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How to play the electric bass – here’s what you need to know

Updated: Aug 15, 2022

Are you considering learning an instrument and have your sights set on the electric bass as your instrument of choice? If so, you might have a lot of questions on your mind. For this reason, we are going to discuss some exciting and important questions and answer them for you.

The electric bass guitar – the foundation for any band

What is an electric bass?

The electric bass is an electrically amplified bass guitar which is usually made of wood. As such, it is basically a plucked instrument from the rhythm section. In contrast to the double bass, which is played in a standing position, the electric bass is played on a strap that is worn over your shoulder.

Where can I use an electric bass?

Usually, the electric bass guitar is played in bands, and generally can't be found in a classical orchestra. Some of the music genres related to this instrument are jazz, punk, rock, funk, country, blues, metal, and Schlager music, as well as pop. In funk and reggae, you can expect to hear more exotic bass elements. The electric bass resonates in low frequencies which is why it often provides the harmonic foundation in bands.

What components is the electric bass made of?

The most eye-catching element is its wooden body, followed by its narrow neck, which is divided by metal rods into frets. The upper part consists of the headstock with its four characteristic pegs, which comprise the strings E, A, D, and G. Additionally, it has two pickups. The vibrations of the strings are passed through the pickups as well as an instrument cable to the connected amplifier. The amp allows you to set the volume and sound.

You can either play the electric bass by plucking the strings with your fingers or a plectrum.

An important part of the electric bass is the area between its body and neck. Here, the sound is decisively determined.

There are three main variations of this construction:

  • Screwed in – Bolt-On

  • Glued in – Set-Neck

  • Continuous – Neck Through

Which woods can be used for electric basses?

The neck and the fretboard are often made of hardwood (such as maple for the neck and rosewood or ebony for the fretboard). The body itself often consists of alder, ash, or mahogany. Due to the colorful paintwork covering the wood, it is often hard to determine the type of wood used. In that case, don’t hesitate to ask about the wood, seeing as it influences the sound of the electric bass:

Softer wood produces less treble and more bass. Bulky instruments create a rich bassy sound, while lighter ones result in a more high-pitched and crisp sound.

Die Pick-ups oder Tonabnehmer

What should you consider when choosing an electric bass?

Not every electric bass is the same. They come in many different shapes and sizes, and each has their own distinct features. The key to success lies in your personal feeling. You should feel good about your instrument. For one, the bass must hang comfortably from your body, which is a criterion that can only be tested on-site.

In addition to different shapes, a bass can also differ in its number of frets. As such, anything between 19 and 24 frets is possible. Depending on your individual technique, different sounds can be created. Fewer frets make it possible for them to vibrate further. Your teacher can help you decide what’s best for you.

The profile of the neck (even more so than the neck clamp itself) influences your feeling while playing the electric bass:

  • The C-profile results in a balanced experience.

  • The D-profile creates a significantly steeper feeling.

  • The V-profile tapers off in the middle.

  • A new approach marks the so-called M-profile. Here, the back of the neck curves inwards starting from the 8th fret.

The different types allow various grips, thus, creating a different feeling while playing. This should also be tested on-site, or you can ask your teacher about it.

Which electric bass is best if I’m a beginner?

This is not an easy question, seeing as the market for electric basses has significantly changed in the last few years, and nowadays good models can start at a price of 200 CHF. As mentioned already, your individual preferences decide if the electric bass suits you. Not only the choice of the electric bass is important, but also the equipment, such as an amp. We suggest a starter set for beginners. Usually, these are carefully put together and provide you with a great foundation to start learning the electric bass.

How much should I pay for an electric bass?

As you can imagine there is a variety of different offers. Good electric basses for beginners cost around 200 to 500 CHF, whereas advanced players can expect a price between 500 to 2000 CHF for their equipment.

Do I have to buy my own electric bass right away?

No, there are excellent rental services. The advantage is, that you don’t have to spend too much money if you just want to try it out. After testing the instrument for a few months, you can then decide if you want to buy your own electric bass and continue to play. If you have questions concerning this topic, it is best to ask your teacher for advice.

E-Bassgitarren Spieler

How can I determine the quality of an electric bass?

As mentioned, there is a wide range of electrical basses on the market, which makes it quite difficult to pick one. Some of them are very colorful and eye-catching, but this is not equivalent to a good instrument. Thus, there are a few quality factors for you to consider when choosing your instrument:

  • How are the fret ends constructed? To check this, move your thumb and forefinger along both sides of the fretboard. You should be able to feel the ends of the frets, but they shouldn’t feel pointed or protrude. Such flaws could lead to serious injuries, especially if you plan to play on an advanced level while rapidly moving your fingers up and down the fretboard. Even expensive electric basses can exhibit this issue. Usually, this occurs due to weather and/or seasonal changes which result in fluctuating temperatures, leading to the wood to shrink. New instruments should not have this issue though, because most of the time it’s either bad processing or wood, that has been seasoned for too short, that is to be blamed. Bottom line: You should feel the frets, but they should not have pointed or sharp edges.

  • What about the control knobs? All electric basses have rotary controls; some have more, others less. However, it’s not so much the number of knobs that is important. The processing itself is of more importance. These potentiometers are heavily subjected to mechanical stress, resulting in natural wear and tear over time. However, when it comes to a brand-new electric bass, they should neither scratch, wobble, nor be defective in any way. Tip: If the contact is worn out after a few years, some contact spray can do wonders.

Bassgitarren in vielen Variationen

  • How do wood and varnish look? The wood is a really important quality criterion of the electric bass. But how will you know if quality wood has been used or not, and if it has been processed to a high standard? After all, electric basses are usually covered in varnish. For this reason, you should take some time when checking the wood. Check for hairline cracks that might appear at the sensitive connection between the neck and the headstock, for instance. Varnish tears hint towards a less careful and rather rushed production process. The neck of a new electric bass should be straight and neither bent forward nor backward. This could indicate that the wood was not dried thoroughly enough before being processed. If in doubt, you should ask for professional advice here, because sometimes all it takes is a good adjustment.

  • How does it sound? Checking the sound may also take some time, but it will be worth it in the long run. Play each note on the fretboard. You will find at least one note on almost every instrument that fades away right after you played it. That’s a so-called dead spot, and it’s a natural phenomenon that can occur when using wood on instrument necks. A single dead spot should not be a knockout criterion. However, if there are several or very pronounced dead spots, this can be problematic, because it could negatively affect your playing. Another factor that should be taken into consideration when strumming each note are spots along the fretboard where the vibrating string is unnaturally stopped by a fret. This tone will either sound suspiciously loud and metallic, or it will not resonate at all. In this case, the frets are not very well aligned, and you should look for another instrument.

  • Do the pickups work? High-quality pickups produce consistent tones. However, cheaper suppliers sometimes use inferior pickups. Thus, if you notice a strong hum or missing tones when playing in front of devices like computer monitors, you should get skeptical. In this case, you should seek professional advice as well, because instruments such as the jazz bass tend to be prone to humming from time to time.

Bassgitarrenspieler in einer Band

When can my child start learning the electric bass?

Children as young as 6 years old can learn the so-called ukulele bass. Later, it all depends on your child’s height. The short-scale bass, a children’s electric bass, can be taught to children from the age of 8 to 10. The frets are closer together and the neck is shorter on these instruments, making it easier to hold the strings. These instruments have a surprisingly rounded sound but tend to lose a bit of definition and clarity.

Can I still learn the electric bass as an adult?

Absolutely! It’s never too late to learn such an amazing instrument as the electric bass. Especially since you will have the advantage of already having some musical taste of your own, which will make it easier for you to choose your style of music.

Do I really need a teacher?

Although there are a number of impressive videos that show you how to learn the electric bass, we still recommend that you work with a teacher. After all, a teacher can quickly detect mistakes in posture and playing and help you to improve them. In case you are still a little unsure whether you really want to start learning the electric bass, it’s best to contact us directly. We are looking forward to hearing from you.


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