Anatomy Of The Bass Guitar
First of all, let’s have a look at the basic anatomy of the bass. The following diagram gives an overview of the three main parts of the bass guitar. The body, the neck and the headstock:
Beyond the basic body, neck and headstock we also have several additional pieces of hardware attached to the instrument that we need to cover. The following diagrams display the standard parts found on most regular bass guitar bodies:
- Strap Button – Used to attach the strap to the bass
- Bridge – Secures strings to the body of the bass
- Pickup – ‘Picks up’ the sound of the bass strings
- Output – Connect lead here for sending signal to the amplifier
- Volume – Adjusts the bass volume
- Tone – Adjusts the bass tone (bass/treble)
- Nut – Sets the height and spacing of the strings
- Tuning Keys – Adjusts the tension and pitch of each string
- Frets – Divide the neck into notes. Each fret corresponds to a different note.
- Fret Markers – Used for easier navigation of the fretboard.
To hear the sound of a bass guitar you need to plug into an amplifier with a lead. The most common type of amp used by beginners is the combo:
A combo contains an electronic amplifier and speaker. This is a combination hence the name Combo.
All bass amplifiers will have an input socket (where you plug your lead in) and a variety of knobs. These range from basic volume and tone controls through to effects and graphics equalizers.
Here we see a common control panel found on a basic combo:
The most important controls for now will be the Volume control often labelled as Master. Just begin by setting this at about 9‘o clock (quarter of the way around) so you’ll hear some sound when you plug in. Then set everything else to 12 o clock (half way). You can experiment with these other controls and set them to your taste later.
To get started with playing, you can just plug a lead into the bass (the output socket), plug the other end into the amplifier input and you’re good to go!
Holding The Bass
There are two ways to play the bass: seated and stood.
If you are seated, just place the bass on either thigh. The curved contour in the body will match the curve of the leg. The right thigh is the most common for most beginners but I personally prefer the left thigh. This mimics the posture when stood more closely and allows for an easier stretch in the fingers. This is the common ‘classical’ or ‘spanish’ guitar posture.
A good starting position for the hands is to simply:
- Place the thumb of the left hand in the back of the neck
- Place the left hand fingers over the fretboard ready to press down on the strings
- Place the thumb of the right hand on the pickup
(switch these around if you are left handed)
To stand with the bass, you will need to use a strap. If you have a strap simply attach it to the strap pegs, thick part at the neck end (the horn) and the long thinner part at the bridge end.
If we’re going to stand with the bass, we need to attach a bass strap. These are really easy to fit to the instrument. We just push the strap buttons through the holes on the strap.
Important Tip: Aim to set the strap height so that the bass is at the same position whether you are stood or sat. Also be sure to avoid any positioning that forces you into bending too much at the wrist. You don’t want to be adding unnecessary pressure to the tendons.
Strings Of The Bass Guitar
The strings of the bass guitar are named according to the standard tuning of each open string. They are (from thickest to thinnest): The E String, A String, D String and G String:
Plucking & Choking
When plucking a string, simply place the finger on the string and then bring the finger back into the thumb (or next string).
To choke the note, simply place the finger back on the string.
Exercise: Pluck and choke each open string in turn.
The thumb of the right hand can mute any unwanted noise on lower strings. This is something you will work on as you develop and progress.
Tuning The Bass
The tuning pegs are used to change the tension of a string. On most common bass guitars the tuning pegs perform the following function:
- Turn Clockwise To Loosen The String (lower the pitch)
- Turn Counter Clockwise To Tighten The String (raise the pitch)
Be warned: Tightening the string too much will eventually result in a snapped string!
Tune the bass as shown in the video. Use the supplied Open String Reference Tone audio files to tune each string in turn:
Fret Numbers and Markers
The frets of the bass guitar neck are numbered in ascending order from the headstock to the body as follows:
The following diagram displays the fret number of each fret marker on the neck up to the 12th fret (double fret marker):
To fret a note, press the string down just behind the required fret. Don’t press down on the actual fret. This will result in rattle, buzz and poor tone.
Exercise: Practice playing at different frets over the entire bass fretboard
Your First Bass Riff
Play the following notes in a continuous rhythm as showing in the video:
(All notes on the E String)
- Open String x2
- 3rd Fret x2
- 5th Fret x2
- 7th Fret x2
- Open String x2
- 3rd Fret x2
- 5th Fret x2
- 3rd Fret x1
- 2nd Fret x1