Instruments | Electronic

Bass Guitar

In 1951, guitar maker Leo Fender launched the first commercially available electric bass guitar, the Fender Precision. Compared to the cumbersome and often difficult-to-hear acoustic double bass, Fender offered an instrument that had many advantages. Not only was it louder because it was amplified – and more portable – it allowed for more precise intonation because the neck was fretted. Country-and-western players were among the first to adopt the Precision, and during the 1950s and 1960s the bass guitar became established as a mainstay of all styles of modern music making. Four strings tuned E, A, D and G are usual, although a few models with five or more strings are made.

The design principles of the Fender bass guitars have stood the test of time remarkably well: a solid body, larger machine-heads to cope with heavier strings, one or two electro-magnetic pickups, and a bolt-on neck. Fender went on to introduce the Jazz Bass in 1960 and other less successful models. Apart from notable exceptions such as the Rickenbacker 4001S (1964) and the Gibson Thunderbird IV (1964), the electric basses of other big guitar companies never gained the broad acceptance of the Fenders. From the 1970s’ specialist bass makers such as Ampeg, Alembic and Wal began to cater for more discerning players.

The Fender-based style of construction went unchallenged until Ned Steinberger brought out his radical innovation in the early 1980s: a bass guitar with no headstock and a tiny body. He did this by using reinforced epoxy resin (claimed to be stronger and lighter than steel) instead of wood, and by putting the tuning mechanisms at the other end of the body.

Electric Guitar (Rhythm and Lead)

If one instrument can claim to be the twentieth century’s greatest, then the electric guitar is probably it. When the early pioneers, Adolph Rickenbacker, George Beauchamp and Paul Barth, experimented with electro-magnetic pickups to amplify the sound of a guitar in the 1930s, none could have foreseen what an impact this innovation would have on all styles of popular music.

In the mid 1930s, Charlie Christian was one of the first to see the potential as a soloist of playing a guitar that could be heard properly in a jazz band. He played an early Electric Spanish ES-150 guitar made by Gibson. For generations of jazz players, the mellow clarity of the electric-acoustic guitar became a traditional and characteristic sound.

Early rock’n’roll records, such as Bill Haley and The Comets’ 1954 hit ‘Rock Around The Clock’ kick-started the electric guitar’s mass appeal. Rock’n’rollers like Chuck Berry exploited the chugging rhythmic capability of semi-acoustic instruments from the late 1950s into the 1960s. From the early 1960s, countless groups, led by The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, based their music around the electric guitar.

The advent in the late 1960s of very loud blues-influenced rock music saw the flowering of the solid electric guitar, led by the hugely influential Jimi Hendrix playing a Fender Stratocaster....

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Source: The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Music, general editor Paul Du Noyer


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