The acoustic bass guitar is an instrument from the guitar family tree. It’s also known as acoustic bass or by the initials ABG. Much like a steel-string acoustic guitar, it has a wooden hollow body, though it’s usually larger in size. The acoustic bass guitar most frequently has four strings, generally tuned E-A-D-G. This is an octave below the lowest four strings of a six-string guitar. This means it tunes the same as an electric bass guitar.

The Bassoguitar built by the Regal Musical Instrument Company is probably the first mass-produced acoustic bass using a guitar-like body. This was an upright instrument, too large to play in a transverse position. Kay of Chicago Harpone created the first modern acoustic bass guitar in the mid-1950s. 

Ernie Ball of San Luis Obispo, California, started producing a model in the early 1970s. Ball’s goal was to provide bass guitarists with a more acoustic-sounding instrument that would be better suited to the sound of acoustic guitars. An early user of the acoustic rock bass guitar was the English multi-instrumentalist and musician Mike Oldfield, who had one custom made for him by luthier Tony Zemaitis in the mid-1970s.

Acoustic bass guitar features

The majority of acoustic basses have frets, but a significant number of fretless ones exist. Semi-fretted versions also exist, although they’re quite rare. Like the electric bass guitar, models with five or more strings have been produced, although they’re less common. This is often because the body of the acoustic bass guitar is too small to output an appropriate volume resonance at lower pitches on the low “B” string. An additional high string (“E-A-D-G-C”), instead of a low “B” string, often provides an alternative. Also, relying on amplification to reproduce the notes of the low “B” string when necessary is a possibility.

An acoustic bass guitar without an amplifier can often be difficult to hear in environments with other acoustic instruments. That is why most acoustic basses have pickups, either magnetic, piezoelectric, or both. These can be amplified with a bass amp. Semi-acoustic versions, also equipped with pickups, use an amplifier as well. The sound boxes on these types are not big enough to enhance the sound. Instead, they need to be amplified and then produce a distinctive sound, comparable to a semi-acoustic electric guitar.

As with semi-acoustic electric guitars, it’s often difficult to draw the line between acoustic instruments equipped with pickups and electrical instruments with tone-enhancing bodies. This happens particularly when they come equipped with a variety of pickups, such as piezo, synth pickups, etc.

There are certain popular varieties of acoustic bass guitars. Several are Mexican in origin. Certainly, Mexico’s traditional music features a variety of acoustic bass guitars. Mariachi bands, for instance, commonly use the Guitarrón, a very big, deep-bodied, six-string Mexican acoustic bass guitar. The Bajo sexto, with six-string pairs, resembles a twelve-string guitar tuned one octave lower.