I´ve been playing dry, compressed bass lines my whole life. Recently had a bit of a discussion about it with a friend of mine who is a producer and with whom we did several records. He was pushing me to put some Reverb on my bass track and I was being skeptical about it until I heard the final result. I was shocked it sounded so good! So I decided to add a reverb pedal to my (ever-growing) pedalboard. I looked at most of the bass reverb pedals in the market and want to share my insights and preferences with you. Believe me, when used well, it sounds amazing in your bass line.
After seeing all the options available in the market with the capabilities, pros and cons I chose to buy two of them: the Iron Ether Nimbus Bass Reverb and the Strymon blueSky. The Strymon went straight to the studio rig while the Nimbus is in my pedalboard as we speak. The TC, BOSS, and MXR were good but I wanted more control over the lows for live situations and the Nimbus does that perfectly.
The Strymon was my pick for the studio because you can create some amazing sonic landscapes but and the Low Damp control is very effective to cut the lows and avoid mud but is twice the size of the Nimbus. I chose it over the Eventide because I got a little lost with it and felt happier with fewer options. Both sound amazing but the blueSky is a little more practical to do things on the fly.
Top Bass Reverb Pedals
Iron Ether Nimbus Bass Reverb
What’s good: Clean knob to have a more defined, punchy result. High and low filter.
Not so good: No USB connectivity. No presets or modes.
This is a pedal that is specific to use with a bass guitar. This means that they took special care of the handling of the lows to avoid muddiness.
In fact, there are two filters you can apply to the signal with two dedicated knobs labeled classically bass and high. The Bass knob actually tightens up the low end and takes it off only if you want to. I found that this was very useful, especially in bigger reverb settings.
The Treble knob controls the high frequencies present in the feedback path of the reverb and if you roll it off, you can create some really dark tones.
This is great in combination with the Clean knob that adjusts the level of clean tone throughout the signal. This will allow you to keep the signal clear and punchy in any setting; it really makes a difference when you play.
Strymon blueSky Reverberator
What’s good: Sounds very good, articulate and real in every mode and position. Very sturdy and reliable
Not so good: It is a big pedal that takes much of your pedalboard. It might be too complex for small and simple reverbs.
The very basis of any indie rock band with some psychedelic aspirations like Tame Impala and such is the Shimmer mode of the Strymon blueSky. The entire line of Strymon pedals arrived to change the concept of pedals in many ways.
I´ve had several throughout the years and they have proven to be very resistant besides being good-looking and great-sounding devices. I have heard a single Strymon pedal sounding nothing but great. They are not a cheap option, but there is not a trace of digitalization in the signal and every mode and type feels very articulate and real to the fingers.
Besides the 9 possible combinations of the switches, the five knobs are super handy for tone shaping. The fact that you can cut off the lows from the Low Damp knob is really god for using it with bass. The only drawback that you can find to it is that it does take a lot of room in a pedalboard and if you are going to kick it in very little in the show you might not need such a big pedal.
MXR Reverb M300
What’s good: Analog Hi-Fi original signal. 20v of clean headroom.
Not so good: Mono In & Out. With the mix in 10 there is no dry signal.
If you pay close attention to the Steve video up in the article, you´ll find that he is using this pedal exactly. There are six modes that are very ingeniously shown by MXR in the cool video below. The great analog sound and feel I got from it was because the core signal is analog and Hi-Fi. This means that while the pedal is adding all sorts of digital reverb to my signal, the dry part of it is true and responsive.
Each mode in the pedal changes the sound drastically and it is possible to add an external pedal to change or blend the modes. The amount of headroom given by the 20 volts on this pedal can really be felt as you push it a little playing faster or louder; it doesn´t ever break up.
What I don´t like about this pedal is that it is mono IN and mono OUT so it doesn´t allow you to make several lines out of it. Another not-so-great feature is that with the Mix knob fully-on, the result is a 100% wet signal erasing the analog Hi-Fi.
TC Electronic Hall of Fame Reverb Pedal
What’s good: With 10 reverb types plus the Tone Print, the TC Electronic Hall of Fame adjusts to most scenarios easily. In my fingers, it felt articulate and sounded really good.
Not so good: It is quite big and heavy as a pedal. No expression pedal input.
The Hall of Fame is everything you would expect from a brand like TC Electronic. It is a digital reverb that works amazingly to emulate analog ones. This is something that you feel in your fingers rather than something you can distinguish with your ears.
Digital reverbs are usually less reactive to the playing and it is harder to make them resonate with the nuances of your playing. The Hall of Fame is very well designed and built to avoid this feeling of stiffness.
The USB capability and the Tone Print feature are great to have ever-growing playing experience. You can upload some presets made by famous players that can be helpful to achieve pro sounds we do not know how to get.
It is stereo in and out, which means you can take one out for your amp and another for a DI or straight to the board for either recording or live situations. The Pre-Delay is also great for lead lines, adding another dimension to the sound.
BOSS RV-6 Reverb
What’s good: Built as a tank. Versatile yet simple.
Not so good: No USB capability. Sounds a little digital.
BOSS has a reputation for building some of the sturdiest and most durable pedals in the history of modern music. This Reverb pedal is no exception to that statement; the RV-6 is built like a tank.
For gigging musician reliability and obtainability (you can buy BOSS pedals anywhere) are crucial to success. This pedal is also stereo IN and stereo OUT and also has a fifth jack to plug an expression pedal and adjust the Reverb level externally. With this feature, you can easily dial a huge reverb and then blend it in slowly. This works perfectly with the Dynamic, Shimmer and Delay+Reverb modes because they create lush sonic landscapes.
The pedal features four knobs, one is the knob to select the mode and the other three are Effects Level, Tone and Time. With these, you can shape the sound of each mode and for us, bass players, the Tone knob works marvels in avoiding the muddy lows.
The other modes including the Modulate are very much standard reverb sounds that are very accurate. Perhaps the sounds on this BOSS pedal are a tad more digital and less responsive than the Hall of Fame; that´s how it felt for me anyways. If you want a reliable and simple, yet versatile unit, this might be a good choice to try out.
TC Electronic HOF Mini Reverb pedal
What’s good: Ideal size for a pedalboard. Sounds very similar to its bigger brother.
Not so good: One-trick pony, you can´t change sounds live.
Speaking about effects pedals size does matter. Believe me, the more you are on the road, the more you want to carry less stuff. The big pedalboard might make you sound amazing, but if you could do the same with half the size, you would definitely pay the extra.
The fact that this pedal only has one knob doesn´t make it any less capable than any of its bigger brothers. With the TonePrint app you can pass to the pedal famous artist´s presets. It works kind of like magic, you just put the phone to the pickup of the instrument and it sends it directly to the pedal. With the provided software you can also create your own preset and send it the same way.
It is a great pedal to do one thing; it is what we call a one-trick pony. Regardless of the possibilities of shaping the sound it still is one sound. With the bigger brother, you can change the reverb style on the fly and make the pedal sound very different from song to song on stage.
Eventide Space Reverb Pedal
What’s good: Ease of access to parameters in live situations. TAP tempo.
Not so good: Fairly big. Too complicated if you want to add just a little reverb.
The most complete reverb unit in this list is this Eventide Space Reverb. It might look a little intimidating at first when you look at the number of options and knobs available. Also, the back panel has 2 inputs, 2 outputs, an AUX switch, and an Expression Pedal jack and a USB port as well as the 9v connection.
Truth be told, it all has a purpose and works great. You can shape the tone and type of your reverb drastically not only on the fly with all the available controls but also with your feet because it comes equipped with a Tap Tempo switch.
There is a high and a low EQ and also the possibility to create and store banks. Although it looks like a very digital unit, it maintains the analog dry going through the entire signal. Also, the true bypass is completely analogous.
Finally, the USB capability allows you to update the unit whenever the company uploads the new software. I can say that the TAP tempo is very useful in live situations as well as the variety of knobs.
Driving through the mud, the bass reverb rally
At the beginning of my talk with my friend, the producer, who happens to be a drummer, I told him that reverb made my bass lines muddy. This is a fact of life: you do not put any reverb on low frequencies unless you want to race a rally over pure mud.
I want my bass lines to be punchy, compressed and powerful. He acknowledged all my concerns (being a drummer understands the bass&drums concept) and just showed me his ideas about how to set up the reverb properly and apply it to the right sections of the song.
He was absolutely right about how much more feeling reverb adds to lead lines and melodic turns. Every time I was doing the melody or the lead line (it was kind of a New Order song), the reverb kicked in and everything sounded better. So, the conclusion is that yes, there is a shortcut to avoid mud.
Filtering the lows, is it possible?
Well, bass legend and teacher Steve Lawson did this video that I think is pretty illustrative on how to choose the right pedal to filter the lows on your signal. If you pay attention from minute 5:10 on, you´ll find the right way of filtering the lows. Going back to my incursion over bass reverb, I was in the studio, so we just added an EQ over the reverb line and cut off the lows. You can do the same with a pedal EQ on your board, but it´ll be quite a tap dance.
In my opinion, the best way to do it is to kick it in for the lead lines and not play the lower strings when it is engaged in a band situation. To put it this way: reverb is a momentary effect on bass. It is an effect most guitar players leave on throughout songs, even entire sets, but for us, bass players, we can use it for melodies and lead lines.
What case scenario is great for adding reverb to your bass?
Let´s go through some of the ideal case scenarios to add reverb to your bass signal chain.
When you go lead – Going lead on bass is not something that happens in every song, but it might. The reverb will add some edge to the signal and your line will sound thicker, lusher, and more attractive.
Keeping the melody – This sounds great when you are the backbone of the chorus or backing up the singer with some notes from the same scale. If you go behind the singer and don´t play on the top two strings (of a four-string bass) then the reverb will mix your notes right in and sound much more natural.
Playing chords – In my opinion, when a bass player plays chords in a tune, a whole new dimension opens up musically. Bass chords usually have the power, the lows, and the mids to fill up every frequency in the spectrum. Adding reverb to that combination makes your sound huge, check out how this guy does it.
Looping and experimental music – Do you like looping with a pedal? Ever since I discovered how to do some simple beats in the instrument, I found that dropping some chords and a melody on top is great fun. I usually add the reverb to the chords and the lead line and I am in songwriting heaven.
Reverb Vs. Chorus; is it really a needed choice?
Finally, this is something most of us players ask ourselves but it is a big controversy based on nothing. In my opinion, you can definitely play both at the same time and create some lush landscapes of the sonic backbone for the songwriter and the band. You have to be even more careful with those muddy lows, but if you can make it sit in the right frequencies, you have a winner. My answer to that question is: both.