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Bass Guitars

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Bass Guitars information

Every band needs a bassist, but while you can't move for guitarists, bass players can be pretty thin on the ground. If you can't get enough of the beat or the bass, then the bass guitar is definitely the instrument for you, and below, we offer a little guidance for the beginner bassist looking for their first instrument.

The Bass Guitar: The Origin

Whenever anyone's talking about a bass, they're likely to be talking about an electric bass guitar. While the electric bass originates from the acoustic double bass and has the same tuning, it's an entirely different instrument. And while there were a few electric basses kicking around in the early thirties, Leo Fender is considered the inventor of the first electric bass guitar: the Fender Precision Bass, which debuted in 1951, and was the first ever mass produced solid-body electric bass. Named the bass guitar, but later shortened to just 'bass', this new electric instrument was as easy to carry around as a guitar, and due to the additional frets that lined the fingerboard, it was also much easier to play than a double bass.

The Perfect Bass for You: The Options

How many different kinds of bass are there? This is a question a lot of beginner bassists ask. Most bassists will start learning to play an electric bass, and there are three different types of electric bass that a lot of entry-level bassists go for. If you want classic bass sound and love pop, indie, alternative, soul, or rock music, then a classic P-style (Precision-style) bass is a great pick. If you want something that's a little left of the beaten path, has a more versatile sound, and is just a touch easier to play, then a J-style (or Jazz-style) bass might be the better candidate. If you want a more modern, thick and solid sound than the P-bass can give you, and want more sound tweaking options from your instrument, then a Ray-style (StingRay) bass might be your new best mate. There are endless variations on these three bass 'archetypes' and all of them will offer their own refined sound and level of contemporary features and versatility. And, even if you have a dominant left hand, we have plenty of left-handed models to drool over.

How About a Bass Starter Pack?

For entry-level bassists, it can be a good idea to get an all-in-one starter pack, which won't just set you up with a bass but all of the accessories needed to start nailing those first bass lines. These handy packs will always include a practice amplifier and a jack cable so you can plug your bass into your amp and experience the full sound and feel of your new instrument. Some packs also include useful bits and pieces like a gig bag, so you can get you bass safely to and from lessons, rehearsals and gigs; a guitar strap so you can comfortably playing standing up; and a guitar stand, so your bass can be displayed safely in your living room or bedroom.

Electric or Acoustic?

Most bassists play the electric bass, and for pretty good reason. Almost all of the bass lines you've ever heard on any of your favourite albums have been played on an electric bass. The electric bass is a touch easier to play, especially when compared to the giant, cumbersome body of the double bass. But if you do want a more round acoustic sound that sits more naturally alongside folk or classical instruments, then it's worth looking at some acoustic basses, some of which are electro-acoustic, so the acoustic sound can even be amplified. These basses are the perfect alternative to the electric bass if you're playing lighter, lower-volume music; an unplugged session; or a smaller, more intimate gig.

The Sound of the Fretless Bass

For the genuine bass-daredevils and aspiring virtuosos, there's the fretless bass. Since the fingerboard of this bass has no frets, you're guided by nothing but your ears and your fingers when searching for the right notes. If you want life to be just a little bit easier, you could opt for a model finished with 'fret-lines' and/or position markers so you know where the frets would be - if you had any.

The Short-Scale Bass

The short-scale bass is ideal for bassists with a smaller stature, or for bassists that simply weren't born with massive hands and super-long arms. Short-scale basses have a shorter neck and will usually have a smaller body as well, reducing the weight of the instrument and supporting smooth playability as well as enhanced comfort. Since this type of bass is so manageable, it's getting more and more popular within the bass-playing community, and you've probably already heard plenty of short-scale basses played on a number of famous and infamous tracks.

Bass Guitar Strings

Since most basses have four strings, most bass guitar string packs will include four strings, so there's a lot of choice for the four-string bassist. Five-string basses are also fairly popular, so there are plenty of five-string packs to choose from as well, and besides complete packs of bass strings, you can also get separate, single strings in the most common gauges (string thickness). Of course, it's recommended to just pick up a full pack of strings, because, when one string breaks, it's better to just replace all them. They've seen as much action as the broken string and could probably do with freshening up. Also, by replacing all of the strings at once, you make sure you have a balanced and clear bass sound, and that one string doesn't suddenly sound bright and fresh while the others sound old and knackered. If you've never changed the strings of your bass before and want to stick to the same sound that your bass came with, then it's not weird to just replace them with the same strings that were installed in the factory (find the model on the manufacturer's site to find out the strings you need). These will usually be 'roundwounds', but you can also get 'flatwound' strings which have a smoother, more vintage sound. If you have nickel-wound strings but want more bite in your sound, then go for some stainless-steel strings instead.

Frequently Asked Questions About Bass Guitars

How do you know it's a bass?

To the untrained eye, the bass can look just like any other electric guitar, but there are a few features that differ from a guitar and give the bass away. Solid-body basses are a bit broader than solid-body electric guitars and the neck, as well as the whole instrument is also longer. Then, instead of the six strings of a guitar, the bass usually has four strings, which are much thicker and lower-pitched than guitar strings.

Why does a bass have four strings?

How many strings does a bass guitar have? The shortest answer is: four. The standard electric bass has four strings simply because it was designed to be a more manageable, electric version of the double bass. But there are basses with more than four strings, like five or even six-string basses. If you're a beginner bassist, a four-string bass is definitely recommended. It's easier to get to grips with and you can play virtually anything with a four-string bass.

How do you tune a bass?

A standard four-string bass is tuned (from the highest to the lowest string) in E, A, D, and G. Which is the same tuning as an old-school double-bass and is the ideal tuning to start with. If you already play the guitar, then you'll recognise that this is also the same tuning as the last four strings of a guitar, just an octave below. A great tool to help keep your bass in perfect pitch is a tuner pedal or a little battery-powered clip-on tuner.

Why do five-string basses exist?

Basically, if you want more notes to play with, that's exactly what the five-string bass will give you. This bass has an extra high or low string, and while most five-string basses have an extra low-B string, if you would prefer an extra high-C string instead, you can hire an experienced bass technician to set up a five-string bass to accommodate it. Of course, if you couldn't possibly choose between a low-B or high-C string, then you can just get a six-string bass, which conveniently includes both.

What's the best beginner's bass?

It's always the best idea to start playing with a four-string bass. There's always time for five or six-string basses later. If you want a nice and solid, classic bass sound, then go for a Precision or P-style bass. If you want something a little more versatile and rounded, then go for a Jazz or J-style bass. If you want a bit more meat in your sound, then maybe the ultra-tweakable and stable StingRay or Ray-style bass would be the best choice for you? And, if you want even more sonic diversity from your instrument, then there's always the modern bass.

How much does a bass guitar cost?

Just like any musical instrument, there's no need to clear out your bank account to get your hands on your first bass. Before you're absolutely certain that the bass is the instrument for you, it's better just to go for a budget bass that costs around £100. Then, once you know you've got a real BFF on your hands, you can maybe progress to a medium-priced bass or even splash out on an expensive model. Expensive models are not a must, but they'll usually reward you with a much smoother and easier playing feel, which will only help you grow as a musician.

What's the best bass brand?

When it comes to bass brands, there's a lot of good stuff to choose from these days. Leo Fender, who designed the first mass-produced bass (the Precision Bass) is the man behind both Fender and Music Man, which are the brands that produce the most familiar basses of all time. But then there are more high-end brands like Warwick, Sadowsky, Rickenbacker, Yamaha and Gibson, all of which we stock at Bax Music. Great entry-level options are offered by the sister-companies of these famous brands, like Squier (by Fender), Sterling (by Music Man), and Epiphone (by Gibson). But there are also some really budget-friendly names like Fazley and Sire, who still offer a lot for your money. To see some ultra-high-end models, check out the range of boutique basses included on our site.

What do you play on a bass?

While you often play full chords on a guitar, it's rare to play any chords on a bass. Sometimes, a bassist will let a couple of notes ring out at the same time, but mostly they'll be playing single notes. These notes could be the individual notes that make up a chord - otherwise known as arpeggios, or 'broken chords'. A bassist can also write bass lines using the notes from scales. If you want to play bass in a band (and who doesn't?) then you'll need to learn to play in line with what the drummer's playing, since you'll be forming part of the rhythm section. If you want more info about bass playing techniques, then check out our blog.

How do you make your bass sound good and loud?

No matter where you're playing or who you're playing with, you always want your bass to sound good. There are a lot of options when it comes to bass amplifiers, but in the beginning, you're more likely to be playing in your bedroom or at small gigs then on big stages, so a little combo amplifier with a low power (in Watts) is the best choice. Once you're ready for bigger crowds, you can think about getting a bigger combo amp with more volume and maybe a higher power output of around 300 Watts. The only thing is, a bigger amp is usually a heavier amp, so in that case, you might want to consider a stack made up of a separate bass amplifier head that sits on top of a bass speaker cabinet, which can be a bit more flexible. All you need to check is that the speaker cabinet is able to handle a higher wattage than the amplifier is able to deliver, and if you want to make sure you're heard over the rest of the band, then go for a cabinet with 10 inch speakers. 15 inch speakers will fatten up the low-end frequencies, while 12 inch speakers form the sort of middle-ground between the two.

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