Bass Guitars – The Most Informative Article You Will Ever Read On The Electric Bass
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What Is The Bass Guitar?
The bass guitars are plucked string instruments similar in appearance and construction to an electric or an acoustic guitar, except with a longer neck and scale length, and typically four to six strings or courses.
The four-string bass is usually tuned the same as the double bass, which corresponds to pitches one octave lower than the four lowest-pitched strings of a guitar (E, A, D, and G). It is played primarily with the fingers or thumb or striking with a pick.
The electric bass guitars have pickups and must be connected to an amplifier and speaker to be loud enough to compete with other instruments.
Since the 1960s, the bass guitar has largely replaced the double bass in popular music as the bass instrument in the rhythm section.
While types of basslines vary widely from one style of music to another, the bassist usually plays a similar role: anchoring the harmonic framework and establishing the beat. Many styles of music include the bass guitar, and it is occasionally a soloing instrument.
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HISTORY OF THE BASS GUITARS
The first known electric bass guitar was manufactured in the 1930s by Seattle-based inventor and musician Paul Tutmarc, but it wasn’t very successful.
Leo Fender developed the Precision Bass, which made its debut in 1951. Minor modifications were made in the mid-50s. Since then, very few changes have been made to what quickly became the industry standard.
The “P-Bass” is still the most commonly used bass guitar, and multitudes of copycats have been made by other manufacturers.
A few years after the P-Bass, Fender introduced the Jazz Bass that had a slimmer, easier-to-play neck and two pickups, one close to the bridge and the other close to the neck.
This allowed for a wider tonal range. Despite its name, the “J-Bass” is widely used in all genres of modern music. Like the Precision, the Jazz guitar’s shape and design have been emulated by numerous guitar makers.
Not to be outdone, Gibson introduced the first small-scale violin-shaped bass guitars, which could be used upright or horizontally. They then developed the highly regarded EB series, with the EB-3 being the most successful. They followed with the popular Thunderbird, which was their first 34” scale bass.
From the jazz era to the early days of rock and roll, the upright or “double” bass was used. As both jazz and rock progressed, and the portability, ease of play, and tonal variety of the electric bass became evident, the electric bass took off.
From 1957, when Elvis Presley’s bassist Bill Black “went electric,” through the tasteful bass lines of Paul McCartney, the psychedelic bass innovations of Jack Bruce, the mind-blowing jazz lines of Jaco Pastorius, to the innovative progressive lines of Tony Levin and Chris Squire, the bass guitar has become an unstoppable force in music.
Today, bass looms large in hip-hop and dubstep, metal, lounge, and all other types of modern and classic pop music.
WHO INVENTED THE BASS GUITARS?
The bass guitar was first made in the 1930s by inventor Paul Tutmarc. Although only a few musicians were interested in the instrument that Tutmarc made.
The need for a new instrument developed in the 1950s. At that time, the double bass was the main bass instrument in jazz, blues, folk, early rock music and bluegrass.
The problem was that the double bass was big, heavy, hard to carry around, hard to play precise notes on, and it was hard to make it louder with a bass amplifier. Musicians wanted a smaller instrument that weighed less and was easier to play and amplify.
Inventors tried to think of ways of building a smaller and lighter bass instrument. One of these inventors of the modern bass guitar that we know was a man named Leo Fender in the United States. Leo Fender developed a bass guitar in the 1950s using the ideas developed by Tutmarc.
BASS GUITARS BODY SHAPES
There are different types of bass guitar shapes to choose from – solid-body and semi-hollow. Some people might find it hard to decide which one is right for them, as both body types are good for play in both live performances and studio settings.
We are going to take a look at the major differences and reasons behind each body type (semi hollow bass guitar and solid body bass guitars).
SEMI HOLLOW BASS GUITARS:
There are tons of pros and cons to the incredible semi hollow body bass guitar, and in a lot of cases, the pros outweigh the cons. A semi-acoustic or semi-hollow bass guitar is the perfect alternative if you’re looking for something that’s still going to amplify that “bassy” noise you love, without being entirely electric.
In the same vein, it isn’t too acoustic either – it can still carry the punch of a bass with the resonant sound of an acoustic. So as an ideal medium of guitar, it’s a win-win.
However, there is some question around feedback and just how well it works when amplified versus an utterly electric bass – it doesn’t guarantee you a clean sound due to the interfering acoustics from the semi-hollow body.
On the other hand, it’ll provide you with a warm sound you wouldn’t get from a solid-body. This type of guitar is perfect for blues, jazz, and warmer tone ensembles including use in a studio and whenever you want to get a richer tone.
SOLID BODY BASS GUITARS
This is basically the most popular and most used type of bass guitar. They are dubbed as the King of bass guitars, and it is easy to see why!
They can sustain amplification for a lot longer and louder than their semi-hollow or acoustic counterparts, without running into issues with feedback.
They rely on complete amplification and no resonance due to their robust build, they are the ideal bass when it comes to effects.
If you’re an effects kind of person and playing the guitar primarily for this purpose, then you’ll want to use a solid-body bass.
However, because of the reliance on amplification, they’re limited to the rock and pop genres as they don’t do blues and jazz as well. This type of bass guitar is perfect for rock, pop, loud music on stage, using with fx pedals
All in all, it is not easy choosing between two different types of bass guitar, mainly because in a lot of ways they’re used for separate things – and in an ideal world, you should have both in your arsenal, to use according to your different needs in the studio or live.
WHAT IS A BASS GUITAR MADE OUT OF?
Bass guitars are normally made out of wood. Bass guitars have a few main pieces such as a body, neck, fingerboard, frets, and strings. The body is made out of wood. A wooden neck is glued or bolted onto the body.
A wooden fingerboard is then glued onto the neck. Then, thin metal strips called frets are glued onto the fingerboard. Frets are placed at specific locations along the fretboard, with each fret representing a one-half step in the Western tonal scale.
The type of wood that is used in the body of the bass guitar will impact its tone and resonance. New players don’t need to be too concerned with the type of wood used for their bass guitar body. But if you are looking for a specific sound from your bass, then the body wood could be an important factor.
ALDER: Alder is often used for bass guitar bodies. It creates a very balanced tone, with great clarity and a very full sound.
AGATHIS: Agathis is a popular body wood because it is relatively inexpensive. It provides a fairly balanced tone with a slight emphasis on low-mid tones that gives it a rich sound.
ASH: There are several species of ash used on bass guitar bodies, with subtle differences, but in general the wood produces a bright, full sound, similar to alder. Swamp ash is especially desirable due to its beautiful grain.
BASSWOOD: Frequently used on less expensive instruments, it is a softer wood that does not resonate as much as other tonewood options. Some bass players think this creates a flat sound, while others feel the short sustain is ideal for fast, complex playing techniques.
MAHOGANY: Mahogany is a popular tonewood for bass guitars because it produces a soft, warm tone that emphasizes the low-mid and lower-range tones, and creates longer sustain. It is a dense wood, however, and will feel heavier on your shoulder than ash or agathis.
MAPLE: Maple is also a dense wood, so it creates a well-sustained sound like mahogany. Maple, however, produces a bright, clear tone that many musicians find valuable in a studio setting.
Many other kinds of wood are used for bass bodies. High-end models may be made of exotic species such as Bubinga, wenge, koa, or cocobolo.
BASS GUITAR CHORDS
There are absolutely times that chords can be played more extensively on the bass guitar. You would find bass guitar chords featured in more progressive styles of music such as jazz and fusion music.
The chords on the bass guitar work best when the other instruments that use chords stop playing. If the bass plays chords it often encroaches on the frequencies of the keyboards or guitar. If they don’t stop playing it will either cause you to lose the bass guitar chords in the mix, or the band will start to sound muddy.
TENTHS OR 10THS: This is the first place I would recommend anyone wishing to experiment with chords should start. These are simple two-note major or minor chords which work we in the majority of pop and rock music. The sound good because there is a large gap between the lowest note and the highest note.
POWER CHORDS: Again these are an extension of what a guitarist plays and as a bass player, you can use them sparingly too. They have very bare sound because they only use the root and the 5th. They work best in rock and metal music.
OPEN STRING CHORDS: These are chords which use on of the open string. On a 4 string bass, there are only 3 options to do this using the E, A and D string as the lower note. There are many options to use for the higher notes. Here are the first 3 you can start experimenting with.
OPEN VOICING CHORDS: Open Voicing are chords which are more associated with Jazz and Funk music. They add in the 7th. Typically they are constructed by playing the root on the E string, 7th on the A String and 3rd on the G string. On a 4 string bass, the root is always on the E string and the next note is on the D string. The large interval between the root and 7th it’s called ‘open’ (as opposed to closed in examples in number 5)
CLOSED VOICING CHORDS: Closed Voicing is rooted on the A string. They use 3 notes on 3 consecutive strings which is why they are called closed voicing. Typically they are constructed with the root on the A string, 3rd on the D string and 7th on the G string.
These are the prime examples of the chords which come to life in the upper register of a 4 string bass. As we said earlier, chords on the bass guitar can sound muddy or indistinct especially when played lower down on the neck. So the best place to play a chord on a 4 string bass is more often than not above the 7th fret. For more complicated Jazz or Funk chords, they tend to sound best above the 12th fret.
BASS GUITAR FACTS
The modern bass guitar was invented by Leo Fenderand marketed beginning in 1951 as a cheaper, more portable, and louder alternative for double bassists playing in dance bands (Jamerson).
The bass guitars come in two variants: the solid-body electric bass guitar and the hollow-body acoustic bass guitar. Both are traditionally tuned like a double bass, with the same four lowest strings (E’-A’-D-G) as a guitar, but an octave lower.
While the electric bass guitar is always amplified outside of personal practice settings, confusingly, the acoustic bass guitar can also be amplified electronically via pickups, usually in performance settings. The acoustic bass guitar is “acoustic” because its main amplification is its resonant, hollow body (Novoselic).
Both the electric and acoustic bass guitars originally and typically have fretted fingerboards, which enable ease of intonation. Fretless bass guitars enable swooping glissandi, which can approximate the sound of the double bass (DiGiorgio).
The bass guitars are great musical instruments and can be played with or without a plectrum (pick) (Lemmy, Kaye, Jackson). There are some ideological, as well as musical, differences: the pick more closely approximates the sound and style of the electric guitar, while the alternative—plucking the strings with the fingers—more closely approximates the sound of a double bass(Jamerson). For much of its history, the bass guitar was considered a poor musician’s double bass.
5-, 6-, and even 10- and 12-string variants exist. While the 5-string version is often considered appropriate for rock and metal musicians seeking to extend the instrument lower than the electric guitar (and thereby creating an alternative bass part, rather than solely doubling the guitar part), the 6-string version is used primarily in jazz-rock fusion settings or in virtuoso work (Jackson). The 10- and 12-strings versions are usually considered curiosities, best used in solo work, or in bands that feature those instruments specifically.
Initially plucking or picking have been the primary means of creating sound on the instrument, but especially during the 1970s bass players started slapping the strings with the thumb (Clarke, Wooten); popping the strings by quickly pulling and releasing the strings with the index and middle fingers (Clarke); tapping on the strings with both or either hand; and even strumming the strings in a rasgueado style derived from flamenco guitar performance. Combining these techniques is considered a virtuoso achievement (Wooten).
The bass guitar enables a variety of approaches to performance: from “walking” bass lines derived from jazz; playing countermelodies or imitating the bass drum and snare parts of the drum set (Jamerson, Ndegeocello); to fully soloistic lines imitating or doubling saxophone or guitar lines (Pastorius, Wooten, Jackson); to “lead” bass guitar parts that at once solo and lay down a groove (Clarke, Ndegeocello, Roessler); to bass solos leading into doubling the guitar part, but an octave lower (Lemmy); to providing coloristic and percussive effects (DiGiorgio); and much else besides.
Because the electric guitar has often been considered the virtuoso instrument in male-dominated popular music, women’s contributions have often been relegated to playing the bass guitar.
Despite this gendering, women have featured prominently as bassists, making important contributions in all genres—including soul, funk, hardcore punk, and doom metal—with all techniques, and expressing various subjectivities through the instrument (Ndegeocello, Kaye, Roessler, Slajh).