Can you use guitar pedals with Bass? (Simple Answer)
In almost every case, yes.
Guitar pedals are fine to use with a bass rig and will work in almost any conceivable scenario. However, that doesn't necessarily mean that it's always optimal to use guitar pedals in a bass rig. Some effects and pedals work fine in either context, while others are better off when they're specified for the lower bass frequencies.
In almost every case one could think of, it's totally doable and safe to use guitar pedals with a bass rig. In other words, it's not gonna break anything or cause something to stop working.
That said, most electric guitar pedals are not designed to be a hybrid between both instruments.
The main difference:
- Guitar pedals are designed for higher frequencies and thinner strings
- Bass pedals are designed for lower frequencies and thicker strings
When the dust settles, that's the only real difference between these two instruments. So it's not a question of whether or not it's possible to use guitar pedals with bass. Of course it's possible. But does it make sense and is it the most optimal solution for your bass rig?
That depends on a lot of factors, but I'll give you some basic structure to follow, so you can decide what's best for your rig.
Read more: Can you use a distortion pedal for bass?
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Separating Guitar Pedals by Effects Category
It's best to understand effects pedals in the context of their parent categories. I've detailed a ton of information on that topic in this post: Guitar pedal setup guide
Check that out if you want to get into the weeds.
But for the purposes of placing guitar pedals in a bass rig, here's how I would break down each category.
How friendly is each type of guitar pedal to bass rigs?
Click the drop-down menu to read more about each effect category and how well they work with bass guitars.
Very Bass Friendly
Utility pedals like volume, EQ, tuning, line selectors, channel switchers, and MIDI controllers can all be easily swapped out between bass and guitar rigs. You could make an argument that EQ pedals should be specialized, but I've used them interchangeably for a long time and haven't seen a ton of difference.
Looping pedals are another good example. It functions the same whether being used with bass or electric guitar.
Also note that most tuning pedals - particularly the Boss TU series - have settings to account for either bass or guitar. Chromatic tuners in particular are good options for either instrument.
Not Bass Friendly
Distortion, overdrive, and fuzz pedals are all gain-based effects, meaning they use capped output at the preamp level to create the sound we hear as distortion. In a bass guitar, this is handled a lot better by gain pedals that can account for the lower frequencies of the bass and create distortion that doesn't muddy out the bass tone.
It's easy to lose notes in distortion when the frequency is so low.
One caveat I would mention is boost pedals. While they're technically a gain effect, they are a pretty simple volume boost that happens before the preamp without being capped. This is usually not meant to create distortion, but instead just to increase volume.
Thus boosts are usually fine to use with electric or bass rigs.
Somewhat Bass Friendly
Modulation effects work by manipulating wave forms and then outputting them over the dry signal. Depending on the pedal in question, these pedals can usually handle an electric or bass guitar rig, even if they're not specified for bass.
Some pedals are even advertised for both, like the Boss BF-3 flanger.
Read the full review: Boss BF-3 flanger
Somewhat Bass Friendly
Ambient effects are based on manipulating a signal with changes in time or what we sometimes call trails. These are primarily delay, echo, and reverb pedals, which - if made for guitar - can work fine with bass and still sound good, especially if you're just looking for a simple echo. Though generally, delay and reverb are not often used by bass players. If you do use delay - maybe like a Justin Chancellor type player - you'd probably be better off getting a dedicated delay pedal made specifically for bass.
Not Bass Friendly
Wah pedals, envelope filters, and pitch-shifting effects (octaves in particular) manipulate the pitch of your guitar. Since the frequency/pitch of a bass is so much lower than a guitar, we'd almost always recommend getting bass specific pedals within this category.
Which types of electric guitar pedals would you recommend for bass?
Bass is a simpler instrument than electric guitar, so in most cases you won't need a ton of pedals for a bass rig. But here are the ones we'd definitely recommend, while everything else is strictly based on preference and musical style:
- Volume pedal
- Tuner (always the pedal version)
A note about compression pedals
Compression is a bit harder to categorize because it's not really a gain effect, though it does control volume.
But for bass, we'd recommend using a bass-specific compressor and not just a re-purposed guitar compressor pedal.
Aguilar, MXR, and Empress all make great bass compressor pedals.
What about playing bass through a guitar amp?
This is similar to the guitar pedal question.
While it's possible to play a bass through a guitar amp, it usually just doesn't sound as good. Guitar amps are not made to handle the lower frequencies of a bass guitar, so you often don't have as much low-end to work with as you would with a proper bass amp.
We'd definitely recommend not skipping out on the bass amp in favor of a re-purposed guitar amp. It's more consequential than the pedal issue.
Do pedalboards or power supplies matter?
No - pedalboards and power supplies are completely agnostic when it comes to electric, acoustic, or bass. Just make sure the power supply is isolated and meets the specific power requirements of your pedals.
Read more: Best guitar pedal power supplies
When the dust settles, you can handle your guitar/bass pedal mixing however you'd like. If you use electric guitar pedals with your bass, and you like the sound, there's no reason to worry about it any further.
But if you're having trouble getting the tone you want, switching to bass-specific pedals should solve those problems pretty clearly, especially if you're talking about gain, modulation, or ambient effects.
Make sure you have a bass amp - that's a must - and then experiment with pedals as you go.
If you have questions about using electric guitar pedals with a bass rig, drop a line in the comments section below and we'll help out.
See you there.