As with so many young people, my budding love of music was focused on melody and beat, sometimes the lyrics, but never the bass guitar. That all changed in the mid-sixties with Motown, and my appreciation for bass guitars and bass players – such as Motown’s legendary James Jamerson – has taught me to listen to absolutely every part of the music. I even tried playing bass a few times, but my hands just seemed to demand six thinner strings.
The simplest function of the bass guitar is as one half of the rhythm section. Together with the drummer, a bass guitarist is expected to provide a foundation for the voices and instruments that typically deliver the melody.
Then there came the innovative bassists like the aforementioned Jamerson along with Paul McCartney, Chris Squire, Victor Wooten and Tony Levin, to name but a few. And with their adventurous playing came a demand for instruments that produced unique tones.
What’s Your Flavor
So what do you look for in a bass guitar? Punch? Boom? Bright overtones? The palette is limitless, thanks to the pioneering Fender Precision basses, the Rickenbacker 4001 and the modern innovations of Alembic basses and the Chapman Stick. The vast majority of basses still use four strings, but of course you can have five, six or seven strings! In the 1960s, Hagstrom produced an 8-string bass with four sets of double strings tuned in octaves, like a 12-string guitar.
Jazz guitarist Emmett Chapman’s Stick originally featured 10 strings, but has been made with 8, 12 and even 13 strings. Covering the full frequency spectrum of both bass and six-string guitars, its highly sensitive pickups and large, flat fret board are designed for tapped, rather than picked or plucked, playing.
If you have never really appreciated the musical possibilities presented by the bass guitar, perhaps it is time you started listening anew to whatever genre of music you love.