Bass guitars are the foundation of any great band. They help to fill out the low end frequency space between the drums and the guitars or keys.
Some bassists, however, act as a far more integral part of the band. Think about bassists like Flea or Thundercat, each of whom hold down the fort with their bass playing.
For bassists who are looking for that extra spice in their playing, a distortion pedal is the perfect place to start. Unfortunately, distortion can go very wrong if not applied properly on the bass guitar.
We’re going to be discussing some of the necessary things to look for when purchasing a bass distortion pedal, as well as some of the best bass distortion pedals out there, so that you can spice up your bass tone with absolute confidence.
Top 5 Bass Distortion Pedals
|# of Controls||5||5||4||3||4|
|Best Dist Type||Heavy Distortion||Softer Overdrive||Overdrive||Heavy Distortion||Nasty Fuzz|
|Dimensions (inches)||5.5 x 4.4 x 2.5||10 x 2 x 6||5.9 x 3.7 x 2.5||4.8 x 4.5 x 3.3||2.76 x 2.13 x 4.84|
MXR M85 Bass Distortion
Are you looking for an incredibly powerful distortion that’ll give you righteous tone? The MXR M85 gives you serious options for sound. Unfortunately, many overdrive and distortion pedals ruin the bottom end, destroying the tone and punch of your bass. The MXR M85 works a little differently.
You can push the distortion knob just a little bit to get an overdriven sound. You can then adjust the tone, dry, and wet, to dial in the perfect sonic texture.
The cool thing about the tone is that it only affects the wet part of the signal, meaning you can reduce the top end or boost the bottom without affecting your smooth, lower end.
The switch in the middle lets you toggle between SIL and LED, giving you the option to move between aggressive and compressed distortion and soft-clipped distortion.
When you really dial the tone in hard, you can push this thing to its limits, giving you a nasty, over-the-top distortion. Beyond that, it’s the perfect size for those looking to save some real estate.
Bottom Line: If you’re looking for a portable pedal with powerful sounds that work in a wide range of tones, the MXR M85 is one of the best around.
While Electro Harmonix is most known for their big muff fuzz pedal, their Bass Soul Food pedal is just as special.
It’s a pure bass drive pedal that gives you a wide array of tones, acting both like a clean boost or a driven tube amp, depending on what sound you are going for.
There are four different controls on the interface that allow you to dial in those sounds. The drive gives you the option to choose between cleaner and punchier tones, though you can also heavily distort your sound if it’s turned all the way up.
The blend control gives you the option to mix both your clean and distorted sounds, coloring your overall tone nicely.
The treble control gives you the option to boost or attenuate high frequencies and the volume control, well, is pretty self-explanatory.
Lastly, there is a small toggle switch so that you can better control certain bass guitars that have higher output levels. All of those controls are built into the small metal casing that is tough and tour-friendly.
Bottom Line: The Electro-Harmonix Bass Soul Food is one of the best bass overdrive pedals around. It gives you softer edges, perfect for those who are just trying to mix in a little grit to their clean bass tone.
In every good pedal lineup, there is usually a Boss pedal. Boss have always provided both bassists and guitarists with high-quality, inexpensive pedals. The OPB-3 is an excellent example of that.
The pedal has strength and portability, making it perfect for bassists who are on the road. It’s incredibly straightforward and easy to use, giving you more of an overdrive-style distortion.
There are four controls on the interface of the pedal, including level, EQ, balance, and gain.
- The EQ gives you the ability to adjust the overall tone so that you don’t lose the low end when you start to really distort it.
- The balance acts like a wet/dry knob, allowing you to better dial in the correct mix.
It’s kind of crazy how wide of a range of distortion tones you can get out of this thing – retain some of your dry sound to allow for more clarity or push it really hard and trash the sound of your bass.
Bottom Line: Boss always does it right when it comes to affordable and easy-to-use effects pedals. The Boss ODB-3 is surprisingly versatile and perfect for any bassist who wants to take their distorted tones on the road, as it’s pretty much indestructible.
The Pro Co RAT2 was known as the king of distortion pedals for quite some time. Put it in the right hands, and you have a pedal that can provide insane rock sounds.
For those that are in the market for true, barking distortion, it’s a pedal that just can’t be matched. The attack hits hard, and the sustain settles in very nicely.
Though the pedal was originally made for the guitar, it has gained a major cult following of bassists everywhere. Keep that distortion at a low setting and scoop those mids and you’ll be on your way to a killer, distorted bass tone.
One of our favorite things about the RAT2 is the low-pass filter that can help you to attenuate those nasty, distorted high frequencies that can be unpleasant to the ears. All of this is wrapped up in a tank-like, metal casing that is perfect for taking on the road.
Plus, the knobs are large and labeled nicely, allowing you to play it in dimly lit venues with ease.
Bottom Line: The RAT2 provides some of the nastiest and most menacing distortion tones around. It’s an excellent pedal for hardcore enthusiasts who are in the market for that characteristically dirty distortion that can’t be found anywhere else.
Behringer Bass Overdrive BOD400
Best Budget Option
The Behringer Bass Overdrive BOD400 gives bassists a cheaper solution to the many expensive bass distortion pedals that are on the market. It gives you solid tones and a good amount of range while remaining incredibly inexpensive.
Seriously, it costs a fraction of half the pedals on our list. This is basically what Behringer does, so we’re not surprised in the least.
The controls are pretty simple to use. There is a two-band EQ, a level knob, a gain knob, and a balance knob.
While it doesn’t have any features that jump out as amazing, it does give you some really cool sounds. If you crank it all the way to the top, you can get a beautifully nasty fuzz.
In terms of the build, it is made out of plastic. The lightweight characteristic might be cool for some, though we wouldn’t deem it tour-worthy, as it isn’t very durable.
Bottom Line: If you’re looking to acquire a distortion pedal for your bass guitar while spending the least amount of money possible, the Behringer Bass Overdrive BOD400 should be at the top of your list. It’s very easy to use and can produce a wide variety of cool distortion tones.
What Makes a Good Bass Distortion Pedal?
The main reason that we differentiate guitar and bass distortion pedals is that they both work in different frequency ranges. Bass distortion pedals deal with low-end frequencies better while guitar distortion pedals deal with mids and highs better.
Plug a bass guitar into a guitar-specific unit, and you might find that it outputs a nasty, harsh tone, as it is unable to read those lower frequencies.
The more controls that your bass distortion pedal has, the more control you will have over your entire tone.
One of the most important knobs that we suggest having on your bass distortion pedal is a “blend” knob. Blend knobs allow you to mix in heavily distorted tones while retaining that smooth low end, perfect for getting the best of both worlds.
Plus, this is great if you are playing in a band with high-gain guitars and you need to cut through while holding down the bottom end.
Having tone shaping capabilities is also essential. Whether you want a multi-band EQ or some simple treble and bass knobs is up to you. The important thing is being able to shape the tone of your EQ depending on the bass guitar that you are using.
The pedal you get will depend on the tone that you are looking for. There are different kinds of distortion. You have regular distortion, fuzz, and overdrive. Let’s dive a little bit into detail so you can better understand the different types:
Overdrive pedals are a bit like distortion pedals, though they give you a warmer, solid-state amplifier type of sound. They give you the sound of a tube amp being driven very hard.
Overdrive pedals don’t compress as hard, giving you a far more dynamic sound like that you would get from a tube amp that was breaking up.
Distortion is a bit more aggressive than overdrive. Distortion can give you that serious rock tone and saturation if you’re looking to dig into some tone destruction.
Distortion pedals work by hard clipping your sound, giving you a heavily compressed tone with a bit more sustain. If you’re into metal, rock, or grunge, we recommend looking for a standard distortion pedal.
Fuzz is a monster of its own. A fuzz-style distortion pedal will clip your signal to the max, otherwise known as square wave-style clipping. Fuzz pedals give you a fully saturated, fuzzy tone by heavily processing your signal. It gives you an insane amount of sustain. Think Smashing Pumpkins or Ty Segall. It’s an unusual effect that gives you a solid, post-punk, grunge kind of tone.
The Low Down
We don’t often think of pairing heavy distortion and bass guitars, which is strange as it can be such a great pairing if done correctly. There are many hard rock, metal, grunge, and punk bands, that are 100% dependant on that distorted bass tone.
Though all of the bass distortion pedals listed above are great in their own right, we’d have to crown the MXR M85 Bass Distortion
Make sure to keep our list on hand when you decide to buy your new bass distortion pedal and get ready to add an entirely different dimension to your tone!
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