What is a Bass Guitar?

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  • Written By: J. Beam
  • Edited By: Niki Foster
  • Last Modified Date: 12 October 2019
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A bass guitar is a stringed instrument designed for playing the lower notes in a piece of music. In a band or ensemble, the bass generally plays an accompaniment to the lead guitar. It can be acoustic, semi-acoustic, or electric and, though similar to a guitar, the bass has a few major differences.

Instead of the standard six strings of a guitar, the bass generally has four strings, though there are models with five or more. The four strings are tuned to E-A-D-G, from lowest to highest, and are typically tuned with E at 41.3 Hz. Though some bass guitars have no frets, most have 24 frets to achieve a range of at least two octaves per string.

The semi-acoustic and electric bass guitars are the most commonly played basses. The development of the electric version began with the jazz era sometime in the early 20th century. In orchestral music, several bass players combined and created the sounds of the accompaniment. As jazz music evolved, musicians sought a way for a single musician to play the accompaniment so that it could be heard without being drowned out by the other instruments.


Today, the electric bass guitar is an instrument most always found in live bands performing classic and southern rock, heavy metal, jazz, and blues music. Both semi-acoustic and electric basses can be played with various amplifiers depending on the setting. A semi-acoustic model is hollow in the middle, which achieves resonance for sound without an amplifier, but it has electrical components in the neck so that it can also be played with an amplifier, making it a versatile choice.

The type of bass a musician chooses is based largely on personal preference and the sound that he or she is trying to achieve. Each part — the neck, the body, and the pickups — can be unique to a brand's design. Most bodies are made of wood, such as mahogany or alder, and are lacquered or waxed to enhance the grain. Design and color are nearly as important as sound quality to many players.


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Discuss this Article

Post 9

No one really cares what a bass guitar looks like. They are awesome sounding, and that's all that matters.

Post 8

Learning bass guitar is actually pretty easy because there are only four strings and the frets are spaced out pretty far apart. A lot of people end up playing bass if they are intimidated by guitar. But playing good bass is not so much about playing tons of notes in a really virtuosic way.

As the bassist, you have to work together with the drummer to lock in the rhythm. Everything else gets built off that foundation. I have heard bassists who do not have good rhythm and it throws everything off. So the bass might look easy, but it helps to have some natural skill.

Post 7

What is a good price to pay for a cheap bass guitar that I can use to start learning? I know that some of the absolute cheapest models are not even worth playing. Their sound is horrible and they break surprisingly easy. So without going as low as I can go, what should I consider a good price? Also, what manufacturers should I look in to?

Post 6

Who do you guys think the greatest bassist of all time is? I know that is hard to think of in a general way. Most people want to separate rock and jazz and even R&B. But I want to hear what the first name that pops into your head is when you think of the greatest ever.

For me it is Victor Wooten, the bassist best known for playing with Bela Fleck but also an accomplished solo player. That guy has fingers like a jack rabbits legs. And he has a deep, perfect, natural sense of rhythm that comes out in every note he plays. Pure bass heaven.

Post 4

I play Fender and Ibanez bass guitars. It is possible to have a bass guitar in a large number of music genres and styles.

Post 3

I agree, a bass guitar is for playing and making music, not for showing off.

Post 1

Are there really that many bass players who value image as being nearly as important as substance? To any serious musician, D&C are certainly not even close in importance to the sound produced.

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