Bass guitar

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Image:MartinEB18front-1.jpg A electric bass guitar (also called an electric bass, or simply a bass) is an electric string instrument similar in appearance to an electric guitar, but with a larger body, commonly four strings, a longer scale neck and tuned an octave lower in pitch than a guitar. There are also acoustic bass guitars.



The instrument is a variant of the electric guitar, and is used to play the low notes in many types of music. Since the 1950s it has largely replaced the double bass in popular music, no doubt because the electric bass is easier to amplify, record, and transport than its predecessor. Nonetheless, the double bass is still used in some types of music such as jazz, bluegrass, rockabilly, traditional blues, some genres of rock and, classical music. Electric basses may be fretted or fretless, although fretted basses are far more common in most popular music settings. Fretless basses, which produce a distinctive and expressive tone similar to a double bass, are more common in jazz-fusion music.


1920s Protoypes

The necessity for a louder individual bass instrument can be traced back to the 1920s jazz scene. Classical orchestras get a loud bass sound by using four to eight double bass players playing the same part simultaneously. However, in the 1920s when jazz groups began to use an individual double bass in small jazz combos to accompany banjos, brass and woodwind sections, pianos, and drums, it was hard for double bass players' unamplified instruments to be heard (in the 1920s, portable amplifiers designed for low-frequency instruments were not yet widely commercially available). An additional factor that may have spurred a search for an alternative instrument may have been the fact that double basses are large and awkward to transport.

In the 1920s and early 1930s, several early prototypes of electric double basses were developed. Even though these instruments had electric pickups, they were still variants of the double bass, because they were unfretted and played vertically. The Audiovox Manufacturing Company in Seattle, Washington had an upright solidbody electric bass on the market by February 1935, designed by Paul Tutmarc, a musician, instrument maker, and amplifier designer.

1930s: Fretted basses

Subsequently, Paul Tutmarc developed a guitar-style electric bass instrument that was fretted and designed to be held and played horizontally. Audiovox's sales catalogue of 1935-6 listed what is probably the world’s first fretted, solid body electric bass that is designed to be played horizontally - the Model #736 Electric Bass Fiddle. The change to a "guitar" form made the instrument easier to hold and transport; the addition of guitar-style frets enabled bassists to play in tune more easily (which also made the new electric bass easier to learn).

1950s and 1960s: Fender Bass

The first mass-produced electric bass was developed by innovator and manufacturer Leo Fender in the early 1950s. Fender trained as an accountant and was a self-taught electrical engineer who started repairing radios and built public address (P.A.) systems before getting into the electronics and amplification of electric instruments. Ironically, Leo Fender could not even play guitar or bass.

The Fender Precision Bass was first offered in 1951. Named for the exact intonation a player could achieve with its fretted neck, the Precision Bass was equipped with a single piece, four-pole pickup, and a simple, uncontoured 'slab' body design. In 1954 the body was contoured with beveled edges for comfort. In 1957, the pickup was changed to a single "split coil pickup" (staggered humbucker) design. The telecaster style headstock was enlarged to make it more stable, as the older, more slender headstock would flex ever so slightly, making the 'd' string tuning seem mushy. The pickguard also underwent a radical change making the new model a counterpart to the new stratocaster guitars. This 1957 design has remained as the standard electric bass, and is still widely available.

Fender introduced another industry standard, the similar, but more highly-engineered Fender Jazz Bass, in 1960. The jazz bass featured 2 single coil pickups, one close to the bridge and one in the precision position, each with separate volume and tone control as well as a neck that was more narrow at the nut,1 1/2" vs 1 3/4" for the precision. These designs have become so ubiquitous that pickups based on the ones found on the Precision and Jazz basses are often referred to as "P" or "J", respectively. (Fender also produced a six-string bass, the Fender VI, in the 1960s, although it was tuned higher than a modern six-string bass.)

Following Fender's lead, other companies such as Gibson, Danelectro, and many others started to produce their own version of the electric bass. Some, like the Rickenbacker 4000 series, became identified with a particular style of music. Rickenbackers were pioneered by Paul McCartney, John Entwistle, Chris Squire, Geddy Lee, and other progressive rock bassists.

1970s: Boutique Basses

In 1971 Alembic established the template for what would subsequently be known as "boutique" or "high end" electric bass. Key design elements included active electronics, premium woods, and multi-laminate neck-through-body construction. Other innovations by Alembic included the world’s first graphite-neck bass and one of the early production 5-string bass with a low "B" string, both in 1976. Another manufacturer, Fodera, also began producing an electric bass with a low "B" string in the mid-1970s. In collaboration with the highly-respected bassist Anthony Jackson, Fodera developed a new six-string electric bass.

Upright Bass' Comeback

The upright bass began making a modest comeback in popular music in the mid-1980s, in part due to a renewed interest in earlier forms of rock and country music. The rockabilly revival led by the chart-topping Stray Cats made upright basses "hip" again. In the 1990s, improvements in pickups and amplifier designs for electro-acoustic horizontal and upright basses made it easier for bassists to get a good, clear amplified tone from an acoustic instrument. Popular bands such as Barenaked Ladies and Soul Coughing decided to anchor their sound with an upright bass instead of an electric bass. A trend for "unplugged" performances further helped to enhance the public's interest in the upright bass and acoustic bass guitars. Even in the early 2000s, the upright bass continued its comeback, with punk/"psychobilly" groups such as Tiger Army, The Living End and the HellRazors using the upright bass.

Innovations and refinements

The first electric basses had four strings (tuned E-A-D-G, from lowest to highest), a form that is still prevalent several decades later. However, in the 1980s and 1990s, as performers sought to expand the range of their instruments, electric basses with five, six, or even seven strings became widely available. Five-string basses typically have a low "B" string, and six-string basses usually have both a low "B" string and a high "C" string. Other variations on the four string bass are eight string (with four sets of two strings; one tuned to the root note and one an octave higher) and twelve string (with four sets of three strings; one tuned to the root and two tuned an octave above).

There have also been extended range 11 string basses which go from a low C# (below the range of human hearing) up to a high Eb (one semitone below a guitar's high E), although these are uncommon and are typically custom built instruments. Bill "the Buddha" Dickens is a virtuoso bass player from the US who generally uses a 7-string bass, but also plays on an 11-string. The additional strings provide Dickens with very low-pitched notes and enable him to play in a chordal style.

The electric bass, in contrast to the upright bass (or double bass), is played in a similar position to the guitar, held horizontally across the body. Notes are usually produced by plucking with the fingers or with a plectrum (pick). In the 1970s and 1980s, another style of playing called "slapping" became prominent in funk and some genres of pop music. In this style of playing, the performer slaps the low strings with the thumb and "pops" the high strings with the fingers, creating a percussive effect that is often considered to be imitative of the role played by a drummer.


There is much debate among musicians and fans of the instrument about what to call the instrument. While "bass guitar" (pronounced "base") is, generally speaking, a more common term among non-musicians, others prefer "electric bass guitar," "electric bass," or simply "bass." Many are happy to use the terms interchangeably but some express a strong preference for one or other of them.

Fender's early dominance in the market for mass produced bass guitars led to the widespread use of the term "Fender bass" to describe the instrument. After the prominent bassist Carol Kaye published her popular bass instructional book in 1969, entitled How To Play The Electric Bass, musician’s unions in the United States followed suit, changing the name from Fender Bass to "Electric Bass" in their directories. Additionally, with the plethora of alternative manufacturers producing similar instruments, the term "Fender bass" has largely fallen out of use.

Modern bass playing draws on guitar and double bass for inspiration as well as an increasing vernacular of its own.

== Design considerations

The 5-string bass (low B) gives a player the opportunity to play low notes in the higher positions. The resultant tone is usually "thicker," as the fatter strings give fewer harmonics. This is particularly so when using the lowest string.

However, in many musical settings, musicians have embraced the wide variety of different electric bass designs, which include a huge variety of options for the body, neck, pickups, and other features. Musicians have become open minded towards the new technologies and approaches to musical instrument design that have developed for the electric bass. As well, instruments handmade by highly-skilled masters of the craft of lutherie (guitar-making) are becoming an increasingly popular choice for professional and highly-skilled amateur bassists. These developments have given the modern bass player a wide range of choices when choosing an instrument. Design options include:


Bodies are typically made of wood although other materials such as graphite (for example, some of the Steinberger designs) have also been used. A wide variety of woods are suitable - the most common include alder, mahogany and ash, and bubinga. The choice of body material and shape can have a significant impact on the timbre of the completed instrument as well as aesthetic considerations. Other design considerations include:

  • A wide range of colored or clear lacquer, wax and oil finishes exploiting the amazing variety of natural wood forms
  • Various flat and carved industrial designs for different types of both traditional and exotic woods, large percentage of luthier-produced unique instruments (affecting weight, balance and aesthetics)
  • Headed and headless (with tuning carried out using a special bridge, mainly manufactured by Steinberger and Hohner) designs
  • Several artificial materials developed especially for instrument building, most notable being luthite
  • Unique production techniques for artificial materials, including die-casting for cost-effective complex body shapes

One further variable is the solidity of the body. Most basses have solid bodies but variations include chambers for increased resonance or to reduce weight. Basses are also built with entirely hollow bodies. Many of these have enough volume for unamplified performance in a small venue. Hollow-bodied basses are discussed in more detail in the article on acoustic bass guitars.

Number of strings (and tuning)

Image:Bassguitarnotes.jpg The standard design electric bass has four strings, tuned E, A, D, G (with the fundamental frequency of the E string set at 41.3 Hz, the same as the lowest string on the double bass). This tuning is the same as the standard tuning on the lower four strings on a 6 string guitar, only a lower octave. Modern variants include:

  • Five strings (normally B, E, A, D, G but sometimes E, A, D, G, C)
  • Six strings (B, E, A, D, G, C or B, E, A, D, G, B—although E, A, D, G, B, E has also been used). Six string basses are not very popular, but some noted bass players do use them, such as New Order's Peter Hook and Dream Theater's John Myung. Basses with seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven and even twelve (untripled) strings are also available (see also extended-range bass).
  • Double and triple courses of strings (e.g., an 8-string bass would be strung Ee, Aa, Dd, Gg, while a 12-string bass might be tuned Eee Aaa Ddd Ggg, with standard pitch strings augmented by two strings an octave higher), which are found in 8-, 10-, and 12-string varieties (doubled versions of 4, 5, and 6 string basses)
  • Guitar bass: Some players - especially players who have shifted over to bass from guitar - like to use the tuning D, G, B, E, two octaves below the first four strings of a guitar.
  • Tenor bass: A, D, G, C
  • Piccolo bass: e, a, d, g (an octave higher than standard bass tuning—-the same as the bottom four strings of a guitar)
  • Sub contra bass: C#, F#, B, E (C# being at 18 Hz and the E string being the same as the E string found on standard basses)
  • Detuners, commonly called Hipshots, allow one or more strings to be easily adjusted while playing (most commonly used to give the option of dropping the E string down to D on a four string bass). This type of tuning peg is descended from the Scruggs peg, used on banjos.

The use of roundwound, tapewound (flatwound) and plastic coated strings gives further tonal variations. Some players tune the 4-string bass B, E, A, D. In this tuning, the instrument has the familiar 4 string "feel," but with the extended lower range. In some styles of music, the higher notes on the G-string are rarely used, so the loss of the G string may not be a problem. This option is sometimes used by players who do not like the "feel" of the typically thicker, heavier 5-string neck.


The vibrations of the instrument's metal strings within the magnetic field of the permanent magnets in the pickups (pickups), produce small variations in the magnetic flux threading the coils of the pickups. This in turn produces small electrical voltages in the coils. These low-level signals are then amplified and played through a speaker. A less common variant of pickup uses one or more piezoelectric elements usually in the bridge assembly directly to sense the mechanical vibrations of the strings.

Image:Bassguitarpickups.jpg The earliest basses had a single coil, but later split coil magnetic pickup. Modern choices include:

  • Active or passive electronics (active circuits use a battery (usually a 9V PP3) to boost the signal and/or provide active equalization)
  • Magnetic pickup type (single coil, split coil, dual coil "humbucker", triple coil "humbucker")

Pickup type:

  • "P-" pickups (name taken from the original Fender Precision) are actually two distinct single-coil halves, wired in opposite direction to reduce hum, each offset a small amount along the length of the body so that each half is underneath two strings.
  • "J-" pickups (name taken from the original Fender Jazz) are wider single-coil pickups which lie underneath all four strings.
  • Soapbar pickups, found, for example, in MusicMan basses, are the same height as a J pickup, but about twice as wide (much like an electric guitar's humbucker). The name comes from the rectangular shape being similar to a bar of soap.
  • Non-magnetic systems, eg. piezoelectric pickups or the innovative new optical systems (by Lightwave Systems) allowing the bassist to use non-metallic strings. Piezoelectric pickups sense the vibrations of the string, as transmitted to the pickup through the basses' wooden body. Since piezoelectric pickups are based on the vibration of the strings and body, they can be prone to feedback "howls" when used with an amplifier, especially when higher levels of amplification are used. Optical pickups are expensive and rarely used, apart from a small number of professional bass players who require the advantages offered by optical pickups: no noise (e.g., hum) or feedback problems, even at high levels of amplification.
  • Pickup configuration. Many inexpensive basses (as well as older/vintage basses) have just one pickup (typically a "P" or "J"), but multiple pickups are also quite common, the two most common configurations being a P near the neck and a J near the bridge (e.g. Fender Precision Deluxe), or two J pickups (e.g. Fender Jazz). For single pickup systems, the placement of the pickup greatly affects the sound, with a pickup near the neck joint thought to sound "fatter" or "warmer" while a pickup near the bridge is thought to sound "tighter" or "sharper." Some basses use more bizarre pickup configurations, such as a Humbucker and P pickup (found on some Fenders), Stu Hamm's "Urge" basses, which have a P pickup sandwiched between two J pickups, and some of Bootsy Collins' custom basses, which had as many as 5 J pickups.


The majority of basses use frets to divide the fingerboard into semitone divisions, although fretless basses are also widely available. The original Fender basses had 20 frets but some modern basses have 24 or more frets covering a range of two or more octaves per string.

There are also further variations on the theme of frets. Some fretted basses feature a "zero fret" on the fingerboard just in front of the nut, which is alleged to offer tonal and setup advantages. Some fretted basses have scalloped fret boards for easier string bending.

In addition to frets, many basses have further markers inlaid into the neck as a guide to position. A typical arrangement would be single dots below the 3rd, 5th, 7th and 9th frets and double dots at the 12th fret, all repeated at the equivalent positions an octave higher. However, there are many variations, including decorative shapes, large blocks and small dots on the side of the neck.

Fretless basses

Fretless basses are known for the smoothness of glissando and similarity in tone to the double bass, but require precise fingering. Jaco Pastorius was one of the players to bring the fretless bass into the spotlight, having created the instrument (which was at that time unavailable on the market) himself by physically pulling the frets out of a fretted bass and then filling in the grooves in the neck with plastic wood and coating it with marine epoxy. This procedure is still utilized by some players who wish to convert their fretted bass to a fretless one.

Some fretless basses have 'fret lines' inlaid in the fingerboard either because they have been converted from fretted necks (see above) or as a guide for players trained on fretted basses. Fretless basses are mainly used in jazz, jazz-fusion, and funk music, but they are used by some players in other genres as well. For example, noted thrash metal/death metal bassist Steve DiGiorgio is well known for his use of fretless bass. While use of fretless basses has grown, fretted basses remain the common choice, although some bassists own and use both types of instrument depending on the song.

Occasionally, strings wound with tape or coated in epoxy are used on the fretless bass to avoid the metal string windings wearing down the wooden fingerboard.

Playing styles

Sitting or standing

Most bass players stand while playing, although sitting is also accepted, particularly in jazz band, orchestral, or other large ensemble settings. It is a matter of the player's preference as to which position gives the greatest ease of playing, and what a bandleader expects. When sitting, the instrument can be balanced on the right thigh, or like classical guitar players, the left. Balancing the bass on the left thigh positions it in such a way that it mimics the standing position, allowing for less difference between the standing and sitting positions.

Plectra vs. fingers or thumb

Most bassists prefer to pluck the instrument's strings with the fingers but some also use plectra (often called picks). Picks also come in many shapes, sizes and thickness. This often varies according to the musical genre—very few funk bassists use plectrums, while they are widely found in punk rock and metal styles. Using a plectrum typically gives the bass a brighter, punchier sound, while playing with fingers makes the sound softer and round. Some bassists use their fingernails flamenco-style to provide some compromise between playing fingerstyle and using a pick. Bassists trying to emulate the sound of a double bass will often pluck the strings with their thumb, and use their fingers to anchor their hand and partially mute the strings (partially muting the strings creates a short, "thumpy" tone for the notes which mimics the sound of an upright bass).

James Jamerson, one of the most influential bassists during the Motown era, was well-known for his work in many popular Motown songs and is widely considered one of the greatest, most musical bassists of all time. Jamerson played the bass with only his index finger (which gained him the nickname "The Hook") but created intricate bass lines that have proven challenging even for modern bassists using the more commonly used two-fingered (typically index and middle) technique.

Right hand support and position

Variations in style also occur in where a bassist rests his right-hand thumb. A player may rest his thumb on the top edge of one of the pickups. One may also rest his thumb on the side of the fretboard, which is especially common among bassists who have an upright bass influence. Also, bassists may simply anchor their thumbs on the lowest string (and move it off to play on the low string). This technique is known as the "floating thumb", and was previously popular mainly with bassists who played 5 or more string basses, but is now common for all bassists. By resting their thumb to anchor their hand while they use their index and middle fingers, bassists create a fuller and louder sound. Early Fender models also came with a "thumbrest" attached to the pickguard, below the strings. Contrary to its name, this was not used to rest the thumb, but to rest the fingers while using the thumb to pluck the strings. The thumbrest was moved above the strings in 70's models, and eliminated entirely in the 80's.

Striking or plucking position

Bassists also have different preferences as to where on the string they pluck the notes. While the influential bassist Jaco Pastorius and many with him preferred to pluck them very close to the bridge for a bright and sharp sound, many prefer the rounder sound they get by plucking closer to the neck, mostly near the neck pickup. Geezer Butler, among others, plucks the strings over the higher frets.

"Slap and pop" and related techniques

The famous slap and pop method, in which notes and percussive sounds are created by slapping the string with the thumb and releasing strings with a snap, was pioneered by Larry Graham of Sly and the Family Stone in the 1960s and early 1970s. In the 1970s Stanley Clarke developed Graham's technique further, adding the popping and speed that are a hallmark of contemporary playing. Louis Johnson, the bass player for the Brothers Johnson also made a large contribution to the world of slap with driving melodic rhythms that contributed to their many hits during the late 70's and early 80's.

Another notable player of this style emerged in the 1980s in the form of Mark King of British group Level 42. Today, Flea of Red Hot Chili Peppers exemplifies slap and pop with a foundation in funk, Fieldy of Korn shows slap and pop style in Nu Metal, and Les Claypool of Primus is known for playing extremely complex slap and pop basslines. In the late 1980s, fusion bass virtuoso Victor Wooten of Béla Fleck and the Flecktones developed the so-called "double slap," in which the string is slapped twice for each downstroke, rather than once. This technique allows for incredible speed and can be heard on tracks such as Wooten's famous "Classical Thump".

An even more recent development is the two-handed tapping style, where both hands play notes by tapping the string to the fret. This makes it possible to play contrapuntally, or to play complicated chords and arpeggios. Since this gives the bass a wide audio spectral range and a brighter sound, it is mostly used by bass players who act as the lead in their music. Notable examples are Stuart Hamm, whose music is metal-oriented, Billy Sheehan of Talas and Mr. Big fame, as well as Victor Wooten and Michael Manring, who have a more jazzy/new age style. A more extreme version of this technique is used to play the Chapman Stick and Warr Guitar, many-stringed instruments sometimes used in place of basses which are made to be played through tapping.

Tony Levin, the longtime bassist for King Crimson and Peter Gabriel, pioneered the use of two wooden dowels (called "funk fingers"), which are affixed with velcro to the tips of the index and middle fingers of the right hand and used to strike the strings of the bass, producing a percussive attack and timbre similar to the "slap and pop".

Amplification and effects

Different equipment is used to amplify the electric bass, depending on the musical setting. For rehearsals, recording sessions, or small clubs, electric bass players will typically use a "combo" amplifier, so-named because it combines an amplifier and a speaker in a single cabinet. Combo amplifiers usually have a modestly-powered amplifer (50 to 200 watts) and a single speaker. For larger venues, electric bass players will often use a more powerful amplifier (300 to 1000 watts) and separate speaker cabinets in various combinations.

Various electronic components such as preamplifiers and signal processors, and the configuration of the amplifier and speaker, can be used to alter the basic sound of the instrument. In the 1990s and early 2000s, signal processors such as equalizers, distortion devices, and compressors or [limiter]s became increasingly popular additions to many electric bass players' gear, because these processors give players additional tonal options.

The choice of amplification will have a significant impact on the bassist's overall sound.


Bass amplifiers may be categorized as either:

  • combo units - the amplifier and speaker combined in a single unit; or
  • head and speaker (or "cabinet") - amplifier and speaker are separate.

Head units may, in turn, be either:

  • integrated units, in which the preamplifier and power amplifier are combined in a single unit; or
  • separate pre/power setups, in which one or more preamplifiers are used to drive one or more power amplifiers.

Amplifiers may be based on solid state (transistor) or thermionic ("tube" or "valve") technology. Tube amps are generally regarded as giving a warmer, more natural sound while solid state amps are lighter and lower maintenance, but this is an area of much debate. A common setup is the use of a tube preamplifier with a solid state power amplifier. There are also an increasing range of products that use digital modeling technology to simulate many different combinations of amp and cabinet choices.


The requirement to reproduce low frequencies at high sound pressure levels means that most loudspeakers used for bass guitar amplification are designed around large diameter drivers, with 10", 12" and 15" being most common. Some speakers are 18" or larger, while there are also commercially available systems using drivers of 8" or smaller. As a general rule of thumb, performers desiring a "heavier" or "thicker" bass tone (e.g., punk, metal, or hard rock bassists) prefer the larger speakers, while performers wanting a more articulate tone (e.g. jazz or fusion bassists) tend to prefer the quicker-responding, smaller speakers.

The speakers are built into speaker cabinets, which contain one or more drivers. The sound of these cabinets is influenced not only by the choice of driver but also their construction. Bass speaker cabinets are either sealed or ported with openings designed to elicit a specific frequency response. Speaker cabinets are largely designed around a single type of driver (common examples are 1X10" ,1x12", 1x15" and 2x10" or 4x10").

Many players stack two (or more) cabinets containing different size drivers to obtain a particular sound. Players with five- or six-string basses who perform in louder, heavier styles of music sometimes add a 1X18" cabinet to reproduce the lowest notes. The most popular types of speaker cabinet are 4x10" (four ten-inch speakers) and 1x15" (one fifteen-inch speaker), although 2x10", 1x18", 6x10", 8x10", 8x8", 2x15" and 4x12" cabinets are also used.

It is also increasingly common for high frequency "tweeters" or horns to be included in speaker cabinets. These extended range designs were initially developed in the late 1970s in response to the better quality pickups and electronics being built by Alembic and other high-end manufacturers and to better reproduce the more percussive bass playing styles that were becoming popular at the time.

One problem with adding a horn to a speaker cabinet is that the horn may be damaged by distorted "grungy" bass tone from an overdriven amplifier. Horns and speakers in the same cabinet are sometimes wired separately, so that they can be driven by separate amplifiers. Biamplified systems and separately-wired cabinets produced by manufacturers such as Gallien-Krueger allow bassists to send an overdriven sound to the speaker, and a crisp high sound to the horn, which prevents this problem.

Surveying the sites of the manufacturers mentioned below will give a good indication of the range of speaker cabinets currently available.

Amplification manufacturers

The 18 watt 1 x 12" Michael-Bell Bassamp, a closed-back amp designed specifically for upright bass, kicked off the modern era of bass amplification in the late 1940's. The upright basses were fitted with an Ampeg (short for "amplified peg") described in the 1946 patent application as a "sound amplifying means for stringed musical instruments of the violin family." In 1949, after the Michael-Hull company break-up, the Ampeg Bassamp Company was founded by Everett Hull in New York.

Other well known manufacturers of bass amplifiers or loudspeakers include: Accugroove loudpeakers, Acme loudpeakers, Acoustic, Aguilar, Alembic (preamps and filters), Ampeg, Ashdown Engineering, Basson, Behringer, Crate, Eden Electronics, Fender, Gallien-Krueger, Hartke, Peavey, SWR, Markbass, Marshall, Mesa/Boogie, Orange, and Trace Elliot.


Due to the role the electric bass plays laying down the low-register foundation for the band, the so-called "modulation" effects, such as chorus, flanger, and phaser, are used much less frequently with the electric bass than with the electric guitar, where the use of effects is the norm. Although there has been a much smaller variety of bass-specific effects available throughout much of the history of the instrument, since the late 1990's, many bass-specific effects have become available. Of these, preamplifiers, "compression", limiting, and equalization are the most widely-used effects for bass.

Nonetheless, a range of other effects are used in various genres. "Wah-wah" and "synth" bass effects are associated with funk music. As well, since the 1960's and 1970's, bands have experimented with "fuzz bass" where the bass is distorted either by overdriving the amp or by using a distortion unit. Since the 1990's a heavier type of distortion with a "grinding" tone is used by some metal and punk bass players.

Although many of these effects sound similar to guitar effects, players often use specialized bass effects units, which are adapted to work with the lower frequency range of the bass. For example, typical electric guitar distortion units tend to remove the lower bass frequencies when they are used with an electric bass; bassists get much better results with a bass-specific distortion unit. For alternative and experimental bands, effects are used to create unique timbres and tones that in some cases are a radical departure from the typical electric bass tone.

Musical role

The electric bass is the standard bass instrument in many musical genres, including modern country, post-1970s-style jazz, many variants of rock and roll, metal, punk, reggae, soul, and funk. Even though the double bass is still the standard bass instrument in orchestral settings, some late-20th-century composers have used the electric bass in an orchestral setting.

The bass may have differing roles within different types of music and the bassist may prefer different degrees of prominence in the music. Early uses of the electric bass saw bassists doubling the double bass part or replacing the upright bass entirely with their new, more portable and easily amplified instrument. By the 1960s, the electric bass had replaced the upright bass in most forms of popular music-although country music and jazz were an exception to this trend. The switch to electric bass moved bassists more into the foreground of a band, in two senses.

From an aural perspective, electric bass tone can often "cut through" a live mix better. As well, electric basses can be amplified to very high levels without the problem of feedback "howls" that can plague upright bass players trying to amplify their instruments. From a visual point of view, the switch to the electric bass allowed bassists much more freedom of movement on stage. The double bass sits on an endpin, and stands vertically, and players typically play in a single location for the duration of a song. However, the electric bass is smaller, and is held up with a strap, which allows the electric bassist to move about on the stage while playing, and get closer to other musicians or the audience.

Influential Bass Players

Paul McCartney of the Beatles tends to favor a subdued, melodic approach that is fairly quiet. Progressive rock bassists have been revolutionary by making the instrument a more important and recognizable voice in their respective bands, a trend that caught on in many bands that have followed them. John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin, John Entwistle of The Who and Jack Bruce of Cream introduced a more aggressive style with the former's trademark trebly tone and the latter's very smooth tone, and melodic expressiveness. Roger Glover, Noel Redding and Geezer Butler were anchors in their respective bands, each giving the bass a distinctive sound.

In the early 1970s, Chris Squire of Yes combined McCartney's melodicism with Entwistle's energy and employing an aggressive, overdriven tone that expanded even further the bass's role as rhythmic and harmonic foundation. Geddy Lee of Rush has been experimenting with bass chords, layered bass lines, and flamenco-style fingerpicking in the group's recent recordings.

R&B music has had a number of influential bassists. James Jamerson had a major impact the way the bass guitar could be played in R&B/pop music. Donald "Duck" Dunn from Booker T. & the M.G.'s, Jerry Jemmott, Harvey Brooks and Tommy Cogbill developed rhythm and blues playing styles.

Fusion jazz (which fused jazz and rock together) innovators included Dave Holland, Gary Peacock, Rick Laird, Paul Jackson, and Jaco Pastorius. Pastorius showed that the bass guitar could be a lead instrument, and expanded the role of bass in the framework of a band, playing it like a saxophone or a guitar as he performed in the band Weather Report and in his own solo work.

Jaco inspired countless bassists, legions of who took cues from his technical side, (the rapid way he played which needed much display of dexterity) like Victor Wooten, Steve Bailey and Stu Hamm, musicians who have taken the bass' role in music to a new extreme with the addition of many new techniques on the bass, such as "Double Thumping" and the development of techniques such as tapping. Other bassists that have moved the bass forward in their participation and role in music include Les Claypool, Lemmy Kilmister, and Marcus Miller, who have in turn inspired a promising stable of talented bassists who are even able to sing and play bass simultaneously.

The genres of punk and garage music may not be technically as complicated as the aforementioned styles and genres, but there have still been some nimble and adventurous players, like Sterling Morrison, Dave Alexander, Michael Davis, Richard Hell, Bruce Foxton, Dennis Dunaway, and Matt Freeman.

The bass and drums are an inseparable duo, as the bass notes provide pitched tone, and the drums, especially the low-pitched bass drum, provide "kick," power, and accentuation to the bass notes. Some bass players and drummers have achieved an exceptional level of integration in this fashion, to the point that they have been engaged together on a number of recordings for different groups. Examples include:

See also

External links


As of Monday 12th December, 2005, tabs of copyrighted music were considered illegal by the music industry, and numerous prominent sites providing tabs, such as, had closed down.

However, as of February 23rd, 2006, the owners of Mxtabs put the website back online with a letter explaining their position. In short, they believe that the purpose of Mxtabs is to "aid musicians in learning their instruments." They say that Mxtabs has accounted for as much as $3000 a month in sheet music sales, and offers many tabs that do not have equivalent sheet music published, so Mxtabs and similar sites are the only place that musicians can find a way to play these songs. The letter concludes by pointing out that tabs have never been proven to be illegal, then requesting that sheet music companies contact Mxtabs in order to create a system of tab ca:Baix elèctric da:El-bas de:E-Bass es:Bajo (instrumento musical) fr:Guitare basse ga:Dordghiotár ko:베이스 기타 it:Basso elettrico he:גיטרה בס lt:Bosinė gitara mk:Бас гитара nl:Basgitaar ja:エレクトリックベース no:Bassgitar pl:Gitara basowa pt:Baixo ru:Бас-гитара simple:Bass guitar fi:Bassokitara sv:Elbas tr:Bas gitar uk:Бас-гітара zh:低音吉他