Is it "okay" to use a distortion pedal for bass? What could go wrong?
When I was just starting out in a band, I remember having dedicated distortion and overdrive pedals for bass. We didn't really know how to use them, but we had them.
It was the Boss ODB series - I can't remember which one. But we also tried regular electric guitar distortion pedals with bass. The Boss DS-1 and some old Korg multi-effects pedal were both used for bass a fair amount. Those guitar pedals sounded okay with bass, but never quite right. Certainly not as dialed in as the Boss ODB.
So that brings up the question - can you use guitar distortion pedals with bass?
I'll give the simple answer first, then elaborate.
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The Simple Answer
In most cases you can use guitar distortion pedals with bass, because - from a technical perspective - an electric bass and electric guitar aren't really that different. It's more or less the same technology, which means you can use the same pedals between the two types of instruments.
If you're happy with the sound, that's all that matters, and some guitar pedals are going to work better with bass than others.
But as far as whether or not it's possible, it definitely is and it's not going to hurt your gear.
Dedicated Bass Pedals
Most dedicated bass pedals are specifically designed to handle the lower frequencies of a bass guitar. We've also noticed that compressors work better when they're instrument-specific, at least in pedal form.
Other common bass effects include the following:
- Filter effects (wah, envelope filters)
Of these effects, distortion pedals are the simplest and easiest to swap. Gain-based effects like distortion and overdrive work by pushing volume higher into a cut off point, which is how a preamp in an amplifier works. The "gain" is simply volume being pushed before getting capped, before the power amp, which creates the distorted sound.
The main difference between a bass distortion pedal and a guitar distortion pedal is usually how the EQ behaves.
As I mentioned, bass distortion pedals are designed to handle lower frequencies.
If they're digital, the algorithms are also tweaked to sound better with bass.
Considering those factors, I would say it's optimal to have dedicated pedals for bass and to not simply rely on repurposed guitar pedals.
Tone and Pedal Quality
The biggest factor in determining whether a guitar distortion pedal will sound good with a bass, is the quality of that pedal to begin worth. If it sounds great with an electric guitar, it'll probably sound pretty decent with a bass too.
The inverse is also true.
If it's not handling the electric guitar tone well, it's likely to be a poor fit for bass as well.
With a decent distortion pedal, particularly with a flexible EQ, you can make it work with either instrument.
Are bass distortion pedals more expensive?
Since bass pedals are considered more specialized, they are often slightly more expensive. A $20-$30 difference is not unusual.
For example, the ODB-3 bass overdrive we mentioned retails at $140, while the OD-3 (the electric version), is only $120.
In case that information is outdated, here are two price history charts for each pedal, based on Sweetwater retail.
Boss ODB-3 Price History (Sweetwater retail)
Price History for Boss ODB-3 Bass Overdrive Pedal
|Current Price||$139.99||June 4, 2023|
|Highest Price||$139.99||July 29, 2022|
|Lowest Price||$139.99||July 29, 2022|
Last price changes
|$139.99||July 29, 2022|
Boss OD-3 Price History (Sweetwater retail)
Price History for Boss OD-3 Overdrive Pedal
|Current Price||$109.99||June 4, 2023|
|Highest Price||$119.99||July 29, 2022|
|Lowest Price||$108.07||June 1, 2023|
Last price changes
|$109.99||June 4, 2023|
|$108.07||June 1, 2023|
|$109.99||October 11, 2022|
|$119.99||July 29, 2022|
Working with What You Have
If you have an electric guitar distortion pedal that you're using with a bass and you're happy with the way it sounds, I'd say you're good to go. Professional guitar players cross up guitar and bass pedals every now and again, so there's no reason you can't do it too, especially if you're happy with the sound.
Assuming you're working with electric guitar distortion pedals, try to stick to distortion pedals with some flexibility in the EQ.
That'll help you handle the lower frequencies of the bass.
Bass pedals are a worthwhile investment in your rig. The technology used to make bass pedals is very advanced, and getting better, especially in the realm of digitally-modeled effects.
But if you have an electric guitar distortion pedal you like, and you just want to add some simple gain or boost to your bass tone, feel free to use it.
It certainly won't hurt anything, and you might be happy with the sound.
If you have questions about using a guitar distortion pedal with bass, drop me a note in the comments section below and we'll chat about it.
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