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Thomann's Cool Online Guides: E-Basses

2. Acoustic or electric

The acoustic bass

The acoustic bass is mainly used where it can stand out best against other acoustic instruments. Acoustic basses are often seen on MTV ‘Unplugged’, be it in the form of either bass guitars or upright basses for this TV show is all about the use of non-amplified (unplugged) instruments.Whenever an acoustic bass is used with amplified instruments it needs to be amplified as well. This is usually done with a microphone placed in front of the instrument or some type of special pickup-system.

A particular type of bass guitar, reminiscent of a classical guitar in shape, is often seen in classical or folk ensembles. The acoustic bass guitar has a large body which is far bigger than a jumbo western guitar. Of course the exact sound of an acoustic bass depends on the choice of the wood. The listening experience is enjoyable, in any case, because the low frequencies don’t affect the human hearing and body in the way electric basses tend to.

The double bass

We all know the acoustic bass as the exceedingly large version of the bowed or picked double bass. It originated in classical orchestras but has also become established in the world of jazz in which it is mainly picked and is identified with many virtuoso musicians. Within rock ‘n’ roll and rockabilly ensembles the double bass is also highly regarded.The double bass was developed in the 16th century from the violone as the member of the string family with the lowest range. The common modern double bass played in orchestras is more than six feet tall and usually features four strings, although five-stringed versions are also available. The tonal range of the four-stringed double bass can be extended downwards using a special lever (low C extension) which allows the player to tune down the lowest string in a single move. In order to bow the bass, an adequate bass bow is needed.

The electric bass

Within the entire pop genre and especially in rock music, the electric bass is well established although jazz bassists also like to use electric basses nowadays as well when it comes to amplified or rock-orientated types of jazz music.In modern music production there has been a general tendency towards using sampled bass sounds played by keyboardists. But this particular case will not be discussed in this guide.

What exactly constitutes the electric bass? First of all, everything you’ve learned about the wood types, design and electrical equipment of electric guitars applies to the electric bass as well. Only the pickups have a slightly different layout and are placed differently on the instrument.

The standard electric bass features four strings tuned to E-A-D-G. This tuning matches the four lowest strings on a guitar. Bass strings, however, are considerably thicker as they are tuned an octave below a guitar. Tuning a bass is done in the same way as a guitar.

There is a certain trend among advanced rock musicians for using five- or six-stringed basses. A five-stringed bass features an additional lower B-string while the six-stringed has another high C-string on top. This expert-setup, however, shouldn’t concern beginners as handling a four-stringed bass is already enough of a challenge.