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 affect the audio signal in ways ranging from subtle to extreme, but how do they 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 follows the same instructions as a typical guitar: connect the 1/4″ TS patch cable from the bass into the pedal’s input.

Ensure the pedal has power (either from a supply or battery) and connect the pedal’s output 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 characteristics 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 basses 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).

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

Many pedals designed for bass guitar will opt to have a wet/dry mix to incorporate some of the direct signal in the output. Some will go as far as to high-pass the affected/wet signal in order to maintain low-end clarity in the dry 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 the 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 that 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 can negatively alter the sound when applied to the low frequencies. 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

The DigiTech Bass Whammy is featured in My New Microphone’s Top 9 Pitch-Shifting & Harmonizer Pedals For Guitar & Bass.

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

Electro-Harmonix Bass Big Muff Pi

The Electro-Harmonix Bass Big Muff Pi is featured in My New Microphone’s Top 12 Best Fuzz Pedals For Guitar & Bass.

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

Ibanez TS9B Bass Tube Screamer

The Ibanez TS9B Tube Screamer is featured in My New Microphone’s Top 10 Best Overdrive Pedals For Guitar & Bass.

Ibanez is featured in the following My New Microphone articles:
Top 13 Best Bass Guitar Brands In The World
Top 13 Best Electric Guitar Brands In The World

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

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

MXR M82 Bass Envelope Filter

The MXR Bass Envelope Filter is featured in My New Microphone’s Top 13 Best Envelope Filter Pedals For Guitar & Bass.

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

Aguilar Chorusaurus

Aguilar is featured in the following My New Microphone articles:
Top 11 Best Bass Guitar Amplifier Brands In The World
Top 8 Best Bass Guitar Pickup Brands On The Market


Common Effects For Bass Guitar

Whether we’re using pedals designed for guitar or pedals designed specifically 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 tremendously 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.

Related articles:
What Are Compressor Pedals (Guitar/Bass) & How Do They Work?
Top 11 Best Compressor Pedals For Guitar & Bass

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 boost one signal type optimally.

Related articles:
Guitar Pedals: Boost Vs. Overdrive Vs. Distortion Vs. Fuzz
Top 9 Best Boost/Preamp Pedals For Guitar & Bass

Tuner Pedals

Bass guitars need tuning, too!

Related article: Top 5 Best Tuner Pedals For Guitar & Bass

Fuzz Pedals

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

Related articles:
Guitar Pedals: Boost Vs. Overdrive Vs. Distortion Vs. Fuzz
Top 12 Best Fuzz Pedals For Guitar & Bass

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 kind 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.

Related articles:
What Are Envelope Filter Effects Pedals & How Do They Work?
What Is The Auto-Wah/Envelope Filter Modulation Effect?

Top 13 Best Envelope Filter Pedals For Guitar & Bass

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 singing 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 overdoing effects in the low-end frequencies can and will produce a muddy signal.

Related articles:
What Are Chorus Pedals (Guitar/Bass FX) & How Do They Work?
Complete Guide To The Chorus Audio Modulation Effect?

Top 11 Best Chorus Pedals For Guitar & Bass

Phaser Pedals

Phaser can be a cool effect to add to a bass guitar signal to induce a trippy/psychedelic 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.

Related articles:
What Are Phaser Pedals (Guitar/Bass FX) & How Do They Work?
Complete Guide To The Phaser Audio Modulation Effect

Top 11 Best Phaser Pedals For Guitar & Bass

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.

Related articles:
What Are Reverb Pedals (Guitar Effects) & How Do They Work?
Top 13 Best Reverb Pedals For Guitar & Bass

Delay Pedals

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

Related articles:
What Are Delay Pedals (Guitar Effects) & How Do They Work?
Top 13 Best Delay Pedals For Guitar & Bass

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!

Related article: What Are Pitch-Shifting Guitar Pedals & How Do They Work?

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 plugging guitars into bass synth pedals and bass guitars into guitar synth pedals.

Related articles:
What Are Synth Pedals (Guitar/Bass FX) & How Do They Work?
Top 10 Best Synth Pedals For Guitar & Bass

Buffer Pedals

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

Related articles:
Are Buffer Pedals Necessary & Where Do They Go In A Chain?
Top 5 Best Buffer Pedals For Guitar & Bass


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 from what you’d expect because the circuitry of a bass pedal is expecting a bass guitar signal rather than a guitar signal.

Ultimately, 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 palette 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

Choosing the right effects pedals for your applications and budget can be a challenging task. For this reason, I’ve created My New Microphone’s Comprehensive Effects Pedal Buyer’s Guide. Check it out for help in determining your next pedal/stompbox purchase.


This article has been approved in accordance with the My New Microphone Editorial Policy.

Arthur

Arthur is the owner of Fox Media Tech and author of My New Microphone. He's an audio engineer by trade and works on contract in his home country of Canada. When not blogging on MNM, he's likely hiking outdoors and blogging at Hikers' Movement (hikersmovement.com) or composing music for media. Check out his Pond5 and AudioJungle accounts.

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