Instruments | Electric Bass Guitar | Electric & Electronic

The electric bass is similar in both appearance and operation to the electric guitar, but is actually a descendent of the upright acoustic double bass.

The double bass had long been an integral part of the jazz rhythm section, but the increasing need to compete with amplified instruments – not to mention the transportation problems caused by its sheer bulk – made players and manufacturers seek amplified alternatives.

Electric Bass Fiddle

The earliest-known example of a solid-body electric bass dates back to 1935 in the form of an upright instrument designed by musician and amplifier-maker Paul H. Tutmarc, for the Audiovox Manufacturing Company of Seattle. The same company later developed a bass instrument played across the body, like a guitar. The Model #736 Electric Bass Fiddle, as it was known, was also innovative in that, unlike the double bass, it was fretted, enabling less secure players to achieve precise intonation.

This idea was also incorporated into the first mass-produced electric bass, the Fender Precision Bass of 1951. The instrument evolved into a design that has remained relatively unchanged since 1957. A similar classic instrument was the Fender Jazz Bass of 1960.

Bass Models

The electric bass has a slight larger body and longer neck than an electric guitar and usually has four strings – tuned in fourths, E, A, D and G. Variants include different numbers of strings – often adding a fifth, tuned to B or A below the bottom E string – and fretless models. The fretless design has a characteristic mellow tone and facilitates the technique of sliding between notes. The bass is usually plucked with the thumb or a plectrum but players, such as Mark King of Level 42, have pioneered percussive ‘slap bass’ styles.

Introduction | Electric & Electronic Instruments
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Source: The Illustrated Complete Musical Instruments Handbook, general editor Lucien Jenkins


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