Think effects pedals are just for the lead-hogs and their fancy little gee-tars? Well, think again! Although the average bassist is happy with just four strings to make due (although there are plenty of 4+ string variations), there are definitely several options when it comes to tweaking the little things as we had previously reported, but one of the most popular and essential tweaks of an electric instrument comes with effects pedals.
There are several options of pedals for bass, but never forget to know your role in a band and keep the effects subtle and to your advantage. What works for guitars might not work at all for a bass since they both have different tasks in a group, and as long as you don’t forget that, be sure to experiment to your heart’s desire. Some effects to avoid are any type of pedals that delay or soften the signal. Makes it very difficult for the rest of the band to hear the back beat when it’s all fuzzed up or half a second off!
Alright, now that we have that out of the way, we will be showing you three of the most popular effects that can breathe some life into your old beat-up bass.
The Distortion Pedal
Probably the most simple of the effects to understand and apply -- for both the guitar and bass -- the distortion effect is attained by overloading the signal sent out from the amp, causing a very meshed but warm sound. We’ve come a long way from having to crank up all the settings to achieve distortion, and several pedals refine on the basic idea of distortion and overdrive by better controlling the signal manipulation, which lends to a more pleasing and customizable sound than just doing things manually through the amp.
Distorted bass lines have become of a staple of most electronic music such as house and dub-step. Usually done through the studio, several live bands recreate the same effect through a pedal of two. Not limited to electronic music, distortion of bass is also obviously popular with several metal bands in need of a deep crunch. Check out “Showbiz” by Muse to get a taste of how a well used distorted bass line sounds like in a pop song.
Bass Compressor Pedals
This one is for the fan of the classic bass, comfortable with their solid role as the heart of the back-beat. Bass compressor effects are by far the most common and widely used of all bass effects. So, what exactly does compression do? Compresses, that’s what! Compressor effects compress the dynamic range of an instrument in order to beef up the overall volume and much better balance it.
Think of a song where the singer is able to softly whisper a line or two and then give a giant howl at the chorus. Without compressors, we’d either barely hear the whisper or get a huge smack of distortion during the louder parts. Compression balances out the range of volume in order to hear both at an appropriate level and essentially does the same on a bass. Be careful about overloading too much compression on a bass as this gives the unwanted effect of dead tones, meaning no punch or liveliness, like a guy speaking in a monotonous voice with no ups and downs in dynamics.
Bass compressors with just the right amount of effect can give your bass a much warmer and (more importantly) balanced tone in order to keep your sound in line and never too soft or too loud. Definitely something every bassist should check out.
The Wah Effect
Like with most effects, the wah was first designed for the electric guitar and later used by bassists as either an experiment or to compliment the guitarist using the same effect. Nowadays, several bass effects have grown in popularity and the wah not only ranks high among them, pedals designed specifically for the bass not only give that signature wah effect known by many, but do an impressive job in keeping the bass tones warm and low like they were intended- the best of both worlds!
Those not familiar with the effect, the wah pedal (also known as envelope filter pedal) alters the tone of a signal by sweeping the peak response of a filter up and down to create the distinctive “wah” sound, much like playing the higher and lower octaves of a note back and forth.
Popular amongst several bass driven styles like funk, disco and slap bass, several bassists across multiple genres have been known to use the effect from time to time such as Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers or even former Metallica bassist Cliff Burton.
Don't forget to check out PAL's great selection of Bass Effects Pedals!