Bass guitar

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Bass guitar
70's Fender Jazz Bass.png
String instrument
Other namesBass, electric bass guitar, electric bass
Classification String instrument (fingered or picked; strummed)
Hornbostel–Sachs classification 321.322
(Composite chordophone)
Inventor(s) Paul Tutmarc, Leo Fender
Playing range
Range contrabass.png
(a standard tuned 4-string bass guitar)
Related instruments

The bass guitar, electric bass, or simply bass, is the lowest-pitched member of the guitar family. It is a plucked string instrument similar in appearance and construction to an electric or an acoustic guitar, but with a longer neck and scale length, and typically four to six strings or courses. Since the mid-1950s, the bass guitar has largely replaced the double bass in popular music.


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 by striking with a pick. The electric bass guitar has pickups and must be connected to an amplifier and speaker.


According to the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, an "Electric bass guitar [is] a Guitar, usually with four heavy strings tuned E1'–A1'–D2–G2." [1] It also defines bass as "Bass (iv). A contraction of Double bass or Electric bass guitar." According to some authors the proper term is "electric bass". [2] [3] Common names for the instrument are "bass guitar", "electric bass guitar", and "electric bass" [4] and some authors claim that they are historically accurate. [5] As the electric alternative to a double bass (which is not a guitar), many manufacturers such as Fender list the instrument in the electric bass category rather than the guitar category. [6]

The bass guitar is a transposing instrument, as it is notated in bass clef an octave higher than it sounds, to reduce the need for ledger lines in music written for the instrument, and simplify reading. [7]



Paul Tutmarc, inventor of the modern bass guitar, outside his music store in Seattle, Washington Paul tutmarc.jpg
Paul Tutmarc, inventor of the modern bass guitar, outside his music store in Seattle, Washington

In the 1930s, musician and inventor Paul Tutmarc of Seattle, Washington, developed the first electric bass guitar in its modern form, a fretted instrument designed to be played horizontally. The 1935 sales catalog for Tutmarc's company Audiovox featured his "Model 736 Bass Fiddle", a solid-bodied electric bass guitar with four strings, a 30 12-inch (775-millimetre) scale length, and a single pickup. [8] Around 100 were made during this period. [9] Audiovox also sold their “Model 236” bass amplifier. [10]


An early Fender Precision Bass Fender '51 Precision Bass, FGF museum.jpg
An early Fender Precision Bass

In the 1950s, Leo Fender and George Fullerton developed the first mass-produced electric bass guitar. [11] The Fender Electric Instrument Manufacturing Company began producing the Precision Bass, or P-Bass, in October 1951. The design featured a simple uncontoured "slab" body design and a single coil pickup similar to that of a Telecaster. By 1957 the Precision more closely resembled the Fender Stratocaster with the body edges beveled for comfort, and the pickup was changed to a split coil design. [12]

Design patent issued to Leo Fender for the second-generation Precision Bass Fender Bass Guitar Patent.jpg
Design patent issued to Leo Fender for the second-generation Precision Bass

The Fender Bass was a revolutionary instrument for gigging musicians. In comparison with the large, heavy upright bass, which had been the main bass instrument in popular music from the early 20th century to the 1940s, the bass guitar could be easily transported to shows. When amplified, the bass guitar was also less prone than acoustic basses to unwanted audio feedback. [13] The addition of frets enabled bassists to play in tune more easily than on fretless acoustic or electric upright basses, and allowed guitarists to more easily transition to the instrument. [14]

In 1953, Monk Montgomery became the first bassist to tour with the Fender bass, in Lionel Hampton's postwar big band. [15] Montgomery was also possibly the first to record with the electric bass, on July 2, 1953, with the Art Farmer Septet. [16] Roy Johnson (with Lionel Hampton), and Shifty Henry (with Louis Jordan and His Tympany Five), were other early Fender bass pioneers. [11] Bill Black, who played with Elvis Presley, switched from upright bass to the Fender Precision Bass around 1957. [17] The bass guitar was intended to appeal to guitarists as well as upright bass players, and many early pioneers of the instrument, such as Carol Kaye, Joe Osborn, and Paul McCartney were originally guitarists. [13]

Also in 1953, Gibson released the first short-scale violin-shaped electric bass, with an extendable end pin so a bassist could play it upright or horizontally. Gibson renamed the bass the EB-1 in 1958.[ citation needed ] In 1958, Gibson released the maple arched-top EB-2 described in the Gibson catalog as a "hollow-body electric bass that features a Bass/Baritone pushbutton for two different tonal characteristics".[ citation needed ] In 1959, these were followed by the more conventional-looking EB-0 Bass.[ citation needed ] The EB-0 was very similar to a Gibson SG in appearance (although the earliest examples have a slab-sided body shape closer to that of the double-cutaway Les Paul Special). Whereas Fender basses had pickups mounted in positions in between the base of the neck and the top of the bridge, many of Gibson's early basses featured one humbucking pickup mounted directly against the neck pocket.[ citation needed ] The Fender and Gibson versions used bolt-on and glued-on necks.

Several other companies also began manufacturing bass guitars during the 1950s. 1956 saw the appearance at the German trade fair "Musikmesse Frankfurt" of the distinctive Höfner 500/1 violin-shaped bass, made using violin construction techniques by Walter Höfner, a second-generation violin luthier.[ citation needed ] The design became known as the "Beatle bass" for its use by Beatles bassist Paul McCartney. In 1957, Rickenbacker introduced the model 4000, the first bass to feature a neck-through-body design in which the neck is part of the body wood.[ citation needed ] Kay Musical Instrument Company began production of the K-162 in 1952, Danelectro released the Longhorn in 1956, and Burns London/Supersound in 1958. [17]


Gibson EB-3 Gibson eb3 67.jpg
Gibson EB-3

With the explosion in popularity of rock music in the 1960s, many more manufacturers began making electric basses, including Yamaha, Teisco and Guyatone. Introduced in 1960, the Fender Jazz Bass, initially known as the "Deluxe Bass", used a body design known as an offset waist which was first seen on the Jazzmaster guitar in an effort to improve comfort while playing seated. [18] The "J-bass" featured two single-coil pickups, one close to the bridge and one in the Precision bass's split coil pickup position. The earliest production Jazz basses had a pair of concentric (or "stacked") knobs to control volume and tone for each pickup; this was soon changed to the present configuration of a volume control for each pickup, and a single passive tone control.

The Jazz Bass's neck was narrower at the nut than the Precision bass — 1 12 inches (38 mm) versus 1 34 inches (44 mm) — allowing for easier access to the lower strings and an overall spacing and feel closer to that of an electric guitar, allowing trained guitarists to transition to the bass guitar more easily.[ citation needed ] Another visual difference that set the Jazz Bass apart from the Precision is its "offset-waist" body.[ further explanation needed ]

Pickup shapes on electric basses are often referred to as "P" or "J" pickups in reference to the visual and electrical differences between the Precision Bass and Jazz Bass pickups.[ citation needed ] In the 1950s and 1960s, all bass guitars were often called the "Fender bass", due to Fender's early dominance in the market.

Providing a more "Gibson-scale" instrument, rather than the 34 inches (864 mm) Jazz and Precision, Fender produced the Mustang Bass, a 30-inch (762 mm) scale-length instrument.[ citation needed ] The Fender VI, a 6 string bass, was tuned one octave lower than standard guitar tuning. It was released in 1961, and was briefly favored by Jack Bruce of Cream.[ citation needed ]

Gibson introduced its short-scale 30 12-inch (775 mm) EB-3 in 1961, also used by Bruce. [19] The EB-3 had a "mini-humbucker" at the bridge position. Gibson basses tended to be smaller, sleeker instruments with a shorter scale length than the Precision; Gibson did not produce a 34-inch (864 mm)-scale bass until 1963 with the release of the Thunderbird, which was also the first Gibson bass to use two humbucking pickups in a more traditional position, about halfway between the neck and bridge.[ citation needed ]


Rickenbacker 4001 bass Rickenbacker Bass 4001JG.jpg
Rickenbacker 4001 bass

In 1971, Alembic established what became known as "boutique" or "high-end" electric bass guitars.[ citation needed ] These expensive, custom-tailored instruments, as used by Phil Lesh, Jack Casady, and Stanley Clarke, featured unique designs, premium hand-finished wood bodies, and innovative construction techniques such as multi-laminate neck-through-body construction and graphite necks. Alembic also pioneered the use of onboard electronics for pre-amplification and equalization.[ citation needed ] Active electronics increase the output of the instrument, and allow more options for controlling tonal flexibility, giving the player the ability to amplify as well as to attenuate certain frequency ranges while improving the overall frequency response (including more low-register and high-register sounds). 1973 saw the UK company Wal begin production of a their own range of active basses.[ citation needed ] In 1974 Music Man Instruments, founded by Tom Walker, Forrest White and Leo Fender, introduced the StingRay, the first widely produced bass with active (powered) electronics built into the instrument.[ citation needed ] Basses with active electronics can include a preamplifier and knobs for boosting and cutting the low and high frequencies.

In the mid-1970s, Alembic and other high-end manufacturers, such as Tobias, began offering five-string basses, with a very low "B" string.[ citation needed ] In 1975, bassist Anthony Jackson commissioned luthier Carl Thompson to build a six-string bass tuned (low to high) B0, E1, A1, D2, G2, C3, adding a low B string and a high C string. [20] These five- and six-string "extended-range basses" would become popular with session bassists, reducing the need for re-tuning to alternate detuned configurations like "drop D", and also allowing the bassist to play more notes from the same fretting position with fewer shifts up and down the fingerboard, a crucial benefit for a session player sightreading basslines at a recording session.[ citation needed ]


Early 1980s-era Steinberger headless bass. The tuning machines are at the heel of the instrument, where the bridge is usually located. Steinberger bass.jpg
Early 1980s-era Steinberger headless bass. The tuning machines are at the heel of the instrument, where the bridge is usually located.

In the 1980s, bass designers continued to explore new approaches. Ned Steinberger introduced a headless bass in 1979 and continued his innovations in the 1980s, using graphite and other new materials and (in 1984) introducing the TransTrem tremolo bar. In 1982, Hans-Peter Wilfer founded Warwick, to make a European bass, as the market at the time was dominated by Asian and American basses. Their first bass was the Streamer Bass, which is similar to the Spector NS. In 1987, the Guild Guitar Corporation launched the fretless Ashbory bass, which used silicone rubber strings and a piezoelectric pickup to achieve an "upright bass" sound with a short 18-inch (457 mm) scale length. In the late 1980s, MTV Unplugged , which featured bands performing with acoustic instruments, helped to popularize hollow-bodied acoustic bass guitars amplified with piezoelectric pickups built into the bridge of the instrument.[ citation needed ]

During the 1990s, as five-string basses became more widely available and more affordable, an increasing number of bassists in genres ranging from metal to gospel began using five-string instruments for added lower range—a low "B" string. As well, onboard battery-powered electronics such as preamplifiers and equalizer circuits, which were previously only available on expensive "boutique" instruments, became increasingly available on mid-priced basses. From 2000 to the 2010s, some bass manufacturers included digital modelling circuits inside the instrument on more costly instruments to recreate tones and sounds from many models of basses (e.g., Line 6's Variax bass). A modelling bass can digitally emulate the tone and sound of many famous basses, ranging from a vintage Fender Precision to a Rickenbacker. However, as with the electric guitar, traditional "passive" bass designs, which include only pickups, tone and volume knobs (without a preamp or other electronics) remained popular. Reissued versions of vintage instruments such as the Fender Precision Bass and Fender Jazz Bass remained popular among new instrument buyers up to the 2010s. In 2011, a 60th Anniversary P-bass was introduced by Fender, along with the re-introduction of the short-scale Fender Jaguar Bass.[ citation needed ]

Fretless bass guitars

A fretless bass with flatwound strings; markers are inlaid into the side of the fingerboard, to aid the performer in finding the correct pitch. Flatwound 01.JPG
A fretless bass with flatwound strings; markers are inlaid into the side of the fingerboard, to aid the performer in finding the correct pitch.

While electric bass guitars are traditionally fretted instruments, fretless bass guitars are used by some players to achieve different tones. Rolling Stones bassist Bill Wyman is sometimes identified as the first to make a fretless bass. In 1961, he converted a used UK-built Dallas Tuxedo bass by removing the frets and filling in the slots with wood putty. [13] Wyman used it to record songs such as "Paint It, Black" and "Mother's Little Helper" in 1966.

In 1966, Ampeg introduced the AUB-1, the first production fretless bass. Fender followed with a fretless Precision Bass in 1970. Some fretless bass guitars have "fret line" markers inlaid in the fingerboard as a guide, while others only use guide marks on the side of the neck. In the early 1970s, fusion-jazz bassist Jaco Pastorius coated the fingerboard of his de-fretted Fender Jazz Bass in epoxy resin, allowing him to use roundwound strings for a brighter sound without damaging the fretboard.

Strings and tuning

Traditional electric bass guitars have four strings, tuned the same as double basses: E1–A1–D2–G2. However, now there are many options, with five-, six-, and more string designs, with many approaches to tuning. In addition to traditional flatwound strings, choices now include various windings and materials.

Pickups and amplification

Magnetic pickups

P-style, split-coil pickups Precision Bass pickup.jpg
P-style, split-coil pickups
Dual "J"-style pickups Jazz Style PickUps.JPG
Dual "J"-style pickups

Non-magnetic pickups

The use of non-magnetic pickups allows bassists to use non-ferrous strings such as nylon, brass, polyurethane and silicone rubber. These materials produce different tones and, in the case of the polyurethane or silicone rubber strings, allow much shorter scale lengths.

Bass-stack amp and speaker configuration Elbas.jpg
Bass-stack amp and speaker configuration

Amplification and effects

Similar to the electric guitar, the typical electric bass guitar requires an external amplifier in order to be heard in performance settings. Additionally, various electronic effects, such as preamplifiers, "stomp box"-style pedals and signal processors are available to allow for further shaping of the sound.

See also

Related Research Articles

Electric guitar Electrical string instrument

An electric guitar is a guitar that requires external amplification in order to be heard at typical performance volumes. It uses one or more pickups to convert the vibration of its strings into electrical signals, which ultimately are reproduced as sound by loudspeakers. The sound can be shaped or electronically altered to achieve different timbres or tonal qualities, making it quite different than an acoustic guitar. Often, this is done through the use of effects such as reverb, distortion and "overdrive"; the latter is considered to be a key element of electric blues guitar music and rock guitar playing.

Guitar Fretted string instrument

The guitar is a fretted musical instrument that usually has six strings. It is typically played with both hands by strumming or plucking the strings with either a guitar pick or the fingers/fingernails of one hand, while simultaneously fretting with the fingers of the other hand. The sound of the vibrating strings is projected either acoustically, by means of the hollow chamber of the guitar, or through an electrical amplifier and a speaker.

Humbucker Type of electric guitar pickup

A humbucking pickup, humbucker, or double coil, is a type of electric guitar pickup that uses two coils to "buck the hum" picked up by coil pickups caused by electromagnetic interference, particularly mains hum. Most pickups use magnets to produce a magnetic field around the strings, and induce an electrical current in the surrounding coils as the strings vibrate. Humbuckers work by pairing a coil that has the north poles of its magnets oriented "up" with another coil right next to it with the south pole of its magnets oriented up. By connecting the coils together out of phase, the interference is significantly reduced via phase cancellation: the string signals from both coils add up instead of canceling, because the magnets are placed in opposite polarity. The coils can be connected in series or in parallel in order to achieve this hum-cancellation effect, although it's much more common for the coils of a humbucker pickup to be connected in series. In addition to electric guitar pickups, humbucking coils are sometimes used in dynamic microphones to cancel electromagnetic hum.

The Fender Jaguar is an electric guitar by Fender Musical Instruments characterized by an offset-waist body, a relatively unusual switching system with two separate circuits for lead and rhythm, and a medium-scale 24" neck. Owing some roots to the Jazzmaster, it was introduced in 1962 as Fender's feature-laden top-of-the-line model, designed to lure players from Gibson. During its initial 13-year production run, the Jaguar did not sell as well as the less expensive Stratocaster and Telecaster, and achieved its most noticeable popularity in the surf music scene. After the Jaguar was taken out of production in 1975, vintage Jaguars became popular first with American punk rock players, and then more so during the alternative rock, shoegazing and indie rock movements of the 1980s and 1990s. Fender began making a version in Japan in the mid-1980s, and then introduced a USA-made reissue in 1999. Since then, Fender has made a variety of Jaguars in America, Mexico, Indonesia and China under both the Fender and Squier labels. Original vintage Jaguars sell for many times their original price.

Fender Precision Bass

The Fender Precision Bass is a model of electric bass manufactured by Fender Musical Instruments Corporation. In its standard, post-1957 configuration, the Precision Bass is a solid body, four-stringed instrument equipped with a single split-coil humbucking pickup and a one-piece, 20-fret maple neck with rosewood, pau ferro, or maple fingerboard.

Fender Jazz Bass

The Fender Jazz Bass is the second model of electric bass created by Leo Fender. It is distinct from the Precision Bass in that its tone is brighter and richer in the midrange and treble with less emphasis on the fundamental frequency. The body shape is also different from the Precision Bass, in that the Precision Bass has a symmetrical lower bout on the body, designed after the Telecaster and Stratocaster lines of guitars, while the Jazz Bass has an offset lower bout, mimicking the design aesthetic of the Jaguar and Jazzmaster guitars.

Jazz bass

Jazz bass is the use of the double bass or bass guitar to improvise accompaniment ("comping") basslines and solos in a jazz or jazz fusion style. Players began using the double bass in jazz in the 1890s to supply the low-pitched walking basslines that outlined the chord progressions of the songs. From the 1920s and 1930s Swing and big band era, through 1940s Bebop and 1950s Hard Bop, to the 1960s-era "free jazz" movement, the resonant, woody sound of the double bass anchored everything from small jazz combos to large jazz big bands.

Pickup (music technology)

A pickup is a transducer that captures or senses mechanical vibrations produced by musical instruments, particularly stringed instruments such as the electric guitar, and converts these to an electrical signal that is amplified using an instrument amplifier to produce musical sounds through a loudspeaker in a speaker enclosure. The signal from a pickup can also be recorded directly.

Electric upright bass

The electric upright bass (EUB) is an instrument that can perform the musical function of a double bass. It requires only a minimal or 'skeleton' body to produce sound because it uses a pickup and electronic amplifier and loudspeaker. Therefore, a large resonating structure is not required to project the sound into the air. This minimal body greatly reduces the bulk and weight of the instrument. EUBs must always be connected to an amplifier and speaker cabinet to produce an adequate audible sound. The EUB retains enough of the features of the double bass so that double bass players are able to perform on it.

Squier 51

The Squier '51 is an electric guitar made by Squier, a subsidiary of Fender. The '51 is notable for being one of the few original designs made by Squier, which normally manufactures less expensive authorized copies of Fender's popular guitars and bass guitars.

The Fender Mustang Bass is an electric bass guitar model produced by Fender. Two variants, the Musicmaster Bass and the Bronco Bass, have also been produced from time to time using the same body and neck shape.

Outline of guitars Overview of and topical guide to guitars

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to guitars:

Fender Jaguar Bass

The Fender Jaguar Bass is an electric bass guitar manufactured in Japan and China by the Fender Musical Instruments Corporation.

A solid-body musical instrument is a string instrument such as a guitar, bass or violin built without its normal sound box and relying on an electromagnetic pickup system to directly detect the vibrations of the strings; these instruments are usually plugged into an instrument amplifier and loudspeaker to be heard. Solid-body instruments are preferred in situations where acoustic feedback may otherwise be a problem and are inherently both less expensive to build and more rugged than acoustic electric instruments.

The Fender Katana is an electric guitar built by Fender. It was designed by marketing director Dan Smith in 1985. The Katana was designed to compete with the unconventionally-shaped guitars of the era, such as the Jackson Randy Rhoads, and to satisfy Fender dealers who were suffering from the competition those instruments offered. The Katana did not sell as well as Fender hoped, and it was discontinued in 1986 before being reissued as a Masterbuilt Custom Shop model as part of the Prestige collection three decades later.

The Fender Telecaster Bass is an electric bass introduced in 1968 by Fender Musical Instruments Corporation. With few physical changes through the 1970s, it was discontinued in 1979 and reissued in 2007 by Fender's subsidiary Squier as the Squier Vintage Modified Precision Bass TB, which was discontinued in 2014.

Electric guitar design is a type of industrial design where the looks and efficiency of the shape as well as the acoustical aspects of the guitar are important factors. In the past many guitars have been designed with various odd shapes as well as very practical and convenient solutions to improve the usability of the object.

The Frank Bello Bass is an Artist Series electric bass guitar made by Fender Musical Instruments Corporation for thrash metal band Anthrax's bassist, Frank Bello. Modeled after the Aerodyne J-Bass, this signature model features a slab-cut alder Jazz Bass body, a modern C-shaped maple Precision Bass neck featuring a rosewood fretboard with 20 medium jumbo frets and a matching black headstock with a Fender Bass decal. Electronics consisted by a Seymour Duncan Basslines SPB-3 Quarter Pound split-coil humbucking pickup in the neck position, a Samarium Cobalt Noiseless Jazz Bass single-coil pickup in the bridge and a single volume control knob. Other features include Fender/Schaller Deluxe Lite-Bass straight-shaft tuning machines, a BadAss III strings-through-body/top-load bridge, Bello's caricature on the back of the headstock and his signature on the neck plate. It was introduced in 2005 and followed by a Squier version in 2007, featuring a skull graphic on the body, a skull inlay on the 12th fret, an Angry Man graphic on the back of the headstock, a standard vintage-style bridge, standard open-gear tuners and two single separate volumes without tone controls for the P neck and J bridge pickups.

The Fender Telecaster, colloquially known as the Tele, is the world's first commercially successful solid-body electric guitar. Its simple yet effective design and revolutionary sound broke ground and set trends in electric guitar manufacturing and popular music. Introduced for national distribution as the Broadcaster in the autumn of 1950 as a two-pickup version of its sister model, the single-pickup Esquire, the pair were the first guitars of their kind manufactured on a substantial scale. A trademark conflict with a rival manufacturer's led to the guitar being renamed in 1951. Initially, the Broadcaster name was simply cut off of the labels placed on the guitars and later in 1951, the final name of Telecaster was applied to the guitar. The Telecaster quickly became a popular model, and has remained in continuous production since its first incarnation.


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Further reading