State of the Stomp: Imagine All the Pedals

Whether you play bass or guitar, you’d better stick to “your kind” of stomps. Or maybe not.

Imagine there’s no “bass fuzz”

It’s easy if you try

No disgusting chorus

I mean, you could, but why?

Imagine all the pedals,

You could stomp today ...

Oh, hey—I didn’t see you there. I was just working on a new song about my feelings concerning some big life questions: Does it work on bass? Does it work on guitar? Should I ruin my tone with a chorus pedal? I kid ... but really, we get the “bass” versus “guitar” pedal question a lot, so I thought we could address it together.

If you’re referring to the electric bass guitar or an acoustic bass instrument with a pickup installed, the answer is: Yes, technically almost all pedals will work with a bass input. After all, the bass signal comes out a 1/4" cable, goes into one side of the pedal, comes out its other side, and goes on to an amplifier or another sound-throwing device. It works on bass because a bass guitar is just an extra-large, low guitar.

Of course, I don’t believe that many folks out there actually imagine these rumored “guitar only” effects pedals will shoot lightning up a bass guitar’s cable and kill the player upon activation. So we have to interpret the question a little bit.

Maybe the question is: Will this effect please me when used with a bass guitar? I just don’t know about that one, stranger. Sometimes I don’t even know what I want to hear.

Perhaps you want to know: Do you like how this pedal works with electric bass? A valid question, I suppose, and one I can answer honestly to customers, if I have to. But again, my preference isn’t always going to match yours.

A simpler question might be: Was this intended for use with electric bass guitar? Now that’s one I can dig into.

I see you bass players who only shop in the “Bass Effects” section of websites ... and I do not approve.

When I started playing, most of the pedals available in little ol’ Eau Claire, Wisconsin, were still aimed directly at lead guitarists. Lots of bright-as-the-sun overdrive and flange. That was the sound people were going for. Fast-forward a few years and the situation has changed for the better. There are now loads of pedals—particularly overdrive, fuzz, and distortion—pitched at my fellow low-end lovers. With that in mind, I understand the original impetus for some differentiation.

But here’s the thing: Most effects sold now are going to sound at least okay on bass, even if they’re not marketed that way. Some will sound a lot better than others, and a few will be unacceptable to your ears. Most pedals that say “bass” on them will sound quite nice on a guitar too, especially if you’re the type who likes some bottom end on your 6-string. While it’s no secret to the doomier players among us, a certain amount of low-end woof from a guitar feels good onstage and in the audience.

We in the pedal industry are largely responsible for the confusion here. Labeling it a bass pedal makes marketing easier. The problem with that strategy is that the bass label means “not for guitar” in the eyes of too many players. It also allows bassists to be pretty lazy in their effects shopping. I see you bass players who only shop in the “Bass Effects” section of websites. I see you and I do not approve.

The advantages of pedals labeled “bass” hold true for any instrument. Features like more low-end response, EQ controls, and clean blend circuits can be a real bonus for guitarists as well. Some devices can be far too specific for cross-instrument use, at least in a single-track situation, but even in that case, some creative recording techniques can make an onstage dud into a recording session superstar. I’ve had great success layering a “no mids” fuzz with a “where’s the bottom?” distortion to create a serious wall of sound in the studio.

So really, don’t be concerned about the presence or lack of the word “bass” on a pedal. It’s a pedal and if it has the correct jacks, you can use it with your instrument of choice. If you aren’t sure, you can probably find a decent video demo of the effect you’re interested in on YouTube. That’ll get you a bit of a head start when you go to the actual music store to try some things out. As with any gear-related purchase, the proof is in the playing.

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