In the world of guitar playing, synth pedals have always been something of a dark art. Only utilized by those bold and daring enough to venture that far down the progressive rabbit hole of tonal exploration.
However, in the world of bass guitar, things look quite different. Synth pedals are far more widely used and accepted. This is because their stable and consistent bass output lends itself well to still performing the core duty of the bass guitar. But the cool thing is they afford you the opportunity to get creative with your tone in a way that you simply can’t through traditional modulation pedals.
Bass synth pedals have been used by some legendary players including the likes of Michael League of Snarky Puppy and bass virtuoso (and all-around nice guy) Victor Wooten.
So if you’ve found yourself curious about the world of bass synth pedals, look no further! I’ve gathered up 5 of the absolute best bass synth pedals around that will allow you to unlock sonic capabilities with your bass guitar that you never thought possible!
5 Best Bass Synth Pedals for the Money
Table of Contents
1. Source Audio C4 Synth Pedal
At first glance, the C4 Synth Pedal seems like it could have been cooked up to be some wacky piece of technology in a science fiction movie. The power of an entire modular synth setup in a 4 knob pedal? It seems impossible!
And technically it is, the fact this is a 4 voice stereo synth with dual filters, envelopes, sequencers, and LFOs, it’s obviously far too complicated to fully control in a small-format bass pedal.
This is where the Neuro Editor comes in, this software (available on both desktop PCs and Mobile devices) allows you to set up these complicated synthesizer tones which can then be programmed into the pedal itself and then easily recalled while you play.
The Source Audio C4 allows you to achieve tones with a degree of authenticity that no other pedal has been able to achieve.
But what if you don’t have sound design and synth programming knowledge? Or simply aren’t in the business of faffing around with computer software? Not a problem! There are countless presets available from the Source Audio team that can instantly provide you with world-class synth tones making you instantly sound like a pro.
I found rich and evolving pads, complex step sequenced arpeggios, and accurate harmonized tones. It far exceeded anything I had experienced on a synth pedal before.
So if you’re interested in hyper-authentic synth sounds with complex routings and modulations, this pedal can do it.
But those who value simplicity in their gear will find themselves frustrated at the steps required to get the most out of this pedal and may wish to opt for something a bit simpler.
2. Electro-Harmonix Bass Micro Synth Pedal
If the overall complexity and necessary use of apps/software was a big turn-off for you, something like the Bass Micro Synth from Electro-Harmonix is going to be right up your alley.
The big benefit of this is that everything is available and easily accessible right on the front control panel using those classic slider controls just like you’d find on the original Korg Arp Odyssey.
The panel is divided clearly into three sections, with the trigger sensitivity on the left, then a voice mix section where there are essentially 4 voices that can pass through the unit including your original guitar tone, then you also have what essentially equates to an ADSR control on the right.
Needless to say, without any in-built modulation effects, LFOs, arpeggiators, or sequencers, tonal diversity is not really the point of the EHX Bass Micro Synth Pedal. It simply provides 3 great synthesized voices which have a distinct, yet firmly placed sound.
While I personally think the price is a little steep for something that technically has a smaller range of available tones compared to some other pedals on the market, what it does offer is a distinct and unique sound that many consider iconic or even quintessential to great bass tones.
In particular, I found it excelled at emulating the sound of bowed or more brassy blown instruments thanks to the resonance and decay (or as they call it, stop freq) controls.
If you value a no-frills and no-nonsense way of achieving fantastic bass synth tones then this is certainly one to consider!
3. Boss SY-1 Guitar Synthesizer Pedal
Boss makes pretty much every kind of pedal you can imagine, so it only makes sense that they would have a synth pedal in their lineup and that it would be both functional and easy to use too.
While this is primarily marketed as a guitar pedal, it’s completely compatible with bass guitar setups. It has no problems with tracking accuracy in the lower register and also has no perceivable latency. So rest assured bassists, this will work for you!
The main thing I like about this pedal is how intuitive the layout is. You can pick from a range of typical synth tones on the right dial which contains everything from pads, strings, leads, and it even has a sequencer.
This sound can then be run through up to 11 variations per type, and you can blend the sound in with your original guitar tone using the mix knob on the left should you wish.
All the sounds are great, but without any real modulation or filtering capabilities, they may sound a little plain for anyone who’s used to more modern or complex synth sounds.
One of my favorite features of the Boss SY-1 is the sound hold option. By pressing and holding down the main switch it will infinitely sustain whatever note, or poly chord you are holding. This is an incredible feature for guitarists who like to improvise as you can have a chord ring out indefinitely and solo over it until your heart’s content!
This is also a great songwriting tool when figuring out how melodies work with particular chord voicings.
Overall this is a really solid pedal that’s housed in that signature Boss pedal design style, it deserves a spot on any bassists pedalboard.
4. Panda Audio Future Impact v3
While certainly one of the less popular synth pedals on the market, it is without a doubt one of the most powerful.
Much like the C4, the Future Impact V3 pedal aims to give you more in-depth controls of various parameters which allows you to create complicated, layered, and evolving synth tones that are similar to the EHX bass Synth.
However, unlike the C4 which has handy software to accompany it with an intuitive UI, this pedal is programmed entirely using the limited controls on the panel or using a far less developed PC/Mac software, which I found quite tedious to use.
So while the tonal diversity is certainly there, allowing you to achieve everything from Roland TB03 acid sounds to huge stereo strings, getting to that destination requires some extra work and patience.
This makes the Panda Audio Future Impact v3 a little hit or miss depending on what kind of player you are. There are plenty of parameters you can control and programming each of them in order to hone in your desired tone can be a lot of fun, if you're into that stuff.
However, if you’re not a tone tweaker then you’ll no doubt be left frustrated at how long it takes you to arrive at your destination using the limited available knobs.
Despite these small usability gripes, there’s no denying all the power is there. This pedal packs a whopping 4 oscillators with full filter and ADSR controls. And despite it all being digital emulation of analog sounds, the sound engine itself sounds great and distinctly analog-y.
Then as an added bonus, there’s a midi in/out feature if you wanted to feed in patch changing information externally, which is a handy feature many other synth pedals don’t include.
5. Electro-Harmonix SYNTH9
Oftentimes bass synth pedals and real analog pedals tend to sit in their own worlds, while there’s a certain overlap when it comes to controls and tonal sculpting parameters due to the nature of synthesis, for the most part, these pedals generally do not try to emulate any specific iconic synth models.
The SYNTH9 aims to fill that void in the bass pedal synth market by offering specific emulations for 9 classic popular synth models. So if you’re already a synth aficionado and have longed for specific emulations of classics like the Oberheim OB-X, the Profit, the Minimoog, or Moog Taurus, then this is the right pedal for you!
However, this concept of honing in on the sound of classic and iconic synth models is a bit of a double-edged sword. Yes you have access to those specific tones, but the individual tonal controls you have over that sound are somewhat limited, so don’t be fooled into thinking you’ve just gained full access to 9 of the most iconic synthesizers of all time for a few hundred bucks. It’s not that simple.
What you really get here is 1 tone, or 1 snapshot of each of these synths, which can then be blended with your guitar tone at your leisure.
There are some nice routing options available where you can run your dry guitar and the synth output separately should you wish, which makes the EHX SYNTH9 ideal for things like stereo setups or dual amp rigs.
There are also 2 controls for each preset, but rather uniquely their functions change based on which of the 9 presets you have selected. On one tone they may control the filter or depth, on another, they may be controlling voicing intervals.
This is a very desirable pedal for anyone who’s a fan of and understands why those classic synths are so great, just be prepared for a lack of control over those individual sounds. You’ll just have to be happy with what you’re given here!
The Purpose of a Bass Synth
If you were to order modulation effects from most popular to least, there’s no doubt synth pedals would be near the bottom.
Yet we’ve consistently seen plenty of world-class musicians utilize synth pedals to great effect, so what’s the deal here? Do people just not understand how to use synth pedals, or are they really such niche items they don’t have much application for the average user?
Truthfully it’s a bit of both. Most popular styles of music don’t call for bass synth tones specifically, so for many players, there isn’t that primal urge to rush out and buy one in the same way you would a boost pedal.
However, there’s a missed opportunity here as when blended correctly there’s a lot of utility to be found in augmenting your bass tone by blending in a synth preset along with your raw bass sound.
This could be from adding additional harmonics, creating a more stable and consistent low end, or utilizing the filters for cool transitions.
If you don’t already have a specific goal in mind and you’re mulling over the idea of getting a synth pedal, I encourage you to check how other people utilize it and you’ll quickly get an idea of just how effectively they can enhance your tone without completely overriding your raw sound.
A common question users have when it comes to synth pedals is where it needs to sit in your signal chain. Should it go in the effects loop or in front of the amp? Should it go behind your delays or in front of them?
While ultimately there’s no steadfast rule here and you can achieve some quite snazzy effects by putting your synth pedal in the theoretical ‘wrong’ place.
For the overwhelming majority of cases you do not want to put the pedal in the effects loop, this is because it will place the synth pedals tone after the preamp of your amplifier, meaning it’s subject to all the distortion and EQ that’s been applied to the tone up to that point.
Likewise, when placing the pedal in front of your amp, outside of very specific circumstances and for particular genres of music you’ll want to put it as early in your signal chain as possible, usually straight after a DI compressor if you are using one.
Then all the delays, distortions, and other modulation effects will be applied to the synth tone afterward, which often sounds much more pleasant and musical.
I also encourage you to be mindful of the blend option that exists on the majority of synth pedals. This allows you to blend in your raw guitar tone which can achieve some really cool effects and augment your tone slightly from a regular dry bass sound.
Synthesis and Sound Design
One of the key elements in creating synthesized sounds is the core process of synthesis. That is to say, how you take a waveform and manipulate it in order to create your desired sound.
If you were to take a big analog synthesizer that’s jam-packed with knobs, switches, and wires, it’s fundamentally your knowledge of how synthesis works that will determine how good of a sound you’re going to get from it.
However, the synth pedal world often works differently. Manufacturers understand that the average bassist doesn’t know, nor cares to know, about synthesis and sound design.
So as a result, the majority of pedals work either using a preset system or just have a few simple slidable controls that are super easy to dial in just using your ears.
However, there are a few pedals that do not work like this, and having knowledge of synthesis is vital to getting the right sound from the pedal. I’m particularly referring to the Source Audio C4 and the Panda Audio Future Impact pedals which have far more depth to them than normal pedals.
This is something you need to be extra mindful of when making your purchase as you may suddenly find yourself needing to put in extra work to get your tones, and you’re not really enjoying the process.
So if you really don’t care about synthesis, try to lean into simpler pedals with more limited options so you don’t get swamped by a slew of tone tweaking options that you don’t really understand.
Synth You’ve Been Gone
If you’re just dipping your toes into the world of bass synth pedals, you’re in for an exciting ride as there is a whole world of new tones that will open up to you that you simply can’t achieve with your boring old delay and reverb pedals.
I hope you find the information shared in this Bass Synth Pedal roundup helpful, and have fun getting creative with your sounds!