Pedals for Bass Guitar

Effects for bass aren’t as easily identified on recordings or in performance as they are for guitar. That’s mostly because effects pedals are used far less frequently on bass. Distortion or overdrive are probably the most popular and most frequently used. “All Around the World” by the Red Hot Chili Peppers is a popular song that employs distorted bass to great effect. As a matter of fact, nowadays, just about every rock bass player uses a little “grit” or “dirt” mixed in with their sound. When EQ’d properly it helps cut through the guitars a little more.

There are also some classic rock songs that prominently feature other kinds of effects: “Stranglehold” by Ted Nugent features a bass part with a flanger and “N.I.B.” by Black Sabbath opens with a bass solo filtered through a wah-wah pedal, for example.

In recent years some serious arbiters of effects-driven bass have emerged, breaking conventional molds and taking the instrument into adventurous places. Doug Wimbish from the band Living Colour is one such bassist. Check out his solo record, Trippy Notes for Bass (EFA, 1999), for an idea of the instrument’s possibilities when taken out of a traditional role. Juan Alderete, currently with The Mars Volta (TMV), is another such bassist. His work with TMV, Vato Negro, and Big Sir displays not only awesome technique, but also an uncanny ability to seamlessly integrate effects into the context of a song and band environment.

If you’re looking to spice up your bass playing with some sonic colors, but don’t know where to start, this is your primer. Alderete provides a rundown of a small pedal board that is sure to reshape your sonic landscape and inspire some new ideas.

The poly-chromatic tuner (2) is aimed at speed, accuracy and ease of use—you simply strum all four strings on your bass at once and it will immediately tell you which ones need tuning. “For obvious reasons, it’s first,” says Juan. The CS-2 (3) is his main pedal and has been since ‘86. “It basically gives my bass some gain and high end. It really helps push out harmonics. It goes before all of the other effects because you want that variety of color for a heightened affect. It will make the other pedals’ effects more exaggerated.” Next is the Ravish Sitar (4), which basically sounds like a sitar. “But it’s a little toy-ish sounding,” he admits, so the next pedal is the EarthQuaker Devices Organizer (5) polyphonic organ emulator. “The Organizer is a really deep and rich-sounding pitch shifter. It follows the Ravish Sitar to make it sound a little more authentic.” Next is the TC Electronics Shaker Vibrato (6). “It makes the Ravish Sitar sound like a warped sitar, so now you have an entirely different sound from what you would have gotten with just the sitar pedal.” Last is the AmpTweaker TightDrive (7), because, he says, putting it first would “make everything else indiscernible.” Alderete also recommends running the signal chain this way because the Organizer is too thick to put in front of the sitar pedal. “It would lose its definition,” he says of the Ravish Sitar pedal. “Same goes for the Vibrato—the Ravi just can’t take a lot of effect before it because it is so rich in effect itself.”

Ultimately, effects pedals are just like most other things in life—the best thing to do is experiment and see what works for you. Fortunately there are people like Alderete to guide you. To learn more about applying effects to bass visit Aldrete’s

Leave a Reply