Buying a Bass Guitar

Imagine listening to a song without the bass. It would sound hollow and incomplete. Bass is the foundation of a song and provides rhythm to complement the other instruments.

Sweetwater carries a variety of basses for every level and style. We even have acoustic basses, perfect for smaller venues, or for learning at home.

4-String Basses

When you’re starting out, the standard four-string bass is a great option. It’s easy to learn and plays well for most styles of music. However, if you’re looking for more range, a five-string bass is an excellent choice. It adds a low B string, which extends the bass’s sonic range by an octave. Five-string basses also usually have a wider neck to accommodate the added string.

The standard bass guitar has four strings tuned E-A-D-G. The four lowest strings are the same as the lower strings on a standard guitar, and the theory and playing mechanics are the same. However, many bassists use tricks or hacks to get more low-end out of a four-string bass, like tuning the bass one or two notes lower than its normal tune or using an octave pedal in their signal chain.

Whether you’re using a four-string or a five-string bass, you should check that it stays in tune after each practice session and before every performance. A good way to do this is to play a reference note from another instrument, such as a piano or tuning fork, and compare the notes to those of your bass. If you hear any major differences, it’s important to make the necessary adjustments. Otherwise, you’ll end up with a bass that sounds off-key and is more difficult to play. This will affect your tone and may cause problems with other musicians in your band.

5-String Basses

Choosing between a four-string and a five-string bass can be a difficult decision. If you’re new to the instrument you may want to choose a four string because it’s more familiar. However, you should know that the five-string can offer more possibilities than a traditional 4-string.

A 5-string bass has an extra low string that is tuned to a lower frequency than the other strings. Depending on the guitar, it can be tuned to E1 (40Hz) or even a fourth lower to B1 (30Hz). This allows bassists to play music that’s written in a higher key than they would normally play it on a four-string bass without needing to detune or use an octave pedal.

It can also be used to play chord triads that aren’t possible on a four string basses and can give songs more depth. Additionally, it can be easier to transpose a song into a lower register on a five-string bass than on a four-string bass because the notes are closer together.

Like all bass guitars, the 5-string can be built to sound different by using a variety of tone woods and by modifying its hardware. Bass luthiers are well aware of how the different components of a bass can affect its sound. While ash and maple are common choices for bass bodies, there are literally dozens of other options that can be used to create a bass with a unique voice.

6-String Basses

Basses often come in 4-string and 5-string varieties but there are basses with more strings too. Adding more strings to a bass does not mean it’s harder to play but it does give the bassist more notes and tones to work with. Having more strings also allows the bassist to be more melodic and play less like a rhythm instrument.

The first 6 string bass was introduced by Danelectro who started production on their UB-2 model in 1956. Tuned an octave lower than a standard guitar it was used to great effect by James Jamerson on The Beatles albums and John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin. Fender followed suit with their Bass VI in 1961 but it was not as popular as the UB-2 probably because of its close string spacing and short scale.

Today, 6-string basses are more commonplace and you can find them in the hands of virtuoso bassists such as Oteil Burbridge of Pearl Jam and Jack Bruce of Cream. However, 6-string basses are not used as a gimmick or because they make it easier to play – they have been added because they offer more tonal possibilities and give the bassist a more versatile range of sounds.

Some bassists also use detuners on the high strings to drop them an octave lower than standard tuning, which is more useful in certain styles of music. Michael Manring uses this to create a wide range of chime-like harmonics.

Fretless Basses

Fretless basses offer a unique sound that is ideal for players who want to add a jazzy or bluesy feel to their music. They can also be a challenge to learn, but like any instrument, the more you practice the better you will become. If you are interested in learning to play fretless bass, there are many resources available online and at your local music store that can help you get started.

Fretting creates a consistent point of contact for the strings and the fingerboard, making it easier to locate notes and execute techniques. This feature is especially useful for beginners, who often rely on frets to guide their fingers as they begin playing bass. In addition, frets provide a way to ensure that a string is played in tune by providing immediate reference points for pitch.

In contrast, fretless bass guitars are often strung with flatwound strings, which have a flattened core wrap wire and produce less friction under the fingerboard. As a result, fretless bassists must be careful to use proper slide technique to avoid damaging the fingerboard. Consequently, many fretless players (including Jaco Pastorius) coat their bass fingerboards with a thin layer of protective epoxy to prevent damage.

Fretless basses are most often played by jazz musicians, but they can be heard in a wide range of genres, from rock to death metal. One of the most famous fretless bassists is Pino Palladino, who has played with everyone from David Gilmour to D’Angelo. His playing is melodic and soulful, yet powerful and technical at the same time.

Acoustic Basses

The acoustic bass brings the unique sound of the bass to settings where an amp might not be practical or desirable. While they don’t deliver the same volume as an electric bass through a speaker, they offer a unique, organic texture that works well in genres such as folk and world music.

They are also good for bassists who want to bring a more stringy sound to the mix without losing the deep low end that’s so critical in some styles of music. They’re especially useful for bassists who play in coffee shops or other acoustic venues.

Acoustic basses are fitted with pickups that “pick up” the vibration of the strings and convert them into an electrical signal to be played through an amplifier. This allows you to control the tone and volume of your bass with separate knobs, just like on a standard electric guitar.

You’ll find a wide selection of high-quality acoustic basses on today’s market, including popular brands like Ibanez, Dean and Breedlove. Many of these models are available with optional accessories like straps, picks and extra strings to help you get started playing right away. You can also add a tuner to your bass kit to make it easier to keep your bass in tune as you practice and perform. The right accessories can take your acoustic bass from basic starter model to professional-grade instrument that sounds great and plays even better.

Bass Guitar Packages

A bass guitar is a necessity for almost every band, adding silky-smooth bass lines that give structure and depth to a rhythm section. Whether you want to add the booming low end of rock and metal, or keep things more grounded with blues and jazz, there’s a bass guitar to suit your musical style.

If you’re just starting out, it’s best to stick with a classic four-string bass that has frets and a simple layout. While flashy 5- and 6-string basses may look cool, they can be more difficult to learn with their extra strings and longer distance between frets. Once you’ve got a few years of practice under your belt, branch out and try out other styles of basses to expand your range and sound.

Choosing the right bass starts with finding an instrument that you love to look at and feel comfortable playing. Choosing one with a shape and color that speaks to you will increase the odds of keeping up with your practice routine, and even inspire you to explore new songs or genres.

Sweetwater carries value-priced bass guitar packages that include a basses, a bass amp, straps and more accessories to get you playing right away. A bass guitar starter pack is a great choice for aspiring musicians of all levels, and some packs include a free gig bag and clip-on tuner to keep your bass safe in transit.