So you have falling in love with the low sounds of the bass and what to become a creator of the grooves that move us. You venture into the local guitar store and become over either over whelmed by the sheer number of bass guitars to chose from or disappointed by the lack there of. If there is a lack of bass's I suggest moving on to another store or looking online to better you odds at finding a bass that will be a good tool for you to learn on. What follows are some basic guide lines to help sort through and categorize all the different types of basses you are seeing.
Introductory Bass Guitar Lesson
Beside reading this blog having a lesson with a teacher before you go and purchase a bass can be beneficial. I typically try to show the students a couple basic bass runs that they can take into the store. The number one rule when looking for an instrument is to play each one in the room. My main Double Bass that I play to this day was the last one of about 50 that I played but I am sure glad I followed through with due diligence. Getting a feel for your teachers bass will give you a good idea of what a nice instrument should sound like but more importantly feel like when you play it. Doing this has helped many of students come out of a store with some spectacular basses that they will be able to play on for years to come.
Scale refers to the distance from the nut of the bass guitar to it's bridge. There are different scale lengths for the bass guitar from short scale(30 inches) to standard scale(34 inches) long scale (35+ inches). I recommend that parents of children who want to learn the bass start off their child with short scale instrument. The short scale bass will enable your child to learn and play with better left hand position. They will not have to over stretch their hands to play. For adults I recommend sticking with the standard length bass you will have more options to choose from and can always switch to long scale bass if you see fit in the future.
Types of Pickups
The two main styles of pickups you will see you during your visit to the guitar store our called the "P" pickup/bass and the "J" Pickup/bass. The P pickup looks like two domino's stack half way against each other. While the J pickup are two long bars one near the bridge and one towards the finger board. You will also see a combination of the two on some bass's which are called the PJ bass. So you ask what is the difference? The difference is the sound that is created.
The P bass creates more of a "double bass" esque ie. sound rounder notes thumpier sounding. If you love the sound of the bass in songs from Motown or Stax records or even Queen that was a P bass doing all the work.
The Jazz Bass due to the two pickups you get a wider variety of tonal options. Some would say even a brighter sound due to the bridge pickup. If you like the sound of Jaco Pastorius and Tower of Power this just might be the bass for you.
The PJ Bass for some is the best of both worlds you can get the thump of a P bass but still the tonal variations and cut of the J bass.
Passive vs. Acitve Pickups
When you are shopping for basses you come across passive and active pickup systems they each have there advantages and disadvantages. Passive pickups, which were the first used in the electric bass, offer a dynamic sound and a warm, full tone. The thing lacking in passive pickups is that you have less overall control over the tone of your instrument. If when you hear other bassist play a fat and punchy sound is what you enjoy choose passive pickups.
Active pickups are a newer approach to bass pickups. Some bass players love them some can live without em. Active pickups have a bright, percussive, and clearer sound producing a much higher output than passive pickups. Active pickups have a greater control of the over all bass sound right at your fingers types. Most have a bass and treble boost/cut knob to further sculpt your sound. With all these bells and whistles come cost which is a built-in battery-powered preamp, which you must remember to periodically change the battery ie. don't leave the cable plugged into an active bass.
Neck Shape/Fingerboard Wood Choice
Precision Bass necks maintains a fairly consistent thickness and tapers in slightly as it approaches the nut. The Jazz Bass neck starts with its strings in a noticeably narrower spacing at the nut, which gives it a distinct “tapered” feel some bassist feel that is easier for fingering. Ibanez basses necks have very little arch across the fingerboard which again some bass players enjoy for the ease of barring notes. As for Fingerboard wood there are two main choice's: Maple which has a brighter tone and Rosewood with a darker sound.
Countless other options
There are plenty more variables when looking at instruments but the ones above are the ones I feel are the most crucial to take into account when buying your first instrument. Remember to always buy your instrument from a store that stands behind the product it sells. Don't be afraid to order from some of the great online music stores that are out there such as sweetwater.com or elderly.com. Then take your instrument to Professional music instructor to insure that you got a great instrument that you can learn on for years to come. If you have any questions please feel free to reach out to me I would love to help you with your first bass buying experience.
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