Loved for their distinctive melody and music, the lowest-pitched members of the guitar family are an integral part of modern music. This comprehensive bass guitar buyer’s guide explores vital factors that can help you choose the bass guitar suited for your specific needs.
How to Choose the Right Bass Guitar
Here are some factors that you must consider when choosing a bass guitar:
1. Number of Strings
Traditional bass guitars have four strings, narrow necks, and the standard E-A-D-G tone format, making them easier to handle and play. They are ideal for novice players. Meanwhile, modern music is typically played with 5-string with B-E-A-D-G and 6-string bass guitars and B-E-A-D-G-C tuning, which give you more room for creativity. They are most suited for expert bassists who want to practice fancier musical tricks.
2. Fretted or Fretless
Bass guitars come with fretted and fretless necks. The standard fretted neck comes with steel frets, separating each half-step of the musical scale, which makes finding the right notes a lot easier for amateurs. A fretless neck is plain, smooth wood, similar to a violin’s neck. Expert bassists believe a fretless bass offers a warmer, smoother sound. They rely on muscle memory to put their hand in the proper position. However, if you’re a novice player, a fretted neck might be a better fit for you.
Bass guitars have two pickups – passive and active. Passive pickups offer a warm, full tone and dynamic sound. However, they offer less control over your instrument’s tone. If you like punchy and fat tonal quality, passive pickups are the right choice for you.
Meanwhile, active pickups are more modern and offer a bright, clear, and percussive tone. They feature an in-built battery-powered preamp, allowing them to produce a higher output than their passive counterparts.
The wood you choose will affect the weight and tone of your bass guitar. Here are some tonewoods used popularly for bass guitars:
Ash and Alder
Both these similar woods offer an evenly balanced sustain and resonant tone, rich in harmonic overtones. Ash has a more attractive grain that shines through a semi-transparent or transparent finish.
Basswood is popular among versatile bassists. It has a shorter sustain and an incredible softness, which absorbs vibrations. It’s ideal for complex and fats playing techniques.
Mahogany offers a warm, full-bodied tone. A little weight, Mahogany provides a low resonance, which pronounces the lower register of the guitar.
It’s an inexpensive wood used for entry-level bass guitars. Tonally, it falls between Mahogany and Ash. It has a rich tone that emphasizes the lower midrange.
An exceptionally dense wood, Maple produces a bright, crisp tone and phenomenal sustain. Because of its clarity and definition, many expert bassists use maple bass guitars.
5. Bolt-on vs. Neck-Through Construction
Bolt-on is the more popular and traditional construction for bass guitars. In this style, the neck is bolted onto the body of the guitar. It produces a punchier sound and is also easier to replace if the neck gets damaged.
In a neck-though construction, the neck of the guitar spans the entire length of the instrument. This design offers better sustain and more direct energy transfer than bolt-on constructions. Typically, premium-quality wood is used in neck-through designs.
6. Body Style
Electric bass guitars are usually solid-bodied; however, some have semi-hollow bodies for a rounded, more acoustic sound. If you’re looking for an acoustic bass guitar, try the semi-hollow or hollow-bodied ones.
The neck of a bass guitar is often quite long and comes in various shapes – flat back, rounded, oval, and asymmetrical. To choose the right neck, try playing the guitar and select the one that feels most natural in your hand. Also, a longer neck offers a more defined sound on low strings, but it is difficult to maneuver. Meanwhile, a shorter scale works fine for 4-string bases and is easier to carry for smaller hands.
8. Tuning Machines
Opt for enclosed machine heads to minimize the risk of rust and airborne corrosives and save maintenance and replacement time and costs.
Always check the distance between the frets to ensure that the notes play in tune as you move up the neck of the guitar.
If you want longer sustain and a trebly, whining, “fretless sound,” go for a coated fingerboard. It becomes more long-lasting with round-wound strings. But if you want a warmer, natural sound, opt for uncoated fingerboards.
The Bottom Line
When choosing a bass guitar, always rely on the feel and comfort you experience while playing the guitar. Also, follow the basics mentioned in this bass guitar guide to select a guitar that fulfills your playing needs.