Do Guitar Effects Pedals Work With Bass Guitar?


The terms “effects pedal” and “guitar pedal” or common for guitarists, bassists and musicians. These units will effect the audio signal in ways ranging from subtle to extreme but how do work for bass players?

Do guitar effects pedals work with bass guitar? Effects pedals are often designed for guitar but will universally work with bass guitar as well so long as the connection is correct (typically a 1/4″ patch cable). Some pedals may have difficulty tracking the lower octave of the bass guitar but all pedals can work with bass guitar.

In this article, we’ll talk about connecting bass guitars to pedals; pedals designed specifically for bass guitar, and some of the issues we may face when connecting bass guitars through pedals designed for typical guitars.


Connecting A Bass Guitar To An Effects Pedal

Connecting a bass guitar to an effects pedal is follows the same instructions as a typical guitar: simply connect the 1/4″ TS patch cable from the bass into the input of the pedal.

Ensure the pedal has power (either from a supply or battery) and connect the output the pedal into the amplifier or the next pedal in line.

Connection is as simple as that!

As always, be wary of the length of the cable used in connecting the bass guitar to the pedal; interconnecting the pedals; and connecting the pedal(s) to the amplifier. Longer cable lengths lead to higher capacitance and less clarity in the high-end of the audio signal.


Is It Safe To Run A Bass Guitar Through Guitar Pedals?

Guitar effects pedals are designed to affect audio signals. This is true whether the signal comes from a guitar or a bass guitar.

So, yes, guitar pedals will safely affect bass guitar signals.

Of course, the signal from a bass guitar will have different characterists than that from a 6-string and these dissimilarities will likely cause the pedal to react differently.


A Note On The Differences Between Guitar & Bass Guitar

Guitar and bass guitar are from the same family of musical instruments but there are certainly differences between them. In this section, we’ll quickly contrast electric guitars and electric bass guitars (since electric guitars/basses are the ones that plug into effects pedals).

Perhaps the biggest difference between guitars and basses is the tuning.

6-string guitars, in standard tuning, are tuned as:

  • e4
  • B3
  • G3
  • D3
  • A2
  • E2

4-string bass guitars, in standard tuning, are tuned an octave below as:

  • G2
  • D2
  • A1
  • E1

5-string bassed add a B0 below the E1.

To learn more about fundamental frequencies and tuning, check out my article Fundamental Frequencies Of Musical Notes In A=432 & A=440 Hz.

Though the octave is the most obvious, other factors in design alter the tone of basses compared to guitars. These factors include:

  • Thicker strings
  • Longer strings
  • Different pickups
  • Differences in playing styles

So bass guitars will output different tones/signals than regular guitars.

Effects pedals, then, will react differently to basses than they will to guitars. How much differently, of course, will depend on the instruments and the pedal.


Differences Between Guitar Pedals & Bass Pedals

As we’ve discussed, basses and guitars are fairly similar. Bass pedals and guitar pedals are also quite similar.

Both guitar and bass pedals act on audio signals at their inputs and produce a desired (or undesired) effect at their output.

Both unit types typically have 1/4″ tip-sleeve jacks for their input(s) and output(s).

The difference between the two, as we’ve alluded to, is that the guitar pedal is designed to alter a guitar signal and a bass pedal is designed to alter a bass guitar signal.


Issues Running Bass Guitars Through Guitar Effects Pedals

Some guitar pedals will work better than others when running a bass signal through them.

The biggest issue we’ll run into when plugging a bass guitar into a guitar pedal is a lack of low-end.

As we’ve discussed, the circuitry of a guitar pedal, generally speaking, is “expecting” a signal from a guitar. Since basses are tuned an octave (or lower) the circuitry may not be designed to handled/recreate the low-end of a bass guitar signal.

The result could be a sort of high-pass signal on the low notes of the bass guitar.

Listen for any drop off in low-end when plugging your bass into a guitar pedal and decide for yourself whether the effect is worth the low-end filtering (if the pedal reacts negatively toward the low-end at all).

Another issue, and this ties into the low-end of the bass guitar, could be a “muddying” of the sound. Guitar pedals may affect the low-end of the bass signal in a way that over-affects the low-end.

Low-end frequencies, by nature, have long wavelengths and are omnidirectional.

Therefore, any distortion, time-based or stereo effect, when applied to the low frequencies, can negatively alter the sound. This typically isn’t an issue but is worth mentioning here.


Bass-Specific Effects Pedals

Now that we know that guitar and bass pedals are essentially the same, let’s discuss a few bass-specific effects pedals.

It’s fairly common to see bass versions of popular guitar effects pedals. These pedals are designed to yield the same effect but are optimized to handle (and affect) bass guitar signals rather than guitar signals.

3 “bass-version” pedals worth mentioning are:

DigiTech Bass Whammy
Electro-Harmonix Bass Big Muff Pi
Ibanez TS9B Bass Tube Screamer

As you’d expect, there are also original pedals designed specifically for bass guitar. Let’s have a look at 3 more examples:

ZVex Effects Basstortion
MXR M82 Bass Envelope Filter
Aguilar Chorusaurus

ZVex is featured in My New Microphone’s Top 11 Best Boutique Guitar/Bass Pedal Brands To Know & Use.

DigiTech, Electro-Harmonix and MXR are featured in My New Microphone’s Top 11 Best Guitar/Bass Effects Pedal Brands To Know & Use.


Common Effects For Bass Guitar

Whether we’re using pedals designed for guitar or pedals designed specially for bass, there are common effects for bass guitar. They are as follows:

Compressor Pedals

Compression is an effect that reduces the dynamic range of a signal by attenuating the amplitude peaks of a signal. Make up gain is often applied to effectively bring the quieter parts closer to the louder parts in terms of amplitude.

Compression is very effective for thickening up the sound of a bass guitar and making it more present in a mix. It helps tremendouly in bringing the level of high notes on the bass guitar closer to the low notes in terms of tone and amplitude.

Bass compressor pedals are very common in bass players’ rigs.

Boost/Preamp Pedals

Sometimes a bass guitar needs a bit of a boost for a solo or a preamp to help drive the amplifier or the following pedals in the rig.

Pedal manufacturers will typically specify whether their preamp pedals are designed for bass or guitar. The pedal will be designed to optimally boost one signal type.

Tuner Pedals

Bass guitars need tuning, too!

Fuzz Pedals

Fuzz pedals (along with distortion and overdrive) are commonplace on bass pedalboard. These distortion effects pedals alter the waveform of the incoming bass signal to give the bass grit and allow it to standout in a mix.

Envelope Filter Pedals

Envelope filter pedals are typically reserved for bassists (though guitar and synths can also benefit).

Envelope filters and auto-wahs are triggered by the transient information (the pluck, slapped, or otherwise hard-played note) of a bass guitar and act to filter out frequencies in one way or another.

This king of filtering can really spice up the bass sound and is commonly used in funk. Envelope filtering has been described as sounding similar to the quacking of a duck or vowel sounds of the human voice.

Chorus Pedals

Chorus effects, when done properly, can really let a bass guitar shine.

Chorus essentially produces copies of the input signal, detunes each copy by an adjustable amount, and plays all the copies along with the dry sound. The result is similar to a group of voices all signing the same thing, only slightly out of tune, to give a larger than life effect.

As I’ve mentioned previously, chorus pedals and chorus in general, perform best when affecting higher notes on the bass guitar. Remember that over-doing effects in the low-end frequencies can and will produce a muddy signal.

Phaser Pedals

Phaser can be cool effect to add to a bass guitar signal to induce a trippy/psychedlic or airy effect.

Phaser pedals modulate a series of peaks and troughs across the frequency spectrum of the bass signal’s EQ. These peaks and troughs vary over time, typically controlled by an LFO (low frequency oscillator), to create a sweeping effect.

Reverb Pedals

Reverb can be used to great effect on bass. Just be careful, again, not to go overboard on the low-end and you’ll avoid muddying up the signal.

Delay Pedals

Delay can be also used to great effect on bass. Again, it’s best not to overdo it on low-end to avoid muddying up the signal.

Octave Pedals

Octave pedals, like the aforementioned Bass Whammy, can work great on bass guitar. This is especially true for adding an octave above the input!

Bass Synth Pedals

Bass synth pedals are designed to turn bass guitar signals into synth sounds.

These pedals are typically more sensitive to the “type” of signal they’re designed to receive (guitar vs. bass guitar).

Therefore, unexpected and cool results can come from pluggin guitars into bass synth pedals and bass guitars into guitar synth pedals.

Buffer Pedals

Buffer pedals are utility pedals that effectively convert the impedance of a bass signal to combat the destructive capactitative effects of long cables and low-input-impedance pedals.

To learn more about buffer pedals, check out my article Are Buffer Pedals Necessary & Where Do They Go In A Chain?


Do Bass Guitar Effects Pedals Work With Guitar?

The flipside of the original question has largely the same answer.

You can certainly plug run a guitar through a bass pedal and have it work. However, as we’ve discussed, the result may be a bit different than what you’d expect due to the fact that the circuitry of a bass pedal is expecting a bass guitar signal rather than a guitar signal.

Ulimately, the sky is the limit with pedals and creativity.

Try running guitars through bass pedals and basses through guitar pedals and listen to find a sonic palatte that works for you!


Related Questions

Can I use my guitar amp for bass? A bass guitar should plug into a guitar amp in the same way a regular guitar would and the guitar amp will produce the sound of the bass. However, the low-end may suffer. Guitar amps/cabinets are designed to produce guitar frequencies and the lower octave of the bass guitar may damage the speaker (or amp) if turned up too much.

What pedals do I need for bass? Every bassist (and band) will be different and some bassists will not require any pedals whatsoever. That being said, common “must-have” effects pedals for bass guitar (without getting into specific brands/models) include the following:

  • Boost/preamp pedals
  • Compressor pedals
  • Tuner pedals
  • Buffer pedals

Other non-utility pedals that are common for bass players include:

  • Fuzz pedals
  • Envelope filter pedals
  • Chorus pedals
  • Phaser pedals
  • Reverb pedals
  • Delay pedals
  • Octave pedals
  • Bass synth pedals

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