Bass Guitars

Technically, bass guitars belong to the string family of musical instruments. It is also grouped under the guitar family, although it sports a longer neck and a larger body to allow longer scale length or musical distance. Bass guitars are picked or fingered to vibrate the strings and produce sound. These instruments are created with 4 strings that are tuned one octave lower than a regular guitar.


Viola da Gamba is one of the earliest bass instruments, dating back in the 15th century. The first gamba guitars were more than 8 feet tall and have six to seven strings. They are tuned very much alike the double bass of the modern day. The look of the 'Viola de Gamba' didn't change in the next few years. In fact, it has retained its look in the following centuries hence. The shape, size, parts, woods, and tone of the instrument were all the same, although there were notable changes in the actual number of the strings of the instrument.


The Bass Guitar Evolution

During the past centuries, the number of strings used for guitars is anywhere from three to seven. In Europe, 3 to 4-stringed basses were in circulation for over 300 years. In Austria and Germany, bass guitars with four to five strings are used up until the 9th century. In England, France, and Italy, 3-string bass guitars were popular until 1870. Only in the next decades the dominance of 4-string bass had emerged.


Major changes in the instrument were initiated in 1930's by Paul Tutmarc. He had designed one bass guitar that is very similar to a regular guitar. It was a hand-held bass that is carried and played horizontally. The concept was then continued by Leo Fender during the 1950's and the 1960's. Soon thereafter, the bass guitars that Leo Fender had created became the primary model of the first ever mass-produced bass guitars during that time. By 1971, the high-end or boutique electric bass guitars were introduced. In 1979, newer products came to be and they are created as headless bass or have the tuning machines in the bridge. During the 1980's, more innovations were introduced when graphite materials were marketed. In 1987, Ashbory, created a bass with a very small body, 100% lightweight and portable was introduced. This model has nylon strings and an extraordinary big bottom sound.


Materials and Construction

Wood is still the best material used for basses. Alder can be used for the guitar's body, although ebony, bubinga, ovangkol, wenge, goncalo alves, and ebony were equally popular as well. For the neck part, ash or maple is used. To create more lightweight necks, either carbon fiber or graphite is used. On the fretboard, rosewood is the most common material. More than aesthetic reasons, bass guitar makers have to be very careful with their choice of materials when creating guitars, as they have significant effects on the bass guitar's timbre. And when it comes to the guitar's final finish, wax, oil, or lacquer is normally used. There are artificial materials used for guitars too, like the luthite. The use of special production methods like die-casting is also employed so that complex body forms and shapes can be created, all for the purpose of handling the instrument better.


A lot of bass guitars are created with solid bodies or hollow chambers to achieve either a better resonance or to merely reduce the instrument's weight. However, caution in the selection process must be practiced, as the hollow bodies of guitars can change its resonance and tone. As for the strings, the all-metal (flatwound or roundwound) strings with either plastic coating or tapewound covering are popular. Non-metal strings, more commonly known as nylon strings, are also used.


Basses and Guitars

Although bass guitars and regular guitars come from the same family, a bass guitar does have striking dissimilarities from the latter. The basic and simplest difference is the range of pitch each instrument has. Bass guitar plays tunes and notes one octave lower than a guitar.


Another distinct difference is the quality of tones and sounds produced by the bass. A bass guitar follows a unique method of producing sounds when played using the fingers or when plucked. If played using with two, three, or four fingers, a bass guitar would create several rhythms and make tonal differences not achievable when played using a pick.


One more difference is the actual role this instrument assumes in a band or musical group. Even if the role of a bass is critical to a band, it merely assumes as a support role for the guitar. It is possible for a bass guitar to have a solo act because it could play very similar a guitar anyway. However, traditional guitars are what people expect in a performance. As such, they are more visible in the spotlight or the frontline.


While bass instruments merely play secondary roles, its actual use can still vary depending upon the genre of the music being played. Whenever low-pitched bass lines are required in jazz or pop music, a bass guitar is used. It can also be used for a solo in a Latin, funk, and fusion style of music. Heavy metal, rock and roll, soul, punk, and reggae can also use the bass guitar for a solo.


In an orchestra, the bass guitar can also play varied roles. In a traditional orchestral setting, the double bass guitar is used. But during the 20th century, composers are opting to use electric bass instead.


Famous Bassists

On the list of famous bassists, the names of Charles Mingus and Jimmy Blanton would definitely appear. An expert bassist Jimmy Blanton - can use a bass guitar to produce melodic lines. And doing that is like playing a love song on a horn. And so because of his talents, Jimmy Blanton was regarded as the first master of jazz bass. Charles Mingus, on the other hand, was one American jazz player who is credited for both soul and hot jazz music.


Aside from them, other popular bass players are Victor Wooten, Stefan Lessard, James Jamerson, and Flea. Stefan Lessard plays for the Dave Matthew's band. Victor Wooten has long been regarded to be the most prominent bassist of all time. He is part of the Grammy awarded group Bela Fleck and the Flectones.


Michael Balzary, or more commonly known as Flea, was a native of Melbourne, Australia. He migrated to the United States and eventually became part of the famous band of Los Angeles, Red Hot Chili Peppers. James Jamerson is the lead bassist of the Motown band.


Bass Guitar Techniques

There are many methods when playing the bass. The 'slap and pop' method was popularized during the 1960's up until the 1970's by the Sly and Family Stone's Larry Graham. He plays his bass by thumping one string using his thumb and then snapping the other strings with either his middle fingers or index finger. This technique produces percussive-like sounds. The technique was then improved by Louis Johnson and Stanley Clarke. Soon after, other bassists adapted this technique when playing certain types of tunes. Flea, Les Claypool, and JJ Burnel are good examples of rock bassists who use the slap and pop. Victor Wooten, who is a popular Jazz-fusion artist, is also known for this method. However, he was able to popularize another bass guitar technique called 'double thump'. In this technique, the string is to be slapped twice, once on the upstroke and another during the down stroke.


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