Electric bass

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Electric bass
English:  bass guitar , Italian:  Basso elettrico , French:  Guitare basse
Four string electric bass
classification Chordophone ( electrophone )
plucked instrument
Template: Infobox musical instrument / maintenance / parameter range missing
Template: Infobox musical instrument / maintenance / sound sample parameters missing Related instruments

Electric guitar , double bass , acoustic bass guitar

List of electric bass players

The electric bass or short electric bass (English bass guitar ) is a usually discrete wooden stringed instrument . The electric bass only emits a soft sound and needs to be amplified like the electric guitar . To do this, a built-in electromagnetic pickup converts the vibrations of the strings into electrical signals, which are normally made audible by an amplifier .

In contrast to the upright double bass , the electric bass, which is usually played while standing, hangs horizontally or at an angle of up to about 45 ° in front of the player's body and is held by a shoulder strap.

As a bass instrument , it lays the harmonic foundation in a music ensemble with its low frequencies. Bass lines played with electric basses are typical of many styles of music, such as jazz , rock , punk , funk , blues , country , pop , metal , hits and dance music . Especially in funk and reggae it comes to the fore with sometimes unusual bass lines.



A seven-string fretless electric bass, typically tuned in ,, F sharp - ,, B–, E–, A – D – G – c

An electric bass can have four to seven and, in special versions, up to twelve strings, all of which are tuned in fourths . The standard tuning of a four-string electric bass (, E–, A – D – G) corresponds to the tuning of the double bass and is an octave lower than the four lowest strings on the guitar . Like the guitar and double bass, the electric bass is a transposing instrument; the notes are notated an octave higher than the bass sounds.

In addition to the widespread four-string electric basses, five-string electric basses with "B" as the lowest string (approx. 31 Hz) are enjoying increasing popularity in many current popular styles of music, especially harder types of rock music. The variety is rounded off by electric basses with six strings, which are usually tuned in "B-, E-, A-D-G-c" or with seven strings with a high f or a low, , F sharp string (approx. 23 Hz) is added. Many musicians also use individual tunings ( → scordature , → drop tunings ) or have special designs built.

The pitch change is done by tapping the strings on the fingerboard. In this, 20 to 24 frets are usually embedded in equal semitone steps, so that the pitch range of a four-string electric bass in standard tuning ranges from Contra-E to (with 24 frets) the bowed g (sounding). This corresponds to a fundamental frequency range of 41.2 to 392 Hz .


In contrast to acoustic instruments, the body of an electric bass does not serve as a resonance body , which is why it usually consists of a solid piece of wood; Especially in the 1960s, however, basses with a hollow body were also widespread ("semi-resonance body"). The shape of the body is usually reminiscent of an eight, with deep cutaways usually inserted at the upper end to make it easier to grasp the high frets. Due to the low acoustic influence, there are almost no limits to the body shapes; an important benchmark is the ergonomic playability of the instrument. For this reason, the type of varnish - except for extremely thick types such as polyester-based varnishes - does not play a major role. With some electric bass models from the 1960s, the wooden body is covered with plastic film over the entire surface. The material and the total mass of the body have a significant influence on the sound.

A hard plastic or metal pickguard can be screwed onto the front of the body. It has the function of preventing scratches on the painted surface of the body when playing the plectrum, and on some models it conceals cutouts in the body for the electrical system of the instrument - pickups, cables, potentiometers . The bridge over which the strings run is located on the body . The lower end of the string is the string holder held, which is either integrated into the web (the combination of tailpiece and web is also called bridge - English: Bridge - hereinafter) or as a separate component to either the front or back of the body is located. In the latter case, the strings are passed through the body behind the bridge ( string-through-body ).


In most instruments, the neck of the electric bass is inserted into a pocket-shaped recess in the body and screwed on or, more rarely, glued on. In another construction method, the bass is built with a continuous neck ( Neck-thru ), to which the two body wings are glued to the sides. This construction has the advantage that no transition between the neck and the body dampens the string vibrations and thus a longer sustain time can be achieved.

As with the body, excessive damping of the string vibrations is avoided by using hard types of wood and various constructive techniques. With necks made of too soft material or with unfavorable structures in the wood, so-called dead spots can arise on the fingerboard - fret positions with a greatly reduced decay time of the played note. These occur when the natural resonance of the neck is stimulated by the vibrating tone in such a way that the fret belonging to the tone being picked lies on a vibration belly of the neck. As a result, the neck draws energy from the vibrating string, which leads to a greatly shortened sustain. It is also possible to “rock” the strings.

On the neck is the fingerboard , in which usually 20 to 24 frets are set in equal semitone steps. However, there are also fretless basses. This construction is called fretless after the English term . For orientation, the saw cuts for the frets are sometimes made and lined with wood or plastic. This helps beginners in particular to find the right grip position on the fretless bass. The Ibanez MC 924 electric bass model occupies a special position , a kind of hybrid bass whose fingerboard is fretted from the fundamental to the first octave of the freely vibrating string, and a fretless fingerboard in higher positions (half and half) .

There is a metal neck tensioning rod in the neck , which absorbs the string tension and which can be used to change the curvature of the neck. A slight curvature of the neck (from the point of view of the bassist forward) prevents the strings from resting on the fingerboard (for fretless basses) or on the frets and thus prevents the strings from rattling. If the neck curvature is too great, the distance between the strings and the neck is very large, making it difficult to play quickly and precisely. Depending on the strength of the string set used, the curvature can therefore be adjusted individually.

The fingerboard ends with the saddle , over which the strings run to the tuning machines , which are embedded in the top end of the neck, the headstock . In English the saddle is called a nut . Derived from the traditional models Fender Precision Bass ("P-Bass") and Fender Jazz Bass ("J-Bass"), there are necks of different widths. The P-Bass is typically around 45 mm (1.75 inches ) wide at the saddle , the J-Bass is only around 38 mm (1.50 inches), both specifications for four-string electric basses. The narrower J-Bass neck makes it easier to move your fingers across the strings on the fingerboard and suits bass players with smaller hands.

Basses are with different length scales (length of the vibrating string) obtained by: Short Scale (30 inches / 762 mm), Medium Scale (32 inches / 813 mm), long scale (34 inches / 864 mm), and extra-long scale or super longscale (35 to 36 inches / 889 or 914 mm). Most commonly basses with long scale built -Mensur. Rickenbacker basses with a scale length of 33¼ inches differ from these dimensions.

Pickups and tone controls

P-style (above) and J-style (below) pickups on a four-string electric bass

The located under the strings electromagnetic pickup (engl .: pickups ) convert the vibrations of the strings by electromagnetic induction in an electrical signal in order. There are some standards for pickup assembly. A pickup or a combination of two pickups is common, in which the electrical output signals can be switched or mixed with one another, which leads to different sound results depending on the position and nature of the pickup.

Pickups (also called PUs, short for pickups ) are often named after the model of the Fender basses from the 1950s and 1960s: J-style pickups (a magnetic coil, named after the Fender Jazz Bass ) and / or P-style pickups (two magnetic coils in opposite circuit, named after the Fender Precision Bass, also known as split coil ). In addition, there have been a variety of formats since the 1970s, mostly double- coil humbuckers . Here especially having MM format (named after the model Music Man StingRay and after their closed plastic cap named - see photo in box) Soap bars ( "soap bar" German) established. In addition, piezo or microphone elements can be built into the bridge , the tone of which sounds similar to a purely acoustic instrument with a resonance body.

There are two basic options for tone control on electrical instruments. You can either use a purely passive circuit that only allows the volume and individual frequency bands to be filtered and that does not require a power supply; or you can use preamplifiers built into the instrument in order to enable a boost and cut of individual frequency bands and an impedance conversion of the output signal. The main disadvantages here are the influence the circuit has on the unprocessed signal.

With passive circuits, there is usually a volume potentiometer per pickup and a common treble control that makes the sound more and more muffled depending on the position. You can also use switches to change the wiring between the pickups and operate additional filters. Raising frequency bands in the instrument is not possible with passive instruments (without internal preamplification); lowering the highs or lows can lead to audible transmission losses.

In addition to the options known from the passive design, active circuits enable a much more versatile change in the sound. The mixing ratio for two pickups can be changed on the panorama potentiometer without having to adjust the volume control. The tone control can be done via equalizers with two or more frequency bands. The use of non-magnetic pickups is only possible through the use of preamplifiers. With active e-basses, an integrated preamplifier is usually supplied with voltage via a 9-volt battery in the instrument. The pre-amplification ensures an impedance matching of the initially high-impedance signal, whereby sound losses on the way to the amplifier (guitar cable) can be compensated. In some electric bass models, the active electronics can be switched off. This allows the player a greater variety of sounds and allows you to continue playing when the battery is empty.

The electrical wiring is located in the body. The resulting, mostly asymmetrical signal is usually transmitted via a 6.3 mm jack plug connection. Through the amplification of the transmitted signal in a bass amplifier (engl .: Bass amp ) the sound of a bass guitar, by loudspeakers are reproduced. Some instruments (for example the models of the Yamaha TRB series) provide the signal quasi-symmetrically ( return via resistor and capacitor to ground) or fully balanced ( return inverted), which makes the bass easier even without an interposed DI box a mixer can be connected and played.

Special construction methods

Multi-choir basses

For special tonal requirements, double-choir instruments are sometimes used (based on the principle of the twelve-string guitar ), in which an additional octave string is used in addition to the basic string (and two for three-part basses). The very rare three-tone basses have a total of 12 (four times three basic strings), 15 (five times three) or 18 (six times three) strings.

Fretless bass

Fretless bass

Main article: Fretless bass

A special type of electric bass is the fretless bass developed in the 1960s , with which singing to rumbling sounds can be achieved. Due to the shorter scale length, the different string construction and other things, the fretless bass does not achieve the sound quality of a double bass or electric double bass . Fretless basses have their own sound qualities, for example with techniques such as sliding . About the slapping (the hard striking the strings with the thumb joint in place of the conventional plucking) with a fretless bass, there are different views. This sound is also different from a bass with frets, in which the characteristic slap sound is primarily created by striking the string against the metal frets. There are also fretless basses with fret markings that give beginners an orientation aid on the neck.

D tuner

Headstock with D tuner in "D position"

In order to have a little more leeway in the low frequency range with the four-string electric basses, the D tuner was developed for the electric bass. This device on the tuning mechanism allows the string to be tuned down by a whole tone (and back again) by turning a lever. Usually D tuners are attached to the .E string so that it can be tuned down to .D to gain access to two additional (semitones). However, they can be attached to any string. The disadvantage of this system is a significant reduction in the service life of the string. Another rarity are four-string basses, where the, E-string has a -1. and a -2. Fret, the length of the (tuned to, D), E string extends beyond the saddle of the other strings.

Use of materials other than wood

In the 1970s and 80s, the need for more stable necks led to the use of materials such as acrylic glass (Ampeg Dan Armstrong model), aluminum ( Travis Bean , Kramer ) and carbon fiber reinforced plastic ( Modulus , at times also in collaboration with Alembic, Steinberger , Status, Clover , Ritter, who have since deviated from it, Miller Guitars & Basses , Schack , Moses, Vigier, SKC Bogart, Zon and others), which were initially great fashion, but were not able to establish themselves in the mass market in the long term because they were back then Basses with a graphite neck sounded too sterile (which has partly changed until today). The sound is very brilliant and lingers for a long time (sustain) . In addition, a guitar neck made of graphite is not susceptible to changes in temperature or humidity. The stability is so great that a neck tension bar can be dispensed with, which many manufacturers of graphite basses do. More common than full graphite necks is the use of graphite rods or tubes in the wooden neck to stabilize it, the aim of which is to pair the stability of graphite with the tonal warmth and naturalness of wood. In 1979, the Steinberger L was the first electric bass to be made entirely from a laminate of carbon fiber and synthetic resin (carbon fiber reinforced plastic, KFK, carbon). A stabilized, multi-part neck using hard to very hard woods such as mahogany , maple wood , amaranth (purpleheart), wenge , bubinga , amazaque , ovangkol , rosewood , ebony , cocobolo and olive is considered state-of-the-art these days .


The bassjo or banjo bass combines an electric bass neck with a banjo body and is equipped with electric bass strings.



Acoustic bass plucked instruments with a fretted neck, such as the bass lute, have been known since around the 17th century. Another bass musical instrument with frets is the South Slavic folk instrument Berda , which is related to the double bass . From the 19th century onwards, various acoustic bass plucked instruments were created in guitar form, but it is not possible to completely differentiate them from one another: the double guitar , the bass guitar and the acoustic bass guitar . Since the beginning of the 20th century, the US instrument manufacturer Gibson has been producing an acoustic "mando bass" constructed similar to the mandolin .

New demands in bands

With the advent of the electric guitar, the problem arose that the double bass used in bands at that time was inferior in terms of volume. Basses were also subsequently equipped with a pickup system.

The forerunners of the electric bass were developed in the 1930s and are based on two families of instruments: the double bass and the guitar or electric guitar . The first commercially marketed electric bass, viersaitig equipped with frets and designed for a horizontal style of play, is the Model # 736 Electronic Bass Fiddle, who from 1935 by Paul Tutmarcs company Audiovox Manufacturing Co. was sold at a list price of $ 65th Audiovox had produced around 100 copies of this electric bass by the time it went out of business around 1950.

The first manufacturer to specialize in electric basses was Alembic , founded by Ron Wickersham in the 1960s, which introduced active electronics for their instruments in the 1970s.

For the first time in series

The first electric bass that was mass-produced was the Fender Precision Bass . It hit stores in 1951. The term Precision refers to the fact that this bass (in contrast to the double bass) has frets and thus the notes are easier for the player to grasp precisely.

Leo Fender transferred the basic design of an electric guitar to the bass, but modified the individual components such as body, neck and pickup so that they could withstand the low frequencies and the higher mechanical stress caused by the string tension. A big difference from the bass is that electric basses played the instrument in a more horizontal position while double basses playing upright (ger .: upright are held). But there are also some bassists, such as Alex Webster and Bill Wyman , who hold the electric bass around the neck almost vertically.

A detail of the early Fender Precision series is the idiosyncratic electronics that use the cover plate as a ground line and therefore manage with fewer lines, but also with poorer noise isolation compared to modern instruments.

Differences to the electric guitar

The necessary modifications also result in some differences between the electric bass and the electric guitar:

  • Scale length: The scale length of an electric bass is usually longer than that of an electric guitar.
  • String thickness : The strings have a larger diameter than the electric guitar, as the higher the string mass changes the vibration behavior in such a way that the desired deep tone can only be achieved with an acceptable string tension with thicker strings.
  • Number of strings: Most electric basses have four strings, but there are also five-, six- and seven-string variants that offer the bassist a wider variety of sounds, as well as the multi-choir instruments already mentioned.
  • Body: The body is longer than that of the electric guitar, a long body horn is typical, so that the instrument with a longer neck and heavier tuning machines does not become top-heavy.
  • Bridge: The bridge is located at the end of the body so that the whole instrument does not become too long.
  • Tuning: Apart from individual tunings, an electric bass is always tuned in fourths, whereby the difference only comes into play on instruments with high strings. This is not possible with a guitar, as otherwise many chords would not be tangible. On the guitar, the G-string is followed by an H-string (major third ) and then again every fourth with an E. On the bass, the string sequence is (,, H) -, E-, ADG- ( c ), on the guitar EAdg - h -e '.

Typical tasks and playing techniques

Finger picking game

Probably the most typical task of an electric bass, for example in a normal rock / pop 4 or 5 combo (singer and / or electric guitar, rhythm guitar, electric bass, drums), is initially to saturate the musical arrangement with deep bass notes. At least as primary in the role of the electric bass is the musical diminution - that is, the rhythmic loosening of the musical material. In the simplest playing type, continuous eighth notes in the plucking or picking style (see below) are used, which are very often implemented via rhythmic-melodic alternation processes, such as syncopation and progressive interval jumps (especially octaves, fifths and fourths), but also by integrating special playing techniques, like the more percussive slapping, should be kept interesting. The coupling of the basic rhythmic features of the electric bass with the bass drum of the drums is also typical - therefore the bassist and drummer usually have to coordinate well with each other (at least if there are no notes / lead sheets for the individual parts for the different musicians). In many ensemble types, not only the drum set and the rhythm guitar (if available) are decisive for the rhythmic groove and basic pulse of the piece, but usually the electric bass also makes a massive contribution to the rhythmic events. The latter also applies to arrangements for larger ensembles; such as arrangements for big band, funk bands or TV accompanying orchestras, in which the electric bass (or double bass), drums, rhythm guitar and piano / keyboard are grouped together as a rhythm group that contrasts with the wind instruments (trumpet, trombone, saxophone).

Finger picking: playing and gripping hands

There are different playing techniques for electric basses, which mainly relate to the playing hand (as opposed to the fingering hand). One can roughly differentiate:

  • The plucking game with index, middle and sometimes ring fingers ( plucking ), related to the pizzicato in classical double basses and the apoyando of the classical guitar. This technique allows precise playing and a very high level of control over the vibrations of the strings and thus over the tone design. While the dampening of vibrating strings with the grasping hand always causes a weak but audible background noise, the plucking technique enables silent dampening with the fingers of the striking hand. The resulting tone is generally rounder and stronger in character than with other playing techniques.
  • Playing with a plectrum , a small plate, usually made of plastic. This corresponds to the typical way of playing an electric guitar. The stop is more defined than with the plucking technique. Well-known protagonists in rock music are Paul McCartney ( Beatles ), Roger Waters ( Pink Floyd ), Mike Dirnt ( Green Day ) and Jason Newsted (Ex- Metallica ). This playing technique is practiced by Steve Swallow and Colin Hodgkinson among the internationally known jazz bassists .
  • The percussive-oriented slap technique by hitting with the thumb and tearing with the index or middle finger, as performed by Flea ( Red Hot Chili Peppers ) and Fieldy ( Korn ), for example . The concise sound achieved differs significantly from the other playing techniques. This technique became known through bassist Larry Graham of the funk and soul band Sly & The Family Stone .
  • Another technique made famous by Victor Wooten , but also used by bassists like Marcus Miller and Alain Caron , is double-thumbing . In this embodiment, which is comparable to playing the plectrum, the string is struck with the thumb up and down.
  • Tapping , which is mostly used as a soloist, is more of a marginal phenomenon , in which the right hand also strikes notes on the fingerboard and can thus achieve special effects together with the left hand. When two-hand tapping, which by Billy Sheehan became known both hands to fumble used. Tapping is often used in combination with slapping .
  • Another playing technique is palm muting, in which the struck string is muffled with the edge of the hitting hand slightly in front of the bridge, which reduces the duration of the string and creates a duller sound. This playing technique is suitable for varying the dynamics of the bass lines within a piece and for imitating the sound of a double bass.
  • A particular type of gaming that John Entwistle made popular is typewriting ("typewriter style"). This involves fingering normally, but striking the string with the fingertips of the playing hand, producing a clear but short sound, similar to slapping.
  • Playing with Flageoletttönen is a technique to generate harmonics of a string or a gripped sound. By lightly touching the string at certain points, a higher tone sounds instead of the tone actually struck. With this technique, a finger only touches certain points on the string lightly and leaves the string again shortly after it is struck. This technique is only useful for the flageolet at certain points on the string. If the strings are not fingered, these points are:
    • twelfth fret = 12 of the string length = octave
    • seventh fret = 13 of the string length = fifth (also 19th fret = 23 string length)
    • fifth fret = 14 of the string length = double octave
    • shortly before the fourth fret = 15 of the string length = double third . One differentiates:
    • natural harmonics (also "natural harmonics"): These open strings are used and it is attenuated / gripped at the above locations.
    • artificial harmonics (also "artificial harmonics"): These sounds are gripped. The stop points move by twelve frets (octave flageolet). If the gripping hand is used to grip the 3rd fret, the attachment point is therefore at the 15th fret (12 + 3). The striking hand has to do a double job: the index finger mutes the string and another finger (usually the thumb or the ring finger) strikes the string. What is done by two hands in natural harmonics (dampening and striking) must be done by one, since the left hand is busy grasping. Since both hands are involved, there is no pure gripping hand technique.

Electric bass effects

Under E-bass effects to various devices by means understands electronic change circuits, the electric bass signal. They mainly come in the form of pedals (colloquially referred to as "floor kickers" or "stepmines"), but complex 19 "effect processors are also used. Multi-effects devices such as the BOSS GT-10B im are also used for the electric bass . soil format available are widespread, especially distortionary , Hall -, modulation, and wah-wah effects Known users are, for example. Cliff Burton , Jaco Pastorius , John Myung , Geezer Butler and Doug Wimbish .

Major bass players

While the bass was purely a rhythm instrument until the mid-1960s , blues and rock bassists such as Jack Bruce ( Cream ), John Entwistle ( The Who ), Andy Fraser ( Free ) made the bass an independent melody-leading instrument. Jaco Pastorius took on a pioneering role in jazz and fusion in the 1970s.

See also


  • Adrian Ashton: The Bass Manual. Voggenreiter, Bonn 2006, ISBN 3-8024-0563-3 .
  • Tony Bacon, Barry Moorhouse: The Bass Book. A complete illustrated history of bass guitars. 1st German edition. Balafon Books, London 1996.
  • Jim Roberts: American Basses. An illustrated history & player's guide. Backbeat Books, San Francisco CA 2003, ISBN 0-87930-721-8 .

Web links

Commons : Electric Basses  - Collection of images, videos and audio files
  • Groovemonster - bass magazine with basics on the subject of electric bass

(all accessed on March 18, 2011)

Individual evidence

  1. Carlo May: Vintage. Guitars and their stories. MM-Musik-Media-Verlag, Augsburg 1994, ISBN 3-927954-10-1 , p. 28 f.
  2. Frequency tables for guitar and bass (PDF; 178 kB) cloeser.org
  3. Roey Izhaki: Mixing audio. Concepts, Practices and Tools. Focal Press, Amsterdam a. a. 2008, ISBN 978-0-240-52068-1 , p. 544.
  4. ^ Tony Bacon, Barry Moorhouse: The Bass Book. 1996, p. 35.
  5. An example of this is the electric bass model Kubicki Factor from 1989. Tony Bacon: Gitarrenklassiker - all models and manufacturers, p. 174. Premio Verlag 2007. ISBN 978-3-86706-050-9
  6. Kubicki - Chapter in: Jim Roberts: American Basses - an illustrated history and player's guide (English), p. 107 ff. Backbeat Books, San Francisco 2003. ISBN 0-87930-721-8
  7. Brian Fox: Les Does More. In: Bass Player. Vol. 17, No. 8, 2006, ISSN  1050-785X , pp. 40-50.
  8. ^ Tony Bacon, Barry Moorhouse: The Bass Book. 1996, p. 9.
  9. Jim Roberts: How the Fender Bass Changed the World. Backbeat Books, San Francisco CA 2001, ISBN 0-87930-630-0 limited preview in Google Book Search
  10. ^ Tony Bacon, Paul Day: The Ultimate Guitar Book. Edited by Nigel Osborne, Dorling Kindersley, London / New York / Stuttgart 1991; Reprint 1993, ISBN 0-86318-640-8 , p. 168.