An overdrive effect is a result of pushing the gain in a tube amplifier beyond a normal level, which creates a warm, saturated, and muscular signal that’s both mellow and punchy.
The best bass overdrive pedal, aka bass tube pedal, makes it easier to produce the same effect without a tube amp.
If you’re in a hurry to buy the best bass overdrive pedal, you should consider the Electro-Harmonix Big Muff. It’s extremely versatile, matches pretty much any genre, and doesn’t make too much of a hole in your pocket.
Here’s a list of recommendations for the best overdrive pedals for bass:
- Electro-Harmonix Bass Big Muff
- MXR EVH 5150 Overdrive Pedal
- Darkglass Alpha Omega Bass Pre-Amp and Overdrive
- MXR M89 Bass Overdrive
- TC Electronic Dark Matter Distortion Effect Pedal
- Behringer Bass Overdrive BOD400
- Electro-Harmonix Deluxe Bass Big Muff Pi
- Boss Bass OverDrive ODB-3
- Ampeg Scrambler Bass Overdrive
Reviews of the Best Bass Overdrive Pedals
The Big Muff line of pedals has a legendary reputation for its versatility and beautiful tones. With its three dials, which let you control volume, tone, and sustain, the Big Muff can quickly become an asset in your pedalboard.
The device features a three-position toggle switch, which you can use to create unique sounds.
The boost mode, as the name suggests, enhances the frequency of the distortion. The middle position is the Norm Mode, which gives you classic distortion tones. Finally, in Dry mode, you can mix the unprocessed signal from your instrument—aka the clean or dry signal—with a distortion signal to create interesting signal combinations.
The Big Muff isn’t just for generating overdrive. In fact, you can tweak the controls to get anything from rich overdrive to extremely high grunge-like distortion.
Best for Professional Musicians
When the design team at MXR partners up with the legendary musician Eddie Van Halen, you get a mighty pedal capable of producing an impressive range of overdriven tones.
Thanks to its multi-stage MOSFETs and highly adjustable controls, the EVH 5150 has exceptional flexibility and pairs well with a variety of amps and speaker cabinets. So, it works great both on stage and in the studio. The circuitry is inside high-quality, durable housing, which means it’s also excellent for the road.
The device covers the whole spectrum of Eddie’s tones—from his early classics to his modern high-gain sounds. According to some users, it sounds most natural when connected to a tube-amp.
Despite its wonderful features, the pedal is more suited to distortion than overdrive, since the gain levels are much higher than what you would expect for an overdrive pedal.
Best Premium Pedal
This is probably one of the most advanced effects pedals for bass, and it’s not just for overdrive. It’s actually a pedal/pre-amp/DI box. The price tag is a bit steep, but the premium output quality is well worth the cost.
It boasts a dual-circuit design: the Alpha gives you heavy, punchy signals with clear definitions while the Omega generates raw, grungy sounds. The best thing is, you don’t have to choose between one or the other; you can actually mix the two modes for infinite tonal possibilities.
You get two toggle switches that let you take things to the next level in addition to the standard drive, volume, blend, bass, and treble knobs. The Bite switch creates more definition while the Growl switch gives your signal a boost and makes it fatter.
Oddly enough, the device doesn’t come with an adapter, and it doesn’t take batteries. So, you should expect the inconvenience of finding a matching 9V adapter. For such a high price, it’s a mystery why the manufacturer decided not to include a power source.
With the MXR M89 Bass Overdrive, you can expect midrange-heavy tones that vary from slight overdrive to regular distortion. While this is not the best overdrive pedal on the market, it’s a solid unit that delivers tube-like overdrives and doesn’t lose the low-end.
The pedal features three controls that let you manage the tone, overall volume, and the overdrive signal. It also includes a clean knob that lets you add some of the clean signal to your overdrive. In other words, it’s not a blend from completely clean to completely overdriven.
The most common complaint with this device is that the clean signal isn’t completely distortion-free—even with the clean knob set all the way to clean.
If you need a bass pedal for metal, the TC Electronics Dark Matter is just what you need. Its rich harmonics and superior clarity make it the best option for playing sparkly metal tones or Satriani-style leads. But if you’re into death metal and ultra-high-gain tones, you might be disappointed.
This is probably the best bass overdrive pedal if you’re going to stay on the clean channel. The circuit components are entirely analog, which means it can generate fuller and more realistic sounds. It also means you can push the signal a level higher without making it sound too distorted.
The pedal comes with a two-band equalizer, and it has two knobs to control the bass and treble of your signal. So, you’ll have plenty of control over the shape of your signal.
What’s more, the voice switch lets you increase the bass if you want a modern metal sound or cut it to get a more vintage tone.
This Behringer device is the best cheap overdrive pedal. It offers extremely high value and creates better sound compared to its more expensive competitors. It also comes with a 2-band EQ and a blend knob, as well as a treble and bass boost. It’s unusual for pedals at this price range to offer so many options. So, the BOD400 is definitely a bargain.
If you’re buying your first effects pedal and do want to go overboard, it’s one of your best options.
But, as with any electronic device, you get what you pay for. You can’t expect cheap bass pedals like this one to have the flexibility of a 100-dollar alternative. Also, the casing is made of average plastic, which means it’s not very durable.
Some buyers say it sounds noisy, and it adds a layer of effects that make the signal sound synthetic and unnatural.
You can think of this device as the Big Muff on steroids. This beast is one of the best bass distortion pedals on the market and comes with seven adjustable controls as well as a toggle switch (0 and 10 dB) that lets you make the best use of active and passive pickups.
The volume, tone, and sustain knobs work the same way as they do in the original version, with the volume knob acting as the master control for the entire pedal. The blend knob is an addition to the new deluxe version that lets you infuse the dry and distorted signals to create everything from warm, rich overdrives to deep, overpowering sounds.
Using the other controls, you can adjust the amplitude and frequency of the dry signal entering the overdrive pedal.
The crossover option is especially appealing if you want more control over the distorted and clean parts of your signal. The switch applies a high-pass filter on the distortion and low-pass filter on the dry signal.
Best Value for Money
Like other Boss products, the ODB-3 Bass Overdrive doesn’t disappoint. It’s quite durable and built to sustain the rigor of touring. Setting up the device is also really simple and doesn’t take a lot of effort.
The pedal is specifically designed for bass. So, you won’t lose any of your low-end signals. It’s perfect for basses with four or five strings.
Its four knobs give you a lot of room to unleash creativity. You can play around with the settings to get countless combinations of tones—anything from mild overdrive to harsh, aggressive distortions.
With its competitive price, the OBD-3 is your best bet if you’re looking for a low-priced pedal with superior performance.
The Ampeg Scrambler is a true bypass pedal, which means it doesn’t affect the signal when it’s disengaged, and lets the signal just pass through without any change.
It comes with four knobs that let you adjust the volume, treble, drive, and blend. The drive knob controls how much distortion you dial into the signal while the blend knob mixes the distorted and clean signals.
However, some customers complain about its low gain since you have to turn it up all the time to get a strong enough sound.
How to Choose the Best Bass Overdrive Pedal
Each pedal brings a unique set of effects to the table. Some of them are geared toward clean, rich sounds while others are more suitable for hard rock and metal fans.
For example, if you enjoy the cleaner and cool sounds of blues, the MXR M89 will work great, but if you’re looking for something more aggressive that can blast some dirty sounds, then you should pick the Big Muff.
That said, you can never really tell if a pedal is right for you until you’ve heard it in action. So before you make a decision, take the device for a spin. Many stores have a dedicated test area, and if you’re buying online, you should check out the various online video reviews before finalizing your purchase.
Other than how great it sounds, here’s what you should consider when buying an overdrive pedal.
Overdrive pedals fall into the general category of distortion pedals. The spectrum ranges from plain overdrive to distortion and fuzz.
While overdrive boosts your signal and adds a bit of grit, distortion completely alters its shape and turns into a high-gain metal sound. Distortion is often characterized by harmonic richness and sustain. Fuzz takes things to the extreme. The effect boosts your signal so much; it starts to get clipped and sound unrecognizable.
Some distortion pedals like the TC Electronic Dark Matter are known for their incredible versatility. They can produce anything from a mild overdrive effect to grungy, sputtery fuzz.
However, a highly versatile pedal is sort of like a “jack of all trades and master of none.” A dedicated overdrive pedal like the Boss ODB-3 or the Big Muff is your best bet if you’re serious about overdrive.
Controls and Options
One-stop-shop pedals like Deluxe Big Muff Pi are more common in the bass world than the guitar world. As a bass player, these types of pedals are most likely going to be the first thing you buy since they’re versatile and come with a lot of features, including pre-amp capabilities, tone sculpting, distortion, and a DI output.
So, if you’re a beginner, stop reading and try out the Deluxe Big Muff Pi or Darkglass Alpha Omega as your first pedal. If you want to create unique sounds, however, you need a dedicated overdrive/distortion pedal like the MXR M89.
Unlike an electric guitar overdrive pedal, your bass guitar pedal should definitely have a blend knob. This knob lets you produce the sound effect that you want while retaining some of the clarity of your clean signal.
This way, your signal remains articulate, and you can retain the original characteristics—especially with pedals like the Big Muff that tend to gravitate toward fuzz.
Analog vs. Digital
Effect pedals come with either digital or analog circuits. Each type has its own advantages and disadvantages.
With a digital pedal, such as the Behringer BOD400, the analog signal coming from the base gets decomposed into a digital signal consisting of 1s and 0s. The processor in the device then applies different algorithms to the signal before converting it back to a continuous analog sound. This dual conversion process is bound to change the signal in unexpected ways, and the output usually sounds adulterated.
On the other hand, with analog pedals, you get a natural and warmer sound because they use transistors, capacitors, and other analog components. The signal is also smoother and without breaks. The Dark Matter Distortion Effect Pedal boasts an entirely analog design that delivers natural sounds every time.
Despite altering the output sound, digital pedals are consistent, and they always generate the same sound you program them to generate; this isn’t the case with analog pedals, which may sound slightly different from performance to performance.
Think about how often you’re going to use your pedal. Are you going to use it along with other pedals on a board? Or is it going to be your only device? Overdrive is one of the most popular effects with bass. So, if you play a lot, chances are you’re going to wear out your pedal soon.
Also, if you’re on the road a lot, consider an option with a sturdy build such as the Ampeg Scrambler Bass Overdrive.
If you play in a band setting, you should choose a pedal with minimal overdrive because you don’t want the pedal bass sound to cut through the mix. On the other hand, if you’re a soloist, or you just want to experiment with different tones, it’s better to go with a wide-range distortion pedal like the Boss ODB-3; this way, you get to create as much dirt as you want.
Using Guitar Pedals for Bass
By now, you’re probably asking, is it possible to use a guitar overdrive pedal for bass?
The short answer is yes. You can use most guitar overdrive/distortion pedals to generate fantastic tones with regular guitars and bass guitars. Your pedal doesn’t have to be bass-specific.
That said, if you have the money to spare, you should go for a pedal that’s specifically designed for bass. These distortion/fuzz pedals target the low-end signals, which means they contain circuits that are better at preserving those signals and ultimately sound better.
The opposite is also true. The blend control on most bass-specific pedals lets you add extra dynamics and sparkle to your tone. So, if you’re a bassist who wants to transition into the guitar world, you should go ahead and test your bass pedal for guitar to see how you like the sound.
Overall, the best overdrive pedal for bass is the Electro-Harmonix Bass Big Muff as it gives you unlimited tonal possibilities and produces intense distortions with incredible sustain.
A close second is the MXR EVH 5150 Overdrive Pedal with its highly adjustable controls, sturdy enclosure, and rich deep tones. It’s also ideal for professional players and those who want to play Eddie Van Halen’s signature tones.
An honorable mention goes to the Darkglass Alpha Omega Bass Pre-Amp and Overdrive, which gives you infinite tonal possibilities with its dual-circuit design and comprehensive set of controls. It’s a shame that the device doesn’t come with an adapter and doesn’t take batteries.