“None of us wanted to be the bass player. In our minds, he was the fat guy who always played at the back.” - Paul McCartney
Paul McCartney didn’t have any problems as a bassist.
You can learn the bass through improvising, studying riffs, and choosing the right instrument. It doesn’t really matter the type of music you like playing as you can play basslines quite simply by following the bass drum and snare drum.
In this article, we'll look at whether you should get a 4, 5, or 6-string bass, the type of wood your bass should be made of, the type of neck it should have, the difference between active and passive basses, and how to check if you've got a quality instrument on your hands.
Should You Get a 4, 5, or 6-string Bass?
You’ll probably be aware that a 4-string bass is the most common and is a direct descendant of the double bass.
That said, you can also get a 5-string bass. This type of bass is often used in rock and metal music and it has a really heavy sound. Some bassists prefer to play a 6-string bass as it has a bigger range.
A 4-string bass is usually tuned to E, A, D, G. This is great for getting started, even if you want to play metal or rock music. A 4-string bass has a narrower and thinner neck than 5 and 6-string basses. To get used to fingering and playing the bass, it’s probably best to play a 4-string bass.
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What Type of Wood Should You Go For?
A bass guitar is usually made of two pieces of wood: the body and the neck.
The body of a bass guitar is very similar to that of an electric guitar. The body on an electric bass includes the bridge, pickups, jack, and dials. The neck includes the fretboard, the head includes the tuning pegs, and the saddle joins the neck to the body.
The body of a bass guitar is usually one piece of wood. The type of wood affects the sound produced by the instrument. As a beginner, it’ll be difficult to really understand the difference. You’ll need to familiarise your ear to the sounds a bass can produce.
Ash and alder give a balanced sound. The sound will be softer. Mahogany is famous for its warmth and richness while maple is dense and gives you a lot of sustain. The type of wood is also important when it comes to the neck. As a beginner, you’ll probably struggle to choose and it'll seem like quite the minefield.
To help you, here are the most common types of wood used for the fretboard:
- Maple: This is light and gives a good attack.
- Rosewood: A dark would with a softer sound.
- Ebony: Very dark. This wood offers a lot of sustain and playability.
To make things easier, you should choose a light bass guitar.
Find out more reasons to play bass.
What Type of Neck Should You Get?
To learn how to play the bass, you should pay attention to your instrument’s scale.
The Scale is the length of your bass’ neck. It’s measured in inches. The longer the neck, the bigger the space between the frets and the lower the notes you can play. However, a bass with a short scale will be easier for a beginner to play.
The standard scale for a bass guitar is 34 inches. Some have short scales of 30 inches.
The problem with short scales is that your fingers will work less. If you never change up to a standard scale, you’ll struggle to get the same dexterity. It’s better to start off with the 34-inch scale.
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The Height of the Strings
The strings of the bass should be close to the neck. Ideally, choose a bass with a flat neck, not one that’s been curved by the tension in the strings.
The bridge shouldn’t be too high even though this can stop the strings rattling against the frets. To check the height of the strings from the fingerboard, play on the first fret and play a firm note. If the string rattles on the second fret, try another model.
The Width of the Neck
The neck should be as thin as possible for beginners. If it’s too wide, your left hand will never be able to play the lower strings without covering some of the others and you’ll end up with a sore hand and pick up some bad habits as you try to avoid this.
You should get used to how close the strings are to one another so that your right hand can be in the best position.
The Thickness of the Strings
The thickness of the strings will affect how you play. The thicker the strings, the harder they will be to play. You might want to start off with light or extra light strings when you first start playing.
Of course, the thickness of the strings will also alter your sound.
What Is the Difference Between Active Bass and Passive Bass?
You can learn how to play the bass like the greats. This starts with choosing the right bass guitar and getting bass lessons.
When it comes to active bass and passive bass, we’re talking about the electronics. As the string vibrates over the pickup, it induces a current in the pickups. This current becomes an electronic signal.
An active bass includes a preamp that’s powered by a battery. It’s easier to control the sound and equalise it. The sound output by the bass is also greater when the battery is charged.
A passive bass doesn’t have this preamp. It also doesn’t need a power source. In this case, you can modulate the volume or tone.
Furthermore, background noise could occur from a single pickup. This won’t be the case with a high-end bass, but when it comes to entry-level models, you should probably opt for an active bass.
However, tonnes of bassists play passive basses.
Which will you prefer?
Which Brand Should You Pick When You Start Playing the Bass?
Before you start playing the bass in a rock group, you’ll need to pick an instrument, get the basics, and loosen up your fingers.
While beginners often pick an instrument based on its looks, this should probably be the last thing to consider. Of course, you need to make sure that you like the instrument you’re buying.
It’s usually a good idea to opt for reputable brands. An unknown brand may be cheap or good value for money, but a beginner won’t know what they’re looking for. Even if the person in the shop can get a good sound out of it, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a good instrument. That said, a beautiful sunburst Fender Jazz Bass or Precision Bass is probably too expensive for an absolute beginner. Furthermore, when you move up to another model, you’ll get more for your old bass if it’s a recognisable brand.
A reputable brand will keep its value more. Here are some good instruments for beginners:
- Ibanez GSR200 or GSR320
- Yamaha TRBX174 or TRBX304
- Cort Action Bass
- Epiphone Les Paul Special or Toby Deluxe IV
- Peavey Zodiac BXP
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How Can You Be Sure of A Bass’ Quality?
If you want to improvise, improve your rhythm, or learn a scale, you’ll need a quality instrument.
Here’s some advice for picking a bass, especially if you’re buying second-hand:
- Fret wear.
- The dials (pots) should be fixed and not turn endlessly. These are used to change the volume and tone.
- Check that the wood isn’t split and the finish isn’t scratched.
- The bridge needs to be fixed.
- The strings shouldn’t be too far from the fretboard and it shouldn’t rattle when played.
Getting started with the bass starts by getting the right instrument. Make sure to ask your music teacher for advice.
Additionally, if you're getting an electric bass guitar, it's important to look at amps. After all, these are half the instrument. Unlike an acoustic bass or an acoustic electric bass, you can't really hear an electric one without an amp.
Once you've got your bass, you'll also need to think about accessories like a gig bag, tuners, the aforementioned amplifier for electric basses, etc.
If you opt to learn bass with a private tutor, they'll be able to help you get started and pick the right bass for you.