Bass Effects


Whether you play bass in a real band or you play bass, lead bass, or rhythm bass in a fictional band, one fact is true across the board – playing bass is fun.  When something is fun, you don’t want to over-think it and take the fun out of it.  We’ll try to avoid that here.  But something can be fun and still require some thought about how to also make it professional, tight, different, and interesting.  We’ll try to take a look into effects for bass without so much detail that it becomes tedious, yet passing along enough opinion and information to help you tweak your bass tone with effects.



It Can Be A Mess  

If you have ever plugged a bass into a guitarist’s pedalboard for a test drive, you’ve probably not been wildly excited about the results.  For the most part, guitar effects just don’t sound very good with a bass.  This is especially true for effects that add gain, such as boosts, overdrives, distortions, and fuzzes.  You’ve probably already tried a distortion or fuzz with your bass and found it unusable.  The result can be a muddy, flabby, flatulent mess.   Other times it might sound like a duck being strangled or some other equally obnoxious noise bearing little resemblance to your clean tone.  

Occasionally, you’ll find something that is less offensive, but in a full band practice, you might hear the rhythm getting lost and your driving bass line not really driving.  Once in a while you’ll find something that works well, or well enough to be used at least part of the time.  It’s a mixed bag, but mostly disappointing.  Your bass tone must be good.  Separate from the tone, the bass shouldn’t disappear in the mix causing the rhythm to be lost.  If you want the audience on their feet dancing, you better keep the rhythm strong!

Adding Insight to Experience

Why is it that all those effects work OK for guitar, but not so well for bass?  That’s a bit of a trick question.  One set of answers would go into the physics of low frequency sound, skip around through some topics in analog audio electronics, and cover the nuances of human perception and hearing.  We could probably play bass through an oscilloscope with and without effects, hook some electrodes to our heads, do some math, and figure out some equations or something that would answer the question technically.  Or maybe we wouldn’t do that!  We’re not going to end up changing any laws of physics, nor are we likely to take a calculator with us to the guitar shop to help calculate which effects to try.  No, not likely.

Lucky for us, there’s another approach.  We can learn from the experience of innumerable bass players through the past five or six decades.  That method seems a bit random and probably takes you places you’ve already been, tone-wise.  But what if we added a little insight into how effects handle bass so you had some ideas to guide you through that process?  Hopefully, that would be useful, as that’s what we’re about to do in the rest of this paper.  Ultimately, experience always wins.  That’s why we all prefer to try new effects instead of just read about them.  But some insight can help narrow the search and provide some idea of what to expect.

Keep It Simple

We aren’t going to do any math.  Nor will we draw up any circuit diagrams and explain what those big, slow bass electrons are doing differently from the speedy little guitar electrons.  But it is useful to at least skim the surface of a couple of topics to help give a little solidity to some later points in the discussion.  Let’s start with a quick look at “bass”.


Obviously “bass” is the lowest range of frequencies people can hear in music.  It’s usually considered to be around 20-250Hz.  For a normal 4-string bass in standard tuning, the fretted notes run from 41-311Hz, 3 octaves, with the notes that are usually played the most falling between 41Hz to 100Hz, maybe 150Hz.  

A standard guitar fretboard covers 82-1047Hz, almost 4 octaves.  If the guitar parts are leaving room for the bass, they will not spend much time from 82Hz to about 150Hz, which is only found on the bassiest bit of the E and A strings.  That in itself is insightful information.  We know that guitar effects generally sound great for guitars, especially if they avoid the low stuff, around 150Hz and down.  We’ll use this information a little later in some of our approaches to getting good bass effect tone.  But let’s get back to the bass-ics.

Effect Components

What are all those components inside an effect circuit and what do they do?  Most of them are boards, wires, switches, potentiometers, jacks, resistors, capacitors, diodes, transistors, op amp chips, and a few other devices.  For these purposes, it isn’t really too important to get into those details.  But we are going to talk about pedal modifications in a bit, so it’s useful to point out a few things.

Most of those components are relatively cheap, some costing less than one cent, and few costing more than one dollar.  At least that’s true for current production parts.  Prices for old vintage parts that are getting scarce can be much, much higher.  And “vintage” doesn’t always mean “better”.  With a few exceptions, vintage parts are rarely better.  Even when vintage parts are "better", what we often mean is "more familiar".  When considering mods, spend your money wisely, and keep an open mind (and ear) about what is better.

Boards replace the wiring between all the components.  The copper traces on them are the wires.  It is usually difficult to modify a board to make component connections for which it wasn’t intended.  It is sometimes possible, but there is always the possibility of damaging the traces and ruining the board.  Mods need to be kept simple to manage that risk.

All components are designed to do specific things to electric signals interacting with them.  They have spec sheets that tell designers how and how much they will impact those signals.  The specs on the performance of the parts are often given in ranges, sometimes very wide ranges, that are considered acceptable for that part.  In addition to having fuzzy specs, many specs aren’t really directly applicable to audio signals.  Designers often have to figure out what the spec values mean to audio signals.  All components also impact audio signals in unplanned ways to some degree.  The result of all of this is that designers and builders can pick parts based on what they expect, or they can audition specific parts to see what they are actually getting.  Mass produced effects usually just use the right part numbers, regardless of their actual performance with their range of acceptable actual values.  That’s why two identical pedals might sound different.  All those spec vs actual values can add up and change the resulting tone.  Some boutique hand-builders often audition individual parts at least for key components and as a result may have more consistent tone from one pedal to the next.  Of course that takes time, which translates into labor costs, which may be one of the reasons a specific boutique effect costs more than a mass-produced version of the same effect.  If some pedal “almost worked” for you, it may be worth trying a few more of the same type – you might get lucky.  Jimi Hendrix reportedly did that.  He would try dozens of the same effect to find the few that sounded good to him.

Finally, a few words about capacitors.  Capacitors can be used for several purposes, but one of them is to shape the tone of a signal by doing something related to the frequency of the signal.  They are commonly used to stop or reduce the passage of a certain frequency range, while allowing other frequencies to pass through.  The frequencies impacted are determined by the capacitance value of the capacitor.  Capacitors in effects have fixed values - they cannot be adjusted.  This is not true of resistors.  Resistors do have a fixed resistance value, but a potentiometer, or "pot" is a variable resistor.  Most adjustable knobs on effects are attached to pots, and turning the knob adjusts the resistance of the pot.  When you add a pot to a capacitor, you can create an adjustable "filter", that allows an adjustable range of frequencies to pass through the filter.  Many Tone controls are built with a pot and a capacitor.  It is also very common to have a fixed resistor/fixed capacitor filter at various places in a circuit to control which frequencies are affected by that portion of the circuit.  Changing the value of the capacitor changes the range of the filter.  Changing the resistor value also changes the range of the filter, but if you already have a pot instead of a fixed resistor, then changing the capacitor may have more effect than changing the range of the pot.

Another very common use for capacitors is for connecting the sequential stages of an effect circuit.  A "stage" is just a section of a circuit that has a specific purpose in that circuit, such as adjust the gain, provide tone controls, add a volume control, add clipping distortion, add a modulation effect, etc.  The stages are often linked together with capacitors for various technical reasons, one of which is to control the frequencies that leave one stage and enter the next.  Capacitors serving in this role are called "coupling capacitors".  Coupling capacitor values are often chosen to reduce the amount of bass going from one stage to the next in an effect circuit, often to prevent flabby, muddy tone, or at least to focus the effect on higher frequencies.

Changing the value of a capacitor is usually one of the most direct and impactful ways to shape the tone of an audio signal.  Such a choice is a purposeful design decision and the impact to the signal can be calculated in advance.  Swapping other components might also have an impact like that, but capacitors are special in that regard.  Swapping other components may also have some impact on tone, but oftentimes that is a more theoretical impact than one you can hear.  If you are doing mods geared toward frequency response, spend your money first on changing values of key capacitors before more random, hopeful changes like changing to a different kind of part, for example switching from carbon film to metal film resistors.  There are times when changing part types can help, but those changes may not give you much bang for the buck.

Now, let’s get back to the topic of getting effects to work with bass.

Don’t Forget to Google

We can start with the obvious – Google is your buddy, sorta.  There is a boatload of information available on the internet for those that have time to slog through all the opinion and misinformation that is often mixed in with it.  With a little patience and some practice with searching, you can often find enough info to get you headed in the right direction, especially if you are trying to nail down a tone used by a particular player.  It’s always worth doing this, even if you don’t plan to specifically nail someone else’s tone.  Once in a while you’ll stumble across a few nuggets of insight that can be truly helpful.  Of course, you always compliment other players when you hear their great tone and take some time to talk to them about it, right…?  There’s no need to Google when you can get information first-hand.  Keep in mind that the experience of others doesn’t have to lead to duplication – it can lead to enlightenment that will start you down your own path of discovery.

Don’t Miss the Big Picture

Before you try something new, it’s always a good plan to be clear about why you are doing it.  Why are you looking for bass effects?  Do you just need to add some interest to a particular song or two?  Are you trying to completely change your bass tone to better fit your music or genre?  Are you trying to fill a gap in your band’s sound?  Are you and your bandmates trying to change your overall sound?  Depending on your purpose, there may be a couple of other options to explore or add into your final solution.

One approach that you may be able to take sometimes is simply to not go so low on bass.  You may have some opportunity to avoid the very lowest frequencies, or to get more harmonic content (highs) in your playing, making your basic tone more effect-friendly.  Perhaps you can only do that in a certain place in a song, hitting an effect for just that part.  Or perhaps changing pickups or playing style will help.  Another off-the-wall option would be to add a rhythm guitar to double or carry some parts and put the effects on the rhythm guitar.  That guitar would be an octave higher than bass and much less troubled by muddiness with good effect selections.  Of course, that may mean changes to personnel, music, composition, etc, some or all of which may be non-starters.  These probably aren’t the type of solution you’re looking for, but you don’t want to get caught up in solving the wrong problem.

Avoiding a Problem vs Fixing a Problem

Before we dive into the remainder of the discussion, let’s get one thing clear so we can keep it in mind as we continue.  We aren’t going to alter the laws of physics and we aren’t going to change how people hear sound.  There are no magic diodes for bass.  We can’t alter the underlying facts or the space-time continuum when an effect is turning your bass tone into mush.  In the end, we’re going to be talking about different ways of avoiding a problem rather than fixing it.  

Sometimes it’s a little difficult to tell the difference between fixing and avoiding.  For example, you might be holding a guitar pedal in your hand that makes your bass sound like that strangled duck.  Someone might be able to do something to that pedal to make it sound better.  We might be “fixing” that pedal, but we aren’t really fixing the underlying problem.  We are changing something to avoid the cause of the problem, or avoid enough of the problem that we can live with the rest of it.  Sorry, no magic bullets or unicorns or fairy dust are to be found below or in the Options section of our module pages.  But that doesn’t mean there’s no solution.  It’s just a comment on the nature of the available solutions.  Now, let’s get to it.

Easy Things First

First, some effects tend to work fine with bass.  

Equalizers.  Equalizer, or EQ, effects are designed specifically to work with a wide frequency range, typically the entire audible range of 20Hz – 20,000Hz.  As you look at EQs, make sure you get one that has multiple bands in the 20 – 250Hz range.  That’s where your root notes live, and it is good to have control in this range.  Many EQs have a version designed specifically for bass for that reason.  

How many bands are necessary to give you enough control?  There’s no definite answer to that, since it depends on how much control you want or need.  For live performance, a 7-band equalizer is likely to be sufficient to give you some general tone shaping control.  It will probably have about 3 bands in the range of 250Hz and below.  If you are more particular or you are using other effects that are more particular about the bass, then perhaps a 16-band rack equalizer will be needed.  That would typically give you around 6 bands of control from 20 to 250Hz.  A 32-band equalizer will probably give you around 12 bands of control in the 20 – 250Hz range.  That should be sufficient even for doing studio work in many cases, although studios often have equalizers with even more bands than that.  The good news is that you can get 7-band, 16-band, and 32-band equalizers at reasonable cost, even stereo versions.  That’s pretty good bang for the buck.

Stereo equalizers provide a configuration option you may find useful.  You can run your signal into one channel, reducing your bass, then send that signal into effects that wouldn’t sound good with that much bass.  Then as your signal comes out of the effects, you can run it through the second channel of the equalizer and boost the bass back up.  This trick may not always work the way you’d like, but it is worth having available.

Don’t forget, an EQ can do more than just shape the frequencies in your tone.  They usually allow you to substantially boost your volume in each band separately, or all together with a master Volume control.  That boost can be enough to start distorting the signal directly in the EQ, or boost something downstream into distortion.  EQs will generally tell you some number of decibels (dB) they can cut/boost – the more the hairier.  You can also steal some studio tricks for using an EQ to prevent bass from sounding bad through effects.  We cover this in more detail near the end.

When picking an EQ, you typically want to look for one that is transparent, not changing your tone when it is off or when it is on and set flat.  Put all the sliders in the center position, where they should not be adding or boosting their range.  Then switch the EQ in and out of your signal path.  You typically wouldn’t want to hear any difference.  However, EQs have a lot of parts in them, so some tone coloring may be present, often adding a bit of warmth to the tone which you may find pleasing.

Buffers.  Buffers are also designed to work well with all frequencies.  True, a buffer may not sound all that exciting.  In fact, you may not hear what it does at all, or possibly even need one.  We all know you lose treble content when you run long cables.  That doesn’t seem like it would be a problem for bass, but it might be.  You may be surprised at how high your harmonics go.  The presence, clarity, definition, and pop of your bass tone are definitely living in the ranges well above your root notes.  If you’ve been missing highs or your sounds is a little lackluster, a buffer may give you back what you’ve been missing, resulting in a punchier, more lively response.

Compressors.  Compressors tend to work well with bass.  In fact, many bass amps have them built-in.  If you need to smooth out your playing level, a compressor can help.  They minimize the volume difference between your loudest and quietest notes.  Of course, they are meant to change up your sustain, attack, and playing dynamics, too.  Pick a design offering a level of control appropriate to your needs.

Reverb and Delay.  Reverbs and delays may work OK.  Bass sounds don’t normally echo or reverberate the way midrange and treble do.  This is a natural phenomenon.  Bass gets absorbed by walls and other obstacles – you know that because you can feel bass as your body absorbs it.  And our ears can't really pick up where bass sound is coming from like they do with higher frequency sounds.  As a result, most reverbs should work OK with bass, but the effect may not be as clear or strong as it is with guitar unless you have good amounts of harmonics and mids in your tone.  Delays are meant to repeat the input signal, but they may have some frequency filtering built in to decrease noise or muddiness.  Both types of effects usually have a Mix control, so you should be able to retain the bass in your original notes, but echoes may be attenuated.  You’ll probably want to use low levels of these effects, as echoes can quickly turn a punchy bass line to a muddy, mushy, mess.

Other Bass Effects.  There are also effects that are designed specifically for bass.  There aren’t many of them, as they are subject to the same rules of physics and perception as all the others and run the same risks of muddiness.  These aren’t just “bass versions” of a guitar pedal, or lightly modified guitar pedals.  They truly are bass-specific.  They may sound just as bad for a guitar, as guitar effects generally sound for bass.  Some of them sacrifice the guitar range of frequencies to try to make the bass frequencies clear, but are more likely trimming bass levels to reduce flabbiness.  In this category, you can find a boosts, modulation, and overdrive pedals.  As you try these effects, listen carefully to make sure that they aren’t trimming out your lows too much to prevent the flabbiness.  And just as important, listen for signs of trimmed harmonics and mids – less note clarity, presence, and pop.  You don’t need to avoid pedals that trim your highs and lows, but make sure you listen carefully so you can detect any trade-offs that may have been made.  Sometimes the effect level is reduced to avoid flabbiness, so you might end up with a more subtle effect.

It’s Not Just a Bass Problem

Not all guitar effects sound good with guitar all the time, particularly when you get into the lower notes on the E and A strings.  In that part of the fretboard, guitars produce notes down in that bass “danger zone” around 80-150Hz.  Knowing that isn’t really helpful in itself for our purposes here, but that knowledge gets us on a path to discuss some things that are more helpful to know.

What do effects designers do to prevent low frequency problems for guitar?  There are a number of approaches, including:

  •  Do nothing – allow it to happen and potentially sound flabby with bass
  •  Filter out or reduce lows at the input to the circuit
  •  Filter out or reduce lows at problem points in the effect circuit
  •  Reduce low frequencies as you increase the effect level
  •  Filter out or reduce the lows, but try to boost them back up at the end
  •  Make “room” for the lows by cutting mids
  • Combinations of these approaches

As you can see, you may have two reasons why a guitar pedal doesn’t sound good with bass.  One is what we’ve already discussed, that problem of physics and sound perception.  The second problem is that to try to avoid or reduce the first problem, many circuits chop out a chunk of the bass.

Bass Friendly

Sometimes you’ll see an effect described as “bass friendly”.  What does that really mean?  The answer depends on the specific effect.  In some cases, it may mean that the “bass problem” isn’t as acute in the circuit.  While the design may not include anything specifically meant to reduce the problem, for some reason or another it just doesn’t exhibit the bad symptoms as much as other effects, or there is some range of settings that sound OK.  Of course, “sounds OK” is very subjective and only you can make that determination.  These effects are worth trying out.  You’ll find some overdrive, distortion, and fuzz pedals among others in this category.

There’s another category of “bass friendly” effects.  These are guitar pedals that typically include some form of bass cut in their designs, which are then modified by the manufacturer or a third party to remove or reduce the bass cut in an actual pedal.  As you might guess, the results of this approach can vary widely depending on a number of factors related to the original circuit design and the modifications to it.  Simply letting more bass into the circuit may accentuate the flabbiness problem that such a bass cut was designed to prevent.  Or perhaps the mod includes other changes to the circuit to help manage it.  Most of these mods are done by third parties.  That means you pay for a pedal and then pay for a mod, too.  That can quickly add up.  You may not be able to try a modded pedal, so see if you can find online reviews that might be helpful in deciding whether it’s worth the extra cost.

Effect Mods for Bass

Everyone has seen offers from various third parties to make modifications to effects for a variety of purposes – making them bass friendly is one of those purposes.  Mods by their very nature can lead to in-depth technical discussions that include a bit of math to really be useful.  But we said we aren’t going into that level of detail here.  However, we can talk about these mods and give you an idea of what they are in a manner that might help you decide if you want to try a particular mod.

Most companies don’t offer bass friendly versions of all their effects, but third parties can make those tweaks for you.  Since you’re still using the same board, the tweaks are limited to what can be reasonably done with the board and the space available.  Usually, the values of some capacitors will be changed to better control the amount of bass present at various points in the circuit.  Some components may be swapped for “better” ones of a different type.  That can help, but usually you won’t hear a lot of difference just from changing component types.  It is the component value changes that usually have a bigger impact in most mods.  Typically those capacitors changed will be coupling or filter capacitors.

There are mods that add or remove parts and even controls.  Those mods also generally have a bigger impact.  They may also be more complex, changing the overall design and function of a circuit as opposed to just tweaking some component values.  “Switched” mods are in this category.  Switched mods let you turn the mod on or switch it off to return the effect to its original tone.  That can be nice value-add when you later want to sell the effect.  Instead of being permanently changed, it has a new option added.  Other mods that add controls often focus on the tone stack, either changing its operating range or giving you additional controls.  A simple Tone control might be changed to separate Bass and Treble controls to give you better options for shaping the bass and non-bass portions of your signal.  New controls can be great, but you don’t want to get carried away.  The more controls you have, the harder it becomes to find the right settings, as many of those controls interact with each other.

Some mods have an impact on other aspects of the effect.  For example, the level of gain available may become more or less, the range of the Tone control(s) may be different, or the “nature” of the effect may be a bit different or may change as you adjust certain controls, such as Gain or Drive.  Output volume levels may change.  These aren’t always bad, and may be necessary to get a better result.  The point is that if you like a pedal and want it modded for bass, it may not sound like a “more bass” version of the same pedal.  It could sound or behave a bit differently.

The mods so far discussed often focus on changing key capacitors that affect how much bass flows through different parts of the circuit, or even into and through the entire circuit.  While capacitor values probably have the largest direct impact and are often among the easier mods, they aren’t everything.  Some effects use diodes to intentionally clip the signal to produce distortion or fuzz for instance.  You can often get a considerable change of tone by changing to different clipping diodes or a different clipping diode configuration.  If an effect uses germanium clipping diodes, they tend to lose volume and be on the dark side.  Changing to silicon or LED clipping diodes can yield more volume and brightness.  LEDs in particular often impart a nice “crunchy” character to the clipping.  Changing up the clipping diodes or config isn’t difficult in concept, but there’s a tiny bit of math and other considerations that might come into play.  A good mod service should be able to help you with that and make recommendations.  It may or may not be feasible to make those changes on a particular board.  Definitely worth checking into, though, if you are considering a mod.

Most effects use either transistors or chips called “op amps” to perform a variety of electrical functions that produce the effect.  These may or may not be easily changed as part of a mod service.  We won’t go into the details of one transistor or op amp vs another here, but suffice it to say that there may be some benefit to trying different ones.  When it comes to transistors, you’ll likely get the more noticeable changes if you switch between germanium and silicon, as opposed to switching from one silicon to another silicon.  It’s mostly true that there are many possible substitutes available, but technical considerations may come into play and limit your practical options.  You may not be affecting only bass when you make those changes.  It’s best to consult with your mod service to see what they might recommend or what outcomes they may have experience with.

Swapping op amps may also be a possibility.  Like transistors and other components, they can respond differently to different frequencies or otherwise color the tone, generally in small amounts.  Some are “warmer” or more “hi fi” or transparent or otherwise distinct from others.  You’ll almost certainly be limited to choices that are pin-compatible with the ones in your circuit.  Again, your mod service may be able to help you with selections.

Regardless of what the mod is, or how it works, make sure it makes sense for you.  Probably you already have the effect or have tried it, and that’s why you are considering a mod.  Try to identify specifically what needs to be changed, or why you want a change.  Then think about whether the mod is designed to fix that problem.  For example, if the original effect sounds a bit loose and flabby, a mod to let in more bass could just make that worse.  But if the original pedal sounds pretty good, but a bit too thin, then a mod to let in more bass might be worth trying.  A mod that lets you control how much more bass comes in might be even better.  Your mod service can probably help determine if a specific mod will work for you.  But they won’t know the details of what type of music you play, how you play it, what other gear you use, etc.  Whether the mod makes your tone better or worse, or even has an audible impact, can only really be determined when you try it in your setup and hear it with your ears.

Beyond Effect Modifications

For the most part, bass players have had to live with the options discussed above.  Find one of the effects that don’t cause problems, find a “bass friendly” effect that may work, or get an effect modded to make it work better for bass in some manner.  Remember, we’re still just talking about problem avoidance in some form or another.  Our last few tips are very similar to each other, but represent a different way of avoiding problems without the need for a soldering iron.

Borrow Some Studio Tricks

Try some studio mix tricks with your live sound.  To do this, you’ll have to experiment a bit, and you need a graphic equalizer with lots of bands, but it is definitely interesting to try.  Most pedal EQs only have 6-8 bands, so you may need a 15 or 31 band equalizer for these experiments.  A stereo one is best, since you need two EQs for the final experiment.  But even if you only have a 6-8 band EQ for bass, you can still give these a try, perhaps with limited results.

First, remember that most people start losing the ability to hear bass somewhere down around 20-40Hz.  They can feel it, yes, but hear it, probably not.  The good grooving low end stuff is going on somewhere around 40 – 100Hz, give or take a bit.  The range between 100-250Hz is where you can really start having problems with muddiness.  Above 250Hz is mostly harmonics, multiples of the actual notes you play.  Try chopping everything out below 40Hz, go flat from 40 to around 100Hz or so, throw in a reduction for 100-250Hz, run the result through your effect and see how it sounds.  You’ll probably still have some muddiness, but probably not as much as with your whole signal range.  Try adjusting those 3 ranges until you find your happy spot.  If it ends up a little thin, give it a slight boost in the 40-100Hz range, but not so much it gets muddy.  If it still ends up a little thin, then boost the harmonics a bit around 200, 300, 400, etc – not the whole range above 100Hz, just narrow bands around the multiples.  You might find that even or odd harmonics sound best to you, so also try boosting only 200, 400, 600, etc or 300, 500, 700, etc.  If you want to add a little polish and note definition, try a little boosting in the 600-900Hz range.  And for a little more presence and pop, give it a little more juice from about 1000-4000Hz.  Again, you can shift it around a bit to find the sweet spots.  Maybe instead of boosting harmonics based on 100Hz, you boost based on the frequency of the root note of your key.  So if you are playing in A, try boosting multiples of 55Hz instead. Some of this won't be practical unless you have an EQ with a lot more than 31 bands, but you may know someone with a studio equalizer that has enough bands.  Studio guys cut and boost certain frequencies because they usually want to post-process the bass signal, and those frequencies below 40Hz and around 100-250Hz tend to muddy up their effects just like they do guitar pedals.  All the harmonics, mids, and highs you boost usually sound good through effects, after all that’s the guitar range where you know they sound OK.

While we're EQing, let's not forget one annoying fact.  US-style power is 60Hz AC.  One of the side effects is that you may get power noise, or hum, coming in around 60Hz and multiples of 60Hz.  You may be able to cut that noise if your EQ has a band around 60Hz.  Of course, that'll also cut notes around 60Hz (and multiple of 60Hz), probably A# and B notes more than others.

Run Wet and Dry

One trick is something you can probably try for yourself with gear you have or can easily borrow for a few minutes.  Run your bass into the Y of an ABY splitter.  Take the A output and run it to the A input of a second ABY splitter.  Take the B output and run it into some effect.  Take the output of the effect and run it into the B input of the second ABY splitter.  Then run the Y output of the second ABY to your amp.  Set both ABY units so that the signal is going to/coming from both the A and B connections.  You now have a dry version of your signal going through the A connections, and a wet version of your signal going through the B connections and effect, with everything put back together and sent on to your amp.  This lets you experiment with mixing in some effect, but not losing all your signal in the process.  Most effects have an Output or Volume that will let you use that as a mixer to try mixing different levels of wet and dry signal.  Many effects also let you adjust the intensity of the effect.  That might be a Gain or Distortion control for an overdrive or distortion, or Fuzz, Depth, or something similar for other types of effects.

There are some variations you can try with the setup above.  If you have a Mixer pedal, then you can use that to join the wet and dry paths and their relative levels.  Or you could run the outputs to separate amps.  Whatever, you get the idea.  In this method, you may still have the effect doing some unpleasant stuff with your signal, but you can control how prominent this becomes in the final mix.  There may be mix levels for some effects that will give you good results.

If It Hurts, Don’t Do It

The final possibility we’ll discuss is also something you might be able to try for yourself, too.  We offer this basic solution as our Mudslinger module, although in our module we add some extra niceties to make a better overall solution.  We’ll discuss it here as if you are going to piece this together yourself, but our Mudslinger does all this for you.  Check it out here: Mudslinger

OK.  Plug your bass into the Y of an ABY.  Now run the A and B outputs to the inputs of two graphic equalizers designed for bass.  On the A path set the EQ so that nothing above say 200Hz goes through.  In other words cut everything above the bottom couple of bands on your eq.  Set those two bands to midpoint/flat.  This is the “low” path.  Do the opposite with the B EQ, to cut all the signal in those same couple of bands and set all the remaining bands to midpoint.  That makes B the “high” path.  The “A” path will now be carrying most of your low bass and the “B” path will be carrying your higher notes and harmonics.  Run the high path (from the B EQ) into your effect.  Run the output of that effect into the B input of a mixer pedal.  Run the low path (from the A EQ) into the A input of the mixer pedal.  Run the mixer output to your amp.

You can probably already see the advantages here.  First, you aren’t sending the low notes through the effect to be muddied up, thus avoiding that problem.  Second, your low notes are going straight out in the mix so you don’t lose your lows or your beat.  The mixer lets you adjust the ratio between the two.  And you can do whatever you like with the effect.  You can even pick another band on the equalizer to divide the signal and figure out where it sounds best for that effect.  Or you could let one band go to both paths, but still divide the other bands between the two paths to give some additional blending between the wet and dry signal.  You can obviously vary the details of this setup to try additional chain configurations.  The key is splitting the signal paths to low/dry and hi/wet.

We think this last approach provides the best overall solution, by preventing the problem.  You can obviously run a whole chain of different effects on the wet path, using them much like your guitar-playing buddies.  Piecing it together isn’t difficult, but it does add some complexity and cost to your setup.  Other than that, there is only one other downside you may experience.  Most of your signal is probably going to be in that low/dry path.  Harmonics and hi content will typically be considerably less.  That means your effect/wet signal won’t have the full power of your playing behind it.  It can make the effect much more subtle.  So try to push as much lo signal into the effect path as you can without getting messy.  You could also boost the wet path to remove subtlety, but that won’t likely make it sound fuller.  You can use the EQ to boost them, or use a boost effect, on either the wet or dry path.

That’s It!

So that’s what we have.  We admit it, we’re cheating and not really fixing anything.  We’re just trying to avoid the problems or minimize them.  The results are for you to judge.  Hopefully there are some ideas in there that will help you tweak up your bass tone.  See ya at the Grammies!

GT Bass Effects

Of course, we have to conclude with a little self-promotion.  We offer modules that work great for bass, are bass friendly, can be modded to be bass friendly, or provide the wet/dry path solutions described just above.  Note that “mods” for us are “customizations”.  We support the mods in our designs and on our boards.  We don’t actually modify anything, we just customize the build so that the modifications are built-in from the beginning.  We’ve recently gone back through our modules and noted them as “bass effects” if they are in any of those categories.  Just search for “bass effects” at our site and you should find them.  Or if you know of some third party pedal that you want to try with bass, look in our Compares To page to see if we offer a module that compares to it.