Adding overdrive to your bass guitar allows you to unveil a new playing. Yes, the heavy gets heavier, the edgy gets edgier, and your bass suddenly appears in the mix as another forward-pushing instrument.
But, I know, the moment you type “bass overdrive” on your favorite search engine, a zillion results come back. You’re even worse than before you made the decision, scratching your head and not knowing where to start.
Well, worry not because in the right place you are, young Padawan (to be read in Yoda’s voice). I’ve gone the extra mile, tried a bunch of pedals, and wrote this piece with the best seven in the market today.
Read on, pick wisely, and take your playing to the next level.
The Best Bass Overdrive Pedals in Existence
Table of Contents
- The Best Bass Overdrive Pedals in Existence
- Why Add Overdrive to Your Bass?
- The Bottom End
1. Way Huge Pork and Pickle Smalls
This Way Huge Pork and Pickle Smalls packs a lot under the hood, way more than you would expect after seeing the price tag. Indeed, this is a great overdrive and a good fuzz in a single pedal. You can surely go from clean to angry to mean with it.
Speaking of which, let me tell you first what I didn’t like: Way Huge needs to make a two-switch version of this pedal. Desperately. I mean, not being able to toggle between the two circuits as you’re playing is a pity. This could be so much more of a versatile pedal with only an extra switch.
Now that that’s out of the way, let me tell you what I did love. Because there’s plenty of that too.
To begin with, the blend knob is already a great asset to keep the low end tight while you bring mayhem and doom with the fuzz. But on top of that, the possibility to modify the clean tone you’re blending with the “Clean Tone” knob is just superb.
I also liked the fact you can fine-tune this pedal through some inside controls named “level”, “curve”, and “presence”. I mean, for someone like me who gigs a lot with different amps, it’s not so usable, but you can dial the pedal to go perfectly with your favorite amp.
Another great surprise was finding out this is a true hard-wire bypass pedal. In other words, it doesn’t color the signal of your bass unless you engage it. Finally, I really like pedals with input and output on top because they make everything easier on my pedalboard.
This is a great bass overdrive pedal that comes with a handy fuzz.
2. Electro-Harmonix Bass Soul Food
Let me begin by saying that the Soul Food pedal is a great always on overdrive pedal. Yes, if you can dial in the right amount and EQ it properly, you can create a base tone to use with the rest of your rig.
That said, it also works great if you want to push it into some ‘70s heavy music territory, ‘90s lo-fi alternative (pick playing, of course), or some 2000s-approved heavier-than-life sounds.
Perhaps, the only thing I didn’t like about this pedal was the noise of the switch when you step on it. I mean, one thing is to hear that noise from the practice amp in your bedroom and a very different one is to hear it amplified through a 100,000-watt PA in front of a crowd.
But let’s go to what I did like about this pedal, like, for example, the way it sounds. You can use it to play some cool distorted lines. For example, I tried the opening and main riff to “Around the World” and it sounded distorted but tight.
Also, playing some of my favorite Ramones tunes with a pick, the edge you get from the pedal is great to cut through the mix and add that punk element to the resulting sound. Although that bump in the mids might not be everyone’s cup of tea, I was very pleased with it.
Finally, I have to say that the EQ is very capable so you can dial in more bass or treble if you want to tame those mids.
For those in search of a good overdrive pedal that takes little real estate from your pedalboard while sounding good, this is a must-try-before-you-buy
3. Darkglass Microtubes B3K V2
This Finnish product, the Darkglass Microtubes B3K V2 is part of the huge reputation this company is slowly building for itself.
Perhaps the biggest asset of this pedal is the way it sounds. Yes, the natural overdrive tones full of harmonics and nice overtones can be dialed in from nothing to mayhem with the twist of a knob.
But that’s not all, because beyond the natural sounds of this overdrive pedal, what you get is a pair of controls that help you keep it all tight and booming regardless of the position of the gain knob. Indeed, the knob labeled as “grunt” works great, boosting the low end so you won’t lose your instrument’s weight in the mix.
Speaking of which, the “mid boost” switch also engages a little bump in the mids that makes your bass appear suddenly cutting even the densest mix. Moreover, the mix of the mid-boost and the blend knob allows you to maintain your instrument’s tone at all times.
Also, the interplay between the level and gain knobs is very natural in the sense that they work very much like an amp would. Yes, the more you crank this pedal, the more you fill the sound with natural harmonics as you would find in a tube amp.
I tried playing some Black Sabbath and Zep songs and the result was quite accurate (tone-wise, of course).
Perhaps, the one thing I didn’t like about this pedal is that the input and output as well as the power jack are located at a strange height making it difficult to integrate it into my pedalboard.
That said, this is, in my opinion, one of the best-sounding bass overdrive pedals in the market right now.
4. Ampeg Scrambler
Ampeg sells the Scrambler as a great way to take an SVT in a box to every gig. Well, let me tell you that what this pedal needs is the same thing an SVT needs: gain from your instrument.
I tried it first with my passive basses (P-Bass and J-Bass) and the result was closer to a clean boost than to an overdrive or distortion pedal. That was the disappointing part of my testing.
I was ready to go full-on into my best Dee Dee pose while playing Ramones tunes but instead, I got a tone that was more for wearing the shades and the suit and playing some Pino Paladino lines.
Then, it all changed when I plugged in my active Spector 5-string. Suddenly, that growl you can hear from a pushed SVT became a possibility and natural harmonics flooded the signal.
Instead of the leather jacket, white Converse, and tight jeans, I wore my red cap and bigger-than-life t-shirt to do my best Sam Rivers impersonation. The tones playing “Take a Look Around” and “Break Stuff” were quite accurate.
Perhaps, the best way to describe the audio of this pedal is to use the word organic or natural. It even reacts to the gain of the instrument you plug into it!
Finally, the blend knob is, without a doubt, a great addition to retaining the low end of your instrument while creating a more menacing sound.
If you are in search of a good overdrive pedal that sounds natural and reacts organically to your playing, this is definitely a good candidate. If you’re looking for some more extreme settings, you have to look elsewhere for that.
5. Behringer BOD400
Let me begin by saying that this pedal needs to be judged according to the price tag hanging from its side. Asking a pedal that’s in this price range a tone or build quality equal to pedals 4 or 5 times more expensive is a recipe for frustration.
Now that this is out of the way, let me tell you this pedal was a pleasant surprise. Yes, it has some hissing noises, the EQ is not super accurate, and it tends to be closer to fuzz than to natural overdrive, but it’s a great way to enter the bass overdrive world.
I started my test with a passive bass cranking the pedal all the way and I had a bunch of noise but also a very creamy distortion that helped me play nasty, menacing, rocking riffs. The high cut/boost and low cut/boost helped tame some of the shrillness and boominess.
Also, the “Bal” knob is great to bring some of the definition of your instrument and leave the fuzz in the background. This proved to be very handy because as you increase the level of this knob you can find that sweet spot where it all sounds just perfect.
What I didn’t like about this pedal, besides the hissing and overall noise levels, was that the enclosure was made of plastic. Yes, for something designed to be stomped, plastic is not the best material in my opinion. But then again, you look at the price tag and it all makes sense.
If you’re in search of an utterly affordable bass overdrive pedal to see if you like what it does to your tone, a new color for your studio, or even a backup for your main overdrive, this is a great pedal.
Just don’t ask from it the accuracy and tone of pedals with a much bigger price tag.
6. MXR M89 Bass Overdrive
The M89 is a great bass overdrive pedal made with a very clear less-is-more philosophy. Yes, you can get a very broad variety of sounds from this small tone machine with only four knobs. This is both a pro and a con. Let me tell you why.
To begin with, you can dial in anything from very subtle and musical overdrive to full-throttle, face-melting fuzz. That’s all done with the turn of a single knob: gain.
The more you turn the gain knob up, the more the sound gets compressed and the midrange becomes more noticeable. In that vein, adding some dry signal to the equation retains the natural low end of your instrument and adds a whole new frequency to the spectrum.
On the other hand, the simplicity of this pedal makes it impossible to use more than one tone in a live situation. I mean, if instead of having a gain knob that goes from clean to fuzz, it would have a switch, you could simply flick it from song to song and use it. In that sense, I think, this level of simplicity makes it a less usable pedal than it would be otherwise.
Construction-wise, the enclosure is completely made of metal, small enough to fit most pedalboards, and with a clear LED indicator, minimalist labels, and the build quality that makes all MXR pedals reliable and sturdy.
If you’re in search of a great overdrive pedal that can also go into fuzz territory and deal with a worldwide tour shining night after night, this is a great choice.
7. Boss ODB-3 Bass Overdrive Pedal
I have to say I love Boss pedals. They’re built like a tank and you can buy an inexpensive replacement virtually anywhere in the world.
But beyond my love for the brand, this pedal is a great bass overdrive with a simple control layout and an affordable price. Yes, you don’t have the bells and whistles, boosts and cuts of other brands but you don’t have that price tag either.
So, I began this test with my trusty Fenders (the P-Bass and J-Bass mighty couple) and the result was a distorted tone with an edge. The dual knob cutting and boosting the low and high end helps bring that edge to the forefront and also takes away some of the distorted boominess that makes it all muddy.
Furthermore, if you add to the “balance” knob, what you’ll get is the natural tone of your instrument stepping in to make everything clearer.
I found out that, if you keep the top-end and the low-end close to noon, crank the gain, and bring the balance to noon as well, what you get is a nicely overdriven sound that can help you add some grit to regular bass lines, riffs, and chords.
That was just the first part of my testing. After that, I tried this pedal with my almighty active basses and the results were quite different. Indeed, if you hit this pedal with a high-gain instrument, what you get is creamy distortion, thick fuzz, and nice overdriven sounds.
With an active bass, you have to use the EQ knobs to take away the bass excess and prevent the audio from being shrill. Once you can tame that, the result is very convincing in every spot of the gain knob.
So, if you’re in search of a pedal that’s built like a tank, won’t break the bank, and will offer you a plethora of usable sounds, this is a must-check.
Why Add Overdrive to Your Bass?
Although this question needs an answer before you venture into the bass overdrive world, you will never go wrong adding one of these pedals to your signal chain. How so? Well, because once you have it, you will surely find it a good use.
Let’s see some scenarios:
Bring More Heavy to the Heavy
We, bass players, know that we bring the low end to the equation. Yes, syncing perfectly with the drum kick and creating a groove is one of the many pleasures of being a bass player.
Now, when the song demands to go heavier than heavy, then you need some steroids for your audio.
That’s exactly what an overdrive pedal can do, bring an extra dose of heaviness to the heavy.
Push the Mids and Cut through the Mix
If you’ve ever been a punk rock fanatic like I was (and still am), you know that a bass played with a pick doing single-note staccatos can be a great way to fill the sonic landscape and propel the band forward.
Well, if you add a little overdrive with a compressed midrange to that equation, you’re into punk heaven.
Help Your Band Bring Mayhem to the Stage
Sometimes, during an intro or a chorus, your band requires full-on face-melting tones to bring mayhem. Well, in those cases, distortion, overdrive, or fuzz, can be the perfect ally to do it.
Some Inspirational Songs
- “Around the World” – Red Hot Chili Peppers
- “For Whom the Bell Tolls” – Metallica
- “Ace of Spades” – Motorhead
- “My Generation” – The Who
- “Knights of Cydonia” – Muse
Adding colors to your palette is never a bad idea. There are some options on the list above that will help you push the boundaries of your playing further without breaking the bank.
Moreover, some of these options can open up a whole new chapter of your playing.
It’s time to get nasty and distorted and bring the mean element out of your instrument.
Happy (overdriven) playing!