To Effect or Not to Effect? A Discussion for Bassists

Q: What’s your take on effects pedals? Do you use any?

A: I have been exploring many different pedals and having fun with the sonic possibilities, though I rarely use them outside of my home. My most used pedal is my reverb pedal, because I like the what it offers when playing in small group settings (a piano trio, for example). It just adds a touch of flavor and life to each note.

When I’m touring with Gino Vannelli, I have to bring a pedal board because he requires the use of:

  • Reverb (I like the TC Electronic)
  • Synth (I’m using the Markbass Supersynth)
  • Octaver (The Boss OC-2 and the Electro-Harmonix POG2seem to track the best)
  • Envelope (I’m loving the Aguilar Filter Twin)

I also use a volume pedal for quick bass changes as well as the Basswitch IQ DI for my direct sound and as an effects loop.

I’m currently also getting one of my basses set up with a bridge saddle-style midi pickup, so I can have the option of using the Roland GR-55 as a replacement for my pedal board on those tours. I’ve also been messing with some multi-effect units (like the Boss GT-10B), and I always have had a Boss Loop Station nearby for practicing, teaching and clinics.

Like I said though, 90% of my gigs are just me and my bass through my amplifier. Most of this stuff is just for specific effect with one artist or for fun or writing explorations at home.

I love what some guys are doing with effects these days. The one thing I’d warn against is over-using them. I have found that a lot of players will get so into sound sculpting, so much so that they are no longer doing their job in the same way on the bandstand. We’re still bass players, and we need to provide a nice foundation. Not every song needs a huge sub-bass sound, or a twitchy envelope, or even reverb! Use them with taste and discretion.

If you’ve ever done a recording session, you’ll notice that mixing engineers will often add just a dab of this and a touch of that. I believe that this is how live pedals should be used. When you really need a strong and overt effects (like a synth pedal, for example), it makes a huge impact and really does something remarkable.

This is another great topic for discussion

Readers, what’s your take on the use of effects with bass? What do you like? Tell us in the comments!

Have a question for Damian Erskine? Send it to [email protected]. Check out Damian’s instructional books, Right Hand Drive and The Improviser’s Path.

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  1. I think pedals can really add another element to your playing!

  2. deffinatly a must depending on your style I am in a metal band but where is no rythm guitarist just me so I need some gain and a nice stompbox for a boost so maybe 1 or a couple overdrive pedals and yes a couple hahaha different flavors come in with different boxes, I use an envelope for some effects sometimes because mygoodness its theeeee coolest thing ever haha I mean when I am playing a metal gig I tend to take the effect off of it and stomp on it for a little boost during a bridge sometimes or in a bass solo where I don’t want any massive change in volume I just need to stand out, but I have nothing against going in clean ;) x.

  3. I have the following: Source Audio Multiwave Bass Distortion, Source Audio Bass Env. Filter, EHX Small Stone, Dunlop Crybaby Bass Wah, Boss BF3 Flanger, and an MXR Bass DI. I’m an effects fiend, but I’ve been really particular about what pedals to use. There’s no right/wrong way to use pedals… I play in a funk band and I have use for all of them. But you have to be careful about going overboard, because then you’ll have a bunch of pedals you don’t use.

    • i’m a producer and a bassist and trust me dude, there definitely IS a wrong way to use pedals. i have seen it way too many times and that goes for us and our guitar playing bros and sises. cheers!!!

    • You’re right, I was a little hasty in saying that. Some people don’t sit down and really listen to what they want from a pedal – they just see/hear it on their favourite record and think “OMG I CAN SOUND LIKE [band]!” meanwhile it’s got nothing to do with the music they play.

  4. .. I use all old school Boss Pedals.. A little Overdrive , Some Chorus on my bands originals , and A Holy Grail Reverb.. just enough for Depth , and that’s it. Only bizarrre pedal I use is I have a Morphius Drop Tune stomp box , for my band plays several songs that we tune down 1/2 step..saves me from re-tuning all the time…

  5. For the band I play in RoninMusicUk I use few pedals, a Boss Chorus, an Electro Harmonix Big Muff and a Boss Tuner. For the most part there’s only one guitar in our sound so it’s a case of fattening up the rhythm during solos and breakdowns, the Big Muff and Chorus blend together rather nicely.

  6. Great column, sir.

    As someone who uses pedals a lot(ok…A LOT!) there is one thing I must stress more than anything else: Perhaps, the most overlooked ‘effect’ when it comes to bass playing is articulation, dynamics, and touch. You’d be surprised how much that can affect/change your sound (and in many cases, the music you are making) before your signal ever hits the pedals that the cables are running through. It’s too simplistic of a musical platitude (when it comes to talking about effects) to say “the sound is in your hands” but it sure does start there.

    In other words, having a strong command of your sound and tone before you ever step on a pedal can even by itself have a strong, dramatic impact on the music. Whatever pedals you choose to employ will only act as a prism for that sound.

    • The one and only student I ever took on (I’m admittedly a horrible teacher) asked me to teach him how to get sounds with effects in the beginning. I told him “first you have to learn to play clean, then we’ll get to that”. Effects are a lot of fun and a great compositional tool, but your clean dynamics should ALWAYS be first and foremost.

    • my philosophy has always been, if all my pedals fail, ill still play you a killer set.

    • 100% agree since moving from bass to guitar I’ve taken up using no pedals and only concentrating on volume and tone of the instrument as my only “effects”

    • My pedalboard looks like a map of a small city, but I’m pretty adamant about having a fundamental sound that is happening before all the other stuff gets added.

    • That’s crazy talk. Pedals are shiny, which make them awesome.

    • Well put. At one point I was using a full pedal board which included something to boost my volume for certain moments. It eventually occurred to me that I could just play louder or softer. That changed my world. I’ve been effects free ever since, partly because I’d like to have one less thing to fuss over but mostly because I love the pursuit of enhancing my tone with my hands.

    • My band’s eclecticism and lack of keys player call for all of us to have a bunch of sounds at our disposal; I presently have an envelope filter (with a phaser setting), fuzz, and a compressor. My technique does not become less important when I use these effects; I can easily tweak the response of my effects with my attack and dynamics, and my aggressive tone and playing style puts me in a place in the live mix where it is noticeable.

      That said, I have opted numerous times to forgo the pedalboard simply to expedite setup; sometimes I’ll throw the compressor on top of the amp and leave it on, sometimes I go naked. On those occasions, I go alternative routes for effects by changing up my right-hand technique (thumbing, adding more/less fingernail to attack), occasionally going so far as to include a pick; I played guitar for years before switching to bass and took pride in building a large repertoire of picking techniques, so I put them to use whenever it seems necessary.

      One also has to get outside of oneself. How do your effects/lack thereof affect how your bandmates respond to you? My lead guitarist responds with a certain energy when I throw filtered octaves into dance jams that just doesn’t happen otherwise. Given the on-the-fly nature of my band, I couldn’t even say that my clean-only performances of the same song are any better or worse because the same musical situation simply wouldn’t have occurred.

  7. Me I have a line6 bass pod. I do use it from time to time, and I can do it with no effects as well. I am honestly split between the two. I must sayx I like having effects a couple of tweaks more.

  8. I personally enjoy effects some are useful and some are just plain fun when done correctly , I strongly recommend using your amps fx loop if it has one.

  9. I play with a number of EQ pedals to change my tone mid-song (one adds extra low end, another adds a small volume boost and some mids/mid-highs for soloing). A good compressor is handy if you know how to use it right. And I’ll admit to loving the sound of chorus on bass.

    I do have a few more bizarre pedals in my collection too, however. A bit-crusher (reduces fidelity to 8 bit, to create a digital noise distortion), multi-delay (which I use a lot), and my big one: an octave pedal keyboard slaved to a phrase sampler because who needs a keyboardist?

  10. Looking into getting some pedals for my double bass. Mainly eq, compression, and a noise gate to start, but also thinking about some reverb and a bassbrain.

  11. I hate discussions like this where people talk about “should you do this or that” in music. There’s no “should” in music, music is abstract and subjective. Bass guitar is just another musical instrument which creates notes at lower octave, and effects are an extension of the instrument. Its not the matter of “to effect or not to effect”. Its all about whether the use of the effect, combine with the role of the notes you’re playing, contributes towards the song you’re working on in-studio/live.

    • 100% agreed. I used to get frustrated guitarists giving me a hard time about playing a six string bass. Well now I’ve got a greater range to work with. If the music in your head calls for more strings and/or effects, go for it.

  12. I believe that it depends on the kind of music you play, the number of different instruments in your band and their use.I play in 3 bands with different kinds of music and I make a completely alternative use for each one. It depends on the space I have in every song after I’m done with the main bass playing (after all we always are bass players and responsible for the groove).

    I usually carry my pedalboard with a Dunlop volume pedal, a Boss EQ, EHX Big Muff, EHX Octave Multiplexer, Ibanez Synthesizer Bass, Boss Synthesizer Bass, Boss Harmonist, Boss DD3, EHX Enigma Q Balls, EHX Flanger Hoax and MXR Bass d.i.+ (yes, yes I know…it’s just bass :D ) and I catch myself using those effects only in 7-10 songs during a 30 song list, where I believe it’ll make the difference without leaving aside the bottom end.

  13. I play with several different cover bands, playing anything from AC/DC to Al Green — disco to metal to jazzy. Rather than use 3 or 4 different basses I’ve learned to use a digital multi-effects pedal… BUT… I also employ a Barge Concepts DVB — a box that lets you control the blend of clean sound and effects sound.

    Someone like Billy Sheehan can run multiple amps and use one for effects and one for clean/punchy sound simultaneously, or run bi-amped and keep the low end pristine. The effects blend control (all SWRs, some Ampegs, others, have it built in) is the poor man’s approach. Fretless sound for Bad Company? Set it up on the pedal, but then dial in the exact AMOUNT of that effect you want on the blender. Dirt for metal? Yep. Synth for funk? Yep. All within acceptable parameters that don’t overpower the bass’s primary roll as driver of the song and/or oil in the gears of the song.

    To me there’s nothing worse than hearing a weak, bottomless bass that’s phasing or flanging while trying to drive a disco dance tune. Dial in a blend and you can get the nuanced version of the sound you want and still keep your kick-butt percussive low end.

  14. As many people said, it depends on the kind of music, for example, I have a compressor(mostly for recording), limiter(for slaps), chorus, overdrive(for some motorhead covers), equalizer and noise gate, but sometimes it’s just me and my bass.

  15. Now this helps me. Thanks!

  16. Excellent dialogue about the subject. I have two ‘pedals’ and I say that in quotes because they could be in a rack, or back at the sound board etc. — A compressor (mxr in my case) and a BBE Sonic Stomp. I have them on all the time and, to me, they really highlight tone.

  17. I love my pedals! (Flange, distortion, compression, envelope filter) I don’t use them all the time, but for the right song at the right time, I can’t live without them.

  18. I’m working on a solo bass project with a lot of pedals. Aside from something very specifically effects oriented, I find that a tuning pedal is pretty much all that’s needed.

  19. I am a HUGE fan of using pedals. I love em. I believe that pedal users should know how to use their set up so that they can fit in effects in almost any situation. Personally, I love experimenting with pedals and the sounds that come from them: making loud sounds, wacky and crazy sounds, high pitch sounds, bit-crushing sounds, floor shaking sounds (and all done with my bass). I am constantly experimenting and seeing what sounds good with whatever.

    I also believe that you should have some technique before using pedals. It makes it more fun to play with them and see what can be done.

  20. Another great article and discussion. I use an old CAD compressor and a BBE Sonic Maximizer in my rack, so I don’t often use my pedals. But I have been known to use a EH Bassballz, DOD FX25 filter and a octave divider from time to time. Whatever is appropriate for the gig.

  21. I bought a Digitech BP 200 about 10 years ago and yes it still works like a champ. I was in a Contemporary Christian rock band and used 3 different basses. I wanted the Digitech so that when I changed basses I didn’t have to mess with the amp’s eq. I typically run all my guitars with the knobs maxed out; using the Digitech I can have a bank or banks set for each of my guitars and don’t have to worry with the amp and it makes life much simpler. I’m old school and didn’t really like effects; look at the Beatles and the sound they got, plug in and let ‘er rip. Now that I’m doing more solos I do like to mix things up by using a wah wah on one; distortion on another, and flange on another. It’s a pretty cool sound with the right bass.

  22. I’m a “seasonal pedal user”. That means that I use them like a cook uses seasoning(s). (a pinch here, a drop there) I always try to practice with the effect in private before taking it out on gigs. It’s always amazed me, how pedals will do terrible things on stage after they’ve sounded so good in your practice room! What’s up with that?

  23. Playing garage, surf, stoner and that’s plug and play, straight to the amp! Thanks to my Orange Terror Bass 500 :-)

  24. Excellent article! I play through the Boss GT-6B but mostly use the bypass for a clean sound. My Ibanez BTB has enough tone control without adding fx, but a couple of friends use it to enhance their passive Fender basses.

  25. I have nothing against using Effects, but I don’t need them I Play MTD BASSES which offer great tone and great quality@Dana B. Goods

  26. I’m a great fan of creating a personal identity. With pedals that will be even easier offcourse. If some hate pedals…well, don’t use pedals!

  27. Play the gig. If the gig requires effects, amp modelling, etc. then stomp away. If the gig requires plug and play, do that. For blues gig I take my amp and my bass (RI Fender P 53). If I am playing pop, jazz, R&B I take my pedal board which has, a tuner, chorus, octave, envelope filter, SVT amp simulator, volume pedal and I use a more modern bass (Fender deluxe P bass). I like to think my sound comes from my hands on the bass. Pedals are there to create an effect. If you have a good instrument and a good amp you shouldn’t need any effects. I also like to think that I could show up for a pop gig without any effects and nail it.

  28. I’d say simplicity is the best, I just use my Boss ODB-3 into my Peavey Mark VI (which has a gorgeous inbuilt analogue chorus), which gives me a mighty fine tonal pallette. Not overdoing anything, I have ‘nasty” distortion tones for heavy, ‘watery’ chorus for some pysch and my normal dry clank or soft for everything else.

  29. I’ve used a variety of pedals over the years and my sentiment seems to one shared with many here – it’s not a matter of “to use or not to use” so much as “will it help the song or detract from it?”. I have been known to drive sound engineers crazy though because I used to tri-amp my sound… one clean bass channel (essentially just active bass pickups to DI), one “guitar” channel with some effects (distortion, wah, etc…), and a sub channel with further low-end processing on it (EBS octabass, subharmonic processor, etc…)… first pedal in the chain and the only one that is on the front of all the signal paths is a Boss TU2 tuner so I can mute for retunes and bass swaps – then a BBE Sonic Maximizers at the end of the chains as well.

    • i went effects mad there for awhile, mostly in an attempt to do my best impression of justin chancellor from tool. he’s got a pedal board twice the size of god, and i’d bought probably half of the stuff he uses (and never really managed to use it to any good effect really). now i’ve pruned it all down to the digitech whammy and a reverb pedal. i’ve got an envelope filter, which is fun and quirky, but i don’t really see it getting a whole lot of use.

    • @[100000173190540:2048:Daniel Holland] – mine was originally trying to get Cliff’s tone from Ride The Lightning (this lead to a Tubescreamer & one of the huge old chrome Morley Power Wah Boosts in the chain) and I just went crazy building on top of that for a while… but I’ve definitely pruned mine back a lot too. I messed with envelope filters but they just never clicked for the sound I wanted. Fun to mess with though, for sure!

    • i only use a mxr fullbore metal distortion, mxr analog delay, wah, e.h. small clone analog chorus…and maybe 1 im forgetting…but thats it.

  30. support the groove and find your own voice with the instrument…. brains, fingers, and these are the effects of estrogen to learn before.

  31. Agreed. I have about 10 pedals or so, but I only actually take one on the road: BOSS tuner pedal haha! I love playing with my effects when just jamming out on my own, but in a group I don’t like having the effects around. I occasionally take my Electro-harmonix Big Muff Pi for added push or dirt on a heavy bassline for rock, but even that pedal is rarely seen live!

  32. I have a Boss BT10B that I thought I’d use a lot. Turns out I ended up using the same 2 effects on three or four songs a night. I retired the unit, bought a new Fender American Standard P Bass 5 string and an Eden amp and it sounds so sweet on it’s own that I don’t imagine I’ll ever use a pedal again. I mean it’s MY bass sound. Not distorted or twisted by effects. I will record it raw in the future. Either you like my bass sound or you don’t. I’d pass on an opportunity to play with anyone famous or infamous if they told me I had to change my sound. Simply my take on the topic. If you need effects, like effects or are required to use effects on your bass, go for it. Not this cat. :)

    • Ohhh !!!! A debate. Love it. So I respect your descision not to use effects. But I just want to state that use of effects and technical manipulation of the output of instruments have produced some pretty amazing tracks over the last few decades both in classic rock and modern music. Without some of these tracks I think music would be a lot less interesting and enjoyable.

    • I dunno. Electric guitar effects? Absolutely. (right Peter Frampton?) Synthesizers? Absolutely. (right any late 70’s to late 80’s band of your choice?) But, for me, a pure rock solid, crisp bass track makes me hard. LOL Most of the songs I like have got a pure bass line. Maybe they are studio effected, but, I can’t tell. My bass playing has been recorded several times throughout my life in studio after studio and only once was an effect used. Even then the effect wasn’t used to play the track live because it sounded just as good without it as with. Too lazy to re-record the song dry. LOL

    • I really can’t name a song where I know the bass track is alter by effects but I’m sure there are some. And I agree that some of the best songs are those that are made with pure unaltered instruments. Of course you could argue that the act of recording an instrument, altering it’s level, adding a little reverb and mixing it is a form of effect as well.

    • I love my sound without effects pedals, and my personal style works without them, but if someone famous, infamous, or just anyone with a good pay check wanted me to sound a certain way, i’d say they say jump and i say how high, if you don’t wanna change your sound for a job, no ones gonna hire you, unless your Victa.

    • Or unless I’m me. LOLOLOLOL. I seriously doubt anyone very famous would hunt me down anyway, but, until then I stick to my original statement and hang on street corners starving. lol

    • Bob Trimm, N.I.B – Black Sabbath (over driven and use of wah), Sir Psycho Sexy – RCHP (EHX Q-tron), Tim Commerford of RATM has some of the best use of bass effects going, Sponge- By Brecker Brothers has some sweet sounding effects similar (not quite the same) as Sir Pyscho Sexy, And may we not forgot the best bassist to ever live, Jaco, who used delay, fuzz, chorus, and also maniuplated his amps to compliment(and sometimes alter) his pedals. These are just a few examples from an endless list of songs that use bass effects, very well.

    • Don’t forget Juan Alderete!

  33. When I played electric, I had them available in my signal path at least. I will admit to using a wah pedal for extreme tone-shaping “a bit more” than I should have.

  34. I have a great collection of pedals, approx 100 or so. Sometines when tracking I just plug right in and go and other times in a live setting I may use one or several pedals. It boils down to the gig I’m doing and what is required. However when you find the right one, pedals can be used properly to enhance and not subtract from your sound. Lastly I am more the one pedal with one good sound kinda guy and I am not into the multi fx pedals with 100 mediocure sounds.

  35. ok, I respect bass players who don’t use any effect live but in my case, I need to use a pedalboard with some pedals (my effect chain is NS-2 suppressor, TU-2, BB preamp, Aguilar Octamizer, Swollen Pickle, SansAmp Bass DI and EBS Valvedrive) and I really enjoy the possibilities that my effects give me in a live gig or in a studio session. My bass don’t stop sounding like a bass just for the use of an octave pedal or a drive, just sound with the kind of sound I like.

  36. Over the years, I’ve tried a few and some gave me a bit and others just didn’t do it for me. I as well do not believe the word ‘should’ belongs here. Why? Certain artists have brought the electric bass and acoustic bass more to the forefront lately and with that has come a focus on sound and soloing. It’s all in what the music calls for, really. Many seem to forget, though, there is that thing called technique. That being said, if we don’t own a lotta pedals, how do we really know what to use and where to use it? Places like Guitar Center have a pedal center where you can plug in and try some different stuff. I’ve been looking for a place where I can test out a Soundblox Bass Envelope Filter. I’ve got some ideas for it after seeing the demo videos on YouTube. Today? I needed something to give me a smooth sweeping sound during arpeggios either ascending or descending. So, I chose an MXR Phase 90. Used rarely but in the areas where I want it, it gives me the sound I believe the music calls for in that area. It’s all about the music. Let it tell you.

  37. hell-o I fara from argentina I play bass in PSICOAURAL and for me effects rules! y have 11 y put almost allways in the same order: 1 ibanez tubescreammer ts5(with moded things by cluster) a dod american metal (or something like that) who came to me without paint and cluster effects reformed to be a fuzz, digitech whammy 4, dunlop cry baby bass(with cluster effects mod who aded a true by pass a switch selector for two ranges an a led ligth, dod envelope filter(with cluster effects mod), boss flanger, wonder 3 by cluster effects(its a filter station like a moog), boss digital reverb delay, boss bass synthezyser, tremolo, and a dod compressor sustainer I almost allways use the tube for more punch sound and the whammy almost in the chorus setinngs or 2 octaves up to break up in the intro of one song the envelope in various songs and the flanger to jam or soundscapes I uses the synthesizer and the delay and its awesome but the genera/lpedal who allways watch an its allways on its the dod compressor sustainer its the key of my sound without him I’m useless! he allways correct my sound if the compressor sounds bad its really me who play bad when if you are interesting you can listen something here thanks a lot and bass on!

  38. Asthetics are one thing but just because a car has a sweet paint job or a great stereo doesn’t necessarily mean that it runs. You need to be able to get where you’re going on your own.

  39. Effects are there to… effect your ‘sound’. No right or wrong way. Use them, or don’t. I just remind myself often that there is an off switch. (I would hedge a bet that compression & even chorus aren’t even ‘considered’ effects anymore; they come with so many amps.)

  40. I think effects are just another way to expand your sound and style — Currently I Run a SANSAMP RBI in my rack, an Aguilar TLC Compressor, Aguilar Agro, Fulltone Bass Drive MOSFET, Visual Volume, Boss TR-2 Tremolo and a Line 6 M5… I still want more too! I’d love a Markbass Supersynth, Pog 2 (or Micropog)… and maybe a B:ASS MASTER. I love playing with effects and I love the options! I run this through a Genz Benz GBE 1200 Head, Avatar 410 4ohm Cab and a Rickenbacker 4003… MONSTER sound~!

  41. I Love my Boss GT-6B, the Big Red Tank, but when I use it ( and its rare) I use the same 2-3 patches that have been set up only very slightly different from each otherand the effects are very minimal. and every week when I go to an open Jam, I don’t bring it ( and don’t need it either, as its more of a hassle for a short temporary set).

  42. I never play totally clean. My ‘default’ setting on my Zoom B2 has gate, moderate compression, and a touch of octave, flange, fuzz, and reverb. I have a ‘cleaner’ patch that substitutes a delay for the octave/flange/fuzz, and a couple of heavier distortion/wah patches for accenting particular parts, but for the most part, when it’s in the mix, the effects are so subtle you don’t notice them.

  43. I loves me SansAmp Bass DI and my SansAmp Bass DI programmable 3. and maybe drop in the Boss OC-3 just for that sweet subtle sound. I would say they ‘enhance’ more than change or effect the sound. When your playing live and the sweetness is pouring out of your amp, there’s nothing better! Sometimes its an endless chase all nite or as soon as you hit that first note, you crack that smile and you know its just going to be a great nite.

  44. I’m not really big on “effects” per se, but I do use pedals. I like pedals that will enhance my tone, not saturate it, if you will. I’ve dabbled with fuzz and other similiar units… they never really got any use outside of the bedroom.

    Right now my pedalboard chain is the following: Boss NS2, (noise suppressor) Tech 21 VT Bass, (I use this as an EQ rather than a driver. It has a certain character and clarity that just can’t be rivaled) BBE Sonic Maximizer, BBE Optostomp, (Compressor) and Korg Tuner pedal. I’ve got plenty of versatility there and I don’t feel like I need any modulation.. but as the saying goes, “to each his own!”

  45. it depends of the style of music you play , I like a – NUDE BASS SOUND – almost all the time , but if I need some agressive sound for some songs or more notorious tone in some part I use a Boss METAL ZONE and Electroharmonics MICRO SYNTHESIZER , for a goth dark 80s sound I also use a Boss FLANGER and Dod STEREO CHORUS , for smoke a joint, drink, and experiment I take out my Yamaha DELAY SAMPLER and a pedalboard Digitech BP8 , the sound of that shit is awesome , very fat , and if you know how to work with that toy is very impressive , but not very friendly to use. USE ANYTHING IN HAND , PLAY WHAT YOU WANT.

  46. Effects on bass can work well if used intelligently and sparingly, Of course the use of effects depends on the music you want to make and my perspective is that of a rock/punk/indie (whatever) bassist.

    Bass is a simple and effective instrument that locks in the rhythm section of an ensemble. Whenever the use of effects strays from that purpose, that rhythm aspect gets distracted and it doesn’t come together in a band perspective. The most useful effect (other than my preamp and tuner, but they don’t count) is a good distortion pedal. I prefer standard guitar overdrives for loud parts, some favorites of mine include, the old 90’s Marshall Guv’Nor, Boss Blues Driver, Boss Overdrive/Distortion, the old Rat and TurboRat pedals with the LM308 chip. Lot of folks like Big Muffs, but I never liked the for my purposes. I prefer Shin-Ei Superfuzz style clones over Big Muffs. Using a delay pedal with bass can be a challenge but it can be cool when it works, Pink Floyd did it well. Chorus can be a fun effect, Peter Hook used chorus a lot in New Order stuff, I used to have an EHX Electric Mistress flanger which had some great chorus tones but I never used it because it was always more important in my situations to have a straightforward bass tone. I never understood reverb pedals on bass, if it was every necessary to fill the space I’d be happy to let the sound guy take care of it. Octave pedals sound have some interesting uses, I use a Boss Super Shifter which can blend in Octave up or down effects, in addition to whammy effects, chorus and a harmonizer (if you’re into prog hair metal from the early 80s).
    Wah and envelope effects can cool if you want to play synth stuff without a synth.

    Presently I have one pedal board for both bass and guitar purposes. They include a TC Electronic Polytune, Boss Pitch Shifter, 90’s Marshall Guv’Nor, (still trying to figure out which order I like the last two in), Electro-Harmonix Stereo Memory Man with Hazarai and the most important pedal for me as a bass player the Tronographics Rusty Box preamp. The Rusty Box is set to a slightly overdriven setting and is always on and 90% of my tone comes from that pedal running into a GK 800RD head with mid scoop on and everything else set pretty much flat. The tuner acts as a mute switch and the Guv’Nor is used for loud parts. The SMMH and Super Shifter are hardly ever used.

  47. man, I haven’t used pedals since… oh wait. right, about ten minutes ago…

  48. Only a few songs require major effects, many songs can be greatly enhanced with some effect, but no song can be played perfectly until it can be covered with no effects. Very few exceptions to the rule, I use the Behringer Vamp pro on Rush songs and in the synth mode can play Bridge of Sighs lead part on bass. Very cool sound but a non marketable thing.

  49. Great article! When I joined my current band (Shive), one of the first things they asked me was if I used any effects. I told them distortion if needed and that’s about it. They were quite relieved. Their last bassist had a huge pedal board, including a wah, and tried to use some kind of effect in every song. We’re a straight ahead rock band, you don’t need a lot of crazy stuff. I overdrive my amp for grit and that’s good enough for me. Of course, taste is subjective and some styles (funk and electronic/industrial) calls for a lot of effects.

  50. I personally enjoy using effects live and in the studio, but it is definitely something that is an individual taste kind of thing. I like thinking of the pedals as different paintbrushes for my sound, and with that being said, all art is subjective, and what might sound right with a fuzz and whammy effect to one would sound better clean and deep to another. It’s good to practice restraint without being afraid to go crazy sonically when the time calls for it… and I also think it has to do with your overall need/ability/willingness to multi-task while playing bass. Unlike a guitar, the bass rarely gets a chance to cut out in a song, so make sure you have your effects set the way you like them prior to the gig. It can frustrate the whole band if you have some weird distortion patch hit on accidentally during a mellow set! :) Also, to touch on some of the other comments, I agree that it all depends on how you can play without the pedals first… if the chops aren’t there without them, the pedals will only do so much to help the bass line. Dynamics are key as Steve Jenkins mentioned, and to add to that, on multi-fx units take time to try to get your different patch levels even in their volumes. That way there’s not a big change in your playing dynamics going patch to patch. But have no doubt, pedals are extremely polarizing in the bass world! My vote is pedals, of course ;) hehe.

  51. I love the sound of the naked bass but I find that in my trio I am using more and more effects. Love my Boss Octaver and I’m looking at the Digitec whammy for special tunings and chordal harmonizing. Still I keep going back to just the bass when I want to really play the bass the othere stuf is for playing the sound.

  52. Mark Loebl of Vitamin D, The Outliers and MOTU West Babylon NY: I used a Zoom 3000B and wrote my own patches but ultimately found the switchology a distraction playing live. Also any effect I added reduced the solidity of my sound. I’ve found the variety of sounds I can create with “meat” more important. I just use a tuner, and I may buy a Boss LMB-3.

  53. Right now, it’s Wah and Flanger. I do plan to add a few more, but we will see.

    • what about a multi-fx pedal, with a memory bank like a synthizer?

    • That’s what I began with. You get more flexibility with individual pedals. The bass I play trough now has separate outs, so, in my case, the neck PU is clean(perhaps some chorus one day) and the tail pu is fxed.