What is a bass guitar? – types of bass guitar

bass guitar

There are many different types of bass guitar, however, they almost always have four strings and are tuned to the notes E, A, D and G. These notes are tuned directly an octave below what a regular electric guitar is. In the context of a band, the bass guitars provide warmth and low end that supports the other instrumentation in an ensemble.

Even though the bass guitar might not be as exciting as the electric guitar, it is definitely as important. As well as this, it also shares a lot of the same anatomy.

Body

Whether it’s a precision bass or jazz bass, this is the part of the bass guitar where are all the electronics and hardware are placed. This is usually made out of woods such as Alder, Ash or Mahogany.

fender body

Bridge

The bridge is where the strings are held in place on a bass guitar.

bridge

Strings

The strings are what give the bass its deep pleasing tone. There are four in total on most basses, although on some bass guitars you can have five or six to provide you with even more tonal possibilities.

Strings

Pickups

The pickups are what allow the bass guitar to be amplified. Most basses will have single coil pickups or humbuckers and are found on electric bass guitars and other types of basses including acoustic basses, fretless’s and semi-hollow body basses.

Pickups

Volume and Tone Controls

The volume controls the level of the instrument. Want your bass to be loud, crank up this control, want it quiet, turn it down.

The tone knob controls the amount of high end in your bass. If you want a warm, snappy sound, turn this control all the way up, if you want it to be darker, turn it down.

Volume and Tone Controls

Neck, Fingerboard and Frets

This is a crucial part of the instrument as the neck, fingerboard and frets are where you place your hands to play different notes on the bass.

Neck, Fingerboard and Frets

Headstock & Tuners

The tuners are placed on the headstock of a bass. This is where the strings are attached from the bridge, then we adjust the pitch of the strings by adjusting the tuners. To sharpen your bass note, tighten the tuner, to flatten it, loosen the tuner.

Headstock & Tuners

What Bass Accessories Do I Need To Get Started?

Although there are many different types of bass guitars to choose from, arguably the accessories that you get when learning bass are just as important, here’s a comprehensive list of what you need to get started:

  • Bass guitar.
  • Instrument cable.
  • Amp.
  • Tuner.
  • Spare strings.
  • Pick.
  • A guitar tutor or access to some decent learning resources.

All of these would give you a great start to your bass guitar journey.

Electric Bass Guitar – What Is It?

One of the most popular electric guitars is the electric bass guitar. As the name suggests, this bass guitar can be made louder through the use of an electric amplifier. This is great if you want to play in a band with other musicians such as a drummer, guitarist and singer. A four-string bass is a fantastic option if you’re looking to your first bass as it works with lots of contemporary genres is the backbone of any ensemble.

Electric Bass Specifications & Popular Models

When it comes to electric bass guitars, although there are many different models they all share similar specifications.

The scale length of a fretted bass guitar is usually 34″, has between 20 and 24 frets, single coil or humbucker pickups. As well as this, the body material is usually made from either Alder, Basswood, Ash or Mahogany and the neck is made from either maple or rosewood. Of course, bass guitars aren’t limited to these materials, we’re just stating the most common.

Here’s a bass instruments list of some popular models:

  • The Fender Precision Bass (aka the P Bass), created by the famous Leo Fender. 
  • The Fender Jazz Bass (aka the J Bass).
  • Musicman Stingray.
  • Yamaha BB734A.

Who Are Some Famous Electric Bassists?

If you’re looking for some famous bass guitarists, here’s a list of players for you to check out:

  • Flea. (Red Hot Chili Peppers).
  • John Entwistle. (The Who).
  • John Deacon. (Queen).
  • Paul McCartney. (The Beatles).
  • James Jamerson.

What Electric Basses Would You Recommend?

Here are some of our favourite bass guitars for you to check out:

These are all fantastic first electric bass guitar options and are well worth checking out.

Fretless Electric Bass – What Is It?

A fretless bass guitar is essentially the same as a normal electric bass. However, there is one major difference. It doesn’t have frets. You’re probably wondering, “How can a bass work if it doesn’t have frets?”, “How am I meant to know what notes to play?”

Well, a fretless is definitely aimed at more advanced players and takes sheer skill and determination to master it. This wouldn’t be Similar to a cello or double bass, when playing fretless, you can still play the notes as you would on a normal electric bass, however, your intonation has to be spot on for it to sound correct. This is helped with the addition of fret markers on the side of the bass necks. Although it’s important to mention that we wouldn’t recommend this bass as a first bass guitar.

This produces a lyrical and melodic sound that is completely unique. Compared to a normal electric bass, it can offer you an extra source of inspiration.

Fretless Bass Specifications

The main specifications of a fretless bass are similar to a standard electric bass guitar, however, there are two main differences. The obvious one is that the instrument doesn’t have frets, the other one is that a fretless will often use flat-wound strings. These strings have less friction than standard round-wound strings and offer a smoother more delicate tone.

Famous Fretless Bassists

Here’s a list of some famous fretless players that may interest you:

  • Jaco Pastorious.
  • Pino Palladino.
  • Les Claypool.
  • Jack Bruce.
  • Michael Manring.

All of these bassists are fantastic players and are well worth checking out.

What Are The Best Fretless Basses?

Here are our top five fretless bass guitars, we hope you like them!

A lot of popular basses such as the jazz bass and precision bass have been modified into the fretless bass world and work extremely well.

Acoustic Bass Guitars- What Are They?

Acoustic bass guitars are very similar to an electric bass, however these types of bass guitars have a full acoustic body. The easiest way to think of this is, acoustic bass guitars are basically the bass version of an acoustic guitar. An acoustic bass guitar isn’t as common as a electric guitar, but they can provide some interesting tones and be fun to play.

The main pro of using an acoustic bass guitar is that it can be played without an amplifier. This makes it extremely useful for acoustic setups such as jam sessions and folk and open mic nights. As well as this, if you want a bass that can be played quickly and easily, a acoustic bass is a fantastic choice and are often seen accompanying Mariachi bands and in other genres of world music.

However, the main downside of this type of bass guitar is that it isn’t as loud as other acoustic instruments such as a double bass.
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Acoustic Bass Guitar Specifications

Although an acoustic bass is similar to many acoustic guitars, there only really similarity is that they have a fully acoustic body with a sound hole. The acoustic bass guitar often has a much larger body than standard acoustic guitars, this allows the lower bass frequencies to resonate more freely. However, they often need a pickup to be heard properly in a band.

Like the electric bass, an acoustic bass has four strings tuned E,A,D & G down an octave from a regular guitars pitch. As well as this, as this is an acoustic instrument, these types of bass guitars have a wooden bridge and the strings are secured via bridge pins, just like acoustic guitars. Other than that, everything else such as tuners, fretboard and strings are very similar to that of an electric bass.

What Are The Best Acoustic Basses?

If you want to play bass guitar, but you’re not sure what the best acoustic guitars are, then here are a couple of options that may be of interest to you:

Five & Six-String Bass Guitars – What Are They?

Five string bass guitars and six string bass guitars are very similar to a standard four string bass, however the addition of the extra string can make playing bass extremely interesting. Initially popularised in the 1980s, bassists started to tune lower to compensate for the addition of synths and electronic instruments.

As well as this, they also work fantastically for lots of bass styles, including Metal, Rock, Funk & Pop.

These type of bass probably wouldn’t be your first bass guitar, however it is a great choice for more intermediate and advanced players.

Five and Six String Bass Guitar Specifications

These types of bass guitars are usually tuned differently to a standard electric bass guitar, here are the main tunings used for these electric bass guitars:

  • Five String Basses – B,E,A,D & G.
  • Six String basses – B,E,A,D,G & C.

This added low end can be extremely useful when you play bass, it adds extra warmth and girth and is develops the instruments versatility. As well as, having high C can mean you have access to extended chord choices and single note lines that simply aren’t possible on most bass guitars.

The extra bass strings on this type of this instrument mean that the neck is much larger than standard scale basses. So, if you do want to add different types of bass guitars to your set up, it’s worth bearing in mind that these bass guitar types will take a bit of getting used to if you’ve only played a four string electric bass before.

Famous Bassists Who Use A Five Or Six String Guitar

This bass type has been used by many bassists such as:

  • John Myung. (Dream Theater).
  • Nathan East. (Eric Clapton, Daft Punk and more).
  • Nathan Watts. (Stevie Wonder).

What Are The Best Five & Six String Basses?

If you’re looking for the best 5 or 6 bass string guitars, here are some fantastic choices:

The cool thing about these basses is that often popular models such as a jazz bass (j bass) or precision bass (p bass) are often adapted to work as five string models.

Short Scale Bass Guitars – What Are They?

Short scale basses are a bass guitar that has a much shorter scale length than long scale bass guitars. These types of bass work extremely well for Women, Children and can work fantastically as a first bass guitar.

Often, these electric guitars make playing bass much easier as they are not as cumbersome as as a full-sized bass guitar.

Short Scale Bass – Specifications

The shorter scale of a bass guitar has much less tension than a full 34” bass guitar. The scale length of this bass makes playing guitar easier as the strings are much looser and then space between the frets is greatly reduced. 

As well as this, the body size is often much smaller, making it more comfortable to play.

What Are The Best Short Scale Basses?

Here are some of our favourite short scale electric basses:

If you’re looking to buy your first bass, these are all fantastic choices.

Hollow Body Bass Guitars – What Are They?

A hollow body bass is a unique type of bass. Tuned the same as a standard electric bass, this style of bass takes influence from its stringed cousins, violins, violas and cellos.

These instruments have a chambered body, allowing more resonance and a depth of sound compared to a normal bass. Furthermore, these style of bass will often have a cutaway body style, allowing you to reach higher frets with ease. As well as this, they look stylish, classy and elegant.

Differing to the P bass and J bass produced by Leo Fender, hollow body basses are produced by companies such as Warwick, Gibson and Gretsch.

Hollow Body Bass Guitars - What Are They?

Popular Hollow Body Electric Basses & Players

Here are some common examples of a hollow body bass guitar:

  • Gibson EB2.
  • Gretsch G5440.
  • Hofner Ignition Bass.

Artists who have been known to play a hollow body bass guitar include Paul McCartney, Jack Casady and Phil Lesh (The Grateful Dead).

What Are The Best Hollow Body Bass Guitars?

Here are some great models of hollow body bass guitar:

Upright Basses – What Are They?

Out of all the basses we have discussed so far, upright basses are probably the unsung hero of the bass world. Originally designed for the classical world, bass players have been using upright basses for centuries. However, in recent years, the upright bass is also used as a jazz bass and in rockabilly and country music.

An upright bass is an instrument that has four strings just like a standard bass string guitars, however they are a very different instrument.

Upright Basses

Upright Bass Specifications

The upright is a much larger instrument than a bass guitar. The body is essentially like an enlarged violin and as a result of this is able to project extremely well. The upright bass is actually the largest instrument in a classical orchestra.

The two main ways that an upright bass is played is via finger plucking or via the use of a bow. The change in technique depends on the musical situation. As a general rule, if you play in orchestra you’re more likely to use a bow, but if you play in more contemporary settings, you will use your fingers.

Although upright basses are extremely cool instrument, it probably isn’t your first choice if you’re buying your first bass. However, despite this, this style of bass can be useful addition in most bass players arsenals.

Who Are Some Famous Bass Players?

Some famous players who use the contrabass are as follows:

  • Ron Carter.
  • Paul Chambers.
  • Ray Brown.
  • Edwin Barker.

What Are The Best Double Basses?

If you’re unsure what model of contrabass is best, here are some fantastic models that we highly recommend:

  • Grace Student Upright Double Bass.
  • Merano String Bass.
  • Palatino VB-004 Bass.

How To Find The Right Bass Guitar For You?

Whether you’re buying your first bass guitar or you’re a seasoned professional, when searching for a bass guitar, there is a number of key factors that may influence your purchase. In this next part of the article, we’re going to look at 10 essential elements that make up a great bass guitar.

1-Body Type

Bass body styles can have a huge influence on how comfortable the instrument is. For example, if you’re a tall/large person, you may be comfortable with a bass that has a larger body as it will fit better with your body type, however, this might not work for someone who is smaller or young.

It works the opposite way too, short scale basses can work really well for smaller people or women too, as they can be easier to play.

As always, we think it’s best to try the bass before you buy it, as that’s the only real way to know if it will work for you.

2-Body Material

The material of a bass guitar’s body can largely affect its tone. For example, if your bass is made out of Alder wood, the tone of your instrument will be well balanced across the frequency spectrum. However,  a bass tonewood such as Ash have more top end and Mahogany tends to be darker in sound.

To learn more about these types of woods, check out this handy guide by Andertons Music.

Bass Guitar Tonewood Guide

3-Neck Shape

The overall shape of the neck can make a massive difference to the playability of a bass guitar. Whether it’s a C, D or U shape, this can dramatically affect how comfortable is. To learn more about neck shapes, check out this handy article from Fender:

The Difference Between Popular Neck Shapes C,V & U

4-Scale Length

This is the overall length of the bass from the bridge to the nut.

As the name suggests, short scale basses will have smaller gaps between the frets, whereas a long scale bass guitar will have larger gaps.

What this means for you as a bass guitarist is that reaching between certain frets will be easier or harder for you, depending on the size of your hands.

A larger scale will also require an extended string length than a short-scale bass guitar. This can affect the resonance of the instrument too.

Similar to the body type, it’s worth trying out these types of basses to see if they work for you.

5-Tuners

Having decent tuners on your bass guitar is a must-have. If you have bad tuners, you’ll never be able to get your electric bass in tune.

As a general rule, the higher the ratio of the tuner, the more you can fine-tune the note of your bass guitar. As well, if you’re a gigging musician, it is potentially worth considering locking tuners as these can further aid tuning stability.

6-Bolt-on or Thru-Neck

Having a bolt-on neck or through-neck construction on your bass guitar can have a huge effect on its tone.

A bolt-on neck is easy to manufacture, will keep the cost of your instrument down and is also easy to repair if it breaks. The other advantage of this type of neck is that it will provide you with a tight snappy tone. This works for fingerstyle playing or slap bass.

A thru neck form is glued to the body of the guitar and forms part of the whole bass guitar body. This allows the instrument to have more sustain, warmth and resonant sound. However, the major downside to this is that it can be difficult to repair if broken.

7-Fingerboard Type

Just like the body material, the fingerboard material can dramatically change the sound of a bass guitar.

Maple fretboards will sound much spankier and brighter, whereas a rosewood fretboard will be darker and smoother in tone.

8-Number of Frets

The number of frets depends on how much of the instrument you will actually use. For example, if you’re an advanced player who needs access to the whole fretboard, a bass with 22+ frets will work fantastically for you.

However, if you’re a beginner, you might spend most of your time between frets 1-15, so a bass with more than 22 frets is unnecessary.

When looking at the number of frets, always go for what works best for your musical needs.

9-Fretted or Fretless

Fretted and fretless bass guitars are totally different instruments. Most electric bass guitars have steel frets and work great for most conventional playing styles.

Although fretless basses can work just like a fretted bass, however, it is much harder to play. This is due to the lack of frets and being able to intonate yourself when playing the instrument. The fretless tends to be used more for melodic basslines. For examples of this, check out Pino Palladino’s work with Paul Young.

10-Pickup Type

When discussing pickups, we can split them into two categories. Active pickups and passive pickups.

Passive pickups are the most common type of bass pickups and have been featured on classic recordings since the 1960s. These pickups can only be controlled via a passive tone control which allows you to cut the tone and work great for genres of music such as pop, funk, blues, country and rock.

In passive pickup territory, you can get humbucker and a single-coil pickup. A humbucker pickup will provide you with a thick, warm bass tone. Whereas the single-coil will have more attack, bite and presence.

When using active pickups, as a user you have much more control over the tone. In the bass world, a lot of active circuitry will have bass, middle and treble controls providing you with a full and balanced tone. The only downside to these pickups is that they are usually controlled via a 9V battery which can quickly die after frequent use.

Active pickups are available as single coil pickups or dual humbucking pickups and work fantastically for heavier genres of music such as metal and heavy rock. However, they can also be used in more contemporary genres too.