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The electric bass guitar is a stringed instrument played primarily with the fingers (either by plucking, slapping, popping, or tapping) or using a pick. The bass is similar in appearance and construction to an electric guitar, but with a larger body, a longer neck and scale length, and usually four strings tuned to the same pitches as those of the double bass, or one octave lower in pitch than the four lower strings of a guitar (E, A, D, and G). Since the 1950s, the electric bass guitar has largely replaced the double bass in popular music. The bass guitar provides the low-pitched bassline(s) and bass runs in many different styles of music ranging from rock and metal to blues and jazz. It is also used as a soloing instrument in jazz, fusion, Latin, funk, and rock styles.

HistoryEdit

1930sEdit

In the 1930s, inventor Paul Tutmarc from Seattle, Washington, developed the first guitar-style electric bass instrument that was fretted and designed to be held and played horizontally. The 1935 sales catalogue for Tutmarc's company, Audiovox, featured his "electronic bass fiddle," a four stringed, solid bodied, fretted electric bass guitar with a 30 ½" scale length. The change to a "guitar" form made the instrument easier to hold and transport, and the addition of guitar-style frets enabled bassists to play in tune more easily and made the new electric bass easier to learn. However, Tutmarc's inventions never caught the public imagination, and little further development of the instrument took place until the 1950s.

1950s–1960s Edit

In the 1950s, Leo Fender developed the first mass-produced electric bass. His Fender Precision Bass, introduced in 1951, became a widely copied industry standard. The Precision Bass (or "P-bass") evolved from a simple, uncontoured 'slab' body design similar to that of a Telecaster with a single coil pickup, to a contoured body design with beveled edges for comfort and a single four-pole "split coil pickup."

Following Fender's lead, Gibson released the violin-shaped EB-1 Bass in 1953, followed by the more conventional-looking EB-0 Bass in 1959. As with Fender's designs, Gibson relied heavily upon an existing guitar design for this 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).

Whereas Fender basses had pickups mounted in positions in between the base of the neck and the top of the bridge, many of Gibson's early basses featured one humbucking pickup mounted directly against the neck pocket. The EB-3, introduced in 1961, also had a "mini-humbucker" at the bridge position. Gibson basses also tended to be smaller, sleeker instruments; Gibson did not produce a 34" scale bass until 1963 with the release of the Thunderbird, which was also the first Gibson bass to utilize dual-humbucking pickups in a more traditional position, about halfway between the neck and bridge.

A small number of other companies such as Rickenbacker, Danelectro and Höfner also began manufacturing bass guitars during the 1950s. With the explosion of the popularity of rock music in the 1960s many more manufacturers began making bass guitars.

First introduced in 1960, The Fender Jazz Bass was known as the Deluxe Bass and was meant to accompany the Jazzmaster guitar. The Jazz Bass (often referred to as a "J-bass") featured two single-coil pickups, one close to the bridge and one in the Precision bass' split coil pickup position, and was designed by Leo Fender to be an easier bass for a guitarist to play than the existing Precision Bass, due to the narrower nut (noted later). The earliest production basses had a 'stacked' volume and tone control for each pickup. This was soon changed to the familiar configuration of a volume control for each pickup, and a single, passive tone control. The Jazz Bass' neck was narrower at the nut than the Precision bass (1½" versus 1¾").

Another visual difference that set the Jazz Bass apart from the Precision is its "offset-waist" body. Pickup shapes on electric basses are often referred to as "P" or "J" pickups in reference to the visual and electrical differences between the Precision Bass and Jazz Bass pickups. Fender also began production of the Mustang Bass; a 30" scale length instrument used by bassists such as Tina Weymouth of Talking Heads ("P" and "J" basses have a scale length of 34", a design echoed on most current production electric basses of all makes).

In the 1950s and 1960s, the term "Fender bass" was widely used to describe the bass guitar, due to Fender's early dominance in the market for mass-produced bass guitars. The term "electric bass" began replacing "Fender bass" in the late 1960s, however, as evidenced by the title of Carol Kaye's popular bass instructional book in 1969 (How to Play the Electric Bass) and the use of the term "electric bass" by U.S. musicians' unions. The instrument is also referred to as an "electric bass guitar", "electronic bass", or simply "bass".

1970s Edit

The 1970s saw the founding of Music Man Instruments, owned by Leo Fender, which produced the StingRay, the first widely-produced bass with active (powered) electronics. This amounts to an impedance buffering pre-amplifier on-board the instrument to lower the output impedance of the bass's pickup circuit, increasing low-end output, and overall frequency response (more lows and highs). Specific models became identified with particular styles of music, such as the Rickenbacker 4001 series, which became identified with progressive rock bassists like Chris Squire of Yes, while the StingRay was used by Louis Johnson of the funk band The Brothers Johnson.

In 1971 Alembic established the template for what would subsequently be known as "boutique" or "high end" electric basses. These expensive, custom-tailored instruments featured unique designs, premium wood bodies chosen and hand-finished by master craftspeople, onboard electronics for preamplification and equalization, and innovative construction techniques such as multi-laminate neck-through-body construction and graphite necks. In the mid-1970s, Alembic and other "boutique" bass manufacturers such as Tobias, and Ken Smith produced 4- string basses and 5-string basses with a low "B" string. In 1975, bassist Anthony Jackson commissioned luthier Carl Thompson to a 6-string bass tuned (low to high) B, E, A, D, G, C.

1980s–2000s Edit

In the 1980s, bass designers continued to explore new approaches. Ned Steinberger introduced a headless bass in 1979 and continued his innovations in the 1980s, using graphite and other new materials and (in 1984) introducing the Trans-Trem tremolo bar. In 1987, the Guild Guitar Corporation launched the fretless Ashbory bass, which used silicone rubber strings and a piezoelectric pickup to achieve a "double bass" sound with a short 18" scale length. In the late 1980s, MTV's "Unplugged" show helped to popularize hollow-bodied acoustic bass guitars amplified with pickups.

During the 1990s, as five-string basses became more widely available and more affordable, an increasing number of bassists in genres ranging from metal to gospel began using five-string instruments for added lower range. As well, the onboard battery-powered electronics such as preamplifiers and equalizer circuits, which were previously only available on expensive "boutique" instruments, became increasingly available on modestly priced basses.

In the 2000s, some bass manufacturers included digital modelling circuits inside the instrument to recreate tones and sounds from many models of basses (e.g., Line 6's Variax bass). Traditional bass designs such as the Fender Precision Bass and Fender Jazz Bass remain popular in the 2000s; in 2006, a 60th Anniversary P-bass was introduced by Fender.

Design considerations Edit

Steinberger bass

"Headless" Steinberger bass. By Ned Steinberger

A wide variety of different options are available for the body, neck, pickups, and other features of the bass. Instruments handmade by highly skilled luthiers are becoming increasingly available. Bass bodies are typically made of wood although other materials such as graphite (for example, some of the Steinberger designs) have also been used. While a wide variety of woods are suitable for use in the body, neck, and fretboard of the bass guitar – the most common type of wood used for the body is alder, for the neck is maple, and for the fretboard is rosewood. Other commonly used woods include mahogany, maple, ash, and poplar for bodies, mahogany for necks, and ebony for fretboards.

The choice of body material and shape can have a significant impact on the timbre of the completed instrument as well as on aesthetic considerations. Other design options include finishes, such as lacquer, wax and oil; flat and carved designs; Luthier-produced custom-designed instruments; headless basses, which have tuning machines in the bridge of the instrument (e.g.Steinberger and Hohner designs) and several artificial materials such as luthite. The use of artificial materials allows for unique production techniques such as die-casting, to produce complex body shapes.

While most basses have solid bodies, they can also include hollow chambers to increase the resonance or reduce the weight of the instrument. Some basses are built with entirely hollow bodies, which changes the tone and resonance of the instrument. Acoustic bass guitars are typically equipped with piezoelectric or magnetic pickups and amplified.

Bass guitar necks, which are longer than regular electric guitar necks, are generally made of maple. More exotic woods include bubinga, wenge, ovangkol, ebony and goncalo alves. Graphite or carbon fiber are used to make lightweight necks and, in some cases, entire basses.

Exotic woods are used on more expensive instruments: for example, the company 'Alembic' is associated with the use of cocobolo as a body material or top layer because of its attractive grain. Warwick bass guitars are also well-known for exotic hardwoods: most of the necks are made of ovangkol, and the fingerboards wenge or ebony. Solid bubinga bodies are also used for tonic and aesthetic qualities.

The "long scale" necks used on Leo Fender's basses, giving a scale length (distance between nut and bridge) of 34", remain the standard for electric basses. However, 30" or "short scale" instruments, such as the Höfner Violin Bass, played by Paul McCartney, and the Fender Mustang Bass are popular, especially for players with smaller hands. While 35", 35.5" and 36" scale lengths were once only available in "boutique" instruments, in the 2000s, many manufacturers have begun offering these lengths, also called an "extra long scale." This extra long scale provides a higher string tension, which yields a more defined tone on the low "B" string of 5- and 6-stringed instruments (or detuned 4-string basses).

Fretted and fretless basses Edit

Another design consideration for the bass is whether to use frets on the fingerboard. On a fretted bass, the frets divide the fingerboard into semitone divisions (as on a normal guitar). The original Fender basses had 20 frets, but modern basses may have 24 or more.

Fretless basses have a distinct sound, because the absence of frets means that the string must be pressed down directly onto the wood of the fingerboard. The string buzzes against the wood, as with the double bass, creating a "mwaah" sound. The fretless bass allows players to use the expressive devices of glissando, vibrato and microtonal intonations such as quarter tones and just intonation. Some bassists use both fretted and fretless basses in performances, according to the type of material they are performing. While fretless basses are often associated with jazz and jazz fusion, bassists from other genres use fretless basses, such as metal bassist Steve DiGiorgio. The first fretless bass guitar was made by Bill Wyman in 1961 when he converted an inexpensive Japanese fretted bass by removing the frets. The first production fretless bass was the Ampeg AUB-1 introduced in 1966, and Fender introduced a fretless Precision Bass in 1970. In the early 1970s, fusion-jazz bassist Jaco Pastorius created his own fretless bass by removing the frets from a Fender Jazz Bass, filling the holes with wood putty, and coating the fretboard with epoxy resin.&nbsp

Linned fretless jazz bass

An example of a fretless bass's fingerboard.

Some fretless basses have "fret line" markers inlaid in the fingerboard as a guide, while others only use guide marks on the side of the neck. Tapewound (Double Bass Type) strings are sometimes used with the fretless bass so that the metal string windings will not wear down the fingerboard. Some fretless basses have fingerboards which are coated with epoxy to increase the durability of the fingerboard, enhance sustain and give a brighter tone. Although most fretless basses have four strings, five-string and six-string fretless basses are also available. Fretless basses with more than six strings are also available as "boutique" or custom-made instruments.

Strings and tuningEdit

Main article: Bass guitar tuning

The standard design for the electric bass has four strings, tuned E, A, D and G, in fourths such that the open highest string, G, is an eleventh (an octave and a fourth) below middle C, making the tuning of all four strings the same as that of the double bass. This tuning is also the same as the standard tuning on the lower four strings on a 6-string guitar, only an octave lower. String types include all-metal strings (roundwound, flatwound, groundwound, or halfwound), metal strings with different coverings, such as tapewound and plastic-coatings. The variety of materials used in the strings gives bass players a range of tonal options.

In the 1950s, bassists often used flatwound strings with a smooth surface, which had a smooth, damped sound reminiscent of a double bass. In the 1960s and 1970s, roundwound bass strings similar to guitar strings became popular. Roundwounds have a brighter timbre with greater sustain than flatwounds. Flatwounds are still used by some bassists who want a more 'vintage' or Motown-style sound.

A number of other tuning options and bass types have been used to extend the range of the instrument. The most common are:

Bassguitarnotes

Note positions on a right-handed 4-string bass in standard EADG tuning.

  • Four strings with alternate tunings to obtain an extended lower range.
  • Five strings usually tuned B-E-A-D-G, which provides the extended lower range of "drop tuning" or other down-tunings. Another common tuning used on early 5 string double basses is E-A-D-G-C, known as "tenor tuning". This is still a popular tuning for jazz and solo bass. Other tunings such as C-E-A-D-G are used though rare. The 5th string provides a greater lower or upper range than the 4-string bass, and gives access to more notes for any given hand position.
Washburn xb600

Washburn XB600, a six string bass.

  • Six strings are usually tuned B-E-A-D-G-C. The 6-string bass is a 4-string bass with an additional low "B" string and a high "C" string. While much less common than 4- or 5-string basses, they are still used in Latin, jazz, and several other genres, as well as in studio work where a single instrument must be highly versatile. Alternate tunings for 6-string bass include B-E-A-D-G-B, matching the first five strings of an acoustic or electric guitar, and EADGBE, completely matching the tuning of a 6-string guitar but one octave lower allowing the use of guitar chord fingerings. Rarer but not unheard of are EADGCF and F#BEADG, providing a lower or higher range in a given position while maintaining consistent string intervals.
  • Detuners, such as the Hipshot, are mechanical devices operated by the right or left-hand thumb that allow one or more strings to be quickly detuned to a pre-set lower pitch. Hipshots are typically used to drop the "E"-string down to "D" on a four string bass.

Extended range approachesEdit

Some bassists have used other types of basses or tuning methods to obtain an extended range or other benefits such as providing multiple octaves of notes at any given position, as well as a significantly larger tonal range. Instrument types or tunings used for this purpose include basses with fewer than four strings (1-string bass guitars [1], 2-string bass guitars, 3-string bass guitars (E-A-D) [2]); alternate tunings (e.g., tenor bass [3], piccolo bass[4], and guitar-tuned basses[5]) and 8, 10, 12 and 15-string basses, which built on the same principle as the 12-string guitar, where the strings are grouped into "courses" tuned in unison or octaves, to be played simultaneously.[6]

Extended Range Basses (ERBs) are basses with 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, or 12 strings which are not doubling unisons or octaves. The 7-string bass (B-E-A-D-G-C-F) was built by luthier Michael Tobias in 1987. This custom instrument commissioned by bassist Garry Goodman was an early example of a bass with more than six single course strings. Goodman developed a special playing technique requiring seven or more strings. Conklin builds 8- and 9-string basses.[7] The Guitarbass is a 10-string instrument with four bass strings (tuned E-A-D-G) and six guitar strings (tuned E-A-D-G-B-E).[8] Luthier Michael Adler built the first 11-string bass in 2004 and completed the first single-course 12-string bass in 2005. Adler's 11- and 12-string instruments have the same range as a grand piano. Sub-contra basses, such as C#-F#-B-E ("C#" being at 17.32 Hz)[9] have been created [10].[11].

Pickups and amplification Edit

Magnetic pickupsEdit

Most electric basses use magnetic pickups. The vibrations of the instrument's metal strings within the magnetic field of the permanent magnets in magnetic pickups produce small variations in the magnetic flux threading the coils of the pickups. This in turn produces small electrical voltages in the coils. These low-level signals are then amplified and played through a speaker. Less commonly, non-magnetic pickups are used, such as piezoelectric pickups which sense the mechanical vibrations of the strings. Since the 1990s, basses are often available with battery-powered "active" electronics that boost the signal and/or provide equalization controls to boost or cut bass and treble frequencies.

"P-" pickups (the "P" refers to the original Fender Precision Bass) are actually two distinct single-coil halves, wired in opposite direction to reduce hum, each offset a small amount along the length of the body so that each half is underneath two strings. Less common is the single-coil "P" pickup, used on the 1951 Fender Precision bass[12]

"J-" pickups (referring to the original Fender Jazz Bass) are wider eight-pole pickups which lie underneath all four strings. J pickups are typically single-coil designs, but because one is wired opposite to the other, when used at the same volume they have hum canceling properties.

Humbucker (dual coil) pickups, found in Music Man basses (yet another Leo Fender brand) and many other brands, are the same length as a J pickup, but about twice as wide, and with two rows of exposed pole pieces.

"Soapbar" Pickups get their name due to their resemblance to a bar of soap and originally referred to the Gibson P-90 guitar pickup. The term is now also used to describe any pickup with a rectangular shape and no visible pole pieces. They are commonly found in ERB basses. EMG now makes a Soapbar pickup that has both a single coil and a humbucker in the same pickup. The player switches between the two by pulling or pushing on the volume knob.

Jazz Style PickUps

Dual "J"-Style Pickups.

Many basses have just one pickup, typically a "P" or soapbar pickup. Multiple pickups are also quite common, two of the most common configurations being a "P" near the neck and a "J" near the bridge (e.g. Fender Precision Bass Special, Fender Precision Bass Plus), or two "J" pickups (e.g. Fender Jazz). The placement of the pickup greatly affects the sound, with a pickup near the neck joint thought to sound "fatter" or "warmer" (the bass frequencies being dominant) while a pickup near the bridge is thought to sound "tighter" or "sharper" (providing a larger amount of treble). Usually basses with multiple pickups allow blending of the output from the pickups, providing for a range of timbres. Sound demos for six variations of P-J pickup settings on the Fender Aerodyne Jazz Bass illustrate this concept.

Non-magnetic pickups Edit

  • Piezoelectric pickups are non-magnetic pickups that produce a different tone, often similar to that of an acoustic bass, and allow bassists to use non-ferrous strings such as nylon, brass or even silicone rubber. Piezoelectric pickups use a transducer crystal to convert the vibrations of the string into an electrical signal.
  • Optical pickups are another type of non-magnetic pickup. They use an LED to optically track the movement of the string, which allows them to reproduce low-frequency tones at high volumes without the "hum" or excessive resonance associated with conventional magnetic pickups. Since optical pickups lack high frequencies, they are commonly paired with piezoelectric pickups to fill in the missing frequencies. The Lightwave company builds basses with optical pickups.

Amplification and effects Edit

Like the electric guitar, the electric bass is always connected to an amplifier for live performances. Electric bassists use either a "combo" amplifier, which combines an amplifier and a speaker in a single cabinet, or an amplifier and a separate speaker cabinet (or cabinets). In some cases when the bass is being used with large-scale PA amplification, it is plugged into a "DI" or "direct box", which routes their signal directly into a mixing console, and thence to the main and monitor speakers. For some recordings, the electric bass is recorded without the use of an amplifier and speakers by connecting the bass with the mixing board using a "DI", while the musician listens to the sound of the instrument through headphones.

Various electronic bass effects such as preamplifiers, "stomp box"-style pedals and signal processors and the configuration of the amplifier and speaker can be used to alter the basic sound of the instrument. In the 1990s and early 2000s, signal processors such as equalizers, distortion devices, and compressors or limiters became increasingly popular additions to many electric bass players' gear.

Playing techniques Edit

Sitting or standing Edit

Most bass players stand while playing, although sitting is also accepted, particularly in large ensemble settings, such as jazz big bands, or in acoustic genres such as folk music. It is a matter of the player's preference as to which position gives the greatest ease of playing, and what a bandleader expects. When sitting, right-handed players can balance the instrument on the right thigh, or like classical guitar players, the left. Balancing the bass on the left thigh positions it in such a way that it mimics the standing position, allowing for less difference between the standing and sitting positions.

Sounding notesEdit

The electric bass, in contrast to the upright bass (or double bass), is played in a similar position to the guitar; that is, it is held horizontally across the body. Notes are usually produced by pizzicato, in which the strings are plucked by the index and middle fingers (and sometimes with the thumb and ring fingers as well) or with a pick (or plectrum). Although the use of a pick is primarily associated with rock, picks are also used in other styles. Jazz bassist Steve Swallow uses a pick for upbeat or funky songs. Picks can be used with alternating downstrokes and upstrokes, or with all downstrokes for a more consistent attack. A bassist usually holds a pick in a fist like grip with the index and thumb. Also, usually the wrist is used, but sometimes for tremolo picking,and artist uses the whole arm (variations are endless). Some bassists use their fingernails to play flamenco-style, such as John Entwistle and Geddy Lee. Lemmy from Motörhead is known for playing with a pick, and would go as far as to have the pick taped to his thumb prior to performances.

There are many varieties of picks available to a bassist, and usually one chooses one for comfort, or for tone. The norm, is to choose heavy picks that range from 1.14 mm – 3.00 mm (3.00 is unusual). Picks are made with all types of material for tone preference; a fine example, would be felt picks, which are used to emulate the tone one gets from fingers.

Bassists trying to emulate the sound of a double bass sometimes pluck the strings with their thumb or fingers rather than a plectrum, and use palm-muting to create a short, "thumpy" tone. Sting performs using his thumb. James Jamerson, an influential bassist from the Motown era, played intricate bass lines using a single finger – his index finger, which he called "The Hook." Depending on where the string is plucked, different timbres are produced.

There are also variations in style about how a bassist chooses to rest the right-hand thumb (or left thumb in the case of left-handed players). A player may rest his thumb on the top edge of one of the pickups. One may also rest one's thumb on the side of the fretboard, which is especially common among bassists who have an upright bass influence. Some bassists anchor their thumbs on the lowest string and move it off to play on the low string. Alternatively, the thumb can be rested loosely on the strings to mute the unused strings.

Early Fender models came with a "thumbrest" attached to the pickguard, below the strings. Contrary to its name, this was not used to rest the thumb, but to rest the fingers while using the thumb to pluck the strings. The thumbrest was moved above the strings in 1970s models and eliminated in the 1980s.

"Slap and pop" and tappingEdit

The slap and pop method, which is a mainstay of funk, uses tones and percussive sounds achieved by thumping (or "slapping") a string with the thumb and snapping (or "popping") a string or strings with the index or middle fingers. Bassists often interpolate left hand-muted "dead notes" between the slaps and pops to achieve a rapid percussive effect. Larry Graham of Sly and the Family Stone and Graham Central Station was an early innovator of the slap style, and Louis Johnson of the The Brothers Johnson is also credited as an early slap bass player.

Slap and pop style is also used by many bassists in other genres, such as rock (e.g., J J Burnel and Les Claypool) and fusion (e.g. Marcus Miller, Victor Wooten and Alain Caron). Slap style playing was popularized throughout the 1980s and early 1990s by pop bass players such as Mark King (from Level 42) and funk-rock bassists such as Flea (from the Red Hot Chili Peppers) and Alex Katunich (from Incubus). Wooten popularized the "double thump," in which the string is slapped twice, on the upstroke and a downstroke (for more information, see Classical Thump).

In the two-handed tapping style, bassists use both hands to play notes by rapidly pressing and holding the string to the fret. This makes it possible to play contrapuntal lines, chords and arpeggios. Some players noted for this technique include Billy Sheehan, Stuart Hamm, John Myung, Victor Wooten, Les Claypool, Michael Manring and the style's originator, John Entwistle. The Chapman Stick and Warr Guitars are string instruments that are designed to be played using two-handed tapping. Another rarely-used playing technique related to slapping is the use of wooden dowel "funk fingers", an approach popularized by Tony Levin.

References Edit


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