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Bass Guitar 101: A Crash Course on the Bass

Let’s start with the obvious here, a bass guitar is typically a four-stringed instrument that resembles an electric guitar, but with the same tunings as an upright bass. The strings of a bass are E, A, D and G. The bass guitar has replaced the upright bass in popular music ever since the 1960’s. Bassists are usually the powerhouse of the band. They establish the beat, and anchor the harmonic framework.

Leo Fender and George Fullerton were the ones to develop the first mass-produced electric bass guitar in 1950. This became known as the precision bass (P-Bass), which is still widely played today. The Precision bass evolved from a contoured body design with beveled edges. The bass guitar truly revolutionized traveling rock musicians. The became so easy to transport over an upright bass. Gibson followed the footsteps of Fender and created their very own version of the electric bass around this time as well.

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As the years went on, many other versions of the bass were created, most resembling the original P-bass. In the 1960’s, with the explosion of rock music, the bass market continued to expand as well. Basses during this time had a stacked volume and tone control for each pickup. This type of pickup has since been changed to one volume control for each pickup and a single, passive tone control. The 1970’s saw a large development of boutique/high end electric bass guitars. Active electronics were introduced during this time allowing the bass guitarists the ability to amplify as well as improve the overall frequency response. The 1980’s and 1990’s continued to see unique materials and shapes of basses be created. One of the biggest innovations was the addition of the fifth string, expanding the range of the basses.

Bass bodies are typically made of wood, although they can be made of graphite or other light materials. The most common types of wood used for the bodies are alder, ash, or mahogany. The fingerboards are longer than that of an electric guitar, and are typically made of maple, rosewood or ebony. However, more high end basses will feature rare and exotic woods. Basses can also feature different lacquer or waxes, which will change the look/feel. Some basses even feature a hollow-body design which will change the tone and overall resonance of the instrument. Frets are another important area of a bass design, as most basses feature between 20–35 frets and some come without frets.

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There are many different types of basses, so it can be a challenge to distinguish between all of them. Basses can differ with their strings, pickups, materials they are made from and neck types.

Strings- The most common type of bass is a four string bass, which is found in just about every genre of music. However, there are also five and six string basses. The five string basses add a lower B string to the range, giving it a deep sound. Six string basses add a high C, which are great for solo acts to allow for unlimited creativity.

Pickups are the electromagnetic devices that collect the sound of the strings and convert that into an electronic signal. The two most common types of bass pickups are single coil and humbucker.

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  • Single Coil: Single coil pickups are common for almost any genre of music. They have a clear cutting voice, that is clean, glassy and transparent. They are known to be used in country, blues, classic rock and pop.
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  • Humbucker: Humbuckers have a darker, thick, meaty tone that works well distorted. They are known to be used in heavy metal and hard rock. But they also prove to be versatile in other genres as well. The humbucker uses two coils of wire that picks up the guitar string’s vibrations. The magnets that are installed in the two coils are opposite, so the signal that they produce, phases out each other.
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Neck Type- There are three main types of necks on a bass guitar. The three types are bolt on, set, and thru styled neck. The main difference between the necks is the construction of each.

  • Bolt On Neck: Most basses come with a bolt-on neck, put simply, the neck is bolted onto the body of the bass. The bolt keeps the neck firmly in place not allowing it to shift up and down.
  • Set Neck: A set neck means that the neck is attached to the body with a dovetail joint or mortise rather than the bolts. This type of neck can be harder to adjust but has better sustain.
  • Thru-Body Neck: Thru-body necks are typically found on high end guitars. The neck is made to continue as one continuous piece throughout the body. There is no joint or bolts which also results in better response and sustain.

Basses are primarily played by plucking, slapping, popping, strumming, thumping or picking with a pick. The bass is used in almost every genre of music, but can be a solo instrument in jazz, latin, funk, rock and metal styles. The bass guitar works very similar to an electric guitar, in that you pluck the string, it vibrates and then that vibration is sent through an electronic signal through an amplifier.

The top three brands that our experts at Cascio recommend are Fender, Reverend, and Ibanez.

Score a bass this month at Cascio! If you spend $999+ you get a free $100 Cascio gift card!

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From the stage to the studio, we have you covered. We are Cascio Music, music gear suppliers based in Milwaukee, WI.

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