For my bassist friends out there that keep everything in check, I would always have nothing but respect. After many years of playing the guitar when I switched to bass, it was just a whole new world out there. Very new and extremely fun, despite playing in bands alongside a bassist, I realized that I didn’t know anything about playing the bass, well except plucking the strings and fretting them.
But it is just so much more than that, while the bass stays in the background, it has started becoming more a front player, especially in the last two decades, and it has always been the anchor of a band’s sound. Look at Flea of the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Robert Trujillo of Metallica, and one of the newcomers Joe Dart of the Vulfpeck, they have all taken the bass to another dimension.
However, I discovered that even playing the bass requires some kind of assistance from different equipment, such as pedals. One of the most widely used and most popular pedals for bassists are overdrive pedals, which definitely promise to take your sound to another level, a little distortion never hurt anybody. While it may sound a little counterintuitive, I think that it is definitely a great tool to explore some new tones and add some excitement to your playing. Today we are going to take a look at the best bass distortion pedals handpicked by me, some tips that will help you decide which one to choose and so much more. Without further ado, let’s take a closer look.
Which Are The Best Bass Distortion Pedals?
5. MXR M85 Bass Distortion
We are going to start our list of the best bass distortion pedals with a super capable tool: the MXR M85 Bass Distortion. This bass distortion pedal might be a little expensive, however, if you can afford it is one of the best additions to your lineup.
The MXR M85 Bass Distortion looks really plain and minimalist, to be honest with its dark brown metal body that is sturdy as hell and can take a few years of heavy touring before giving up. I should mention that the MXR M85 Bass Distortion was released first 40 years ago and the quality is as expected marvelous.
The controls of the MXR M85 Bass Distortion may look pretty simple but they deliver a lot including dry and wet knobs and on top of that the tone and distortion knobs which allow you to get the most out of the package. Definitely a great package, but a little expensive for what it offers.
4. Electro-Harmonix Bass Soul Food
Moving on with our list we have the Electro-Harmonix Bass Soul Food which is one of the most balanced bass distortion pedals in the market delivering a powerful performance. If you want to get a versatile yet powerful presence on stage from your pedal look no further this is it.
The Electro-Harmonix Bass Soul Food definitely has the trademark looks of other Electro-Harmonix pedals with their normal size and graphics on its body, which makes them extremely attractive. I should state that the Electro-Harmonix Bass Soul Food is extremely durable as well and it will take plenty of abuse before giving up.
In terms of controls, this beast has plenty of options there for you including the four knobs which consist of volume, drive, blend, and treble, of which the latter acts as a tone knob delivering a great presence.
3. Boss ODB-3
Let’s be honest it wouldn’t have been a guitar effects pedal list without an entry from Boss. This time around we are checking the Boss ODB-3 which is one of the best distortion pedals despite writing overdrive on its label. Great durability and superb value for the price.
If you have seen a Boss pedal before you will instantly recognize this one as it has the classic Boss casing that has been present for a long time now. It has a bright yellow finish that combines pretty good with black and it is one of the most durable ones in the market, it has been tested and tried for a long time by professionals and it has always proved itself.
In terms of controls, it has four knobs that include, level, the two-band dual-purpose EQ knob, balance and gain knob which deliver you perfect control over your tones. The distortion signal came out great as a whole without any error definitely a beast overall.
2. Way Huge Green Rhino Mini MKIV
The runner up in this list is no other than the Way Huge Green Rhino Mini MKIV. This bass distortion pedal comes as a true Way Huge effect pedal delivering the best balance between performance, tones, versatility and price in the same compact size that it always comes at, definitely marvelous.
When you take a look at the Way Huge Green Rhino Mini MKIV you wouldn’t notice anything different from its bigger sibling except its size which is obvious. It has a pretty durable metal chassis that is capable of handling plenty of abuse. The Way Huge Green Rhino Mini MKIV comes with a green brushed aluminum finish that is attractive.
In terms of controls the Way Huge Green, Rhino Mini MKIV is pretty rich coming in with three main knobs which are volume, drive and tone, and the two smaller knobs which are marked 100Hz and 500Hz and are capable of adding a more interesting tone to your sound. It will definitely work perfectly with all your bass guitars and it is definitely great overall.
1. Electro-Harmonix Bass Big Muff
On top of our list, we have the definite best distortion pedal for bass guitars, the Electro-Harmonix Bass Big Muff. This pedal has been around for a long time however, it is still the best without a doubt delivering a simple yet powerful performance in every aspect. Superior value for the price, Electro-Harmonix has done it again.
In terms of style and substance, the Electro-Harmonix Bass Big Muff is pretty much excellent coming in with a beautiful style that will make everyone happy. It is a simple stomp-box with a gray and green paint job that is pretty durable and will take plenty of beating while on tour and in your practice sessions. It has one input and two output plugs, one for dry and on for effect.
The controls of this pedal are pretty simple and intuitive coming in with just three knobs, a switch, and a bypass footswitch. The Electro-Harmonix Bass Big Muff doesn’t have EQ settings at all, it has volume, tone and sustains knobs which do a pretty good job and with the tone knob you can adjust the EQ perfectly and the switch lets you swap between bass boost and dry modes. Superb distortion, the Electro-Harmonix Bass Big Muff definitely delivers excellence. Definitely one of the best bass distortion pedals out there.
Distortion Bass Pedal Buying Guide (Things You Should Know)
Is Distortion Suitable for Bass Guitars?
I can definitely say that, yes! Distortion goes very well with bass, and surprisingly to the mos of you bass guitars can handle most of the effects out there, which you might have thought that they are just good enough for electric guitars.
However, it will also depend on the type of music you are playing, the genre and your playing style. Distortion is associated with hard rock and heavy metal genres most of the time, however, you shouldn’t limit yourself to just that as you can utilize distortion and other effects to create something super exciting, apart from heavy metal and hard rock that is.
You should know though, if you are playing bass with distortion effect, it can be slightly overpowering and sometimes even dominating in the mix. It requires a bit of experimentation and it can work perfectly in some situations and not so well in some, like with every effect out there.
Can I Use Electric Guitar Distortion Pedal with a Bass Guitar?
This is a very popular issue with most bassists out there that have electric guitars in their arsenal as well, and have some pedals lying around. I have to say that it depends on the pedal you are planning to use.
While some electric guitar pedals work wonders with bass guitar there are some that won’t do justice and will sound plain wrong. This is because bass guitars have a different frequency range compared to electric guitars.
Bass guitars have lower frequency ranges and electric guitars reach into the higher end most of the time, but there are brands that have channels for both electric and bass guitars. However, just to be safe it is better to buy a bass specific distortion pedal to have the best outcome possible.
What to Look Out for In a Good Bass Guitar Distortion Pedal?
While there might be an endless list of criteria when it comes to choosing a good distortion pedal for bass guitar, I should say that most of the time there are two things that you should be careful about.
First of all, you should check out if the distortion pedal you are considering buying covers bass frequency ranges, and it is a make or break, it is definitely essential.
The second thing you should look out for is the blend knob. This is also essential when it comes to distortion bass pedals as it will allow you to dial in the tone you want to achieve.
After these two you should also check out what tonal shaping controls you have in the pedal, a full three-band EQ is optimal but having some sort of tone-shaping controls is important.
What is the Optimal Distortion for Bass?
There is no exact answer to this question, and most of us including me, once they get a distortion pedal set it to the max and play along with it. However, to get better results in band settings and deliver a good mix you should consider your brand, style of play, genre and the song you are playing. For example, if you are fronting the band and the song is bass focused, yes you can let it loose and rock on.
Most of the time though that is not the case, and the bassist has a more supportive role than a lead role. For that reason, you should be reasonable with your distortion, and pumping the gain will most likely result in you getting lost in the mix, and the whole thing will sound bland.
Let’s be clear here, in most hard rock and metal bands there is at least one distorted guitar playing out there, rhythm or lead it doesn’t matter, which are already pumped with gain, and if you do the same the results will be extremely disappointing.
To get around this you can try opting for two amps, by running one raw signal and one distorted signal on a separate line, however, this might be a little expensive and not viable. To get around this you can use the blend knob and figure where your dry and wet signals are in balance so you can get the best possible outcome for your needs.
Passive or Active Electronics
One of the biggest dilemmas bassists face when they are playing with distortion is the passive and active pickup issue. Some bassists are concerned that the bass can get pretty hot however, most of the time this isn’t really an issue at all. If something happens and the output is hot, most of the time you are forcing the signal and you can easily correct that by bringing the levels down to easily resolve the issue.
That was for active pickups, but what about passive pickups. There can’t be any problem with hot output no matter what, and you can comfortably experiment to find the setup that will fit your needs. It is also pretty much the only way to learn more about your bass guitar, pickups and the pedals you are using. Experiment workaround and see what it offers, you will definitely find a sweet spot, and if things get heavy and hot in the low ranges keep the gain lower to give it a balance.
Similar Pedals You Can Take A Look At
Like I said, in the beginning, I have been always skeptical about bass guitars and distortion pedals used in the same setting, however, after a bit of trial and error I saw that results can be magical. I hope that I have informed you about bass distortion pedals and now you can go on and buy yourself the best distortion pedal for bass guitar. Don’t forget to check out the top picks which are the best options in the market. Until next time!