Greetings pedal stompers, we’re interrupting
our Stomp School Q&A this month to discuss
what I feel is a sorely neglected topic—Bass
Effects! It seems the entire realm of pedal
stomping is dominated almost exclusively by
guitarists. Meanwhile, bass players are left
going direct from instrument to amplifier.
What gives? It’s not for lack of support from
the industry, that’s for sure. In this day and
age, there are more sound-sculpting options
than ever for bassists of all styles. Yet, for
some reason, our bottom-end brothers have
been slow to respond. Some players may
allow themselves the indulgence of a rackmounted bass preamp, or something along
those lines. But the purpose is usually for
tone rather than effect. So why do the guitarists get to have all the fun? Doesn’t seem
fair, does it? Well, it doesn’t have to be that
way. I think it’s time for more bass players to
step out and start stompin’.
The downside of that solution is that it creates a signal chain that’s more complicated
than many players care to deal with. There
have been a handful of dirt pedals specifically
designed for bass that do allow the ability to
blend the clean signal with the fuzz. One of
the most famous and popular of these was
the vintage Maestro Bass Brassmaster, which
was used by players such as Chris Squire
Effects Pedals for Bass
add a great deal of sustain. If you happen to
play fretless bass, a little chorus and a touch
of reverb or delay will go a long way in adding ambience and dimension to your groove.
This sound has been popular since the late
seventies, almost to the point of being cliché,
but it is a great sound.
As I previously stated, there’s no shortage of
options available for any bassist willing to try.
The music manufacturing industry has laid
these, quite literally, at the feet of the electric
bass community. Many larger companies,
such as Boss/Roland, have gone as far as
creating entire lines of bass effects. Electro-Harmonix has recently added a number of
bass-oriented pedals to their catalog.
In all fairness, there are some practical reasons bass players haven’t generally been
too adventurous with effects, which have to
do with the role of the bass in most music.
The bass player in any given situation usually has a pretty strong obligation to hold
down the bottom end, in addition to staying within certain rhythmic parameters.
Meanwhile, guitarists are free to create
colors and textures with much less restriction. There’s also the fact that many guitar
effects just don’t sound all that good on
bass. Even so, there are plenty of ways bass
players can get their stomp on.
A modest little bass pedalboard example: Signal chain, from bass to
amp: vintage Musitronics Mu-Tron III, Analog Man Bi-CompRossor,
Electro-Harmonix Bassballs, Black Cat Bass Octave Fuzz, Electro-Harmonix Bass Micro Synth, Red Witch Empress Chorus, Tech 21
SansAmp Bass Driver DI. Pedalboard is Trailer Trash Limited Series in
Candy Blue; cables by George L. Photo by Tom Hughes.
and John Entwhistle. Unfortunately, the Bass
Brassmaster has been out of production for
nearly 35 years, and the going rate for an original example is now over $1000. The current
stomp scene is more abundant than ever, however, so there were bound to be remakes. The
Malekko B:ASSMASTER looks to be an exact
replica of the original. There’s also the Black
Cat Bass Octave Fuzz, a modern, updated
Bass Fuzz based on the original Brassmaster
design (Black Cat is currently undergoing
restructuring, and the newly revamped line will
be introduced in the next several weeks). The
circuit design of the Z.Vex Woolly Mammoth
generates sub-harmonic frequencies along
with the fuzz, which is another method of
compensating for bass loss.
Bass versions of guitar pedals, in fact, are
nothing new. The Electro-Harmonix Bass
Micro Synthesizer has been with us for over
30 years now. Bass overdrives, bass wahs,
and the like are fairly commonplace. These
often involve little more than changing the
value of a capacitor to lower the frequency
range of the effect… super simple, but surprisingly effective. An exception to this rule is
the Moogerfooger Bass MuRF, which incorporates a number of design changes that distinguish it from the regular MuRF.
Let’s start off by addressing one the oldest
bass effects dilemmas—bass fuzz. It’s a great
idea that has appealed to many bassists
since Paul McCartney first used it on “Think
for Yourself.” The trouble is, whenever you
play bass through an ordinary fuzz or distortion pedal, the bottom end tends to get
lost. This loss of low frequencies is a natural
consequence of employing any device that
causes signal clipping. The natural solution
is to blend some of the clean signal back in
with the fuzz or distortion to preserve the
bottom. Trouble is most of the dirt boxes
available don’t offer that option. A common
workaround for this is to split the signal,
sending one half to dirt and the other to
clean. By doing this, bass players can use
their fuzz of choice with the assurance that
the low end won’t disappear.
We’re just scratching the surface here, so this
is by no means a comprehensive picture of
bass pedal possibilities. We’re just waiting for
more players to fully embrace the idea. The
last frontier for bass players to explore would
be full-blown pedalboards filled with effects
made just for them.
We’ll see you back here next month. Until
then, keep on stompin’!
Okay, enough about dirt, let’s talk about what
else sounds good on bass. One favorite of
mine is an envelope-controlled filter. A great
example of this is Bootsy Collins’ use of the
Musitronics Mu-Tron III during his stint with
Parliament-Funkadelic. The Electro-Harmonix
Bassballs is another classic bass-friendly
stompbox. How about some compression?
You can use any good stompbox compressor
to even out the levels in your playing and
(a.k.a. Analog Tom) is the owner and proprietor of For
Musicians Only ( formusiciansonly.com) and author of
Analog Man’s Guide To Vintage Effects. Questions or
comments about this article can be sent to:
( analogman.com) is one of the largest boutique
effects manufacturers and retailers in the business,
established by “Analog” Mike Piera in 1993.
Mike can be reached at AnalogMike@aol.com.