What I love about playing bass is the role the instrument plays as the foundation and heartbeat of the music. I also love the simplicity of a bass plugged into an amp via a cable (never a cheap one!).
Purists would argue that you don’t need anything more than this but the modern bassist is often called upon to provide a wide range of different sounds. Why should guitarists have all the fun anyway??
It’s easy to spend way too many hours thinking about and researching the gear you need, not to mention spending way too much money on something you’ll never use (been there on both counts…).
I recently put together a board for live use and wanted to write this post to give you some ideas regarding making pedal-related decisions. I’ll show you my thought process so you can apply your own to your specific situation.
Do I need effects?
Possibly not. Finding a great bass tone takes enough time without adding more complications. It may be that all you need is a solid, fat bass tone and you change tones using your fingers, hand placement and techniques like slap, palm muting and using a plectrum. That’s what I’m into about 80-90% of the time I’m playing bass.
If that’s how you want to play too then great, you’ve just saved yourself a lot of time and money! If you fancy making music like Steve Lawson or Michael Manring (both solo bass players you should check out) then you’re going to need to make your bass sound like many different instruments, often at the same time – through the use of Ed Sheeran-style looping.
The biggest questions are:
“What do I really need?”
“What sounds am I hearing that I want to replicate”?
My thought process behind my bass pedalboard
I like a simple, light and compact setup for most of my gigs and I’m looking to emulate the classic effects that have been heard on the bass over the years. To go further I’m mostly in a background, traditional sideman role (so no jazz fusion solos, or Royal Blood type lead guitar lines). That immediately eliminates a lot of gear for me. Most of the time, I need a fat, low-end bass sound. Great pedals like the Digitech Bass Whammy and reverbs/delays won’t feature on this board (read on for an exception to this point!). I also want a board that is compact and ready to go with all the pedals neatly wired in. I don’t want to keep changing pedals around.
Here’s what I love:
- Jaco’s use of effects; especially chorus and fuzz.
- Neil Jason’s pedal use with the Brecker Brothers.
- Bootsy Collins’ funky envelope sounds.
- Stevie Wonder synth bass.
- Pino/Guy Pratt octave fills.
- Don’t Stop Believin’ type chorus.
- Marcus Miller slap tone.
- John Entwistle rock tone.
I’m not looking to copy any of this and these are just starting points. I also don’t want to cart around an SVT or take out a vintage Mutron on most gigs (come to think of it I don’t own either…yet – but if I did, I still wouldn’t want to).
So for my needs, I’m looking for:
- Compression – the one pedal you could argue every bass player could do with. Evens out the tone and fattens up the sound.
- Envelope filter – to bring the funk to the party.
- Octave pedal – A classic bass sound that you can do a few things with it.
- EQ pedal – for a number of uses including getting a great slap tone, dialing in a bass-heavy reggae tone or delivering more mids into an envelope filter.
- Chorus – 80s type lush chorus.
- Overdrive – to get slightly overdriven Ampeg SVT tube sounds all the way to a more saturated pure rock tone.
- Fuzz – for a more aggressive, in your face sound.
- Synth Pedal.
So my needs are pretty simple.
Read this section back and ask yourself what your requirements are.
I’m always worried about the loss of low end when a pedal is engaged. You should always have it in mind that you provide the low end and some pedals do cause some lows to drop out.
Is the sound right for the music? This is a big one: every time you step on a pedal make sure it is enhancing the overall musical picture and not just showing off your latest cool toy.
In fact, I’ve shied away from using effects for years as my experience was always slightly disappointing. This was mostly due to my pedalboard not being as well thought out as my new one and not quite having the correct gear.
Pedalboard and Looper
I decided to plug everything into a Brightonion Looper and mount it on a Pedaltrain Metro 24. The looper is not an Ed Sheeran-type looper but the kind that keeps my signal from the bass to the amp completely clean when no effects are on (most of the time in my case). This also eliminates any degradation of tone which often occurs when your clean signal passes through pedals that are bypassed.
When any loop is engaged the signal goes through only the pedal(s) in that loop. This particular looper is incredible. I had been searching for one where I could blend my clean signal with the effected signal on certain loops. This is basically emulating a studio technique called “parallel processing” which allows you to retain the low end of the bass by creating two tracks: one clean and one effected; allowing you to blend in the desired amount of effect to your heart’s content.
I have a blend control knob on 3 of the loops allowing me to dial back in some of my clean, lovely low-end signal should I require it. This is particularly useful for fuzz/overdrive pedals as well as vintage units and pedals designed more for guitar players.
I love pedals so much but so many times when you stomp on one on a gig you simply lose low end. To me (not to mention bandmates) this is simply unacceptable.
Getting the sound right means buying the correct pedal for you and here’s where things can get interesting…and expensive. YouTube demos certainly help but trying the pedals out to see if they respond to your touch and your gear is better.
The choices are endless and I went from an extremely small board that was ok (but lacking a few effects) to one that was awesome and does what I want it to do with few compromises.
At the end of the day, it’s all about whether the pedalboard achieves the sounds you desire. Don’t be pressured by someone’s better more expensive board on Instagram and YouTube.Someone will ALWAYS have better gear than you! Just make sure yours does the job you want it to. Click To Tweet
The Pedals I Went For
Here’s a little video showing some sounds I can get. I didn’t demo the synth pedal as I need more time to find a useable sound!
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Pretty happy with this setup for live gigs. @origineffects Cali76 Compact bass before @brightonionpedals looper then @sadowskyguitars bass preamp, #3leafaudio Proton, @ebsswedenofficial Octabass, @banananaeffects Matryoshka, @darkglasselectronics Vintage Microtubes, @official_line6 M5. Powered by @cioks_power_supplies DC10 on @pedal@pedaltrain Metro 24. #bassporn #gear #bassguitarist #notreble #baixos #bassguitar #pedalboard
- I really didn’t want to DIY this job so I got Greg at Guitar Aid in London to wire it up and mount the pedals for me. By all means, have fun putting it together yourself but do be aware that a pro will do a great job in terms of soldering custom cables together and carrying out any mods (my Pedaltrain needed the feet to be raised a bit).
- If you want to experiment and you like changing the order of pedals as well as the actual pedals themselves, don’t use strong velcro and don’t bother with a board as tightly spaced as my one as you’ll run out of space.
- I think it’s a good idea to have one pedal that can do a few sounds and right now I’m using the Line 6 M5. It’s so cheap and so good! It has a relatively small footprint and has a good phaser (which is a classic effect Anthony Jackson used on the O’Jays For The Love Of Money) and some brilliant delays and synth sounds. The Eventide H9 is really great but very expensive and the Strymon Big Sky is, in my opinion, the greatest pedal ever made. Both of those are slightly overkill for me right now but I’ll almost certainly end up owning them both!
- If you can, try the pedals through your own gear before buying. You never know how people are recording demos and what extra gear they may be adding to the sound. Different pedals may respond differently to your gear and your touch.
- If you want to avoid the cost and complexity of a setup like the one I’ve gone for, just get a multi-effects unit made by Boss, Zoom, Line 6 or similar. Something like this.
Ask yourself the following questions:
What effects do I actually need or would use?
What’s my budget?
What sounds am I looking to achieve?
I’ll leave you with the biggest question of all: whether playing a fill, using a fancy effect or busting out a flashy technique….
Is this going to enhance the music I’m playing right now?