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During the early part of the 20th century, instrument makers created the electric double bass, a stringed instrument that has a built-in sound amplifier with electronic controls. Musicians also call this instrument the electric upright bass to avoid confusing it with the bass guitar. Double bass is the musical octave played by this instrument, which is one octave below the cello, or single bass. Resembling a giant violin, the original double bass is an acoustic stringed instrument.
As early as the 1950s, different designs for the electric double bass appeared on the market. Two main styles have survived in to the 21st century. One design is a smaller version of the classic acoustic double bass. It keeps the basic shape of the original acoustic double bass, but it usually is no larger than 75 percent of the normal size of the acoustic instrument. The second design, known as a stick bass, retains only the post that hold the instrument’s strings and electronics.
In addition to the increased sound volume the amplifier provides, both of these designs offer musicians advantages over the traditional instrument. The electric versions have less weight and bulk, making them easier to transport. They also give musicians the option of positioning the instrument on a stand during practice and performances, which can reduce the physical stress experienced by bass players, who normally keep the instrument upright by leaning their bodies forward.
An electric double bass has four or five strings. They commonly are made of lightweight steel. Before play, each of these strings must be tightened properly using screws at the top of the handle to reduce any slack that would distort the instrument’s sound. One plays this instrument with a bow or a pick.
The tonal range, or voice, for the double bass and the electric double bass is the lowest of all stringed instruments. Musicians who play the electric double bass find all of their music on the bass clef of a music score. The actual notes bassists play are one octave below the lowest note on the bass clef.
In classical compositions, the musical part for an electric double bass is similar to that of the percussion instruments, such as drums. Accomplished bassists who play the amplified instrument are able to take advantage of its enhanced capabilities and contribute lower-range notes to a composition's harmony. In jazz performances, an electric double bass often plays solos that accentuate the composition’s melody.