The Essentials of Bass Effects

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The Essentials of Bass Effects

For the longest time, the world of effect pedals was largely a guitarist's world. Since the introduction of the Maestro Fuzz Tone in 1962, guitarists have blessed us with some of the most wondrous, edgy, dreamy, and mind-blowing soundscapes we've ever heard, thanks to the use of the stompbox, but what about bassists? Here's a list of some of the best-bang-for-the-buck bass stompboxes and what they can do for your tone-sculpting.



It can sometimes be difficult to hear what a compressor does to the tone, but one with a display which shows how much gain reduction is being applied, such as the MXR M87 Bass Compressor, or the BOSS BC-1X Bass Comp, can be helpful. Both feature advanced controls, giving the user precise shaping of the compression and versatile functionality. If getting into the fine details of setting up a compressor seems daunting, the T.C. Electronics SpectraComp and the ElectroHarmonix (EHX) Bass Preacher both work well and don't cost a bundle.



An octave pedal, or octaver, takes the original signal, creates a copy of it, and changes the pitch up or down in frequency to match the note being played. Some octave pedals create multiple signals to create a one-up, one-down configuration, or even an octave down and then a sub octave below that. There are also analog and digital octave pedals, each with their own benefits. Analog pedals have a warm, natural sound to them, but their digital counterparts are better at tracking long notes and chords; plus their analog emulation is getting better all the time. The EHX Micro POG gives the user three parameters they can adjust; dry signal, octave down, and octave up, making it a great choice for bassists and guitarists alike. It's very good at tracking bass notes, and presents a lot of functionality in an easy-to-use way. The T.C. Sub 'N' Up mini pedal is also a great bargain and takes up very little real estate on a pedalboard. If that extra sub octave down is needed, check out the BOSS OC-3 Super Octave.



The most popular effects used by bassists are overdrive, fuzz, and every kind of distortion in between. Used correctly, they can help fill out the sonic landscape of the mix, or highlight a scorching hot solo. The EHX Bass Soul Food pedal sounds fantastic and provides warm, smooth overdrive. The Tech 21 Sans Amp Bass Driver DI deserves a mention here too. Not only is it a pre-amp/EQ that can give you anything from vintage tube tones to gnarly distortion, but it is also a DI. You can use it with your amplifier, or “sans amp” for smaller gigs, or in a pinch if your amp ever breaks down during a gig.

Combining a fuzz effect with one of the octave effects mentioned above can yield a cool synthy sound much like a synth pedal, and some units combine the two into one tidy package. Besides the obvious advantage of saving money on effects and freeing up pedalboard space, the two effects are designed to work well together. The Fulltone Octafuzz pedal is one such example.



In the bass world, you'll find chorus used more than the other two, but they are all similar in the way they function. The BOSS CEB-3 Bass Chorus is favoured amongst many bassists, as is the MXR M83 Bass Chorus Deluxe. They both feature warm smooth chorusing effect, and a good variety of controls to sculpt out your sound. If budget doesn’t allow for a chorus that's specifically designed for the bass, the T.C. Afterglow Chorus will do in a pinch. There are no phaser or flanger pedals specifically designed for the bass, but the BOSS BF-3 does include a bass input, and the EHX Bass Metaphors pedal does a variety of mod-type effects.



There's a variety of sounds that can be made by synth pedals, from short, punchy sub-bass stabs, to long, grinding swells. Each pedal has its own unique character and sound, so it's not uncommon for bassists who use synth effects to own more than one. Much like octavers, synth pedals need to track notes in order to function properly. The EHX Bass Micro Synthesizer, with 10 parameters to play with, is a versatile pedal with great tracking. While it is a little more expensive than some of its competition, the results it yields make it worth the extra cost. The Boss SYB-5 Bass Synthesizer is another great purchase. While the controls aren't quite as complex as some other pedals, its 11 modes to choose from make up for it nicely. If something more modestly priced is needed, the DigiTech Dirty Robot Mini-Synth is modestly priced, and sounds great. Despite its small size, it has two fantastic modes and 7 adjustable parameters to control each of them.



While rarely used by bassists, it’s worth noting that some reverb pedals perform better than others. As with all effects, it is entirely a matter of preference as to what sounds better, but the T.C. Hall of Fame Reverb pedal is a great place to start looking, and the EHX Holy Grail is also worth checking out.



There is some argument over which is better: analog or digital delay, and each has its benefits. Analog delay produces a very organic, natural sounding decay, but is limited in how long the decay can be. Digital delay pedals don't have the same limitations as analog pedals, and they are getting better at emulating them. Whatever the preference, there are great options available. The MXR M169 Carbon Copy delay delivers clean, organic sounding analog delay, with simple controls and a rugged housing. When looking for something digital with a bit more versatility, the BOSS DD-3 is of comparable value. On the less expensive side, there's the T.C. Echobrain (Analog) and Prophet (Digital) pedals, which are good for the price.


Envelope Filter

While this effect could be included in the synth category, when it comes to bass, it deserves a category of its own. Envelope filters such as the BOSS AW-3 Dynamic Wah, the MXR M82 Bass Envelope Filter, or the Dunlop Cry Baby Q-Zone create an automatic envelope, usually based on the attack of the player. Funk bassists use this effect frequently.


Multi-effect Units

When using more than one or two effects, a multi-effect unit can offer great value alongside versatility. Whilst almost exclusively digital, effect modeling in these types of systems has become comparable to the quality and tone of analog pedals. The Line 6 HX Effects provides top notch effect emulation, and when connected to the internet through your PC, will update and download new presets when available. In the mid-range, also from Line 6, the M9 and M13 Stompbox modelers are powerful and offer plenty of great sounding effects to string together. It should also be noted that Zoom’s MS-60B Multistomp for Bass can be a valuable purchase thanks to its utility and competitive price.

Ultimately, the most useful tool in your search for the perfect pedalboard additions will be testing them out at your local Long & McQuade store. Staff members are always happy to aid you in your endeavors, and you’ll get an idea of what the pedals can offer. Whatever you decide on, remember – stompbox selection is all subjective and there are no “wrong” choices. Happy hunting!


Chad works at Long & McQuade in Cambridge, ON.


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