Your Guide to Buying an Effects Pedal for an Electric Bass Guitar

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Your Guide to Buying an Effects Pedal for an Electric Bass Guitar

Playing an electric bass guitar brings great responsibility and if correct choices are made, it can also bring great recognition. A competent bass guitarist links the instruments in a band, makes transition pieces smooth or exciting and leads into the next passage of play in a piece of music. With the effects that pedals can bring to an instrument’s sound, the bass guitarist can make the bass guitar an exceptionally versatile instrument.

Great Choice Available from Plenty of Manufacturers

Over fifty manufacturers are regarded as top brands in the field and the subtlety between differences in their products and prices can be gleaned online through guitar forums. If it is not possible to try out an effects pedal in store, make the most of the Internet and read some online discussions about the pros and cons of various effects pedals. What suits one bass guitar might not suit another brand, and not all brand names of effects pedals share the same strengths. One manufacturer may be better known for a particular effects pedal so if considering the purchase of a set of pedals, read about them and shop around for competitive prices and value for money.

Using Effects Pedals

Using pedals effectively is an art form in itself and offers a wide range of possibilities for individualising a sound that could readily identify a player or a band’s musical signature. Pedals can be thought of as an extension to an instrument, even as an extra instrument to learn how to play. They present exciting opportunities to do something different and as such need to be mastered if they are to be exploited to best advantage.

Popular Effects

There are a variety of effects which can be used by an electric bass guitarist. Pedals with individual effects can be used or they can be linked together to create a bank of effects in either analogue or digital format. Some models combine effects into one unit. Most of the individual pedals are offered as stomp boxes. They are foot-operated devices that can transform the sound emanating from a bass guitar.


Great for adding depth and tone colour to make sounds fat and clean


Use to control the dynamics and volume of the guitar


Sustains tone, gives a rich sound, encourages individuality

EQ and Filter

Deliver fine-tuned frequency


Retain bass punch but deliver strange and interesting sounds


Eliminate volume spikes and create a smooth sound with precise ratios

Multi Effects

Several effects all in one package


Sub or super shift an octave up or down without losing signal integrity


Link several effects pedal/stomp boxes in one unit


Boost amplifier sounds with turbo strength


Excellent for atmosphere and when a real boom is required from the bass


Pre-set voice mix and filter sweep for multiple effects in one place


Adjust calibrations to know whether the instrument is sharp or flat

Wah Wah

Create a human voice talking sound with an edge


Distortion is often used to create a unique sound in just the right place. Distortion happens when the audio signal is altered through changing the shape of a sine wave by clipping it. Different shapes of sine waves produce different effects and introducing odd numbered overtones will create a more complex sound in a hard clipped sample. The addition of even numbered overtones changes the sine wave to a saw toothed pattern. Different shapes make different sounds and experimentation will reveal the one that suits a player’s style or complements a particular melody. External device equalisers, which utilise parametric or graphic controls, often supplement the distortion arranged beyond an amplifier’s in-built equalisation for better control of sound shapes.
The appeal of overdrive’s mild distortion effect is how at specific outputs it brings a gain increase when playing hard. The soft clipping that takes place during overdrive function is only evident when the signal volume is high and the integrity of the instrument’s timbre is more or less retained with warm overtones heard in the output.
Absolute distortion attacks the extremes of the sound produced by concentrating on the upper and lower ends of the sound range to take out the familiar middle that is best heard ordinarily. Screeching and growling become apparent at the top and bottom of the distorted range and each type of distortion pedal operates towards specific wave shapes. This creates subtle differences between models which have their own equaliser settings.

Fuzz Pedal

A fuzz pedal might be used by a vocalist as much as a bass guitarist for the special effect it produces. The fuzzbox offers versatility through provision of harsh sounding output when required by using inharmonic overtones in the adjustable frequency multiplier or by producing warm sounding tones through implementation of harmonic overtones instead.

Compression Effects Pedal

A compression effects pedal is a useful tool to increase any required sustain and to smooth out peaks that fluctuate beyond the desired threshold of play. It also assists with programmed attack and release for controlling output. Using a compressor will make a noticeable difference to the performance of an amplifier.

Wah-Wah Pedal

Anyone talking about wah-wah pedals will mention the CryBaby created by Jim Dunlop and used famously by iconic guitar names such as Hendrix, Clapton and Gilmour. However, bass guitarists commonly play lower sounds than other guitars and regular wah-wah pedal filters do not process low-frequency input. A wah-wah pedal specifically for a bass guitar is the most suitable option.
Filters remove or exaggerate the sounds within specific frequency ranges with much more impact than an equaliser might produce. Models which are envelope filters act in response to the hardness of the played note, opening wider to act upon the note for a funkier sound. Many synthesisers incorporate these functions as well as pitch shifting to produce unusual sounds that augment a performance.
When using an octave divider, be aware that some models which shift pitch only respond to single notes at a time. If the style of play involves playing more than one note at a time, a polyphonic unit is required. Note also that processing will incur a minimal latency delay to make the pitch shift. Some digital models, when used with expression pedals, can produce a fretless sounding transition.

Multi-Effects Pedals

Multi effects, as the name suggests, offer a variety of effects suitable for bass guitarists and are operated by a foot pedal just as individual stomp boxes are. Usually they contain integral tuners, wah wah and volume pedals, and possess the ability to quickly patch signals in any order. A disadvantage is that the digital function does not quite match the tonal quality of individual analogue function but the speed of processing and versatility of set-up offsets this shortcoming.
Interestingly, distortion pedals are the most sought after item and a variety of manufacturers top the poll. Personal preference and playing style are terrific influences on choice even before budget becomes a consideration.


The most popular items offered in stomp boxes or multi foot pedals are: Distortion, Overdrive, Compressor, Wah Wah, Filter, Octave, Multi Effects, Synthesiser, Graphic EQ, Chorus and Fuzz. Of course, that unique sound might be found in any of the pedals and popularity doesn’t necessarily mean the best or the most successful. Often it is the unique element that sets one performer above the rest. Bargains are available where items are sold second hand. They may only be on sale because the performer has upgraded from a stomp box to a rack mount, or perhaps has changed instruments, or the band has parted ways. The hardware should still be in good condition and savings can be made so that more purchases are possible to create a set of effects pedals that reflect requirements.

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