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You are here: Home > Advice > Electric Bass Guitar Basic's

Electric Bass Guitar Basic's

Anatomy Bass

Body Style:

Electric bass guitars are most commonly solid-body electrics, although there are a few sem-hollowbody available for a rounder and more acoustic sound.

Neck:

Choosing what type of neck your bass should have is dependent on the size of your hand. Necks come in a number of shapes: round, oval, flat back, "vee" and asymmetrical (thinner either on bass or treble side). Naturally, if you are interested in a 5 or 6-string bass, the neck is going to be wider.

Scale Length:

Scale length is the vibrating length of the string, which is determined by the distance between "nut" and the bridge "saddle." Fret placement (See Intonation) is a ratio based on scale length so longer scales have more distance between frets. Scale length influences both the tonal quality of the notes produced and the tension of the string at a particular pitch. The tonal effects of scale length are crucial to the final tone of the instrument. For a more defined sound on the low B string of a five string bass, a longer neck is advisable. A shorter scale is acceptable for 4-string bass, is good for smaller hands, and will make the G string sing out. Common bass scale lengths are Short Scale: 30 inches; Medium Scale: 32 inches; Long Scale (Standard): 34 inches; 5 string long scale: 35"; Extra-long Scale: 36 inches.

Tuning machines:

The type of tuning machine your guitar has is very important. This is what allows you to fine tune and hold pitch. Enclosed machine heads resist rust and airborne corrosives, and therefore don't require as much maintenance or replacement as open tuning machines. Get the best tuning machines available for the instrument.

Intonation:

Intonation determines whether the notes play in tune as you move up the neck. If the distance between the frets (usually above the 12th fret) is off, the bass will be incapable of playing in tune and therefore useless as a recording or performance instrument.

Bolt-on, Neck-Through:

Neck-through basses are stronger, have better sustain and note resolution. Bolt-on necks have a punchier sound but are more likely to have dead spots.

Fingerboard:

A coated fingerboard helps produce a whining, trebly "fretless sound" and longer sustain which wears much longer with round-wound strings. Uncoated fingerboards have a warmer, more natural sound.

Number of Frets:

A bass can have 21, 22, or 24 frets. Most bass playing takes place in the lower positions so this is a matter of personal taste.

Pickups:

Pickups are important to the sound of a bass, ranked right up there with strings as a way of defining your sound. They probably have more effect on your final sound than whatever combinations of woods are chosen for that perfect tone. To complicate the issue, a pickup can give quite different results on different basses. Changing strings will affect a pickup's response as well. A number of active and passive pickups are available for bass. When choosing a bass with active pickups, remember that battery life and replacement will become an issue.

Wood:

Choice of woods naturally affects the tone and weight of a guitar, but so do a number of other factors. A lightweight wood is advantageous for performing standing up, since bass guitars can be rather large. Common woods for bass are swamp ash, a lighter weight soft wood which produces a punchy tone and low mids. Alder is another lightweight wood that produces a more crisp tone. The important question for you is whether you like the sound of the instrument.

Finish:

With electric instruments, the type of finish does not affect sound as much as it does on acoustics, but you needn't worry about it in either case. Guitar makers take this into account when they build the instrument.