Double Bass vs Electric Bass (Differences, & Which Is Right For You)

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  • Is upright bass harder than electric?
  • What are the advantages of electric vs. upright?
  • What music styles work best with electric vs. upright bass?
  • While you’re here, check out our separate guide on upright bass vs double bass

In the world of stringed instruments, the bass is one of the lesser appreciated, yet most indispensable members of its family.

Whether you’re listening to an orchestra or a band, bass instruments are necessary to hit those low frequencies that drive a song along with the rhythm.

Bass notes also carry a lot of musical “weight” that can literally move buildings.

In either case, if you’re interested in picking one up, you may wonder if an upright (also known as a double bass) is right for you versus a more modern and conventional electric bass.

Each has its merits to dissect, so let’s get right into it.

Double Bass vs Electric Bass: What’s The Difference?

The main difference is that the upright bass is a classic-style acoustic string instrument played upright like a cello.

The sound is geared mainly towards classical music, jazz, blues, and rock and roll.

The electric bass is played sideways, much like a guitar, and requires an amplifier to effect its sound.

The sound is used much more broadly in almost every genre as it is more flexible in playstyles and sound with the help of amps and pedals.

Now that we’ve discovered the main differences, let’s dive deeper.

Construction Differences

As mentioned, the primary differences lie in its construction.

Double Bass

The double bass is built to be played upright. It takes its general shape from the classic string instruments of its time, like the violin.

Although orchestra purists may turn their nose up at this analogy, you could imagine the double bass as a cello that is double the size.

This design includes oft-noted f-shape resonance holes, an arced fretless fingerboard, and a large hollow resonant body.

Another prominent feature of the double bass is the use of flat wound strings.

Double basses are large, with the standard one standing about six feet tall from end to end.

While this can be intimidating, there are also smaller versions available for the less vertically inclined.

Due to its size, it’s also meant to be played upright, so you’ll know one when you see someone playing it.

Electric Bass

The electric bass takes its cues from the electric guitar, except it uses larger strings and a longer fretboard to reach lower octaves.

Like the electric guitar, they are generally solid bodies, meaning there is no resonant chamber to generate the sounds loud enough for others to hear.

Instead, it uses a series of pick-ups to carry the sound electronically to an external amplifier.

This also means there are electrical wires in the construction to translate the sound.

You’ll also find a traditional guitar-like headstock, fretted neck, volume/tone knobs, wound strings, and any number of body styles from different manufacturers.

The nice thing about an electric bass is also that you can customize its construction.

You can even mimic a double bass by installing a fretless neck and using flat wound strings.

Electric basses are larger than electric guitars but are nowhere near as large as a double bass.

Electric basses typically measure right around four feet, but like the double bass, there are smaller variations for those with less reach or smaller hands.

They are also much thinner and thus are easier to transport.


Another big factor between the two instruments is the play style. Each has its strengths depending on the style of music performed.

Double Bass

In terms of playing style, this is tied very closely to the construction of the double bass.

To start, it has no frets on its fingerboard. You will need a lot of precision to hit a note properly on this instrument.

On a fretboard, you have some wiggle room in the fret space to place a finger and still play the right note, but without them, your note can be semitones off and create dissonance quite easily.

The other standout feature of a double bass is its ability to be used with a bow.

Like its string ensemble brethren, the double bass features a bridge with an arc. This arc allows the bassist to glide over the strings with a bow without worrying about hitting another string in the process.

Combining these two features allow the bassist to play very smooth and slick glissandos and legatos, or sweeping transitions from note to note, that give bowed instruments their well-known character.

Using a bow isn’t the only way to play the bass, however.

If you’ve ever listened to a classic rockabilly, jazz, or blues tune, you would be well aware of the plucking (pizzicato) method of playing the double bass.

This playing style is a lot of fun to watch, and advanced plucking can incorporate slaps of the fingerboard for an added percussive element to its sound.

The stuffy double bass of the orchestra is suddenly transformed into a warm but punchy bass tone that has driven modern music, especially in the west, for decades.

Electric Bass

The electric bass features a sideways, or lap style playing.

Like its guitar counterpart, this lends the electric bass to be being played with a pick or with the fingers.

The finger-picking or plucking style can be similar to how it is done on the double bass. The flat orientation of the strings also allows multiple strings to be picked or plucked at a time.

This can open up the sound greatly and allows the player to access chords.

Modern electric basses add as many as seven strings (and beyond) to take advantage of this.

Bass styles taking advantage of this full range can do really amazing things that no double bass would be able to achieve.

Picking and fingering allow for a very fast style of play as well. If you can imagine a lead guitarist shredding a solo, you can do the same with the bass using picks or your fingers.

This format and play style allows the electric bass to tackle and accompany just about any genre of music.

Another well-known playing style tied to the electric bass is called “slap bass”.

This is somewhat similar to the pizzicato style you would find in rockabilly, but the technique is much more involved, and the percussive “slaps” can also be pitched.

It also creates a unique tone as the vertical plucking incorporates the impact of the fretboard into the pitch/tone.

One of the most popularized bassists in modern times that uses this technique is Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, but it was mostly popularized in the funk era.


In choosing between the double bass and the electric bass, the type of sound they produce can vary quite a bit between the two types.

Double Bass

The sound of the double bass, as mentioned earlier, is very much tied to its construction.

Its large wooden resonant chamber and the bow give it a distinct character not dissimilar to a cello, just in a lower register.

String orchestral instruments have a certain weight and body, and none is more present here than the double bass in this regard.

The large resonant chamber create deep bellowing tones that one can feel in their chest quite literally.

The double bass features a fingerboard instead of a fretboard, meaning there are no frets to guide you or the sound.

Each note and its semitones have precise locations on the board you must hit to sound the correct note.

There are advantages to this that add to the “sound” of the double bass. The fretless nature of the fingerboard allows for very smooth sweeping transitions between notes.

A fretted instrument will audibly skip to the next halftone and does not sound any of the transitional points in between.

Double basses also use flat-wound strings. This means the strings are very smooth, creating a softer tone and reducing any noise from dragging your fingers across them when moving note to note. 

Flatwound strings attribute to a more “smooth” or “warm” sound as there’s less overall friction and “buzzing” that can be produced from a round wound string.

Electric Bass

Like the electric guitar, the electric bass inherits many of the same features for sound qualities afforded to an electric instrument.

Compared to the double bass, the electric bass is typically solid-bodied, features a fretboard, uses pickups to amplify the sound, and has round wound strings.

While the “base” of the sound is derived from the strings, fretboard, bridges, and solid body resonance, where the tires meet the road, so to speak, is the interaction with the aforementioned features and the bass’ pickups along with an amplifier being used to project the sound.

In this way, the electric bass is a far more versatile instrument when modifying any of the parts mentioned.

For example, active pickups and an aggressive-sounding amp can change the electric bass from a smooth operator to a buzzy menace of low frequencies ready for black metal shred sessions.

Let’s talk about the various playstyles we mentioned earlier.

Add some effect pedals to an electric bass, and you’ve got quite the sound palette to work with.

While the electric guitar may seem like a no-brainer for its versatility, it would still struggle to nail the double bass sound as it’s unique to the instrument itself.

That’s also not to say that there aren’t any electric versions of double bass that can be almost as versatile. Either way, they both very much have their own “sound”.

How Hard Is It To Learn?

Practice makes perfect, and the more complex an instrument is, the more you’ll need to practice to get things right.

Double Bass

Of the two, the double bass has the highest cost of entry and learning curve.

For one, the double bass is not only an intricate instrument that necessitates careful craftsmanship, but it is also massive in size.

The amount of material and quality necessary increases the costs quite a bit. So a base-level quality double bass will be more expensive than, let’s say, an everyday electric bass for beginners.

In terms of learning, if you have some background in bowed string instruments, it will help a great deal in acclimating yourself to the double bass quickly as many of the techniques are the same, just done on a larger instrument.

If you do not, learning proper finger position and bow techniques will be an obstacle to conquer, though you might say the same for learning the guitar or electric bass with no background.

The fingerboard lacking frets is also a bit more unforgiving in that if you miss, you miss.

Electric Bass

I may have made it sound like learning the double bass compared to the electric bass is like comparing a stream to the rapids in terms of difficulty.

Still, in reality, they can be just as difficult without any background in string instruments or guitars.

If you come from a bowed instrument background, you will find that the techniques used to play a guitar-style body is quite different, which will take getting used to.

Using picks or even fingerpicking will be a new universe for those used to bows or simple pizzicato plucking for classical music.

Conversely, if you have no experience with stringed instruments — picking can be just as tricky as learning to bow on double bass.

One major advantage in the learning curve the electric bass may have over the double bass is the fretboard.

Frets are much more forgiving when playing notes and are much easier to memorize as a beginner.

In this way, the electric bass is what I would say is the easier to learn of the two.

Which is Right for You?

The electric bass is used more often in modern music and is more versatile in both use and sonic range (combined with amps/pedals).

The double bass has an exceptionally unique character and timbre but may not be as flexible, and won’t work across all genres.

Ultimately, depending on which music territories best suit your desires, one will likely call out to you over the other.

The electric bass is the way to go if you want a versatile modern sound and portability. But if you want that one-of-a-kind double bass sound, play in an orchestra, or learn to slap an upright like the best rockabilly acts, the double bass is the only way forward.