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The electric bass guitar (also called an electric bass or a bass) is an electrically-amplified fingered (or plucked or picked or slapped) string instrument. The bass is similar in appearance to an electric guitar, but with a larger body, a longer neck and scale length, and, usually, four strings tuned one octave lower in pitch, in the bass range.
Since the 1950s, the electric bass has largely replaced the double bass in popular music. The bass is typically used to provide the low-pitched bassline(s) and bass runs in popular music and jazz. The electric bass is also used as a soloing instrument in jazz, fusion, Latin, and funk styles.
1930s: Early solid body basses
Paul Tutmarc developed a guitar-style electric bass instrument that was fretted and designed to be held and played horizontally. Audiovox's sales catalogue of 1935–6 (also featuring a solid body six-string electric guitar) listed what is probably the world’s first fretted, solid body electric bass that is designed to be played horizontally — the Model #736 Electric Double Bass. The change to a "guitar" form made the instrument easier to hold and transport; the addition of guitar-style frets enabled bassists to play in tune more easily (which also made the new electric bass easier to learn).
1950s and 1960s: The Fender Bass
A self-taught electrical engineer named Leo Fender developed the first mass-produced electric bass in the 1950s. 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 piece, four-pole pickup to a contoured body design with beveled edges for comfort and a single "split coil pickup" (staggered humbucker).
First introduced in 1960, The 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' position, each with separate volume and tone controls. The Jazz Bass' neck was narrower at the nut than the Precision bass (1 1/2" vs 1 3/4"). Another visual difference that set the Jazz Bass apart from the Precision is its "offset-waist" body. Pickup positions on other manufacturers' basses are often referred to as "P" or "J" position pickups, in reference to Precision and Jazz basses. 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").
1960s and 1970s: Other prominent manufacturers
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.
With the explosion of the popularity of rock music in the 1960s and seeing the success that Fender and Gibson were having with their products, Rickenbacker, Danelectro and many others started to produce their own version of the electric bass. The 1970s also saw the founding of Music Man Instruments, owned by Leo Fender. Music Man produced the StingRay, the first widely produced bass with active (powered) electronics. Specific models became identified with particular styles of music, such as the Rickenbacker 4000 series, which became identified with progressive rock bassists.
1970s: Boutique basses
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. Alembic and another "boutique" bass manufacturers,Tobias, and Ken Smith, produced 4 string and 5-string basses with a low "B" string in the mid-1970s. Ken Smith also developed and marketed the first wide-spacing six-string electric bass.
1980s: Further experiments
As the electric bass matured, new designs continued to push the envelope. 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 an extremely short 18" scale length.
The instrument is called a "bass guitar" (bass (IPA: [beɪs]) rhyming with "face"), "electric bass guitar," "electric bass," or simply "bass."
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. However, the term "electric bass" began replacing "Fender bass" in the late 1960s, 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.
A wide variety of different options are available for the body, neck, pickups, and other features of the bass. Instruments handmade by highly-skilled masters of the craft of lutherie (guitar-making) are becoming increasingly available. Design options include:
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. 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. Basses are also 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 or ash. More exotic woods include bubinga, wenge, ovangkol, ebony and goncalo alves. Graphite or carbon fiber are used to make lightweight necks, an approach pioneered by G. Gould of Modulus Guitars. Peavey makes the graphite-necked basses such as the G-Bass the B-Quad, and Status has manufactured entire basses out of graphite. Many other guitar companies also use graphite in their necks, to add stability and sustain.
Strings and tuning
The standard design electric bass has four strings, tuned E, A, D and G (with the fundamental frequency of the E string set at 41.2 Hz, 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. The materials used in the strings gives bass players a range of tonal options. String types include all-metal strings (roundwound or flatwound), metal strings with different coverings, such as tapewound and plastic-coatings, and non-metal strings made of nylon.
Early basses 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 bassists who want a more vintage, smooth, or damped sound.
A number of other tuning options and bass types has been used to extend the range of the instrument. The most common are:
- Four strings with alternate tunings to obtain an extended lower range.
Tunings such as "BEAD" (this requires a low "B" string in addition to the other three "standard" strings), "D-A-D-G" (a "standard" set of strings, with only the lowest string detuned), and D-G-C-F or C-G-C-F (a "standard" set of strings, all of which are detuned) give bassists an extended lower range. You may get what is called a tenor bass with the strings as A-D-G-C, each string 4 steps up. It is used to get nice chords.
- Five strings (usually B-E-A-D-G, but sometimes E-A-D-G-C). The 5-string bass with a low "B" provides added lower range, as compared with the 4-string bass. As well, it gives a player easier access to low notes when playing in the higher positions. Five-string basses are common in certain sub-genres of heavy metal where music often uses an extended lower range.
- Six strings (B-E-A-D-G-C). The 6-string bass (B-E-A-D-G-C) is essentially a 4-string bass with both an additional low "B" string and high "C" string. While much less common than 4- or 5-string basses, they are still used in Latin, jazz, and several other genres. A few players have tuned the high C down to a B (giving B-E-A-D-G-B) matching the E-A-D-G-B string found on the lower end of a guitar.
- Detuners, one of which is sold under the name Hipshot, are mechanical devices operated by the left-hand thumb that allow one or more strings to be instantly detuned to a pre-set lower pitch. Hipshots are typically used to drop the "E"-string down to "D" on a four string bass. More rarely, some bassists (e.g., Michael Manring) will add detuners to more than one string, to enable them to detune strings during a performance and have access to a wider range of chime-like harmonics.
Less commonly, bassists have used other types of basses or tuning methods to obtain an extended range. Instrument types or tunings used for this purpose include:
- 1-string Bass Guitar - Japanese manufacturer Atlansia offers 1-, 2- and 3-stringed instruments.
- 2-string Bass Guitar - as well as Atlansia's dedicated 2-string basses, some musicians have elected to play conventional basses with two strings removed. These include Chris Ballew of Presidents of the USA, and the late Mark Sandman of Morphine. Longbow Basses  develop two string basses specifically.
- 3-string Bass Guitar (E-A-D) - Session bassist Tony Levin commissioned Music Man to build him a three-string version of his favorite Stingray bass, declaring that he rarely used the G string anyway. This unique instrument was unfortunately destroyed in a fire.
- 7-string Bass Guitar (B-E-A-D-G-C-F)- Session bassist Garry Goodman commissioned luthier Micheal Tobias to build the first seven-string electric bass guitar in 1987, which adds a B to the Fender six-string design.
- 8-string, 9-string Bass Guitar - Built by Conklin, these basses add a low F# string below the B string. The 9-string bass also adds a high Bb string above the F string. Jean Baudin plays a 9-string instrument.
- 8-, 10-, and 12-string basses are built on the same principle as the 12-string guitar, where the strings are grouped into sets tuned to unison or octaves, to be played simultaneously. An 8-string bass would be strung Ee-Aa-Dd-Gg, while a 12-string bass might be tuned Eee-Aaa-Ddd-Ggg (four groups of three strings each), standard pitch strings augmented by two strings an octave higher. Ten-string basses have octave strings added to the low-B (tuned to a Bb) of a 5-string bass.
- A 15-string bass (tuned Eee Aaa Ddd Ggg Ccc), first conceived, by Jauqo III-X has been produced by Warrior Guitars.
- Guitar-tuned bass (4-string): the D-G-B-E tuning matches the first four strings (from highest to lowest) of a guitar, pitched two octaves lower.
- Tenor bass: A-D-G-C, like the top 4 strings of a 6-string bass, or a simply a standard 4-string with the strings each tuned up an additional perfect fourth, a tuning used by Stanley Clarke,Victor Wooten, and Stu Hamm.
- Piccolo bass: e-a-d-g (an octave higher than standard bass tuning—-the same as the bottom four strings of a guitar), used by Stanley Clarke.
- Sub-contra basses, such as C#-F#-B-E ("C#" being at 17.32 Hz)(e.g., the Jauqo III-X from 2000). or the sub-bass guitar, E-A-D-G one octave below standard ("E" being at 20,6 Hz) created concept by Yves Carbonne in 2002.To amplify the low pitches of these instrument, a subwoofer capable of extended low-range reproduction may be needed.
- Luthier Michael Adler built the first 11-string bass in 2004 and completed the first single course 12-string bass, a concept created by bassist Garry Goodman, in 2005. The bass matches the range of the 97 note grand piano and requires special strings. These instruments are now being built by other luthiers.
- Guitarbass: A 10 stringed instrument with 4 bass strings (tuned E-A-D-G) and 6 guitar strings (tuned E-A-D-G-B-E) on the same neck and body, but with separate scale lengths, bridges, fretboards, and pickups. Created  by John Woolley in 2005. The prototype was built by David Minnieweather.
- For more information on pickups, see Pickup (music).
The vibrations of the instrument's metal strings within the magnetic field of the permanent magnets in the 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.
Bass pickup types
- "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, as well as the reissue and the Sting's signature model.
- "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 MusicMan basses (yet another Leo Fender brand) and many other brands, are the same length as a J pickup, but about twice as wide.
- "Soapbar" Pickups get their name due to a resemblance to a bar of soap, and can contain any variation of pickup, be it J, P, or Humbucking. They are commonly found in ERB basses.
- 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 Deluxe), or two "J" pickups (e.g. Fender Jazz). Some basses use more unusual pickup configurations, such as a soapbar and a "P" pickup (found on some Fenders), Stu Hamm's "Urge" basses which have a "P" pickup sandwiched between two "J" pickups, and some of Bootsy Collins' custom basses, which had as many as 5 J pickups. Another unusual pickup configuration is found on some of the custom basses that Billy Sheehan uses, in which there is one humbucker at the neck and a split-coil pickup at the middle position.
- 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). Most basses with multiple pickups allow blending of the output from the pickups, providing for a range of timbres.
- Piezoelectric pickups are non-magnetic pickups that produce a different tone and allow bassists to use non-metallic strings such as nylon or even silicone rubber. Piezoelectric pickups sense the vibrations of the string, as transmitted to the pickup through the bass's wooden body. Since piezoelectric pickups are based on the vibration of the strings and body, they can be prone to feedback "howls" when used with an amplifier, especially when higher levels of amplification are used.
- Optical pickups pickups are another type of non-magnetic pickup. Optical pickups are expensive and rarely used, apart from a small number of professional bass players who require the advantages offered by optical pickups: no noise (e.g., hum) or feedback problems, even at high levels of amplification.
Leo Fender's 34" scale, also called a "long scale" remains the standard for electric basses, although 30" or "short scale" instruments, such as the Höfner Violin Bass, played by Paul McCartney, and the Fender Mustang Bass are fairly popular. Once only available only as boutique instruments, many manufactures have begun offering 35, 35.5 and 36" scale lengths, also called an "extra long scale." The purpose of the extra long scale is to give a higher string tension, which yields a more defined tone on the B string of 5 and 6 stringed instruments or detuned 4 string basses.
The frets divide the fingerboard into semitone divisions, although fretless basses are also widely available. The original Fender basses had 20 frets, but modern basses can have 24 frets or more.
Fretless basses have a distinct sound: the absence of frets means that the string must be pressed down directly onto the wood of the fingerboard and can buzz against it as with the double bass, sometimes described as a "mwaah" sound by bassists. 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.
In How The Fender Bass Changed The World, Jim Roberts states that Bill Wyman made the first known fretless bass guitar in 1961 by converting an inexpensive Japanese fretted bass. This fretless bass can be heard on The Rolling Stones songs such as "Paint it Black". The first production fretless bass was the Ampeg AUB-1 introduced in 1966. Fender introduced a fretless version of the Precision Bass in 1970. Fusion-jazz virtuoso Jaco Pastorius created his own fretless bass by pulling the frets out of a sunburst Fender Jazz Bass, filling up the holes with wood putty and coating the fretboard with epoxy resin.
Some fretless basses have "fret lines" inlaid in the fingerboard as a guide, while others only use guide marks on the side of the neck. Strings wound with tape are sometimes used with the fretless bass so that the metal string windings will not wear down the fingerboard. Some fretless basses, such as those made by Pedulla, 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 additional strings are also available, but these are typically "boutique" or custom-made instruments. In the mid-2000s, luthier Jerzy Drozd built the first 10-string and 12-string fretless basses.
Fretless basses are widely used in jazz and jazz fusion music. Nonetheless, many bassists from other genres use fretless basses.
Amplification and effects
Electric bassists use either a "combo" amplifier, so-named because it combines an amplifier and a speaker in a single cabinet, or an amplifier and a separate speaker cabinet (or cabinets). Some bassists plug into a "DI" or "direct box", which routes their signal directly into a mixing console for recording or large-scale PA amplification.
Various electronic components such as preamplifiers 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, because these processors give players additional tonal options.
Sitting or standing
Most bass players stand while playing, although sitting is also accepted, particularly in large ensemble settings (e.g., jazz big band) or 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.
Pick vs. fingers (or thumb)
The electric bass, in contrast to the upright bass (or double bass), is played in a similar position to the guitar, held horizontally across the body. Notes are usually produced by plucking with the fingers or with a pick or plectrum.
There are bass players who play with a pick from a number of different musical styles, including pop, hard rock, punk rock and metal. Using a pick typically produces a "brighter" or "punchier" sound, while playing with fingers produces a softer and rounder sound. Some bassists use their fingernails flamenco-style to provide some compromise between playing fingerstyle and using a pick.
Instead of alternating downstrokes and upstrokes, players can perform all downstrokes, which provides a more consistent attack to each note. Bassists trying to emulate the sound of a double bass will often pluck the strings with their thumb or fingers rather than a plectrum, and use palm-muting to create a short, "thumpy" tone.
James Jamerson, an influential bassist from the Motown era, played the bass with only his index finger (which gained him the nickname "The Hook"). He created intricate bass lines using this technique. In contrast to Jamerson, some bass players such as Billy Sheehan may use all four fingers.
Right hand support and position
Variations in style also occur in where a bassist rests his right-hand thumb (or left thumb in the case of left-handed players). A player may rest their thumb on the top edge of one of the pickups. One may also rest their thumb on the side of the fretboard, which is especially common among bassists who have an upright bass influence. Also, bassists may simply anchor their thumbs on the lowest string (and move it off to play on the low string). This technique is known as the "floating thumb", and was previously popular mainly with bassists who played five or more string basses, but is now common for all bassists. Early Fender models also 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 entirely in the 1980s.
Striking or plucking position
Depending on where the string is plucked, a different timbre is produced. Jaco Pastorius generally plucked close to the bridge, producing a bright and "punchy" sound. Geezer Butler, on the other hand, typically plucks closer to the neck, near the neck pickup, which gives a darker sound with a stronger fundamental.
"Slap and pop," tapping, and related techniques
The slap and pop method, in which either tones or percussive sounds are achieved by thumping ("slapping") a string with the thumb and snapping a string or strings usually with the index or middle fingers ("popping"), was pioneered by Larry Graham of Sly and the Family Stone in the 1960s and early 1970s. Stanley Clarke and Louis Johnson further developed Graham's technique. Slap bass remains a mainstay of funk and is also played by many bassists in other genres, such as rock bassists Gene Simmons, Flea, JJ Burnel, and Les Claypool, and jazz-fusion bassist Victor Wooten. Wooten helped to develop and popularize the "double thump," in which the string is slapped twice, on the upstroke and a downstroke (for more information, see Classical Thump). Examples of the slap and pop technique can be seen at HowToSlapBass.com
In the two-handed tapping style, both hands play notes by rapidly pressing and holding the string to the fret, which makes it possible to play contrapuntally, and perform chords and arpeggios. Players noted for this technique include John Entwistle, Stuart Hamm, Billy Sheehan, Victor Wooten, and Michael Manring. The Chapman Stick and Warr guitar are many-stringed instruments that are designed to be played using two-handed tapping.
Other types of bass playing in which the strings are struck are "piano hammer style", in which the plucking hand is whipped towards the string and then retracted quickly by pivoting the wrist, so that the index finger taps the string; patting technique, in which three or four fingers are used to pat several strings close to the bridge, while chords are played with the left hand; wooden dowel "funk fingers" affixed with velcro to the tips of the index and middle fingers and used to strike the strings of the bass (an approach developed by Tony Levin).
The electric bass is the standard bass instrument in many musical genres, including modern country, blues, post-1970s-style jazz, many variants of rock and roll, heavy metal, punk, reggae, soul and funk. Even though the double bass is still the standard bass instrument in orchestral settings, some late-20th-century composers have used the electric bass in an orchestral setting. Modern bass playing draws on guitar and double bass for inspiration as well as an increasing vernacular of its own.
The bass may have differing roles within different types of music and the bassist may prefer different degrees of prominence in the music. Early uses of the electric bass saw bassists doubling the double bass part or replacing the upright bass entirely with their new, more portable and easily amplified instrument. By the end of the 1960s, the electric bass had replaced the upright bass in many forms of popular music.
The switch to electric bass moved bassists more into the foreground in a band setting, in several senses:
- From an aural perspective, electric bass tone can often "cut through" a live mix better. As well, electric basses can be amplified to very high levels without the problem of feedback "howls" that can plague upright bass players trying to amplify their instruments.
- The smaller size of the electric bass allows rapid, complex lines to be played more easily, enabling some musicians to develop a solo role for the instrument.
- The switch to the electric bass allowed bassists much more freedom of movement on stage. The double bass sits on an endpin, and stands vertically, and players typically play in a single location for the duration of a song. However, the electric bass is smaller, and is held up with a strap, which allows the electric bassist to move about on the stage while playing, and get closer to other musicians or the audience.
- List of bass guitarists
- Acoustic bass guitar
- Ashbory bass
- Double bass
- Electric upright bass
- Fender Precision Bass
- ^ Jeff Ament of Pearl Jam plays a 12-string bass in the song "Jeremy". John Paul Jones, formerly of Led Zeppelin, played 8-, 10-, 12- and 18-string basses on his solo albums Zooma and The Thunderthief, which allowed him to perform in parallel octaves.
- Roberts, Jim (2001). How The Fender Bass Changed the World. San Francisco, CA: Backbeat Books. ISBN 0-87930-630-0.
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-  Advanced harmonic work on fretless bass. Downloadable 24 Bit/96 kHz audio wav demo.