Curious about how effects pedals can improve your bass sound? Well, you've come to the right place. In this guide we're going to reveal the best bass effects pedals which are pretty much mandatory for any tone-loving bass player, and how they contribute to your sound.
Imagine your signature sound is like a delicious tomato pasta sauce. It's a given that you’ve already got some beautifully bright red, sun-ripened, soft tomatoes, but they alone aren't going to give you the fullness of flavour that you're after. You need to add onions to thicken the sauce, garlic to sustain the flavour, perhaps some chillies to add some heat plus anchovies to add depth. Plus, plenty of seasoning to get those tastebuds salivating.
Adding effects to your core bass sound works in a very similar way. Your beloved bass guitar and playing skills are the foundation – those lovely sun-ripened tomatoes – and you can rely on effects pedals to add additional flavour when and where it's needed. Distortion, compression, chorus, octaver to name but a few.
Just like that pasta sauce, none of the ingredients in your sonic recipe should be overpowering. Instead your aim should be to achieve a balanced palette of flavors. In this guide we'll be taking you through the effects pedals that can help you realise this ideal bass sound. We've included some useful buying advice at the bottom of this guide, too.
Best bass effects pedals: Our top picks
Most of the pedals in this guide offer very different things, so it's hard to recommend one over another. That said, there are a couple of stand-out products.
The Darkglass Alpha Omega Ultra v2 is capable enough to replace your entire rig with a small box you can fit in your pocket or guitar case. Primarily it's a pre-amp loaded with gorgeously saturated overdrive and rich fuzz. Add to that a 6-band EQ, XLR out, aux in and a headphone socket and Darkglass has provided us with a small, neat, wonderful sounding solution for both practice and gigging.
If your budget won't stretch to Darkglass prices, consider the Fender Downtown Express, which offers similar features for less than half the cost.
For a fun effect you'll never tire of, go buy yourself an MXR M 82 Bass Envelope Filter. It's like the clever techs at MXR have captured the world's funkiest bass sounds and crammed them all into one tiny pedal. Plug in your bass and listen to them pour out in one long, thick stream of funky goodness.
An envelope filter provides that quacky wah-like tone that may sound like a novelty but it's actually immensely usable.
Best bass effects pedals: Product guide
If you want to go amp-less, and distortion is your weapon of choice, then the Alpha Omega Ultra could replace your entire rig. Darkglass is known for two things – high quality and high gain tones – and the Alpha Omega Ultra fulfils both expectations in a pocket-sized package.
Most visually noticeable is the six-band EQ on the top panel. There are actually seven faders but the first is a master volume control that, not surprisingly but slightly frustratingly, doesn't work in bypass mode. So, watch the dry volume when you're wearing headphones and hit the bypass footswitch.
On to the real meat of the pedal. Spin the Mod knob to the left and you'll be soaked in a warm sea of saturated overdrive. Turn it clockwise and that overdrive gradually turns to bags of fuzzy goodness. You can blend away to your heart's content, discovering your own distortion-rich sweet spots.
Use the Blend knob to mix the driven and dry signal, the Level knob to set the overall volume of the driven signal and the Drive knob to ramp up the gain. Bring the EQ faders into play and you'll have complete mastery of your tone. Additionally, the rather cutely named Growl button will boost the bass for a fatter tone, while the Bite button will boost the mids for more definition.
You can plug your phone, or other audio source, into the Aux socket and don your headphones for a superbly versatile practice rig. Hook up a PA via the XLR out, enable the cab simulation and you've got the perfect live rig. A wide and growing choice of excellent impulse response cab sims can be swapped in and out via the USB port using Darkglass Suite software.
The only downside we can think of is that in a live situation you'll be putting the Alpha Omega Ultra at the end of your effects chain to take advantage of those cab sims. However, if you're into time-based effects, which usually come last, you'll have to rethink your signal flow. It's not a deal breaker, but worth knowing about.
Fender enlisted the help of bass amp and pedal luminary Alex Aguilar, formerly of Aguilar Amplification, to help develop the Downtown Express. So, this pedal may be relatively new, but it's got heritage. It's also got an alluring price tag.
The Downtown Express brings together three key effects in one neat, affordable solution: overdrive, compression and EQ.
The overdrive is voiced to go from subtle to driven like a diesel truck. Apparently, Alex spent a lot of time designing in a custom bass cab simulator that preserved the low end while removing the fizz from the more extreme tones.
The RMS compressor is typically subtle, natural and transparent. A Gain knob is there to bring back some volume if compression makes your sound a little too quiet, and there's also a Blend knob to re-introduce your dry signal. This is useful if you want to retain some of your attack sound.
The three band EQ – Bass, Middle, Treble – is pretty self-explanatory, allowing you to compensate for boominess in the lows and scoop/boost the mids to help you cut through a mix. Scooping the mids on the Downtown Express can also yield a fantastic slap tone.
This pedal goes above and beyond with a few additional features that shows Alex and his team at Fender wanted to deliver something they could be proud of. There's an Order toggle switch that enables you to place the overdrive before the compressor and vice versa, depending on your sonic intentions. Additionally, your DI'd signal can include the overdriven signal, the drive and the EQ, or can be completely dry.
This is useful when using your amp as a monitor in combination with a PA for live amplification. Your wet amp signal can include the effects, but the dry DI'd signal can be EQ'd at the desk to better suit the house PA.
Finally, even the knobs are LED backlit to make them easier to see under murky stage lighting. This is a fantastic effort from Fender.
Get on down y'all! If this pedal doesn't make you want to move your funky junk nothing will!
It's almost impossible to dial a bad sound into the MXR Bass Envelope Filter, there's so much good stuff bubbling under just waiting to be unleashed. From thick quacky duck-like sounds to thick syrupy quacky duck-like sounds with extra helpings of luscious goo, it doesn't disappoint. To be fair, it's a bit more versatile than that but most players will be using it for its dripping wet funk tones. Play around with the settings and you can also find synth-type sounds plus the more obvious wah and cocked-wah tones.
There are a few knobs to get your head around but it's actually a pretty easy pedal to use. MXR has been kind enough to give us separate Dry and FX controls, and these are absolutely key to shaping the sound you're looking for. If the wet signal is sounding good but you're losing depth and definition then just mix some of the dry signal back in to regain thickness and clarity.
The Decay and Q controls are integral to shaping your envelope. Decay controls the decay of the envelope sweep, so wind it anticlockwise for those fast quacky sounds we all love so much and clockwise for slower, more subtle effects. Q controls the peak resonance or intensity of the effect. The Sens. knob increases the envelope filter's sensitivity to your notes' attack as you spin it clockwise.
It sounds complicated but you'll get the hang of this pedal in no time. This is one fun effect that you'll never tire of.
When it was introduced way back in 1982 the original Boss OC-2 Octave was adored by bass players as a simple solution to thicken up their sound. One octave below and two octaves below were the only options, but it did the trick and the analog circuit sounded gorgeous. You could coax synth-like sounds from it too, which, surprise, surprise, were popular back then. Vintage Japanese-made units still fetch high prices today.
The subsequent OC-3 added polyphony, but purists claimed that its digital circuitry never sounded as good as the original. Then, last year Boss announced the OC-5, which brings new features and retains the original OC-2 sound.
There are now two modes: vintage and poly. Vintage, as you've probably guessed, works just like the OC-2 and sounds every bit as good. As before, you can thicken your dry bass sound with a doubled signal that's one octave below, two octaves below or both. Additionally, you now have the option to bring in an octave above for a truly massive sound. Or you can dial out your dry sound completely for those creative faux-synth tones.
Poly mode works in a similar fashion but, as the name suggests, enables you to play chords. The range knob restricts octave doubling to the lower bass notes, retaining clarity in the higher registers – possibly more useful for guitar than bass.
Tracking is superfast, it's almost impossible to play too far ahead of the OC-5.
As you can imagine, turning everything to 11 sounds fun for a few minutes but it soon becomes tiresome. Instead, spend some time experimenting with the more subtle settings and the OC-5 reveals some very interesting yet usable sounds.
Whether you use the OC-5 as a thickening agent, or as a gateway to a whole new sonic palette of sounds, it's worthy of a place on your pedalboard.
Read the full Boss OC-5 Octave review
If oodles of smooth fuzz is your thing, the Big Muff Pi delivers by the container load. Originally developed for guitarists, it was a favorite of Hendrix, Gilmour, Santana – in fact pretty much everyone back in the '70s.
Unusually, for such an iconic pedal, it was late to the party, left early, then returned after a change of outfit. Fuzz had been popular since the early sixties, but the Big Muff Pi wasn't brought to market until the early 1970s, when it became an instant hit.
New York-based Electro-Harmonix founder Mike Matthews was declared bankrupt in the early '80s but by the '90s he'd started manufacturing an overhauled version of the Big Muff in Russia under the Sovtek name. Allegedly from old Soviet tank parts!
It's true that most Russian Muffs were painted battle tank green, made in a decommissioned Soviet military factory that was headed up by a couple of ex-colonels (you couldn't make it up – worth a Google), but there's no reliable evidence that they featured weapons parts.
What is certain is that bass players absolutely loved these revised Russian Muffs. More by accident than design, their smooth, low gain distortion complemented the bass frequencies beautifully.
By the 2000s, production had moved back to the USA and a new Big Muff Pi was developed to sound more like the original '70s version. Nonetheless, it didn't take long for Electro-Harmonix to recall that bass players preferred the Russian sound, and in 2008 it re-issued what was essentially the Sovtek design as the Bass Big Muff Pi.
Of course, Mathews and his team couldn't resist tinkering some more, introducing the much-enhanced Deluxe Bass Big Muff Pi in 2013. They added numerous useful features to what is, let's face it, a very basic pedal, hugely expanding its capabilities.
A foot-switchable 'crossover' section adds a variable low pass filter on the dry signal and a high pass filter on the distorted signal. This is really useful for sound shaping – creating some low-end punch, for example – and enables you to quickly dial in a cocked wah pedal tone or even something more 'out there'.
The Blend knob lets you mix the dry and distorted signals to taste, helping you to enhance your tone with a subtle amount of fuzz, or mountains of it. Meanwhile, the built-in adjustable noise gate tames any hissy fits.
Finally, the Deluxe Bass Big Muff Pi includes a -10dB pad for active pickups, and three outputs including a ¼" effect out, an XLR DI effect out plus a ¼" dry out, which is useful if you ever need to isolate your bass guitar's dry signal.
The remarkable thing about the Deluxe model is that it barely costs much more than the standard bass pedal. This is the one to go for.
This thing is tiny. As you can probably guess, from its uncluttered top panel, it's also a breeze to use but don't judge it by its single control knob. This is a compressor pedal that can be as simple or complex as you like.
Let's do simple first. Plug it in. Dial it in. That's really all there is to it. As you twist the knob the Spectracomp is doing all sorts of calculations behind the scenes to give you a smooth, balanced tone. For example, a compressor usually has at least one other knob to adjust your signal level. That's because your signal often has to be boosted in order to compensate for the compression, or everything just gets a bit too quiet. Operating the two knobs is always a bit of a juggling act that takes patience and skill that not all of us have or possess.
With the Spectracomp you don't have to worry, it automatically adjusts the level as you dial in more compression. It's also a multiband compressor that uses the same compression engine as TC Electronics high-end System 6000, which means that it adjusts the highs, mids and lows individually for a balanced output. This has the effect of taming the low end while keeping your sparkly high harmonics intact.
Now for the complex. The Spectracomp is TonePrint enabled, so if you're not getting along with the default compression algorithm you can download another to your phone from TC Electronic's TonePrint library and beam it to the pedal. The choice is extensive, with hundreds of TonePrints available, listed by artist or playing style.
Still not enough? Then get stuck into TC Electronic's editor and create your own TonePrint by adjusting scores of parameters to suit your individual tastes.
In short, if you want something that just works the SpectraComp makes compression as easy as spinning a knob. If you're the nerdy type who enjoys tweaking every parameter then you'll be in seventh heaven too.
Where to start? The Helix Guitar Processor is a complete rig for the guitarist, bass player, singer. Heck, even if you already own a rig then it can act as a controller for it.
Today you get 50 guitar amp models, 12 bass amp models, 37 cab sims, 16 microphones and 104 effects. Tomorrow? Who knows? Line 6 regularly adds more functionality with every firmware release.
When Line 6 launched its red, kidney-shaped Pod back in the late 1990s most of the modelled sounds were uncannily authentic. The rest were, er, a bit questionable. These days, thanks to competition from the likes of Kemper, Fractal, Boss, Blackstar and so on, the quality is just superb.
Signal routing is another Helix strength. It's so easy to experiment with complex signal paths that would be next to impossible to create in the 'physical' world. Talking of real stuff, the Helix is equipped with four effects loops, a mic in, MIDI, three expression pedal sockets and CV, making it's easy to utilise your legacy hardware. In many ways it's as much a recording interface as it is an amp and effects modeller.
It's even possible to individually route and play multiple instruments through the Helix at the same time, which may help you and your bandmates justify the cost. If you're a multi-instrumentalist singer-songwriter, so much the better!
It's an undeniably amazing tool, but the first noise you'll hear when you clap your eyes on a Helix is a sharp intake of breath. Yes, the price.
Still, think about how much time you spend gigging or in the studio, then consider how much power and flexibility the Helix offers. It's actually remarkably good value.
Despite the slightly comical Flintstonesque name (well, we found it funny) the Chorusaurus is a seriously good bit of kit. Chorus adds a lush depth and fullness, an effect pioneered by Jaco Pastorius who used it to enrich his tone. We found the Chorusaurus excels at doing just that – smoothing the rough edges from your playing and showering it with a sophisticated shimmer.
To achieve this, Aguilar deliberately uses inefficient, some would say flawed, analog bucket brigade technology to provide the Chorusaurus' rich, warm, smooth chorusing effect.
Operation is simple. The Blend knob controls the mix between the dry and wet signals. Chorus works by mixing the dry signal with a duplicated variably delayed wet signal and the tempo of that modulation is controlled by the Rate knob. The Intensity knob controls the intensity of the modulation, so increasing it produces ever more dramatic effects. Finally, the Width control sets the range for the intensity to work within. Broadening the range enables a more intense effect.
For slow, melodic playing reduce the Rate control, and for faster staccato styles experiment by speeding it up. Vary the other controls until you find what you're looking for. It's not obvious, but stereo output is possible if you use a Y-Cable.
Aguilar specialises in making quality, dare we say expensive, bass amps and effects, so it's no surprise that this pedal's premium sounding tone comes with a premium price tag. Nevertheless, it's a lovely effect that's exemplified by this pedal.
Best bass effects pedals: Buying advice
Investing in bass guitar effects pedals is fun, rewarding and possibly (probably) very addictive. But the pastime raises a number of questions.
Do I really need bass effects pedals?
But if you're reading this we can already tell that you're a connoisseur of the bass, a sophisticate who will stop at nothing to achieve the ultimate tone that resides in the lower registers. For this, we heartily recommend some pedals.
Can I use guitar pedals with my bass?
Yes, maybe and no, is the correct but less than helpful answer. Some guitar pedals work fine with bass guitars, and many other instruments for that matter. For example, Strymon's excellent time-based effects, such as its Timeline and BigSky boxes, are often found at the feet of bass players.
However, some guitar distortion and modulation effects really aren't voiced correctly for low bass frequencies and are best avoided. Often, if a brand has a particularly popular guitar pedal it will also develop a bass-voiced version, a good example of this is the Electro-Harmonix Bass Big Muff Pi. Some pedals, such as the Boss OC-5 Octave, have a switch you can throw that adjusts the voicing for guitar or bass.
Which effects are an absolute must for bass?
If you're just starting out and want to build up a pedalboard of useful effects then we suggest you consider these pedals first. Some have the potential to change your sound considerably, while others are more subtle. All will enhance your sound and your enjoyment of your instrument.
A compressor achieves a number of benefits for the bass guitarist. Few of us are skilful enough to play evenly all of the time, so it's common for the odd note to be slightly louder or softer than it should be. If you play slap bass, it's also quite likely that your hammer-ons will be louder than your pops.
Simplistically, a compressor makes the louder notes softer and the softer notes louder, making your playing sound smoother. This may seem desirable, and most of the time it is, but skilful bassists will have mastered dynamics – the art of playing more loudly or softly to add emotion and character to a piece. Therefore, it's essential that a compressor is sensitive enough to even out your playing without ruining these dynamics.
A compressor can also add sustain and body to your sound.
Way back when, we lived in a pure, clean world. Then, in the 1950s, teenagers appeared and everything became dirtier. Much dirtier, in some cases!
It's a funny old world. If you'd turned a tube amp up to 11 in 1950 an irate engineer would have slapped you on the wrist and told you to turn it down until you'd found a clean tone again. Nothing else would do. By the 1970s any engineer worth their salt would be egging you on to turn it back up to 11 again.
It's a happy accident that those old tube amps would distort, it's also fortuitous that the distortion sounds rich and musical. The issue is that an amp turned up to 11 is very, very loud, so effects pedals were developed to provide distortion at lower volumes.
Distortion falls into two camps: overdrive and fuzz. Overdrive can be more subtle, ranging from a slightly broken-up clean tone to all-out filth. It sounds rich and saturated.
Fuzz, on the other hand, sounds like a big hairball of, well, fuzz. It's not a particularly subtle effect but it has plenty of character.
Some effects pedals do fuzz, others do overdrive, and some do both. Overdrive and fuzz can add sustain.
This effect is compulsory if you play any style of funk. What does it do? An envelope filter adds or removes specific frequencies over time. None the wiser? Well, it’s a bit like somebody fiddling with the EQ as you play, which is also similar to the action of a wah pedal.
Still in the dark? Ok, it sounds like a quacking duck drenched in syrupy goo. You'll recognise it when you hear it.
Bass chorus was pioneered by Jaco Pastorius, who used it extensively when playing fretless. The effect relies on the dry signal being duplicated and variably delayed to alter the pitch subtly (or not so subtly). The wet signal is then mixed back with the dry to give a 'chorus' effect – like multiple instruments playing different intervals.
In fact, chorus is typically used to add a beautifully sophisticated shimmer to your sound, as opposed to emulating a church choir. It's another effect that can smooth and thicken your tone.
This effect was made famous in the early 80s by Boss' iconic OC-2 pedal. As the name suggests an octave pedal will take your dry signal and pitch it up or down an octave or two. It may sound like a novelty pedal but in the right hands its far from it.
When your dry signal is carefully blended with the wet pitch-shifted signal you end up with an incredibly full, thick tone that sounds more natural than you'd think. Very addictive.
Alternatively, mix the dry signal out and you can get some really usable synth bass tones.
This is not really an effect, but some players will judge it as essential. A preamp can add drive/distortion to your sound and some, like the Darkglass Alpha•Omega Ultra v2 add EQ too. However, they really come into their own as a replacement for a bass amp.
A preamp, surprise, surprise, replicates the role of an amp's preamp section, which means you can use it to boost your signal before plugging direct into a PA or desk. It's increasingly common to see gigging bassists touring with a small pedal-sized pre-amp rather than lugging a full-sized head and cab around.
Which effects are nice to have?
A looper is a fantastic creative tool, something like a Boss Loop Station or TC Electronic Ditto will add a lot of versatility to your pedalboard.
Time-based effects are very cool too, and not just for guitarists and keyboard players. You can't go wrong with Strymon's Timeline and BigSky pedals, or Eventide's MicroPitch Delay and Space effects.
Obviously, a tuner should be towards the top of your list, and a noise gate is essential for high-gain rigs.
The alternative to buying lots of different pedals is to bite the bullet and hand over a large chunk of change for an all-in-one solution, such as the Line 6 Helix. These integrated pedalboards sound incredible and have more modelled amps, effects and routings than you're ever likely to use. Which is the rub.
If you're a session musician who needs access to hundreds of different tones, or just an amateur who loves experimenting, then they offer astonishing value. If, however, you know what you like and that just happens to be the sound of a chorus pedal and little else then your money is better spent elsewhere. As ever, it's horses for courses.
Many but not all effects pedals can be powered by batteries, but once you've got more than a couple littering your pedalboard this route to juice becomes a real faff. You're much better off investing in a dedicated pedalboard power supply.
Which pedal goes where?
What's the best order to place my bass effects pedals in? Genuinely, it doesn't matter. Or, more accurately, it may matter but the order depends on the sound you are trying to achieve.
However, conventional wisdom dictates that your effects signal chain should be as follows: bass guitar, compressor, volume pedal, wah, distortion, chorus, tremolo, delay, reverb, amp.
This order is based on the logic that time-based effects such as delay and reverb work best at the end of the signal chain, which makes sense. Alternatively, if your amp (if you have one) has an effects loop you can place them there.
Our advice is to experiment until you've found the order that's right for you. In fact, that advice goes for this entire guide. It's fun trying to emulate your favourite bass player's tones but ultimately it's more rewarding to discover your own signature sound. You can only do this through practice and experimentation. Have fun!