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The bass guitar is an often-misunderstood instrument. More than a guitar with two less strings, the quiet-achieving bass is the glue that holds most tracks together. Its deep sonic register, often felt as much as heard, has the power to pack dancefloors and shake the fittings from walls. Today we look at some common questions we receive from players when choosing a bass setup for their melodic and rhythmic needs.

Fender Squier Bass

What Is a Good Bass Guitar for a Beginner?

Any entry-level bass guitar from a reputable manufacturer is a great place to start. Brands such as Fender Squier, Ibanez, and Yamaha all have extensive ranges aimed at beginner and intermediate players which should give you ample choice. Visit or call our friendly bass experts for further advice on how to find the bass guitar that vibes with your playing style.

Should I Buy an Acoustic or Electric Bass?

This question is actually more clear-cut than it appears. Acoustic basses really don't offer too many advantages aside from not needing to be amplified in certain circumstances and even then, an energetic rhythm guitarist can easily eat up most of an acoustic bass' frequencies. That said, these instruments offer unique tones and can be played unplugged in the park so they're definitely great to own. An electric bass is, however, going to be much more versatile as your main instrument.

Ibanez electric bass and acoustic bass

Is a Fretless Bass Better Than a Fretted Bass?

While some may claim that fretless basses are the pinnacle of the player's craft, realistically, there are advantages and disadvantages to both. Fretted basses move up the chromatic scale in semi-tones, just like a piano. The frets make it easier to visualise scales and mean that it's a lot harder to hit a bung note. Fretless basses allow dynamic slides and violin-style vibrato techniques that are more difficult on a fretted bass. These techniques won't suit every musical style, however, and playing in a loud environment with poor monitoring will make a fretless bass feel like a sports car bobbing in the pacific ocean.

From an educational perspective, having no frets will force you to understand the positions on fretboard and train your ear to pick up micro-tonality. It will be harder, but the benefits might be worth it if you intend to play more expressive music. Having frets will simplify your learning process, and there is nothing stopping you from learning about fretboard positions and micro-tonality at you own pace anyway. There is no instrument that is going to magically 'unlock your potential' on the bass, your hard work and dedication are going to do that. Unless you have a specific use case and you're certain a fretless is for you, it's probably best to stick with fretted.

Seymour Duncan pickup on a Gibson guitar

Is a Short-Scale Bass Easier to Play?

Yes! The 'scale' on a guitar is the distance between the nut and the bridge. Long-scale basses, such as Fender's Precision Bass, have a scale of of around 34". Short-scale basses, on the other hand, can be anything under 30". The less distance means that the frets are closer together. This makes moving between them, and even making chords, considerably easier, especially for people with smaller hands. Sonically, short-scale basses offer a more resonant bottom end which can easily fill up a mix.

Selection of Fender parts
Grey bass with active pickups

What Is the Difference Between Active and Passive Bass Pickups?

Simply put, active pickups are battery powered, while passive pickups operate purely on the electrical field generated by your amplifier. Passive pickups tend to have a warmer, rounder tone, while active pickups are tighter, and more defined. Passive pickups can cut frequencies with their tone controls, while the preamp on active pickups allows you to boost as well, opening up even more tonal options.

Fender American Ultra Bass switching system

What Do the Knobs on a Bass Guitar Do?

All basses will have at least a single volume knob for your overall volume. Others may include a knob for each pickup, allowing you to blend to taste. Some may even have a switch for selecting each pickup individually. Generally, active pickups will have more options.

Similarly, basses will have at least one tone knob to adjust the bass and treble frequencies. With passive pickups, this will likely be a 'roll off' for the treble to control high frequencies. Active pickups will generally have both a bass and treble tone knob which will allow you to boost as well as cut due to the battery-powered preamp.

Lastly, some basses might have controls for your midrange as well, but describing what all those possible permutations could be is beyond the scope of this article. Basically, if your bass has five or more control knobs, it's worth reading up on all the cool things they can do.

One thing to remember is that the tone controls on your pedals, amp, audio interface, or even in your recording suite are most likely going to have more and better options for sculpting your tone. The controls on your bass are handy, but they're only the beginning of your tone's journey to your ears.

Player using a 5 string bass

Should I Start With a 4-String or 5-String Bass?

This is a surprisingly-tricky question with more than one answer depending on your musical goals, hand size, and playing style. 5-strings aren't necessarily harder for beginners nor better for advanced players than 4-strings. Realistically, 5-string basses only add an extra five notes below the low E of a 4-string. This is not a hindrance to learning bass guitar, nor does it stop more experienced players from shredding the 3+ octaves of a 4-string. By the same token, the low B string doesn't get in the way as much as you might think.

Rather than ideas of difficulty or sonic potential. The 4 vs 5 debate is better thought of in terms of playing style. If you want to play heavy music that often hits the low B on a 5- or 6-string bass, then starting on a 5-string is a no-brainer. The same is true if you play a 4-string and always find yourself reaching for that lower register below the E. One exception would be players that have smaller hands. Is this case, a 4-string, short-scale bass is going to be easier to navigate and pack a massive, low-end punch to boot.

What Kind of Bass Strings Are There?

This could be entire article to itself, but we'll give a brief rundown to get you started. Remember, anything we can't cover here, the bass experts in our retail and online sales teams will be more than happy to elaborate on.

Gauge - This is the thickness of the highest string followed by the lowest. Typical gauges range from 45-100 (100s) to 65-130 (130s) for 4-string basses. 100s, 105s, and 110s are great for most players.

Scale Length - Most basses are long scale, some are short scale, and fewer still are medium or extra-long scale. Choose the strings that match your bass. Scale length is usually clearly labelled on the packaging.

Core - This is a single strand of metal at the centre of your strings. Round cores are generally warmer, while hexagonal cores are brighter. Most are made from steel but manufacturers often experiment with different alloys.

Windings - Most strings are roundwound, indicating a round wire is wrapped around the core. These are bright and versatile, while flatwound strings are warmer and have reduced finger noise when sliding along the strings.

Winding Materials - Most windings are made from a nickel/steel alloy, which has a bright tone when new. Some strings may be pure steel (brighter), pure nickel (darker) or another alloy entirely.

Coating - Some strings may have a coating applied to stave off dirt, sweat, grime and the inevitable corrosion that comes with them. They last longer but also typically cost more. Coated strings are great for infrequently-used basses.

For more info, check out our extensive range of Bass strings online here.

Playing a Rickenbacker bass

Become the Ace of Bass

Choosing the right electric bass can be tricky, but that is part of the excitement of beginning a new musical journey. As long as you remember to trust your instincts, select components based on your playing style, and spend time familiarising yourself with your options before you purchase, you're likely to make the right decision. If you're ever in doubt about the bass setup for you, ask one of our electric bass experts to tailor a solution to your needs.

Check out our range of bass guitars by visiting us in store or shop online!

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