Electro Harmonix Bass MicroSynth Pedal
Source Audio One Series C4 Bass Synth
Boss SYB-5 Bass Synthesizer Pedal
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As much as I hate to say it, many times you know when you’re hearing a good bass player when you don’t notice them at all – they are locked in and ingrained into the framework of the song.
So you may be wondering: “how can I change things up a bit”?
There’s no doubt that bass effects pedals are a great way to make your bass tone unique. Sure, getting all funky and stuff by using playing technique is one sure way to get yourself noticed, but being able to add something totally different – such as a distortion, chorus, or some other kind of modulation effect just takes things up a notch.
What can completely take your bass lines to a new level altogether is by using a bass synth pedal. And I mean – an entirely new set of notches! Once you try one, you may never think of your bass in the same light again.
Moving into synth-land can be a daunting experience, for sure. No worries though – I’ve taken a look at 8 of the best bass synth pedals around and have answers to your most burning questions.
The 8 Best bass Synth pedals:
Electro-Harmonix Bass MicroSynth Effects Pedal
If you’re looking for a bass synth pedal that will give you that ‘old school’ analog synth sound, then you don’t have to look any further than the Electro-Harmonix Bass MicroSynth.
It gives you the ability to emulate those early Moog tones that made synths popular to begin with, and it lets you do it with a pretty impressive array of parameters to adjust.
The Voice Mix section has four separate voice settings (ranging from Sub-Octave to Square Wave), along with several attributes in the Filter Sweep portion that will let you craft those vintage tones we all know and love.
The MicroSynth is in a 100% ‘knob-free’ zone; all of the adjustments are made with sliders – great for seeing where you are at visually.
It’s housed in a gig-worthy die cast chassis and offers true bypass as well, which is meant to keep your tone from getting colored by the analog circuitry during those times where you don’t feel like getting your freak on.
Boss SYB-5 Bass Synthesizer Pedal
There are some brands where you expect nothing but the best, and one of those is Boss. They have hit yet another effects pedal homerun with the SYB-5 Bass Synthesizer, giving you traditional synth sounds with functionality that typically isn’t found in many other bass synth pedals.
The SYB-5 was designed to produce 11 different analog-type synth sounds, which are created by modifying saw, square, and pulse synth waveforms.
The overall sound quality is enhanced over its predecessor (the iconic SYB-3), thanks to improvements in the Wave Shape mode to make tones more distinct.
Other innovative features include an expression pedal input (which allows real-time modification of LFO rates and filter cutoff parameters), and a Pitch Hold function that holds a note when you press the foot switch, letting you solo over your own synth tone background.
Electro-Harmonix Bass Mono Synth Bass Effects Pedal
The technology and terminology behind how a bass synth pedal works can be intimidating for the everyday player, but Electro-Harmonix makes it a piece of cake with their Bass Mono Synth Bass Effects Pedal.
11 different synth sounds are preloaded, and navigating between them is as easy as turning a knob. Additional features include complete blending control, with the Dry knob for the base tone along with a Synth knob for the effects level.
Bass synth effects can be particularly prone to tracking issues, and EHX has worked to solve that with the Sens (sensitivity) control. This makes it easy to set at what point your input signal will trigger the synth effects.
While the synth tones are impressive (and the intent was to keep things simple), there may actually be not enough control over them for some players.
A CTRL (Control) knob will modify only one parameter at a time, and while some control is better than none I think more would have been better in this case. There is an option to use an expression pedal, though, so that alone helps to give you more control over your bass-synth destiny.
Digitech Dirty Robot Bass Synth Effects Pedal
With the Dirty Robot, Digitech not only lets you create great analog synth sweep tones, but you also can mimic a vocoder/talk box as well (does Frampton or Walsh ring a bell?)
Switching from one mode to the other is as easy as…well…flipping a switch that’s mounted near the top of the unit.
It’s got a lot of power packed into its small package size, and a lot of that has to do with Digitech’s use of several (three, to be exact) concentric knobs to modify various parameters.
To the uninitiated, a concentric knob has an inner knob and an outer ring that functions just like the knob portion, but it alters a different setting.
You can add more color to your synth tones (regardless of the mode you’re using) by adding chorus (by adjusting – you guessed it – one of the concentric knobs) or vibrato, which can be done by stomping and holding the foot switch.
Electro-Harmonix SYNTH9 Synthesizer Machine Bass Pedal
The SYNTH9 from EHX stuffs 9 of the most classic synth sounds into one compact foot pedal, making it a great choice to help spice up your bass guitar’s sonic landscape.
There’s really nothing too complicated from a user-interface standpoint.
The synth tones are selected with a single knob, and there are two other knobs (CTRL 1 and CTRL 2) that let you modify certain parameters that are different based on which tone you are using.
Blending wet and dry signals is super easy with a single level control knob for each, along with dedicated outputs as well. On top of that, each tone is tight and punchy thanks to the built-in compressor.
Source Audio One Series C4 Bass Synth Pedal
The saying ‘big things come in small packages’ certainly rings true for the C4 Synth Pedal from Source Audio. It may not look like much on the outside, but it’s what’s under the hood that makes all the difference.
At first glance you may think ‘what’s the big deal’? It’s small, and it only has 4 knobs (Input and Mix for blend control, and Control 1 and Control 2 for parameter adjustments). Pretty underwhelming, right?
Here’s the kicker though – thanks to support for Source Audio’s Neuro Desktop Editor (or the Neuro mobile app), you actually have parallel voices, several waveforms to play around with, envelope followers, modulation filters, tremolo, pitch-shifting, harmonization…(I’ve gotta stop because I’m gonna run out of space to type)…
Add 128 MIDI selectable presets, a three-way toggle switch that will let you select one of three locally saved presets, and a whole library of sounds created by the Neuro community, and you have a bass synth pedal that has almost limitless potential.
Electro-Harmonix MEL9 Tape Replay Bass Pedal
Do you remember the iconic intro to ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’? That was the flute sound on a Mellotron, which was one of the first commercially available synthesizers on the market.
What if I told you that you could get a similar sound from a foot pedal? No, I’m not crazy…well, that can be debated, but in this case I’m rock solid, thank you very much!
The EHX MEL Tape Relay is a mind-blowing example of how technology has evolved over time, packing 9 of the most classic Mellotron tones into a convenient foot pedal package.
This is one synth pedal where the intent is to sound like a completely different instrument. Tones include the flute, saxophone, brass, and cello, amongst others. It has several control knobs to control the level of blending along with attack/sustain control as well.
One thing that would have been nice would be the ability to modify any of the tone parameters, just so you could customize your sound a little more. It’s not a deal-breaker, though, as the MEL9 is pretty impressive to get that old-school vibe right out of the box.
Earthquaker Devices Bit Commander V2 Bass Pedal
Some bass synth pedals are fancy with a ton of features, and some are simple enough to give you exactly what you need, when you need it.
The Bit Commander V2 from Earthquaker Devices seems to fall squarely into the latter category.
It gives you the ability to create synth tones based off of a simple square wave modulation across a 4 octave range (sub, down 1, base, and up 1).
Each octave level can be individually adjusted, allowing a high level of creativity in crafting a full, rich tone or even one that may be a little out in left field.
Analog octaves can be a bit unpredictable when used in a synth context. This is particularly true with the lower frequencies from a bass, so you may find yourself either pleasantly surprised or kind of freaked out (not always a bad thing) at what you can extract from the Bit Commander.
What Is A Bass Synth Pedal?
While most ‘traditional’ effects modify the chemical makeup of the dry signal coming from your bass, a good bass synth pedal takes that concept and pretty much turns it on its head.
A synth pedal takes the basic signal waveform and allows you to twist, distort, modify, and completely freak it out.
Really, it allows you to alter the signal using specific parameters where you can mimic the output of a real honest-to-goodness synthesizer (which, for those who may not know, are those keyboard-looking thingys that got really popular starting in the 80’s, but have been on the scene since the late 60’s).
Let’s level up your expectations here, though.
Most synth pedals are waveform modulators that give unique synth-type sounds, and they aren’t intended to completely mimic other instruments. If you think that you’ll be able to make your bass sound exactly like a trumpet or a violin just by running it through a foot pedal then you may be disappointed.
Sure, you can trick it out and create sounds you may never have imagined before, but there are limitations to what a pedal-based unit can accomplish. If you wanna get super fancy, then you should expect to pay a LOT more money and get a unit that has a LOT more processing power…and which probably has some sort of computer interface as well.
Bass synth pedals? Well…those ain’t that. The closest I’ve seen a pedal come to doing this is the EHX MEL9 that I reviewed. Don’t get me wrong – it’s good – but it doesn’t copy the tone footprint of other instruments exactly, especially when using a bass.
How can I get my bass synth pedal to track better?
One of the most basic – and potentially frustrating – issues when using a bass synth pedal is getting it to track consistently.
What do I mean by that?
‘Tracking’ is the ability of a synth pedal to take the incoming signal and have it be processed as it was intended to be.
Trust me, you’ll know if you are having tracking problems – you’ll be getting sounds and results that are completely out in left field, unexpected, and not the same from note to note.
Fortunately there are a few tips and tricks that you can do to help your synth pedal to track as smoothly as possible:
Better Playing Technique
To be blunt, if your playing tends to be a little sloppy then you may be asking for tracking trouble. Synth pedals work best when the incoming signal is as clean as possible, giving it something solid to lock onto when it’s doing it’s magic.
Issues such as fret noise and letting other strings ring out when they shouldn’t have no place here; simply put, your playing should be as clean and precise as possible.
Tone It Down!
Believe it or not, the tone knob on your bass can fight against you when trying to use a bass synth pedal. Some players have better tracking results if they roll it back a bit.
If your bass has a neck pickup, using that for your synth lines can make a big difference as well.
Some may even to the point of using flatwound strings for a sound that isn’t so bright.
Why would all of this matter? Beats me.
All I know is that, with some synth pedals, the higher frequencies can make things glitch out more than you will want them too.
Can I use a guitar synth pedal with bass Guitar?
Yeah, you can. In fact, a good amount of the synth pedals that I’ve taken a look at here are ‘technically’ for the guitar.
Here’s the deal – the same is true for bass synth pedals vs. guitar synth pedals as it is with most other types of effects pedals. Models that are specifically meant for use with the bass are designed around the lower frequency range that the bass guitar produces.
You may find that a guitar synth pedal may give you better results than one targeted towards the bass. The best thing to do is to simply try out a few different models, and then pick the one that gets your mojo flowing the best.
As Eddie Van Halen said: ‘The heck with the rules. If it sounds right, then it is.”
(…but he didn’t say ‘heck’…use your imagination…I’m running a ‘family-friendly’ site here so let’s keep it clean…and yes, Eddie HAS played the bass before…)
Let’s face it – bass synth pedals aren’t for everyone. In fact, you may not ever see the need for one based off your playing style and the type of music you typically play.
That being said, a good bass synth pedal can bring you one of the most prized things that you can receive as a musician – inspiration.
Taking things out of the box (which…yeah, for sure…a synth pedal will certainly do) may lead to to experiment and try things that you may never have before.
The Electro-Harmonix Bass MicroSynth Effects Pedal is, in my opinion, one of the best bass synth pedals around. Its simple slider-based interface lets you get into those ‘otherworld’ spaces with ease, and it may be just the thing for you if you’re into vintage synth sounds.
So are you a synth-kind of player? Or are they just novelty boxes to you? Make yourself heard to the world by leaving some comments below…