The addition of a synth pedal to your bass set up can really transform your sound. These pedals bring the bass into the forefront and allow you to explore its sonic capabilities.
There are a number of great synth pedals out there which would make worthy additions to your pedal board. In this post, I will highlight some of the best options and discuss their attributes.
The 9 Best Bass Synth Pedals
The C4 Synth Pedal by Source Audio is a detailed modular synthesizer in a simple, compact pedal. It was designed by chief sound engineer Bob Childaw to provide the function of a Eurorack modular synth rig in a small box.
The simple 4-knob design of this pedal can be deceiving. Although it may seem minimalistic at first glance, the sonic-sculpting capabilities of the C4 are almost endless. The mix control allows you to set the wet/dry ratio, and there are two control knobs which give you the choice of three synth effects.
To really get the best out of the C4 synth pedal, connect it to Source Audio’s Neuro Desktop Editor. This free software is available for Mac and Windows, or can be downloaded as a mobile app. Within the Neuro Editors lie the tools to really experiment with the synthesizer functions. You have access to four parallel voices, three oscillators with different wave shapes, over twenty modulating filters and many other effects.
In my opinion, that is one of the C4’s main selling points. If you want a simple, easy to use bass synth pedal, you can use it for this purpose. If however you intend to create unique sounds and experiment with a wide range of effects, you can simply hook it up to your chosen device to create your own presets.
Electro-Harmonix produce a number a brilliant bass effects pedals, so it’s no surprise that they manufacture a bass synth pedal of that quality too. The Bass Mono Synth takes the clean signal from your bass and morphs it into eleven synthesizers. These range from emulating vintage synth sounds, to experimental electronic tones.
The layout is, like with most EHX pedals, very easy to navigate. The SENS control allows you to directly influence how much the dynamics of your playing will interact with the pedal. For example, it could be set up so that the synth pedal only kicks in when you play with a certain velocity. This is a unique and interesting function.
Within the eleven mono synth sounds, there is much room for manipulation. The CTRL knob can be tweaked to edit a key parameter of each of the synth types. When combined with an expression pedal, you can edit the properties of each synth in real time. Eleven total user presets can also be pre-saved and loaded up with the touch of a button.
There are many sonic possibilities presented by the Bass Mono Synth. You can create swirling LFO noise, pulsating wobble bass, or just use the pedal for gentle thickening and undertones.
3. Boss SY-1
The SY-1 by Boss is a highly expressive bass synth pedal which has the potential to produce an array of electronic sounds. The pedal’s technology is based on the popular SY-300 model, but with some added improvements.
One of the most impressive qualities of the SY-1 is its versatility. The pedal is capable of delivering a wide selection of synth sounds which are based around the original analog synthesizers. All of the included sounds are also polyphonic, which eradicates the common problem of not being able to play multiple notes with a synth pedal.
The design of this pedal is understated and compact. The four controls on the face allow you to tweak the dry/wet signal, the tone, rate and depth of the synthesizer’s effects and toggle through the multiple variations of each sound. There are a total of 121 built-in sounds for you to play around with. These vary from rhythmic LFO’s to sweeping phasers.
In terms of sound manipulation and ease of use, the SY-1 gets top marks. It’s the kind of pedal you could spend hours upon hours experimenting with, as there are so many possibilities.
Electro-Harmonix returns with another great pedal, the Bass Micro Synth. This is a hands-on pedal which produces a range of tones.
The uniquely designed ten-slider controls are great for fine-tuning sounds. The possibilities of sound-editing on this pedal are basically limitless, as each individual aspect can be changed to the finest of details.
The four voices of the Bass Micro Synth are - octave, sub-octave, square wave and guitar. Each of these is full independent and can be mixed individually to create your desired effect. The next layer of editing potential is the envelope control which adds extreme sounds to the mix. You can really ramp up the effects for machine-like synth sounds, or add subtly to give your bass some extra nuance.
I like the design of the Bass Micro Synth Pedal because it looks like a genuine addition to an old analogue synth rack. The slider-design is also a great way to further your knowledge of sound-building and all of the elements which make up synthesizers. Being able to see the controls in a graph-like display is very helpful for this.
The SYNTH9 is a polyphonic synthesizer machine which is modeled on nine of the most iconic vintage synth sounds in history. Its vibrant, eccentric appearance is matched by the range of effects it can produce.
The SYNTH9 is less about sculpting your own individual synth sounds, and more about transforming you bass into nine presets. The pedal also tracks down to the open A string on a bass, and as high as the 23rd fret on a guitar. It’s an instantaneous way to turn your instrument into a convincing synthesizer.
Like with most EHX bass pedals, there is a dual output installed so you can run the signal into an effects amp in order to avoid muddying the dry bass input. For over-the-top synth reproduction, the SYNTH9 is a really fun option.
EarthQuaker Devices are an audio effects manufacturer whose popularity has been rising over the past few years. The Bit Commander V2 is a really interesting bass synth pedal which creates some impressive tones.
This monophonic synthesizer includes four octaves of square wave synth sounds. By adding or removing octaves, you can adjust the thickness of the overall sounds. For further manipulation, there is a filter control which can be used to blend the octaves together.
The great thing about the Bit Commander V2 is that you can play around with the four octave controls until you find your desired sound. This is a simple way to edit, as you can clearly hear which frequency band needs to be added or removed in order to create the results you want.
Each of the octaves has built in tonal structures. The sub-octave is heavy and thick, the octave down pulsates, the base tone has a square wave and the octave up swirls with heavy modulation.
If you want to create extreme synthesizer effects with your bass, the Keeley Synth-1 might be the right option for you. This pedal has a natural fuzz, which when combined with the filter and blend controls has the potential to make some crazy sounds.
The Synth-1 is triggered by your bass, and generates single note waves. Using the filter control, you can edit the overall tone of the wave. The blend control can then be utilized to remove the natural bass sound to make the synth effect more prominent. An expression pedal could be used to control so you could open and close it like a wah wah pedal.
The three-wave selector provides you with three choices. Select either triangle wave, square wave or sawtooth wave, and then build the rest of your sound around that foundation. The Chaos switch, as you can expect, adds ample fuzz onto the sound and makes it sound well, chaotic.
In terms of layout, the Synth-1 is well-spaced out and doesn’t overwhelm you with unnecessary controls. Overall, this pedal is a great option for those who want to create bass synth tones which stand out from the crowd.
Features of Bass Synth Pedals
Synthesizers are crammed with controls and adjustable features which allow us to create interesting sounds. As bassists, we might not be familiar with some of the more advanced ones.
In the section below we will look at some of the terms which commonly occur in the world of synths. Some of them are not usually associated with the bass so it’s good to get familiar. Then you can get straight to experimenting on your bass synth pedal straight away.
Sometimes referred to as an envelope, ADSR is an abbreviation of four parameters – attack, decay, sustain and release. With most synth pedals, these parameters can be individually tweaked to create different results. In more detail:
- Attack – the time it takes for the initial level to go from zero to its peak after the key is pressed
- Decay – the time it takes for the level to run down from the attack to sustain level
- Sustain – the level during the main portion of the sounds duration, until key is released
- Release – the time it takes for the level to drop back to zero after the key is released
Tweaking each of these parameters has a dramatic effect on the overall sound. For example, turning down the attack would lead to the start of the sound being cut off, with a fade-in like effect. Turning the release up would cause the sound to linger for much longer before fading into silence.
An LFO, or Low-frequency oscillation is a frequency which is commonly below 20 Hz and results in an often rhythmic pulsation or sweep. LFO’s are used mainly as a way to modulate synthesizers or other audio effects, in order to create the feeling of movement. Turning up an LFO would result in fast paced-wobbling effects, while turning it down would result in a slower waviness.
The Possibilities are Endless
The production of synth bass pedals has made it possible to create some weird and wonderful sounds from a bass guitar, which many musicians of old would never have considered possible. I hope that this comprehensive list has guided you towards the best suited pedal for your needs.
Synthesizer pedals are fascinating to play around with, so be sure to experiment with all of the controls. Who knows, you might come across something completely unique which becomes your signature sound.