This is one of my favorite topics. I love the sound of the bass guitar. Even in it’s early conception, that low bass sound is something I have always loved. I always called it the thunder of the song. Anyone who loves music will tell you they really enjoy hearing that bass sound in a song. The bass not only fills the void in music it also gives the connection between the melody and rhythm.
Before we talk about the modern bass guitar, let’s take a look at where it came from.
Early String Bass
The string bass, also known as the double bass, has been around since the 1500s, when it was Gaspar Di Salo invented the first double bass. He based the design on an instrument called the gamba.
There have been many disputes to the actual known origin, but some suspect it was developed in Italy. These instruments were to complete the lowest part of the register in the violin family. Just below that of the cello.
There were many key differences between the first basses developed and the basses used today. The first bass had frets, was much smaller, and only had three strings. However, it was not commonly used until the 1600s, when wound-gut strings began to be used.
During the 1800s, the frets began to disappear and the size began to grow. It wasn’t until the 20the century that a fourth string was added, creating the most common double bass used today.
The stringed bass has many names in which it has been known by, such as contabass, upright bass, acoustic bass, double bass and standup bass. The string bass, as it is known in an orchestra, is within the same register as the tuba.
Along with the disputes of the origins of the stringed bass, there has also been some controversy among scholars about whether the string bass could be part of another historic instrument family known as the “Viola” family. The shape of the string bass today is part of the reason.
The shoulders of the stringed bass are similar to that of the viols and slope down sharply on both either side. However, the original shape of the upright bass was more similar to the violin, just much bigger. The shape of the top of the instrument was changed to make it easier for the player to reach high notes. This was done enabling the player to reach around and play higher notes on the fretboard.
Strings Of The Upright Bass
In the early days the strings were made from what they call gut strings. The reason for this is because they used the intestines from the gut of a sheep, I known this sounds really gross, but that’s how it was back then. The gut strings were smaller string diameters and louder volume.
There is a whole process in which they go through to make these strings, I will not get into it, for the fear of scaring you away. Anyway, Today they are made of steel. You can still buy gut strings today, but they are very expensive, though some people like the sound of the gut better than the steel.
Up until the 20the century, the double bass had just three strings and the player tuned it to the music they were performing. A five string bass was first used in Austria and Germany in the 1600s. Today the string bass has four or five strings made of steel. there are two basic tunings for the bass, classical and solo. Classical basses are tuned to E, A, D, and G. When tuned into “solo Tuning” the strings are tuned up one whole step to F#, B, E, and A.
The Bass Evolves
In the 1930s, the first electric bass was invented bu a man named Paul Tutmarc. Electric bass. Not only did Tutmarc invent the electric bass, but he also invented the electric guitar and made bass amps that he sold to traveling bands, which are similar to the ones sold commercially today.
The six string bass has been around since the invention of the upright, but the first six string electric bass first appeared in the 1950s, when Dancelectro first released it. Shortly after that, the already established Gibson came closely after with a commercial brand in the 1960s. For those who wanted to learn to play an electric bass but had smaller hands, Gibson created the firs commercial “shor-scale” or violin bass in the 1950’s.
Around 1940 was the first time a large distributor handled the electric bass and they were manufactured by Paul Tutmarc. This was a fretted instrument that was no longer to be played upright, but horizontal. It came with a pickup and was much smaller the earlier versions. It was only then that Leo Fender came up with the modern electric bass in 1951. In the year 1957 the pickguard and head stock were redesigned and the pickup was changed to a split pickup.
Everett Hull invented the upright bass pickup in 1947. This pickup would be attached or glued to the bridge of the bass, allowing one to plug into an amplifier or play without it interfere with the sound when played acoustically. The string bass is wiedely used outside of classical music in jazz, bluegrass, folk, rockabilly, country and rock music.
The jazz bass was designed in the year 1960. The jazz bass came with two separate pickups, apposed to the one pickup in the precision bass. The modern bass guitar became very popular. There are five and six string basses as well. The first 6 string was created in 1959 by Dancelecto and the first 5 string in 1964 by Fender.
Today the basses used in most bands are horizontal and can have anywhere from 4 strings to
Whether you want to play in a jazz band, or rock band, the deep sound of the upright or the low tone of the modern day bass, you will have the history behind you to help choose which ever suits your fancy.
If you have any questions or comments, please leave them below and I will get back to you as soon as possible.