The bass guitar, also known as electric bass, or simply bass, is the lowest-pitched member of the guitar family. It’s a plucked stringed musical instrument similar in design and construction to an electric or acoustic guitar, but with a longer neck and a longer scale range. It usually features four to six strings.
The ancestors of bass guitar date back centuries. For instance, performers in Europe commonly played the “fingernail bass” or guitarron, an early Spanish acoustic predecessor to the bass guitar. However, only until the early twentieth century the demands and designs of the modern bass guitar started to take shape.
Bass instruments, in general, are big and bulky. This has not changed for decades. Particularly among jazz musicians, the 1920s brought the need for a smaller version of the bulky double bass that was commonly played. In 1924, Loyd Loar made an experimental prototype electric bass for the Gibson company, but the management and public did not accept it. The 1930s showed promise in developing the first bass guitar models. However, they were still rudimentary.
We could say that Leo Fender, with his Fender Precision Bass model, made the breakthrough of the modern bass guitar we know today. This model from 1951 was easily portable and played like an electric six-string guitar. It was also sold with a new Fender amp designed especially for it.
Construction of the bass guitar
The bass guitar’s construction is similar in features to an acoustic or electric guitar. The essential five components are headstock, neck, body, pickups, and bridge.
The headstock is located at the top of the bass guitar. This is the part that houses the tuning pegs. These are the little knobs you use to change the pitch of the strings. Some bass guitars have tuning pegs arranged in a row, while others have them on either side of the headstock. The neck joins the headstock to the guitar body. At the top of the neck, where it meets the headstock, is a little bar with grooves for each string. We call this the nut. The nut is where the strings make contact as they pass from the headstock down over the neck.
Raised metal bars, called frets, divide the surface of the neck. Hence, we call it fretboard.
The largest component of the bass guitar is the body. This is just a solid chunk of wood. Its primary purpose is cosmetic appeal and to serve as a base for attachment of all the other parts.
Pickups and bridge
In the center of the body, we can find the pickups. These look like raised bars underneath the strings. Each pickup is a little magnet surrounded by a coil of wire. When the metal string vibrates, it pulls the magnet up and down. The magnet’s movement induces an electric current in the wire. This electric signal is what travels to your amplifier.
The bridge part, at the bottom of the bass guitar, is where the strings end. Most bridges consist of a metal base with several components attached to it. The bridge base is screwed directly into the wood of the body. On the bottom are holes where each string is strung through. Each string passes over a movable metal piece called a saddle. Each saddle has a groove in the middle for its corresponding string. It’s connected to the bridge base with screws that can be used to adjust its position and height.