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A Beginner’s Guide to the Bass Guitar

11/01/2022
The humble bass guitar is an essential part of any band setup. Filling in the low end of the frequency range, this instrument delivers rumbling basslines which can make the walls shake when turned up loud enough. Take a look at our beginner’s guide to bass guitars to learn just how these powerful instruments work.

Whilst a lot of the limelight in bands goes to guitarists, bassists and the bass guitar are equally as important. Basses most often lay the foundations for the rhythm (although there are some great bass solos out there) and fill a huge sonic space in any song. From Victor Wooten to Paolo Gregoletto, there are many accomplished musicians who are now celebrated across the world because of their bass playing skills.

From electric basses to ukulele basses, there are now many different types and models to peruse and choose from – each suited to different genres and styles. The Fender Jazz Bass and Fender Precision Bass are perhaps two of the most iconic, having been used by countless artists over many decades. But now, with the likes of the powerful Ibanez EHB series on the scene, there’s a shedload of quality for bassists of all ilks to enjoy.

Before you explore the universe of bass, though, you’ll need a good understanding of how these low-end powerhouses work, and how they differ. Allow us to enlighten you with this bespoke bass guitar for beginners guide.


What exactly is a bass guitar?

A close cousin of the six-stringed guitar, the bass guitar looks very similar, albeit larger. It usually has four strings, but they are much thicker than those of a guitar. This means they resonate at a much lower frequency, creating a deeper, lower sound when played. In fact, the standard tuning for a four-stringed bass is the same as the lowest four strings of a guitar (EADG), but a whole octave lower.

This instrument comes in a variety of shapes, sizes, and materials, too. A P Bass, for instance, is known for its distinctive cutaway design, split-coil pickup, and funky pickguard. The scale length for most basses, which is the length between the nut and the saddle, is around 34″. This means the gap between frets is much larger compared to those of a regular guitar, and the neck is longer.

You may find it easier to manoeuvre between the frets as a result, but the trade-off is that the thick strings require more finger strength to hold down (this can be built up quickly).


Putting the bass in its place

If you think of a song as a house, the bass and kick drum would be the foundation, with the guitars and vocals forming the ground and first floor, and cymbals the roof. This means that the bass serves as a fundamental part of any song, supporting the core rhythm elements and beefing up all the other instruments, making them sound thicker, fuller, and more alive.

You’ll often find the bassist and rhythm guitarist of a band playing the same notes for much of any given song, as the bass fills the low-end and guitar the midrange.

That being said, the bass guitar is one of the most dynamic and limitless instruments out there – it can be used as much more than just a tool for rhythm. Youtubers like Davie504 and Charles Berthoud (to name but two) have proved just how far you can take this incredible instrument, showcasing how advanced techniques like tapping and slapping can massively open up its capabilities. Basses can even be used as solo artist instruments thanks to their incredible range.


How to make it loud – bass amps

Crank it. Unless you’re playing an acoustic model, you’ll want to amplify your bass to make it heard. This is usually done through a bass amp, which, funnily enough, amplifies your instrument. These have a range of controls, or dials, which let you shape the way your bass sounds through the speaker – often referred to as its tone.

Most bass amps will have a three-band EQ section, which lets you sculpt the bass, midrange, and treble frequencies, adding punch, depth, and crispness as you please. Many also have gain dials, which add distortion to your tone to help it sound ‘dirtier’ or ‘fuzzier’ (like the bassline to “Hysteria” by Muse).

There’s a whole world of bass amp models to choose from, with higher-end options giving you control over many more aspects of your sound.


Play your way – how to get started with different bass styles

The road to bass mastery is a long one, but an incredibly fun and rewarding journey that is well worth it in the end. Everyone has heard of slap bass, popularised by the likes of Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Flea, but this is just one example of a bass technique.

First, you’ll want to decide whether to use a pick or your fingers. Using a pick gives you slightly more volume and attack, which is good for more aggressive bass styles and making your bass heard. You may also find it easier to use one if you’re just starting out.

However, using your fingers is arguably a more dynamic way of playing, as it opens up more techniques and gives you greater control over the instrument. Slap bass, for instance, solely utilises the thumb and forefinger to ‘slap’ the strings for a funky percussive sound.

You’ll want to walk before you can run, though – literally. Most beginners will benefit the most from learning the ‘walking man’ technique, which involves using your forefinger and index finger to pluck the strings in turn.

Using this method, it’s best to learn some songs with super simple basslines – you can do so by finding some free bass tabs on the internet (instructional sheets which show you which frets to play) or instructional videos on Youtube (of which there are plenty). A couple of examples would be “Another One Bites the Dust” by Queen and “Come as You Are” by Nirvana. Or virtually any pop song.

Once you’ve mastered the fundamentals and built up some finger strength (and confidence), you’ll be able to tackle more advanced techniques and take your bass playing to the next level.


Let’s get ready to rumble – which bass should you pick?

If you’re buying your first ever bass, you’ll want to consider a few things. The first is that having a super expensive instrument will not help you progress any faster. There are now many, many excellent low-end to midrange basses which will serve a beginner just fine, without having to fork out a fortune.

You may want to start by looking at bass starter packs, which usually contain a bass guitar, amp, and various accessories, so you can get everything you need from one box. However, if you’d like to customise your setup, then read on.

One of the most popular, affordable brands is Squier, who make some of the legendary models like the Jazz Bass. These give you the classic Fender experience at a price point that won’t make your wallet scream at you.

If you’re into heavier styles of music, Ibanez have a great range of basses with more powerful humbucking pickups, which make for a much beefier, powerful tone. The GSR205 showcases this in impeccable style.

If acoustic jams around the campfire are more your thing, there’s now a huge range of acoustic basses on the market for you to explore. The Dean EABC5, which has five strings, is one such example, providing a scintillating, well-rounded acoustic voicing which can also be amplified via the built-in preamp.

If you have a bit more cash to burn, midrange models like the Warwick RockBass Corvette offer an exceptional playing experience, with groovy finishes and a slightly higher spec all-round.

Then you get to more high end models, like the Fender Custom Shop 1951 P Bass, which boasts astounding craftsmanship, superior setup standards, and the best parts money can buy. However, you shouldn’t consider one of these until you become an advanced bassist or own a Fortune 500 company.

Remember, true talent lies in the fingers – not in the gear. Most importantly, your first bass should feel comfortable to hold and to play, and make you feel inspired to keep picking it up to practise and jam. Unless you’re playing an acoustic bass, it’s your pickups and amp that will have the biggest impact on your overall tone, so bear that in mind. We wish you all the best on your bass playing journey.

Shop now | Bass Guitars for Beginners

Guitar Editor

Corin is a trained content writer with a love for all genres, especially metal \m/. If you ever visit his house, you’ll find a horde of neighbours throwing stones at his windows because his amp is too loud.

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