I have played guitar and bass in both live gigs and recording sessions. But since I am predominately a guitar player, I’ve wondered if I can use my guitar gear with a bass. So, can you use your guitar effects pedals with a bass guitar? I have had a lot of people ask me this, and it is a totally valid question.
The short answer is yes, you can use all your expensive guitar pedals on bass without damaging any of your equipment. But there are a few key differences between guitar and bass effects pedals you should be aware of.
Difference between guitar pedals and bass pedals
You can certainly plug your bass guitar into your guitar effects pedals, but the way the pedal affects your sound may be drastically different on bass than on guitar.
I suggest using effects pedals specifically designed for bass. The distortion, reverb, or modulation effect will be manicured with bass notes in mind instead of guitar notes, so the result will generally be better. In the end, they are entirely different instruments with different frequency ranges, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that using specialized gear for your bass is ideal. This is not to say you can experiment with guitar effects on your bass, though!
Here are the main differences between bass and guitar effects pedals.
Bass pedals are made for bass notes
The first major difference seems obvious, but it is a fundamental distinction. Bass guitar pedals are designed to work specifically with the lower frequencies, while guitar pedals are designed for the higher and mid-range frequencies of the guitar (makes sense, right?). This means that bass pedals may have different frequency ranges or EQ settings that are optimized for the bass guitar. A guitar distortion effect may drain all of the low ends out of your bass, making it sound dull and empty rather than deep and driving.
Bassists use effects differently than guitarists
The type of effects that are commonly used with bass and guitar can differ. For example, distortion and overdrive pedals are popular for both guitar and bass, but bass players often use these effects in a more subtle way to maintain the low end and punch of the bass.
On the other hand, guitar players use distortion and overdrive to add sustain and create a more aggressive sound for lead parts and solos. Bass is an important backbone instrument, so bassists rarely layer on tons of effects, as their parts need to be heard clearly.
Overall, while there may be some overlap in the types of effects that are used with bass and guitar, there are also differences in the way that the effects are designed and used based on the unique characteristics of each instrument.
While most effects pedals on the market are designed specifically for guitarists, there are plenty of bass effects too.
Do bassists use pedals?
While bass players may not typically have the complex rigs that guitar player use, most will use at least 1 or 2 key effects such as compression, chorus, or distortion. As always, it’s dependent on the style of music.
For example, heavy metal bassists are definitely going to use some type of distortion, and funk or psychedelic bassists typically use wah pedals.
Plenty of famous bass players have used effects to get their signature sound.
Some bassists love to experiment with different effects. Colin Greenwood from Radiohead has an extensive pedalboard consisting of pedals like the Akai Headrush E1/E2, the Boss Digital Delay (a guitar pedal), the Dyna Compressor, the Big Cheese distortion, and many more.
The master bass player Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers uses pedals like the Malekko Bassmaster Distortion Pedal, MXR Micro Amp Pedal (also used by many guitarists), the Moog MF-103 Moogerfooger 12-Stage Phaser.
Effects pedals to use for bass
Here are some of the most popular effects pedals for bass guitarists.
The main difference between a bass distortion effect and a guitar distortion effect is in how they are designed to handle the lower frequencies of the bass compared to the higher frequencies of the guitar.
Distortion pedals for guitar are often designed to emphasize the midrange and treble frequencies, which can help to create a cutting, aggressive sound. They can also add sustain and harmonics to the guitar’s tone, and you usually roll off the bottom end to get some clarity.
If you were to plug a guitar distortion into a bass guitar, you’d lose most of the low-end attack and “punchy” qualities of your bass sound.
On the other hand, bass distortion and overdrive pedals are designed to maintain the low-end frequencies of the bass while still providing distortion. Bass distortion pedals often have a wider range of gain, more headroom, and a broader frequency range to handle the lower frequencies of the bass without losing clarity or definition. They are also designed to maintain the attack and dynamics of the bass, which can easily be lost when adding distortion to the signal.
Bass distortion pedals are also typically designed to maintain the bass’s natural tone while adding a bit of “umph”. Some bass distortion pedals may also include additional features, such as blend controls, which allow the player to blend in the original signal of the bass with the distorted signal.
Lev’s pick: bass distortion pedal
Darkglass produces the BEST bass pedals on the market, and while their products come at a premium (the ADAM pedal retails at around $350), you certainly get what you pay for. This pedal combines many different distortion and EQ effects while still being super simple to use!
This is a big one when it comes to bass guitar. Compression is one of the best bass effects you can use. In fact, many bass amps even come with a built-in compressor dial. Compression pedals squeeze the dynamic range of your bass so that the range between your instrument’s loudest and quietest sounds are closer together. This helps mix bass into the flow of the music better and gives the instrument a more consistent sound and feel.
In short, using your guitar compressor on bass is no problem; it’s essentially just reducing the dynamic range of a signal.
However, you are going to have to adjust the parameters. The attack and release time are the most important. A slower attack time is usually desired for bass as you want to emphasize the punch by letting the transient pass through uncompressed so you can achieve a tight bass sound. A faster release time will keep the bass sounding natural.
Lev’s pick: bass compression pedal
The MXR Bass Compressor is an excellent staple for every bassist to have. This pedal is super easy to use and has lots of control ability over your bass dynamics.
Many guitarists use octave pedals to make their guitars sound like basses. And there are usually no issues using your guitar octave pedal on bass, provided you change the parameters. With guitars, you usually try to emulate a bass, but with the bass, you generally want to go for the higher octaves, so you need to go up rather than down. Unfortunately, some cheap octave pedals won’t work with bass or may sound a bit glitchy with the lower strings, so I recommend getting the best octave pedal you can afford for a bass guitar.
Lev’s pick: Bass octave pedal
The Boss OC-5 is designed with guitar and bass in mind, so the pedal works flawlessly with both instruments. If you want to expand the range of your bass, this is the best pedal, as it performs great and comes at a reasonable price.
Reverb and delay are some of the most common effects used by guitarists. While it’s not common to apply reverb to bass guitars, there are some exceptions in certain genres, such as the 60s garage music that features a specific type of spring reverb. The main problem with using time-based effects such as reverb and delay on bass is that it can mess with the rhythmic function of the instrument.
Using reverb on bass can quickly become messy when the guitars are already saturated with reverb. Additionally, applying reverb to the bass can cause a loss of the desired punch, so it’s important to be careful with the amount used. If you want to experiment with reverb or delay on your bass, you can plug in a guitar reverb effect, and you shouldn’t have any real issues.
Lev’s pick: reverb pedal
When using reverb or delay on bass, you don’t need anything too complex. The MXR Reverb pedal is designed for guitar, but it still works and sounds great on bass.
Modulation effects pedals include chorus, flanger, phaser, tremolo, and vibrato. All of these are commonly found on guitar pedal boards. In the 1980s, chorus and flanger were popular for bass tones, creating a slight pitch variation and delay that made the bass stand out in the mix. Depending on the music style, these effects can be used subtly or aggressively. However, modulated bass fell out of fashion in the 1990s and was considered old-fashioned. But it has made a comeback in recent years and is now popular in mainstream music once again. While you can certainly use guitar modulation effects with your bass guitar, the modulation pedals designed for bass have a better sound that compliments bass guitar.
Lev’s pick: bass modulation pedal
Boss’s Bass Chorus is an excellent example of a good bass pedal. The pedal has a beautiful flowing chorus “throbe” that can be used in a wide variety of music genres.
While both guitar wah and bass guitar wah pedals may look similar and operate similarly, they are designed to emphasize different frequency ranges unique to each instrument. You can definitely use your guitar wah on bass without damaging anything, but you’ll find that it doesn’t quite give you the desired outcome.
The main difference between a guitar wah pedal and a bass guitar wah pedal is the frequency range that each pedal is designed to operate within.
Guitar wah pedals are typically designed to emphasize the mid-range frequencies of a guitar, which are around 800 Hz to 2kHz. This frequency range is where the guitar’s sweet spot resides, and the guitar wah pedal accentuates this range, giving off a distinctive “wah-wah” sound.
On the other hand, bass guitar wah pedals are designed to emphasize the lower frequencies of a bass guitar, which are generally around 200Hz to 600Hz. This frequency range is where the bass guitar’s fundamental notes lie, and the bass guitar’s wah pedal accentuates this range.
Lev’s pick: bass wah pedal
Dunlop’s Cry Baby Wah has been used by many big-name guitar players such as Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix. The bass version of this effect pedal sounds just as good on bass as it does on guitar. I love the Cry Baby Mini Bass wah because it can easily fit in a gig bag, and it doesn’t take up much space on your pedalboard. Don’t worry; size doesn’t matter. It sounds just as good as the classic model!
Can you use bass pedals on guitar?
Using bass effect pedals on a guitar can be fun to experiment with your sound and get creative with your playing. While they are designed specifically for bass guitars, there’s no rule that says you can’t try them out with your guitar and see what happens!
When you use a bass effect pedal with a guitar, you may find that the resulting sound is different from what you’re used to, but that’s part of the fun. You might discover new tones and textures you never thought possible with your guitar. Plus, if you’re playing in a band with a bassist, using a bass effect pedal can help you create a more cohesive and complementary sound between your instruments.
That being said, not all bass effect pedals will work well with a guitar, and you may have to experiment a bit to find the ones that do. Some pedals may produce a muddy or indistinct sound when used with a guitar, while others may sound fantastic. The key is to have fun and be open to exploring new sounds and styles with your guitar!
Want to learn more about effects pedals and how they work? Check out my ultimate guide to guitar effects!