Myths and Stereotypes about Bass Guitar
Welcome to the beginning of my series exploring some of those common myths and stereotypes, which as bass players, we often receive from the general public. I always want to inform and re-inform more people so we can get away from the underlying stigma attached to the bass.
Myth #1: “Bass is just another guitar, right?”
Yes and No. Although the bass guitar is a member of the guitar family, it is quite different from electric guitar, a distant cousin, if you will.
My favourite analogy is the car and the motorbike. Yes, they both get you from A to B, have wheels and require a driver and a licence etc. But there are a few key differences to consider: how they work and how you use them and how they can alter your driving experience.
So, back to the bass. I think the most obvious difference to non-musicians between guitar and bass are the number of strings. A standard bass guitar will only have 4; 5 strings are very popular too, and some advanced players prepare a 6 string bass, but I digress.
Why only four strings, you ask? The ‘grandfather’ or ‘father’ to the bass guitar (depending on your opinion) is the double bass (or “that giant violin” you see in jazz bands and orchestras). The instrument is tuned the same and plays a similar role in a band, even today.
The traditional role of the double bass and the bass guitar in a modern band are pretty much identical. The bass is the glue between the drums and the guitar; that hybrid between melody and rhythm.
Speaking of a hybrid, many bass players often say that the bass guitar is simply that: a hybrid between the double bass and the electric guitar. The main difference being that amplify the sound, through an amplifier and this allows for more flexibility when we play.
Myth #2 “All Bass players are just failed guitarists”
Now this may have been true for some bass players in the early days; the ‘best’ guitarist played lead; the average play rhythm and the ‘worst’ played bass. As I mentioned above, bass is completely different instrument.
However, this concept comes from the idea of making the double bass more accessible to guitar players; you’ll find that many guitarists who ‘play bass’ will use a plectrum since the technique is virtually identical to electric guitar. Don’t get me wrong there are thousands of bass players who started on guitar to begin with.
You might also be forgiven that ‘plectrum only’ bass players, actually began on guitar, but this is not always the case. I was one of these such players – why you ask? My favourite player at the time, Duff McKagan (Guns ‘N’ Roses/Velvet Revolver) used one and I wanted to play like him. Others may use one simply because it makes the bass more audible when playing unplugged. Players such as Jason Newsted (former Metallica bassist) and David Ellefson (Megadeth) state that they couldn’t afford an amp when they started playing.
So the next time you listen to your favourite song or see your favourite band live, don’t forget how important the bass player is in the band.
Stay tuned for more myths coming soon!