History of the Bass Guitar

Five-string bass guitar
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Want to learn about the history of the bass guitar? Often thought as the brother of the electric guitar, the bass guitar has a well-developed history that originated in the 1930s and 1940s. Keep reading to learn more.

The History of the Bass Guitar

The 1920s

The jazz and big band era had a defining role on the development of the bass guitar. The role of other support rhythm instruments like the banjo and drums left a need for a more portable music backbone. The double bass, a large stand-up version of the common bass guitar, produced a great sound. However, its size was often difficult to manage. In a genre based largely on spontaneity and innovation, the double bass was just not portable enough.

The 1930s and 1940s

The first predecessor to the bass guitar was produced in Seattle, Washington by the Audiovox Manufacturing Company. Created by Paul Tutmarc, the electric upright solid body bass was marketed as the "Electric Bass Fiddle". Released in 1935, the device was only two feet shorter than the usual stand-up bass.

Later in the 1940s, Paul's son Bud began working on a 'hipper' version of the bass guitar. This version did not achieve market or critical success by any means and is a footnote in the history of the bass guitar.

The 1950s

The modern day electric bass guitar was the idea of guitar maker Leo Fender. Although he was trained as an accountant, Fender repaired radios and PA systems in order to teach himself electronics. In 1951, he released the Fender Precision Bass. The bass had a single coil pickup and was rather rudimentary in comparison to later models. The ease the electric bass guitar provided to musicians was invaluable and as soon as 1957, musicians such as Monk Montgomery began to use the bass as a common part of their repertoire. Subtle changes were incorporated into the bass during the period after its release, including beveled edges in 1954 and staggered pickups in 1957.Another instrument maker, Gibson, capitalized on Fender's success and released a version of an electric bass in 1953. The design was based around an extended pin that allowed the bass to be played either upright or horizontal (much like an electric guitar). Rickenbacker also released his bass model in 1957, and there were other experimentations in the world of building bass guitars.

The 1960s

In the 1960s, Fender released the Fender Jazz Bass. This model had two single coil pick-ups and a narrower nut. Since the invention of the Fender Jazz Bass, bass lingo has developed to refer to the pickups on the Precision bass as "P" pickups and the pickups on the Jazz bass as "J" pickups.

The 1970s

Further tweeks were made to the bass guitar in the 1970s. This time period saw the creation of high end bass guitars by Alembic. Custom made and using premium materials, there guitars were made for the professional. They also came in four-string and five-string versions, as well as a low-tuned. six-string version.

In the 1970s, Tom Walker, Forrest White and Leo Fender came together in Music Man Instruments. The ensemble created basses that used powered electronics to produce a lower dependence on the circuit system and more variations in style among players.

1980s and Beyond

The history of the bass guitar continued to develop as time moved on. As more players picked up the instrument itself, further modifications were developed such as more five-string varieties in the 1990s and digital circuit boards in the 2000s. Fretless basses and stylized pickups are now more common than ever, along with different amplification effects. Stylized playing techniques have developed over the years since the instrument's creation, including major music theory scales. The bass guitar has grown to be a significant part of the modern music scene.

A Final Thought

Although much of bass history is based on the history of the electric guitar in the sense that many of the mechanics are the same, the bass stands alone as an example of innovation that spans decades.

History of the Bass Guitar