Published: 26th April 2007
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This is a musical instrument of the string family. At the same time, it belongs to the guitar family, with a larger body and longer neck allowing longer musical distance or scale length. It's fingered or picked to vibrate its strings and therefore produce sound. This instrument is usually used with 4 strings, tuned one octave lower than the guitar

The bass guitar has been used by the music world for centuries. The 15th century "Viola da Gamba" was among the earliest known bass instrument. It was over 8 feet tall, with 6 to 7 strings, tuned similar to the present day double bass. With a fretted neck, a bow was used to play it. This overall look of "Viola de Gamba" has not changed in the next centuries. The size, shape, tone, parts, and woods were much the same although there were several variations in the number of strings.



The succeeding centuries would use strings ranging from 3 to 7. Throughout Europe, 3 and 4 string basses were used for 300 years. Germany and Austria used 4 to 5 strings until the 19th century while Italy, France and England used mainly the 3-string configuration until the 1870's. The next decades saw the dominance of the 4-string bass.

Starting from the 19th century, drastic changes were introduced initiated by Paul Tutmarc in the 1930's. He designed a bass that was very similar to a guitar, hand-held and carried and can be played horizontally. This concept was followed in the 1950s and 1960s by Leo Fender. The Leo Fender bass became the master model for the mass produced bass guitar. In 1971, the boutique or high end electric bass was introduced. In the 1979 new products were born such as the headless bass-the tuning machines are in the bridge. In the 1980's other innovations using new materials such as graphite were marketed. In 1987, the Ashbory bass was launched-ultra small body, 100% portable/light weight, nylon strings with an unexpected big bottomed sound.



The usual material used for basses is wood (most common is alder for the body, or exotic woods such as bubinga, wenge, ovangkol, ebony or goncalo alves; maple or ash for the neck or graphite and carbon fiber for lightweight necks; and rosewood for the fretboard). Apart from aesthetic reasons, careful selection of material must be done because the material used has a significant effect on the timbre of the bass guitar. For the final finish, lacquer, wax and oil is used. With the advent of artificial materials such as luthite, unique production methods such as die-casting can be employed to allow manufacture of complex body shapes that would in turn allow convenience in holding the instrument.


Most bass guitars have solid bodies but can also have hollow chambers for increased resonance or to lessen the weight of the instrument. But caution must be noted as hollow bodies change the tone and resonance of the bass guitar. For the strings, all-metal (roundwound or flatwound) with coverings of either tapewound or plastic coatings, and non-metal strings made of nylon are used.


Though from the family of guitars, a bass guitar has striking differences from the guitar. The simplest and basic difference is the pitch range of the instruments. Bass guitar plays notes an octave lower than a guitar.

Another unique difference is in the quality of sound produced by a bass. A bass guitar has a unique way of producing sound if played with the fingers or plucked. If played with the fingers using 2, 3 or 4 fingers, the bass guitar can create different rhythms and produce tonal differences that wouldn't be possible if the instrument is played with a pick.

Another difference is the role the instrument plays in a musical group. Although the bass is very critical in the band, it normally would play a secondary role. Though the bass guitar could have solo acts and could play much like that of a guitar, traditionally (what is usually expected by people), a guitar is more visible or is more in the frontline or spotlight.

Though normally playing secondary roles, these roles played by the bass guitar varies depending on the type of music. The degree of prominence may also differ depending on the genre. The bass guitar is normally used to provide the low-pitched bass lines in pop music and jazz. It is used as a solo instrument in jazz, fusion, Latin, and funk styles. Rock and Roll, heavy metal, punk, reggae, and soul also use bass guitar as a solo instrument.

The bass guitar plays varied roles for orchestral settings. Traditionally, orchestral settings employ the double bass guitar but 20th century composers have started to use the electric bass



Some of the famous bassists are Jimmy Blanton and Charles Mingus. Jimmy Blanton was a virtuoso bassist playing the bass like a horn producing melodic lines. He is regarded as the first true master of the jazz bass. Charles Mingus was an American jazz credited with hot and soul feel jazz music. Other well-known bass players are Stefan Lessard, Victor Wooten, Flea and James Jamerson. Stefan Kahil Lessard is the bassist for the Dave Matthews Band. Victor Wooten is regarded as the most influential bassist and is a member of the Bela Fleck & the Flectones, a Grammy-awarded group

Flea or Michael Perter Balzary was born in Melbourne Australia, migrated to the U.S. and is a member of the famous L.A. band, Red Hot Chili Peppers. James Jamerson is an influential bassist from the band, Motown



Various methods are used in playing the bass. The "slap and pop" method popularized in the 1960s till 1970s by Larry Graham of the Sly and Family Stone is produced by thumping a string with the thumb and snapping the strings with the index or middle fingers. Such technique produces percussive sounds. This technique was further improved by Stanley Clarke and Louis Johnson and is used by other bassist in other genres such as rock bassists Flea, JJ Burnel and Les Claypool; jazz-fusion bassist Victor Wooten. Later on Wooten developed other methods. He popularized the "double thump" method wherein the string is slapped twice, on the upstroke and a downstroke

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