Great sounding instrument made with a poplar wood body and a single-ply, white pickguard. Has quality controls made for sounding professional for any gig setup.
Buyers claim the fret buzzes.
This features a solid wood body, rosewood fretboard, and polished blue and white finish. It also includes a strap, pick, soft gig bag, and amp cord.
Pickups are basic, and you may want to upgrade as you play.
Made with a maple neck and rosewood fretboard. Composed of 20 frets and 2 solid, single-coil pickups, giving it a wide tone range.
Tuners may loosen up over time.
Manufactured with classic mahogany wood for the body and maple wood for the neck. Isn’t costly and creates an excellent warm sound.
May want to upgrade strings if looking to play professionally.
Plays well with thicker strings and greater string tension, with an equal tonality to backup singers. Comes with a gig bag, neck strap, pick, and 2 sizes of wrenches.
May need general touch-ups to get it to expert level.
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If melody is the heart of music, rhythm is the skeleton upon which everything is built. Rhythm gives a song purpose, momentum, and drive, and the electric bass guitar provides much of the foundation for that essential beat. Basses not only fill out the low end of the tonal spectrum, they help link the guitars, pianos, vocals, and other melodic elements to the drums, creating a full, complete sound.
The electric bass guitar can be an incredibly rewarding instrument to play, but it can also be daunting to get started due to the overwhelming number of choices. Consider the style, how many strings, and the wood type you want in order to get an instrument that you'll be happy with for years to come.
There are dozens of unique bass designs available, each with its own advantages, disadvantages, and aesthetic appeal. Here are some common styles you’ll see:
P Bass: Also known as the Precision Bass, the iconic Fender P Bass was released in 1951 as the first electric bass available. It’s commonly found with a booming split-coil pickup and thick neck, and it’s comfortable to hold and play. While Fender pioneered this design, countless other manufacturers sell basses in this style.
J Bass: The Fender Jazz Bass (J Bass for short) looks similar to the P Bass at first glance. However, the different pickguard shape, dual pickups, and slimmer neck distinguish the two. On the whole, J Basses are more versatile than P Basses, with slimmer necks for easier chord play.
SG: This striking model from Gibson takes its cues from the SG electric guitar, with a lovely retro look and devilish “horns” accentuating the body. These typically have a warmer, duller sound than the Fender alternatives, but they are extremely light and easy to play due to the body shape.
Thunderbird: Another classic from Gibson, the Thunderbird is notable for its wide body and dual humbucking pickups. These elements combine for a bright, powerful, and punchy sound, but potential buyers should be aware that these basses are quite neck-heavy.
Flying V: Whether you’re playing bass or strumming a six-string guitar, the Flying V design is destined to make a visual statement right off the bat. The shape facilitates easy access to high notes, but the design has ergonomic drawbacks if you play sitting down. It just looks so cool!
Violin: Made by popular by Paul McCartney, violin basses produce a muted, natural tone that fits in well with other instruments. They’re often short scale, meaning they’re light, ergonomic, and easy to transport.
There are several elements that determine the overall tone of an electric bass, but the material it’s made from is paramount. Specifically, the tonewood that makes up the body plays a huge role in the guitar’s warmth, sustain, playability, and look.
Basswood: This is one of the most common materials in bass guitars, as it’s relatively inexpensive and ubiquitous. It produces very little sustain, making it preferred by players in fast, complex genres.
Mahogany: This wood boasts a softer, warmer timbre with a focus on low tones and low mid-tones. It has impressive sustain, but it is rather heavy.
Maple: Like mahogany, maple is a heavy wood that creates a lovely sustain, but the tone is crisp and clear compared to the buttery mahogany. It’s great for cutting through the mix and standing out.
Ash: A beautiful wood with a unique grain, ash is commonly coated with a transparent finish to show off its gorgeous lines. Tonally, it creates decent sustain and overall balance, with a dash of bright harmonic overtones to add depth. Ash is similar to alder in terms of musical properties.
The next important consideration is the type of electronics your bass uses, as the pickup style can dramatically shape the voice of your playing.
Single-coil: An extremely common pickup type in both basses and guitars, single-coils have a tight, bright tone that turns aggressive when distortion is added. Basses often have two single-coil pickups on the body, one near the bridge and one near the neck, to extend the player’s choices. Notably, they can be a bit noisy.
Split-coil: Found on almost every P Bass, split-coils illicit a full, bouncy, boomy tone with copious low-end and mid-range flair. They fall a bit short in the top end, but they produce less hum at high volumes.
Humbucker: The go-to choice for high-output players, humbucker pickups essentially put two single-coils next to each other. The design cuts back on excess noise, as the name implies, but the primary benefit is high levels of gain and punch.
The style of the neck on your bass plays a surprisingly vital role in the instrument’s playability and resonant qualities. There are three styles of construction: bolt-on, neck-through, and set.
Bolt-on: As you may have guessed, bolt-on necks are separate pieces that are literally bolted onto the guitar body. This is a common layout, as it’s cheaper to manufacture and permits easy replacement if your current one gets damaged.
Neck-through: This design features a neck that essentially spans the entire bass body. It is constructed by gluing several pieces of wood together. Neck-through basses are expensive, but they offer unmatched sustain because there is no joint between the neck and body to stifle vibration.
Set: Set necks are rather similar to bolt-on necks, but they use a mortise or dovetail joint instead of a metal bolt. In terms of sustain, set neck basses sit between bolt-on and neck-through designs.
Advanced players may consider electric bass guitars with fretless necks. These instruments are more difficult to play than fretted models due to the lack of neck markers, but they offer huge upsides. Their ability to slide smoothly from one note to another is unparalleled, they have lovely sustain, and they offer countless opportunities for experimentation. If you have sharp ears, as well as a healthy understanding of note position, a fretless bass may be for you.
Hollow body or semi-acoustic electric basses bridge the gap between unamplified acoustic models and traditional electrics. While the majority of the sound still comes from amplification, the hollow resonance chamber adds some acoustic playing possibilities, a rich, warm tone, and less weight overall. Notably, these basses can produce higher feedback levels when plugged.
Inexpensive: The entry-level for electric basses start around $100 and top out around $500. For the money, you’ll find basic basswood basses with four strings and simple electronics. While these can sound great and pack a punch, the clarity is a bit lacking, and you’ll experience more noise at higher volumes. You can find beginner packs in this price range that include the bass, strings, a soft gig bag, and a strap.
Mid-range: For about $500, expect basses with four and five strings, higher-quality wood, and better pickups with more precision. Ornate finishes and designs are common at this level, allowing you to add a bit of flair to your setup.
Expensive: Approaching and exceeding $1,000, you’ll find even more five-string and six-string basses, the best wood available, crystal-clear pickups, and neck-through designs with maximum sustain. There may even be vintage reissues at this price point, bringing the classics back to modern-day.
Q. What’s the difference between picking, plucking, and slapping?
A. There are dozens of ways to play an electric bass, but the most common are picking, plucking, and slapping. Picking, as the name implies, involves using a heavy-gauge plastic pick to play individual notes or even strum chords. Plucking does not involve a pick.
Instead, you rest your wrist on top of the instrument’s body, draping your hand over the strings. Then, you use your index, middle, ring, and pink fingers to pluck each note. Finally, slapping involves a completely different technique. Hold your dominant hand in a loose “thumbs up” fist position, and rotate your wrist as if you were opening a door. You strike the strings with the side of your thumb while doing this, creating a percussive, powerful, and funky sound.
Q. What should I look for in an electric bass amp?
A. If you’re just starting off with electric bass, we recommend starting with a small amp and upgrading later. Not only are they lighter than big stacks, small amps represent less financial investment as you develop your tastes and preferences. Something in the 10- to 25-watt range is plenty powerful and will only cost $100 to $200. Consider models with onboard effects and multi-band equalizers, as well, to dial in the perfect tone or even to emulate your favorite players.
Q. What type of effects should I get for my bass?
A. Bass guitars typically use fewer effects than electric six-strings, as the natural bass tone fits snugly with the instrument’s rhythmic role. That said, common effects include overdrive/distortion, compressors, reverb, and chorus. These can add huge amounts of punch, clarity, and atmosphere to your sound.
If you’re interested in fleshing out your setup further, reflect on the type of music you want to make. If you’re into heavy rock or metal, definitely look at overdrive/distortion pedals as well as compressors. If you play indie rock or jazz, use reverb and chorus for a clean, airy tone. If you’re in a funk group, an envelope filter is almost a must. If you want to go even further, add a multi-effects pedal station and delve deep into the waters of experimentation.