Amateur bass players and weekend warriors typically rely on nothing more than their trusty old cable; you can plug yourself in any amp or even go straight into the mix if all you wish is to simply fill in the gaps and keep a steady groove.
However, if you want to stand out as a bassist and want a bit more control over your tone, we suggest that you enrich your rig with these types of pedals:
Tuning a bass by ear is virtually impossible in a live setting. First and foremost, you’ll struggle to keep the guitarists from shredding bits and pieces of their ‘warm-up’ licks after each song, but more importantly, you can’t really command the crowd to be silent as you tweak that E string back into place.
You may not need a tuner only if your bass features a top-lock feature – these sometimes come pre-built into the construction of an instrument’s headstock, but even if you aim to buy one, they’re fairly cheap.
Be warned, though – top-locks will keep your bass in tune, but you won’t be able to adopt any different kind of tuning, which makes switching between Standard and Drop-tuning songs impossible without an additional bass by your side.
In that light, having a tuner in your rig will always be valuable. You’ll be able to quickly take a peek and see if some of your strings have went from sharp to flat, which will be your cue to slightly back off the volume until the next song comes along. They’re cheap, easy to use, and an absolute necessity for every experienced bassist.
2. Volume control
Guitarists often have a myriad of pedals hooked to their pedalboard, most of which ramp up their signal and passively boost the volume; additionally, drummers are sometimes taken in by the moment and bang on the snare (or the cymbals) a bit louder.
Even if you’re standing right next to your bass amplifier when you perform, you wouldn’t really be able to completely immerse yourself in the event knowing that you’ll have to lay your hands off your instrument and tweak the master knob every couple of minutes.
That’s where volume pedals come into play. Volume pedals, unlike boosters, can also help you tone down a bit in case you’re getting too loud, but they shine the most in solo bass sections, intros, and outros.
Just like tuners, Volume bass pedals are remarkably easy to use, and they offer you the ability to make adjustments on the fly, providing the much-needed control over your instrument instantly.
3. Distortion, fuzz, or overdrive
Either of the three are recommended for bass players that don’t want to settle for a single kind of tone throughout the whole set. While guitarists can rely on wah-wah pedals, octavers, pitch-shifters, and a myriad of modulators, bass players don’t have as much flexibility.
The distortion effect, which is arguably the strongest effect with the most presence, can also help you simulate the second guitar. This makes it an excellent choice for three-piece bands and situations where your rhythm player can’t show up for the gig for whatever reason.
Distortion, fuzz, and overdrive pedals are also formidable tools for bands and performers who heavily rely on thundering bass riffs and licks, such as Motorhead, for example.
Overdrive effect is not as aggressive and can be utilized more freely across pretty much every genre of music. Basically, it serves as a portable gain station where you can moderately clip your bass guitar’s signal make it just a tad grittier without losing its cleaner aspects.
Fuzz, on the other hand, is not so commonly used among bass players, mainly due to the fact that this is one of the more unpredictable pedals. It can be used to heavily amplify the overall volume of your bass (while at the same time introducing the signal to some serious clipping), which could be great for garage bands that typically play on small, quiet amplifiers.
Even so, these three modulating effect pedals are of exceptional value to players that know how to use them.
Another must-have is the compressor pedal. Basically, this beautiful contraption allows you to establish a more consistent presence in your bass tone without having to actually perform numerous modifications and tweaks – they have a life of its own and are capable of pinpointing problematic dynamics and regulating them automatically.
Essentially, compressor pedals will prevent you from being too quiet when you’re gently plucking while at the same time, they will also keep you from wrecking super-loud havoc in case the atmosphere gets to you.
Compressor pedals are necessary for bass players that struggle with consistent picking or plucking; some bassists overly accentuate certain parts, and even though this problem can easily be solved with practice, stage fright sometimes gets the better of us. This little pedal can easily counter such scenarios.
A filter pedal is somewhere between an EQ and compressors. They’re sometimes referred to as ‘Envelope’ pedals but should not be confused with wah-wah pedals, even though the two belong to the same group of effects.
Filters are to be used alongside other ‘balancing’ pedals whenever control and precision are mandatory. In essence, a filter pedal can boost favorable frequencies while at the same time, it can also cut out unnecessary and unwanted ones.
For example, if you eliminate the lower end, you will lose the thump-y, rocky grit and be left with clean, treble-y tone; in a combination with a couple of other pedals, this could result in digitalized, fully electric sounds. On another hand, EDM acts could filter out the top-end, which then leaves the tone bared and heavy as a bag of rocks.
In that regard, filter pedals are not just the watchdogs that prevent players from overplaying or underplaying in certain scenarios; this pedal also allows you to change the very sonic signature of your instrument. It’s also remarkably fun to experiment with, although it’s not the easiest one to use.