the way of the core of the bass, bypass loopers are great tools for ensuring multiple pedals do their job without getting in the way of each other. True bypass is a common feature of many pedals, but that does not always ensure that one effect will not diminish or alter the sound of another pedal in the chain.

Bypass loopers ensure the effect you are using is solely the effect you have engaged and that you’re not picking up any unwanted alterations from another stompbox in the signal chain. This benefits overdrives by ensuring a purer signal is entering the pedal and maximizing the potential of the desired effect.

In addition to the Mosquite Blender, One Control produces a series of bypass loopers varying in features and number of loops. Though they are not effects themselves, blenders and bypass loopers can be critical tools for maximizing the performance of all effects in general.

Power Supplies

Providing enough power to your pedals is vital to ensuring that they operate properly. This is especially true with distortions and overdrives. If an overdrive isn’t drawing enough power, it can reduce the quality and intensity of the effect. When just running a few pedals, a wall mount or “wall wart” power supply may be sufficient. But when running a larger number of pedals, using a dedicated power supply with properly matched outputs is highly advisable.

Voodoo Labs and MXR are just two of many companies producing high-quality power supplies. Before purchasing one, it is important to choose a configuration that has the appropriate outlets to run the effects on your particular board.

For those running one or more digital effects, the Voodoo Labs Pedal Power Digital is a good unit to consider. This power supply has six isolated ports — four 9-volt, and two 12-volt. Each output section is rated at 400ma, allowing higher-current-drawing digital pedals to function properly and noise free.

For those seeking a power supply with a smaller footprint, the MXR DC Brick offers a serviceable solution. Equipped with eight 9-volt outputs rated at 1200ma combined and two 18-volt outputs rated at a combined 800ma, the MXR DC Brick is a compact power supply with more than enough juice to run a typical pedalboard setup.

A power supply may not be the most exciting or inspiring purchase you make, but the results of a properly powered effects setup is well worth the initial investment.

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