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A beginner's guide to the bass guitar

How is the sound of a bass guitar created?

As with the electric guitar, the two main parts of a bass guitar are the strings and the pickups. Vibrations from the strings are received by the pickups, which turn them into electronic signals. These are then transmitted to an amplifier, which creates the sound.

All bass guitars generally work in the same way, although the materials from which they are made and their shape can have a sizable impact on what type of sound they produce and what genre of music they are best suited to playing.

The effect of wood on the bass sound

The majority of basses are solidbody, meaning there is no space inside the body of the guitar to allow sounds to reverberate naturally as with acoustic instruments. The cheapest solidbodys are typically made from softer woods such as ply or plastic, with hard woods like maple, rosewood and mahogany used on more expensive models.

As far as solidbodys are concerned, mahogany produces a dense and woody sound and fits in well with the country and blues style of music. Rosewood on the other hand is generally considered to create a more metallic sound that is rich and complex in both the high and low registers. Meanwhile, maple has a flatter tone that can work particularly well when playing at a loud volume.

Hollowbody bass guitars are used, but are mostly for those who enjoy jazz and folk music, as they create a quieter, more acoustic sound better suited to this type of playing.

Famous bass guitars

One of the most popular manufacturers of bass guitars, as with electric guitars, is Fender, which pioneered the Precision Bass. This instrument is heavily associated with rock music and has been used over the years by the likes of Black Sabbath's Geezer Butler, Metallica's Cliff Burton and The Who's John Entwhistle.

After more than 50 years of production, there are a wide variety of Precision Basses available, although the most commonly found will either be made of alder or ash, with four strings and a fretted fingerboard.

Affordable alternatives

Having four strings and frets is generally considered to be the best option for those looking to start playing the bass as it makes them less complicated for beginners to learn. However, Fender basses can sell for upwards of £400 and there are much cheaper models on the market that offer a similar style, such as the Electric G-4 Bass Guitar, which costs £79.95.

Like a typical Fender, this model has frets and four strings, as well as the familiar split coil humbucking pickup. This enables the guitar to produce a crisp clear tone with good low end depth, punch and sustain. It is also available as part of the Electric G-4 Bass Guitar & Amp Pack for £109.05, which includes a practice 15-watt bass amplifier, a guitar lead, spare strings, a pick and a strap - everything needed to start playing right away.

Playing the bass guitar

There are three main ways of playing a bass guitar - using a pick, plucking with fingers or 'slapping'. Picks are generally used in order to play more quickly, although some musicians simply prefer them to plucking. Slapping is a more advanced technique popularised by the likes of Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers and found commonly in funk music.

Beyond these three, it is possible to use two-handed tapping techniques similar to those used in electric guitar playing. This style is generally used by virtuoso bass players - such as Billy Sheehan - who forego the traditional role of the bass guitar as simply a rhythm section instrument.

As well as trying out different playing techniques, beginners can advance their sound by upgrading to a better bass guitar, amp or using effects pedals, such as a Boss GT10B Bass Guitar Effects Processor.

Posted on 20 Mar 2009 09:00 to category : Tips and advice

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