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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The bass guitar, electric bass or simply bass (/bs/) is the lowest-pitched member of the guitar family. It is a plucked string instrument similar in appearance and construction to an electric or acoustic guitar, but with a longer neck and scale length. The bass guitar most commonly has four strings, though five- and six-stringed models are also relatively popular, and bass guitars with even more (or fewer) strings or courses have been built. Since the mid-1950s, the bass guitar has largely come to replace the double bass in popular music due to its lighter weight, the inclusion of frets (for easier intonation) in most models, and, most importantly, its design for electric amplification. This is also due to the fact that the double bass is acoustically compromised for its range (like the Viola) in that it's scaled down from the optimal size that would be appropriate for those low notes.

The four-string bass guitar 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 (typically E, A, D, and G). It is played primarily with the fingers or thumb, or with a pick.

The electric bass guitar is acoustically a relatively quiet instrument, so to be heard at a practical performance volume, it requires external amplification. It can also be used in conjunction with direct input boxes, audio interfaces, mixing consoles, computers, or bass effects processors that offer headphone jacks. The majority of bass pickup systems are electromagnetic in nature.


According to the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, an "Electric bass 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][page needed] and some authors claim that they are historically accurate.[5] A bass guitar whose neck lacks frets is termed a fretless bass.


The scale of a bass is defined as the length of the freely oscillating strings between the nut and the bridge saddles. On a modern 4-string bass guitar, 30" (76 cm) or less is considered short scale, 32" (81 cm) medium scale, 34" (86 cm) standard or long scale and 35" (89 cm) extra-long scale.[6]


Bass pickups are generally attached to the body of the guitar and located beneath the strings. They are responsible for converting the vibrations of the strings into analogous electrical signals, which are in turn passed as input to an instrument amplifier.[7]


Bass guitar strings are composed of a core and winding. The core is a wire which runs through the center of the string and is generally made of steel, nickel, or an alloy.[8] The winding is an additional wire wrapped around the core. Bass guitar strings vary by the material and cross-sectional shape of the winding.

Common variants include roundwound, flatwound, halfwound (groundwound), coated, tapewound and taperwound (not to be confused with tapewound) strings. Roundwound and flatwound strings feature windings with circular and rounded-square cross-sections, respectively, with halfround (also referred to as halfwound, ground wound, pressure wound) strings being a hybrid between the two. Coated strings have their surface coated with a synthetic layer while tapewound strings feature a metal core with a non-metallic winding.[9][10][11] Taperwound strings have a tapered end where the exposed core sits on the bridge saddle without windings.[12] The choice of winding has considerable impact on the sound of the instrument, with certain winding styles often being preferred for certain musical genres.[13]



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.[14] Around 100 were made during this period.[15] Audiovox also sold their "Model 236" bass amplifier.[16]


An early Fender Precision Bass

In the 1950s, Leo Fender and George Fullerton developed the first mass-produced electric bass guitar.[17] 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.[18]

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.[19] 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.[20]

In 1953, Monk Montgomery became the first bassist to tour with the Fender bass, in Lionel Hampton's postwar big band.[21][22] Montgomery was also possibly the first to record with the electric bass, on July 2, 1953, with the Art Farmer Septet.[23] Roy Johnson (with Lionel Hampton), and Shifty Henry (with Louis Jordan and His Tympany Five), were other early Fender bass pioneers.[17] Bill Black, who played with Elvis Presley, switched from upright bass to the Fender Precision Bass around 1957.[24] 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.[19]

Also in 1953, Gibson released the first short-scale violin-shaped electric bass, the EB-1, with an extendable end pin so a bassist could play it upright or horizontally. 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". In 1959, these were followed by the more conventional-looking EB-0 Bass. 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). The Fender and Gibson versions used bolt-on and set necks.

Several other companies also began manufacturing bass guitars during the 1950s. Kay Musical Instrument Company began production of the K162 in 1952, while Danelectro released the Longhorn in 1956. Also in 1956, at the German trade fair "Musikmesse Frankfurt" the distinctive Höfner 500/1 violin-shaped bass first appeared, constructed using violin techniques by Walter Höfner, a second-generation violin luthier.[25] Due to its use by Paul McCartney, it became known as the "Beatle bass".[26] 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.[27] The Burns London Supersound was introduced in 1958.[24]


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.[28] The Jazz bass, or J-Bass, features two single-coil pickups.

Providing a more "Gibson-scale" instrument, rather than the 34-inch (864 mm) Jazz and Precision, Fender produced the Mustang Bass, a 30-inch (762 mm) scale-length instrument.[29] 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.[30]

Gibson introduced its short-scale 30.5-inch (775 mm) EB-3 in 1961, also used by Bruce.[31] The EB-3 had a "mini-humbucker" at the bridge position. Gibson basses tended to be instruments with a shorter 30.5" scale length than the Precision. Gibson did not produce a 34-inch (864 mm)-scale bass until 1963 with the release of the Thunderbird.[32]

The first commercial fretless bass guitar was the Ampeg AUB-1, introduced in 1966.[33] In the late 1960s, eight-string basses, with four octave paired courses (similar to a 12 string guitar), were introduced, such as the Hagström H8.[34]


In 1972, Alembic established what became known as "boutique" or "high-end" electric bass guitars.[35] 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.[36][37]

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). 1976 saw the UK company Wal begin production of their own range of active basses.[38] 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.[39] Basses with active electronics can include a preamplifier and knobs for boosting and cutting the low and high frequencies.

In the mid-1970s, five-string basses, with a very low "B" string, were introduced. 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.[40]

See also


  1. ^ Sadie & Tyrrell 2001.
  2. ^ Wheeler 1978, pp. 101–102.
  3. ^ Evans & Evans 1977, p. 342.
  4. ^ Bacon & Moorhouse 2016.
  5. ^ Roberts 2001, References Appendix.
  6. ^ "Myths and Rumors on Scale Length - Premier Guitar". Retrieved September 17, 2023.
  7. ^ Veall, Dan (December 21, 2020). "Bass guitar pickups explained". Bass Player. Retrieved March 1, 2022.
  8. ^ Koester, Thom (August 24, 2020). "What Are Guitar Strings Made Of?". Sweetwater Sound. Retrieved February 17, 2022.
  9. ^ Owens, Jeff. "Bass Strings 101". Fender. Retrieved February 17, 2022.
  10. ^ Erskine, Damian (September 4, 2013). "Fretless Bass: A Guide for Choosing the Best Strings". No Treble. Retrieved September 17, 2023.
  11. ^ "The Anatomy of a Bass String - Premier Guitar". Retrieved September 17, 2023.
  12. ^ Colin (November 8, 2022). "Bass Strings 101: The Ultimate Buyer's Guide". E-Home Recording Studio. Retrieved September 17, 2023.
  13. ^ Brody, Mark (January 30, 2020). "Flatwound vs. Roundwound Bass Strings". Sweetwater Sound. Retrieved March 1, 2022.
  14. ^ Blecha, Peter (December 11, 2001). "Audiovox #736: The World's First Electric Bass Guitar!". Vintage Guitar. Retrieved February 17, 2019.
  15. ^ Roberts 2001, pp. 28–29.
  16. ^ "Audiovox and Serenader Amps – An Interview with Bud Tutmarc". Vintage Guitar. February 19, 2002. Retrieved February 17, 2019.
  17. ^ a b Slog & Coryat 1999, p. 154.
  18. ^ Owens, Jeff (March 13, 2019). "Legendary Lows: The Precision Bass Story". Fender. Retrieved January 7, 2020.
  19. ^ a b Roberts 2001.
  20. ^ Rogers, Dave; Braithwaite, Laun; Mullally, Tim (May 13, 2013). "1952 Fender Precision Bass". Premier Guitar. Retrieved January 7, 2020.
  21. ^ George 1998, p. 91.
  22. ^ Tamarkin, Jeff (April 25, 2019). "Chops: Take Your Pick". JazzTimes. Retrieved April 11, 2023.
  23. ^ Mulhern, Tom (1993). Bass heroes: styles, stories & secrets of 30 great bass players: from the pages of Guitar player magazine. San Francisco: GPI Books. p. 165. ISBN 0-585-34936-3. OCLC 47008985.
  24. ^ a b Bacon 2010.
  25. ^ "A Short History of Höfner". Höfner. Archived from the original on January 18, 2022. Retrieved January 1, 2021.
  26. ^ Bacon & Moorhouse 2016, eBook.
  27. ^ "The Modern Era of the electric Guitar". Rickenbacker. Archived from the original on January 20, 2021. Retrieved January 1, 2021.
  28. ^ Owens, Jeff (June 12, 2019). "Jaco, Geddy and Flea Can't Be Wrong: The Story of the Jazz Bass". Fender. Archived from the original on December 2, 2022. Most apparent was a feature borrowed from the Jazzmaster—an offset waist—that conveyed a sleeker and more curvaceous look to the Jazz Bass. In true Fender fashion, however, this was an innovation rooted not in form but in function—the sexier look was a by-product of the more practical consideration that the offset waist made the instrument more comfortable to play when seated
  29. ^ "Mustang Bass". sFender. Retrieved January 1, 2021.
  30. ^ "Jack Bruce - Equipment". Retrieved January 1, 2021.
  31. ^ Moseley, Willie G. (March 10, 2010). "The Gibson EB-3". Vintage Guitar. Retrieved September 5, 2017.
  32. ^ Mullally, Tim; Braithwaite, Laun; Rogers, Dave (March 5, 2017). "Vintage Vault: 1964 Gibson Thunderbird Bass". Premier Guitar. Retrieved January 1, 2021.
  33. ^ Roberts 2001, p. 125–126.
  34. ^ "Hagstrom H8-II Bass". Hagström. Retrieved September 29, 2017.
  35. ^ "Alembic - History, Short Version". Alembic. Retrieved February 4, 2021.
  36. ^ "Alembic Activators". Alembic. Retrieved February 4, 2021.
  37. ^ Fletcher, Tim (March 16, 2020). "The History of Active Electronics". Bass Musician. Retrieved February 4, 2021.
  38. ^ "About Us". Walbasses. Retrieved December 31, 2020.
  39. ^ "StingRay". Music Man. Retrieved February 4, 2021.
  40. ^ Roberts, Jim (July 23, 2019). "Partners: Anthony Jackson & Fodera Guitars". Bass Magazine - the Future of Bass. Retrieved January 1, 2022.


This page was last edited on 7 May 2024, at 08:10
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