“Bass guitar is the engine of the band.” - Suzi Quatro
Knowing how to play the bass is initially simpler than playing the drums or the guitar. Nevertheless, a bass guitarist is an essential part of every band and has to understand rhythm and melody in order to unite the whole band.
Would you like to learn how to play the bass like the greats?
In this article, we're going to look at the reasons why you should learn to play bass, how a beginner can choose their first bass, the equipment they'll need, and how often you'll need to practise.
Why Learn to Play the Bass?
Learning to play the bass isn’t often the first thing people think of when they want to play an instrument. When it came to music lessons, it was much easier to imagine myself playing the piano, guitar, or drums.
Of course, this depends on everyone’s taste but the bass still isn’t the most popular instrument. A lot of people know someone who plays the guitar.
Do you know someone who plays bass?
Not wanting to be like everyone else is a great reason for learning how to play the bass guitar. It’ll also help you when it comes to joining a rock, bossa nova, or jazz fusion group.
Need more reasons to start playing bass guitar?
It’s initially easier for beginners to play the bass than the acoustic guitar or electric guitar! An acoustic bass or electric bass usually has just four strings whereas guitars usually have six.
Tuning is easier, as a result. When you first start, you’ll just be focusing on rhythm rather than melody. If you have big hands, it’s also easier to play four strings rather than six.
The bass is often used to keep time with the drums but it’s much easier to transport than a whole drum kit. If you plug in your headphones to your bass amp, you can practise without making too much noise!
May the groove be with you!
What Bass Should a Beginner Buy?
As a beginner, you don’t need to buy an expensive bass guitar. Firstly, you’re probably not sure how long you’re going to be playing the bass and it’d be silly to spend a fortune when the first few things you play are probably going to sound awful regardless of your gear.
Do you need some encouragement?
Having paid for a bass guitar should encourage you.
Choose a 4-string bass to get started. The bass can be easier to learn when you first start playing given the fact it has fewer strings. You don’t need any more than that to practise your fingering.
The type of wood won’t matter when you’re just getting started. You probably won’t know whether you prefer a warm tone, a lot of sustain, or a clear sound until you’ve played for a bit. Ash and alder give a balanced sound. Mahogany gives a rich sound and maple can give you sustain.
You should pay attention to the neck as well. Choose a standard length, 34 inches, unless it’s for a child, then you should get a short scale (30”). The neck should be as thin and narrow as possible so that you work on your dexterity and reach the strings more easily.
Find the best guitar lessons around.
You don’t need to empty your wallet to get a bass since you can always get an unknown brand. That said, it will be more difficult to sell it on if you want to get rid of it. Here are some popular entry-level models. We'll go into more detail about cheap bass instruments later in this piece.
- Ibanez GSR200
- Yamaha TRBX174 or TRBX304
- Cort Action Bass
- Epiphone Les Paul Special or Toby Deluxe IV
- Peavey Zodiac BXP
To save some money, you can also get second-hand basses. In this case, you should check the following:
- Fret wear.
- The dials (pots) should be fixed and not turn endlessly.
- The strings should sit close to the fretboard (action).
- The neck shouldn’t be curved.
What Equipment Does a Beginner Bassist Need?
Once you’ve bought your instrument, you’ll also need to invest in some bass equipment and tools that’ll help you to learn.
You’ll need to start with an amplifier. For electric basses, you won’t get any real sound out of them if you don’t have an amp. It’s difficult to play a riff or a song if you can’t hear anything.
Again, you don’t need to bankrupt yourself buying one. An amp between 15W and 40W will be sufficient when it comes to learning how to play. For under £200, you can find decent amps, especially those from Fender.
Don’t forget that you’ll also need to pick up a cable. A decent quality cable will set you back between £10 and £20. Monophonic is fine as it's highly unlikely that your bass will have stereo output.
You can play the bass by fingerpicking but if you want to learn how to play quickly and save your fingerprints, you might want to pick up some plectrums. This will cost you nearly nothing. In fact, most picks cost less than £1. Since the strings on a bass are thicker than those on a guitar, you’ll need a thicker plectrum.
You’ll probably also want to invest in a tuner. When you first start, you probably won’t be able to tune by ear. It’s probably better to trust a precise tool. If you don’t want to buy one, you can also download apps for your computer or smartphone.
A metronome will help you keep time and a strap will be useful for playing it while standing up. You might also want a case if you plan on taking your bass anywhere and a music stand is a good idea if you know how to read sheet music or tablature.
Where To Buy A Bass Instrument From
So, you're reading to go and buy your first bass guitar - let's do this!
You've seen from above all of the things that you'll need when learning to play bass. Whether you decide to buy everything separately, researching and finding the best deals on each, or you simply go to a music shop and buy it all at once, that is completely up to you. One thing I will say is that while music shops are great for getting to go and hold your instrument before you commit to buying it, they don't stock the biggest range of accessories so if you want a particular brand or colour plectrum, or you've seen a great tuning gadget elsewhere, then go for it.
If, however, you are relying on the shopkeeper to find you the things you need and place your trust in them that they are some of the best accessories you can purchase, then it may be more convenient for you to take it all away the same day.
There are hundreds of music shops on the Internet from which you can buy musical equipment and accessories. Just some of the most popular online stores are Gear4music.com, Dawsons Music and Andertons Music Co.
However, if you want to go into a physical shop, then there is usually an option for you nearby. For example, all I have to do is type in a search on Google for bass guitars and at least three stores pop up on the map within one to one and a half hour's drive away.
Why You Don't Need To Go For A Top Of The Range Instrument
Many people think that you have to go for the most expensive option if looking for the highest quality, and that may be the case for some items, but the truth is that you can get a quality instrument for a reasonable price as long as you look out for specific features.
PMT Online explored this theory that you don't have to spend a fortune to get a good quality bass guitar and discovered eleven instruments that they believe to be a great deal, all costing up to around £500 (though many coming in at around half that price!).
Most people have a budget when they are shopping for a large item like an electric bass guitar, but trying to find one on a tight budget doesn't need to be difficult thanks to those at PMT Online, who have selected only the equipment that they would be happy to use themselves.
1. Eastcoast GB200-N Bass Guitar Natural
Eastcoast guitars sound good and play great.
"The Eastcoast GB200-N Bass Guitar Natural is one of the best cheap bass guitars money can buy. At just over £200, you get a workhorse of a bass guitar ready to help you bust out all the low-end riffage you could ever want and provide you with a high level of articulation usually found in bass guitars 2 and 3 x the price.
The familiar jazz style shape is comfortable to play and the Single Coil (J-Style) Alnico Pickups provide a lush, full-bodied tone. A great choice for beginner bass players as well as musicians in need of an extra bass for around the home or studio. An Ash body with hard maple, bolt-on neck ensures your bass is resonant and hard wearing."
2. Epiphone Thunderbird-IV
Despite being marketed at a smaller price, the Epiphone Thunderbird-IV Bass is "a pro level bass guitar capable of some amazing tones and playability. This is one of the best cheap bass guitars available and an ideal choice for younger beginner players as well as aspiring bass players who want a bass guitar perfect for all genres. The Epiphone Thunderbird has been designed for a comfortable playing experience and features a SlimTaper profile neck which makes playing those longer gigs a breeze and ensures the beginners out there have a far more comfortable experience when learning."
3. Sterling by Music Man S.U.B Ray 4 Bass
The Sterling by Music Man S.U.B Ray 4 Bass is the perfect, affordable option, plus it sounds great and belongs to one of the most respected brands in music. "The first thing you’ll notice with the Sterling by Music Man S.U.B Ray 4 Bass [...] is its unique shape. [...]
We also feel this is one of the best cheap bass guitars around thanks to the fantastic sounding H - 1 Ceramic Humbucker and dedicated, active 2 band EQ, which allows you to sculpt your pickup for tonal variety and power."
4. Squier Classic Vibe 60s Precision Bass IL
The Squier Classic Vibe 60s Precision Bass IL offers a superb quality beginner to intermediate bass.
"We feel the Squier Classic Vibe 60s Precision Bass is one of the best cheap bass guitars thanks to its low price as well as the high quality and extremely versatile pickups and playability. You have a powerful Fender Designed Alnico Split-Coil pickup to sculpt your perfect tone and the lightweight, comfortable body with “C” shaped neck ensure an enjoyable playing experience at all times. This is a great bass for players of all levels, whether they’re just starting out or need something to hone their skills at home."
5. Squier Vintage Modified Jaguar Special SS Bass
This bass has a reputation for being super cool, so it's astonishing to find that it's actually very affordable!
"This iconic bass guitar is ideal for beginners and those who may have a smaller frame as the shorter scale is very comfortable to play, and allows for easier access to all frets. The PJ pickup configuration includes a Precision-style pickup along with a Jazz bass pickup so you have a wide range of tonal variety. You can either mix the two and get a lush blended sound or isolate each pickup thanks to the dedicated volume controls. A great cheap bass that you won't ever need to upgrade."
6. Ibanez SR300E
The Ibanez SR300E bass guitar is perfect for guitarists of all levels and playing all musical genres.
"You have a pair of PowerSpan Dual Coil pickups installed into a superb quality mahogany body – a partnership which ensures a massive resonant sound as well as all the punchy mid-range you need for your notes to ring out loud and clear. In addition, you have a new Ibanez Custom Electronics 3-band EQ system with three-way Power Tap switch so you have full control over your tone and the ability to split the humbucker pickups and blend them with single coils."
7. G&L Tribute Series JB-2 Bass Guitar
The G&L Tribute Series JB-2 Bass Guitar is easily one of the best cheap guitars out there. Designed by Leo Fender, you can imagine that this instrument is expertly made.
"The double cutaway design allows bass players to get to those higher notes whilst the hard rock Maple, bolt-on neck with sleek Medium "C" profile shape is super comfortable to play. [...] In addition, you also have total control over your sound via tone and volume knobs which allows you to isolate each pickup or utilise both at the same time. A high quality, yet an extremely budget-friendly option for those who love all musical styles, from the Beatles to Foo Fighters! One of the best cheap bass guitars you could hope to play."
8. Squier Vintage Modified Jazz Bass '70s, MN, Natural
The Squier Vintage Modified Jazz Bass '70s is another brilliant guitar that won't make you go bankrupt. Even professionals love this piece of equipment!
"The 2 x Fender-Designed Single-Coil Jazz Bass pickups offer up a superb full-bodied tone, low-end punch and all the articulation you could ever want from a bass guitar. Whether you prefer to play slap back, fingerstyle or with a plectrum and plenty of gritty distortion, this bass can handle it all. The natural finish and black, block inlays really make this bass guitar stand out on stage too!
A comfortable “C” shape neck with 20 medium jumbo frets makes this bass guitar very enjoyable to play, even after many hours of rehearsal or live performance."
9. Epiphone EB-0 SG Electric Bass Cherry Red Finish
The Epiphone EB-0 SG Electric Bass Cherry Red Finish is a classic-looking guitar made to an exceptionally high, world-class standard.
"You have a lush Sidewinder Humbucker in the neck that is perfect for those punchy riffs and bass runs. The mahogany body material is resonant and warm and the mahogany set neck adds sustain and comfortable playing experience – you’ll feel like a God of rock if you plug this bad boy in! A budget-friendly bass guitar that would not look out of place on the stages of the world – if you want professional level sound and a professional level playing experience at a beginner price tag – this is a great choice."
10. Jackson Js2 Spectra Gloss Black Bass Guitar
The Jackson Js2 Spectra Gloss Black Bass Guitar is the perfect item for all levels.
[The] combination of Jazz and P style pickups means you can enjoy the classic thump of a P bass as well as the growl and grit from a J-Bass pickup and even mix the two together.
The Poplar body, Laurel fingerboard and 1-piece bolt-on maple neck with scarf joint ensure your guitar is extremely resonant and reliable. A great bass guitar to learn to play on, tour with or just have for recording around the home."
11. Eastcoast B210-GQ Bass Guitar
This last bass guitar, the Eastcoast B210-GQ Bass Guitar, is a well-designed instrument with many great features.
[It] incorporates powerful humbucker pickups and an onboard 3-band EQ so you can enjoy a variety of different tones. The deep cutaway design allows players to reach all the high notes on the fretboard – ideal for jazz players! A Poplar body ensures superior resonance and the Amaranth (Purpleheart) fingerboard provides a warm and extremely comfortable playing experience. At way under £200, the Eastcoast B210-GQ Bass Guitar is a great option for players of all levels. "
How Often Should You Practise Playing Bass?
Learning an instrument is easier said than done. You might think that you just have to pick up the bass and start playing along to the beat. It’s more than that.
To really become a good bass player, you need to make your bass guitar playing a part of your lifestyle.
Do you know why you decided to learn the bass? To join a band? To improvise or compose music? To accompany you while you sing?
You need to keep this reason in mind when you’re practising so that you can set appropriate and achievable goals. Before you join a band, you’ll need to learn how to tune your bass, work on your playing, and keep time, etc. If you want to write your own music or improvise, you’ll need to be familiar with scales and harmonies. If you want to sing along, you’ll need to work on multitasking as well as harmonising your voice with your instrument.
You also need to think about how often you’re going to play bass.
30 minutes a day? Every other day? 10 minutes every day?
Put together a practice schedule to help you achieve your goals more quickly. Plan ahead and make sure you know what you’re going to be working on every time you pick up your bass and how long you expect it to take. A good session should last around an hour. This should give you enough time to warm up, work on a technique, and study some theory.
If you don’t have an hour each day, don’t worry. It’s better to play 15 minutes each day than two hours once a week. Your brain needs repetition to learn new skills and techniques.
Even without your bass, you can pay attention to rhythm and work on your timekeeping. You can always work on something.
So are you ready to start with some bass lessons?
You can get bass tutorials from a tutor on Superprof. In fact, there are three types of tutorials available: private tutorials, online tutorials, and group tutorials.
Private tutorials are one on one lessons with a bass tutor and you'll get bespoke tuition from your tutor.
Online tutorials are offered remotely via a service such as Skype.
Group tutorials are more like a traditional class at school but cheaper because the cost is shared amongst the students in attendance.
Many of the tutors on Superprof also offer the first hour of tutoring for free so you can see what they offer, whether you get along, and plan some learning objectives for some upcoming lessons.
How To Make Money Playing Bass
Unless you've been playing bass since you were 3 feet tall and have been a member in several bands before turning sixteen, you may think it's impossible to land a job playing bass. Another myth is that you have to have the highest accolade of qualifications going to be in with a chance to make it big; sometimes it's just down to chance, hard work, talent and determination!
Also, newsflash! If you are paid money to play the bass (whether on stage with a band, for a recorded performance or to provide tuition, then you are exchanging money and therefore a professional bass player!
It's not difficult to play the bass professionally, but it all depends on your take on success. Not everyone becomes a famous bass player in a popular band, some bass players perform in bars and pubs but are still happy to be doing what they love and earn money at the same time.
Below are some tips for how to be successful as a bass player:
- Memorise bass parts from famous songs
Pick a specific genre, decade or band because the more you are specialized in a niche area, the better your hiring potential.
- Look up playlists for the greatest hits of the ‘80s, ‘90s, ‘00s.
Learn these common songs and then you can play weddings, and there's nearly always a wedding gig going if you look hard enough!
- Mingle with other musicians
Whether at social gatherings or festivals, or on social media and in online chatrooms, get talking to other musicians and sell yourself and before you know it you could have a band and therefore opportunities to gig.
All it takes is to become a crowd-pleaser, whether for a room full of guests or a stadium full of fans, because crowd pleasers get paid!