If you’ve got access to a load of electric guitar effects pedals then is there any reason to buy separate ones for your bass guitar as well? Or do guitar FX pedals work with bass guitars>
Electric guitar pedals can be used with a bass guitar without causing any damage to the bass or the amp. Some pedals sound better with a bass guitar than others, as some pedals will cut the low-end frequencies of the bass too much. Compressor and modulation effects typically well universally.
Guitar vs Bass Pedals
There are plenty of dedicated “bass guitar” and “electric guitar” FX pedals on the market. Take the Ibanez Tube Screamer for example, the regular TS9 is designed to be used with an electric guitar, and the TS9B is designed to be used with a bass guitar. So what actually is the difference?
Bass guitar pedals are designed to response to different frequencies compared to electric guitar pedals. Bass guitars produce much lower frequencies (at least an octave lower) compared to electric guitars.
Guitars favour mid-range frequencies and are designed to sit in between the bass guitar and the vocalist in the band’s mix. Some guitar pedals won’t sound great with a bass because they filter out a lot of these lower frequencies and emphasise the mid-range frequencies.
The Tube Screamer is an example of this as it has a characteristic “mid-range hump”, which just doesn’t sound all that great when it’s run through a bass guitar.
With that said, a lot of guitar FX pedals can work well with the lower frequency range of a bass guitar. It is quite pedal dependent.
Guitar Pedals with a Bass (The Effects)
Using a guitar pedal with a bass guitar will not damage the bass or the amp, but it will affect the sound. As I said in the previous section, some pedals work better with basses than others, so let’s look at the different types of FX pedals and how they typically interact with bass guitars.
Overdrive, Distortion and Fuzz
This really does depend on the pedal. A gain pedal which has a lot of low-end will sound great with a bass guitar, but something that cuts out a lot of that low-end won’t sound as good.
Overdrive and distortion pedals tend to be a bit fussier when used with a bass guitar as they add a lot of color to the signal in most cases. Fuzz pedals on the other hand typically work well with lower frequencies.
Take the TS9 Tube Screamer and Boss Blues Driver as an example. The TS9 cuts a lot of the low-end and just doesn’t sound that great with a bass guitar. The Blues Driver on the other hand has a much flatter EQ profile so in my opinion at least, sounds better with a bass guitar.
One thing you can do is put an EQ pedal after your overdrive, distortion or fuzz pedal though to cut some of the mids and treble, and boost the bass if you find that the pedal is sucking a lot of the low-end frequencies out of your tone. You can also try just boosting the bass on your amplifier.
Some guitar overdrive/ distortion/ fuzz pedals that work well with basses are:
- OCD Fulltone
- Pro Co Rat
- Electro-Harmonics Big Muff
Check out this YouTube video comparing different guitar distortion/ overdrive pedals with a dedicated bass overdrive pedal.
Electric guitar compressor pedals work well with bass guitars and can be used with most instruments.
A compressor pedal creates a smoother and more even sound and increases sustain. It does this by restricting the signal to a maximum threshold, hence reducing the volume of the guitar when it is above the specified threshold.
Compressors don’t really color the signal so shouldn’t suck the low-end out of your bass.
Electric guitar EQ pedals generally do not work very well with bass guitars as they are not designed to work with the same frequencies.
Take the Boss EQ pedals as an example. Here are the frequencies that can be adjusted with each pedal.
GEB-7 (Bass Guitar):
- 50 Hz
- 120 Hz
- 400 Hz
- 500 Hz
- 800 Hz
- 4.5 kHz
- 10 kHz
GE-7 (Electric Guitar):
- 100 Hz
- 200 Hz
- 400 Hz
- 800 Hz
- 1.6 kHz
- 3.2 kHz
- 6.4 kHz
A bass guitar has a fundamental frequency of 40 Hz on the low E string, so the GE-7 wouldn’t be much use here as the lowest frequency is 100 Hz.
An octave pedal will take a note and shift it by 12 notes down, hence decreasing it by an octave.
Some octave pedals work well with bass guitars, others don’t. If the octave pedal cannot track the frequencies of the bass guitar properly (because the pitch is already at least an octave lower), then it may struggle to achieve the proper effect. Other pedals are capable of shifting the pitch an octave lower regardless of the starting frequency.
The modulation category of guitar effects pedals is made up of:
Modulation effects pedals typically work very well with bass guitars and can be used to create some interesting effects.
Check out this video to hear a guitar chorus and phaser pedal being used with a bass guitar.
Reverb and Delay
Time-based effects pedals such as reverb and delay work fine bass guitars and electric guitars alike.
Reverb and delay effects are not that commonly used with bass guitars though because it can cause the tone to sound quite muddy. Using a reverb/ delay pedal with a tone/ EQ control can be helpful if you need to cut some of the low-end to clean up the tone a bit.
Using a guitar wah pedal with a bass is typically not advised as they are not very good at handling lower-end frequencies and will cause the bass guitar to sound very thin. If you want to get this wah effect, consider using a dedicated bass wah pedal instead.
Not sure which order your pedals should go in? Check out my complete guide to the best pedal signal chain order to learn everything you need to know.
Where Should You Go From Here?
If you already have a bunch of guitar FX pedals lying around, then you should definitely plug them in a give them a try with your bass guitar. Some might sound incredible, others might sound terrible, but the only way to find out for sure is to give them a go!
If you aren’t a fan of the tone then you can always go ahead a get a dedicated bass pedal instead, but save yourself some cash and try the ones you already have first.