Bass distortion pedals or bass overdrive pedals duplicate the overdriven sounds of amplifiers and make the electric bass sound ragged and aggressive, a sound that is distinctive in rock/metal music. Before effects pedals or any effects in general were made for the electric bass guitar, bassists would plug their basses into effects pedals made for the regular electric guitar and surprisingly it worked.
How it works
It’s not a surprise though, that bass players back then were eager to experience and experiment with distortion since it is arguably the most popular and utilised effect amongst guitar players. Bassists who used a guitar distortion pedal finally got the sound many guitarists were already enjoying, but there was a downside.
You see, when a bass is used in conjunction with a distortion pedal meant for the guitar, the characteristic low tones of the bass get lost. When they finally made distortion/overdrive pedals for bass, there was no more dilemma. Bassists finally got the dirty and edgy sound they wanted, while still sounding like they were playing a bass.
Distortion Bass guitar pedal usage
The first notable use of distortion by a bassist, was probably when Paul McCartney used a fuzzbox (an early guitar distortion pedal) on “Think for Yourself” from the 1965 album Rubber Soul by the Beatles. In the 1970’s, most bass players stopped using distortion.
When rock music got harder and heavier in the 1980’s and later decades and with the development of effects pedals for bass, bass distortion became more popular than ever. It’s worth noting that although bass distortion pedals are used mostly in rock music, they are also used by bassists of all musical styles.