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Want a comprehensive list of all the types of bass guitars?
From Acoustic, solid-body, to short-scale and more.
Get a brief overview of all ten types of bass guitars.
Some people think bass guitars are boring. Don’t be some people. Here’s why –
A deep rumble in the chest is all it takes to excite most bass players. But it’s 2022, my brethren. We can stop justifying the bass as the ‘musical foundation’ for a band.
The convention, decked with exciting new developments, greatly expands the fun you can have while playing bass.
There is a wide selection of acoustic, acoustic-electric, and electric bass guitars in the current market.
I am talking solid-body, hollow or semi-hollow, and chambered models – with anything between 4 and 12-strings. That is a lot of bass guitar types to add to your collection!
Imaginably, each type of bass guitar has its pros and cons when it comes to playability, tone, and application. One type may work well for some genres and feel out of place in others. It can be ultra-portable like a U-bass or back-breaking- bulky like a 12-string or upright bass.
Don’t commit to the jazz bass and precision bass. There are many hills to die on.
Here, I discuss ten types of bass guitars ranging from the traditional solid-body P-type to the out-there multi-scale options. We will get into the characteristics of each and some key differences.
Along the way, we’ll also answer commonly asked questions about each type.
P.S. If you are an aspiring bass player, go through this guide to find which one is right for you!
The solid-body electric bass came about in the 1930s. Today, they are the most commonly used among all types of bass guitars.
These instruments are what we call electric basses or simply bass. They do not have a hollow chamber and a sound hole like the acoustic bass guitar.
The solid body is generally a slab of ash, alder, basswood, or Bubinga. It has a cavity that houses the electronics – electromagnetic pickup(s), controls, and/or a preamp.
The pickups have a magnetic field and coils that pick up the string vibrations and relay them to an amplifier.
What does a solid-body bass sound like?
Plug a solid-body bass into a bass amplifier and it can be as loud as you want. Additionally, an electric bass has a control panel with volume and tone knobs.
These onboard controls, along with controls on the bass amplifier, allow a bassist to shape the sound of the instrument.
Secondly, solid-body basses can sport passive or active pickups. Some models may have more advanced preamps with controls for lows, mids, and treble. The Fender Jazz Bass and Fender Precision Bass are the most well-known examples of the solid-body bass guitar.
Famous solid-body bass manufacturers:
Solid-body basses are easier to build, less expensive, and more rugged than acoustic basses. Fender, Ibanez, ESP, Spector, Gibson, Rickenbacker, Yamaha, Warwick, and several other manufacturers make solid-body basses with varying sizes, shapes, and electronics.
P.S. – You can play a solid-body bass using headphones for silent practice.
The acoustic bass is a hollow body bass guitar without any electronics i.e., no preamp or pickup. It has a larger body than a solid-body bass and 6-string acoustic guitar.
The extra breadth and depth are needed to produce low notes, but the acoustic bass is still a very quiet instrument.
Acoustic basses can be 4, and 5-string models with or without frets. Either way, they are not as popular as electric basses.
Most people have one on an A-frame by the couch to play/practice when inspiration strikes. You can play or record an acoustic bass with piezo pickups.
So, it’s also well suited for unplugged sessions and ideas/composition.
That said, an unplugged acoustic bass is easily drowned out by drums, electric guitars, or amplified instruments. It is loud enough if you want to practice in a quiet room, but you need an acoustic-electric bass or an electric bass if you want to play in a band.
What does an acoustic bass sound like?
The acoustic bass produces deep, resonant, and warm sounds. When pam-muted and strung with the dull-sounding bass strings, it can sound like an upright or double bass.
It’s often used for that, too. However, the instrument has a unique tonality and sounds nothing like an electric bass.
The sound of an acoustic bass is close (not identical) to that of an upright bass. The playing feel and technique are closer to electric bass.
In terms of volume, it sounds loud enough to monitor yourself in a quiet room. But it can’t hold a candle to electric bass played through an amp.
Is an acoustic bass good for beginners?
An acoustic bass can be a good instrument for beginners or students. Firstly, you don’t need additional gear like a bass amplifier or cables, which reduces the overall cost and learning curve.
Secondly, it’s easy to use as there are no knobs, 3-way switches, or electronics to fuss over.
Besides simple operation, an acoustic bass is also more portable. You don’t need to lug around an amp or figure out what the controls do, as is the case with electric bass guitars. The no-frills design and uncomplicated operation allow beginners to focus on technique.
Is it worth buying an acoustic bass guitar?
The acoustic bass guitar is worth buying if you desire portability, ease of use, and a cost-effective practice instrument. It has an inimitable sound when recorded through piezo pickups.
The unique tonality works well for some genres but not so much for others.
Heard of the Epiphone Jack Casady Signature or the Lakland Skyline? You probably dig the feel of an electric and the tone of an acoustic. That’s what semi-hollow and hollowbody basses are about.
These swanky, retro-looking bass guitars generally feature a narrow body, f-shaped holes, and one or two humbucking pickups.
Generally, they have a slimmed-down body (2.4” to 3” body thickness) and a shorter scale length (30.75-inches). They are lighter than solid-body models.
They can be 4 or 5-string instruments with or without frets and boutique accents. Some may think of them as a bridge between an acoustic and electric bass, but they have a very ‘bassy’ amplified sound that can be paired with round-wound, flat-wound, or tape-wound bass strings.
What do hollowbody bass guitars sound like?
Tonally speaking, both these sub-types are famed for their earthy, warm, and vintage sound. They are also capable of wooly and thumpy upright-like tones.
The rich sounds of a hollow or semi-hollow bass guitar are suitable for jazz, blues, bluegrass, folk, country, and indie genres.
Plus, these instruments are not as clean due to the interfering acoustics and the possibility of feedback when you amplify them.
Either way, their rotund lows, and creamy sounds can give you a whole new range of tones, which makes them a fairly popular addition to bass collections.
Famous models, manufacturers, and bass players
The Hofner Violin Bass, Guild Starfire, Ibanez AFB200, Reverend Dub King, and Gibson EB-2 (which I happen to own) are popular examples of hollow-body bass guitars.
Paul McCartney, Phil Lesh, Allen Woody, and Jack Casady are known to use hollowbody or semi-hollow basses.
Simply put, a fretless bass is an acoustic or electric bass guitar without frets. That means there are no metal wires (fret wires) up and down the neck and fingerboard of the bass.
The lack of frets is what makes this instrument unique and desirable. Why?
Fretless bass is not limited to the 12 tones available on a fretted bass. You can play in-between notes called microtones. Thereby, some unique sounds and playing techniques are only possible on a fretless. It’s ideal for certain styles/genres and useful for expanding your sound.
What does a fretless bass sound like?
Fretless basses have a warm singing sound, allowing you to seamlessly slide from one note to another. You can finesse your notes with a subtle vibrato or a nuanced ‘mwah’ sound, which is not possible in a traditional bass guitar. But the fretless sound isn’t suited to every music genre.
For instance, a fretless can do wonders in blues, pop, jazz, or rock. But tapping, percussive mutes, or slap/pop techniques don’t sound good on a fretless bass guitar.
But there is a lot of wiggle room based on the build, specs, and electronics.
Is the fretless bass a good choice for beginners?
Playing a fretless is more difficult than playing a traditional fretted bass. You need to put in more work to play notes accurately on a fretless. You need to hear the notes mentally to play in tune.
But ear training is not enough. You also need to develop muscle memory to pitch the right notes.
Either way, a fretless is not something you buy as your first bass or even as a second one. Most bass players play a fretted bass before they move on to a fretless instrument, if at all.
However, some bass players do choose the unconventional route of exclusively playing a fretless.
Famous Fretless bass players, manufacturers, and models:
Ibanez, ESP, Fender, Zon, Yamaha, and several other bass manufacturers offer fretless bass guitars. The Fender Jazz and Tony Franklin Fretless, Ibanez SRF705, and ESP LTD B-204 are some of the best-selling fretless bass guitars available online.
Jaco Pastorius is one of the best-known fretless bass players. Additionally, you can look up bass players like Gary Willis, John Giblin, Jack Bruce, Pino Palladino, and Michael Manring to understand the expressive capabilities of the instrument.
Multi-scale basses are a relatively modern variation of the bass guitar. The main difference is the fingerboard design and frets.
These instruments have angled frets that ‘fan’ out across the length of the neck. That’s the reason why these instruments are also called fanned fret basses.
Regular basses have the same length for every string even though all the strings are tuned differently. But lower-pitched notes sound better with long string lengths and higher-pitched notes sound better with a shorter string length. That’s what multi-scale basses try to achieve.
Multi-scale basses are designed keeping in mind the optimal scale length for each stringbased on the pitch. The frets are placed at an angle, giving every string a different scale length.
In simple words, lower strings have a longer scale and higher strings have a shorter scale.
Thus, each string has the ideal ‘speaking string length’ in a multi-scale bass.
What does a multi-scale bass sound like?
Fanned frets on multi-scale bass guitars are known for tight, focus lows and crisp highs. The design results in better tuning, string tension, and deeper, more resonant bass tones.
They are found on extended range guitars, used in genres where you play fast or punch low riffs.
Is it hard to play a fanned fret bass guitar?
It is not harder to play a fanned fret bass compared to an electric bass with conventional frets. But there may be a slight adjustment curve when you transition.
In fact, some bassists find it easier to play a fanned fret bass on the higher frets. Nevertheless, it is harder to play a fretless with fanned frets as the irregular angles need additional work to fret accurately.
Ibanez SRM805, ESP LTD B-1005, Schecter Stiletto FF, and Dingwall Combustion are some of the most popular multi-scale basses in the current market.
However, there a several mass-produced and custom-made options available with passive or active pickups.
The double bass also called the upright bass or stand-up bass is the largest and lowest-pitched member of the bass guitar family.
It is available in three shapes – a violin form, a viola da gamba form, and a busetto form. However, there is no standard design for double basses.
Generally, the upright bass has two f-holes, a tailpiece, and a carved wooden bridge. It also has a pegbox, ornamental scroll, and a sound post to stabilize the string tension.
But these instruments vary and can look and sound very different from each other.
Double bass can have four or five strings, the former being more common. It is tuned in fourths and can be plucked or bowed. The standard tuning for double bass is E1, A1, D2, and G2. However, it notated an octave higher, making it a transposing instrument.
The double bass is an integral part of orchestral and Western Classical music. It’s also widely used in jazz, blues, bluegrass, country, and rockabilly genres.
Heck, you may even encounter the double bass – amplified or otherwise – in funk, reggae, indie, and folk genres.
And then, there is that one guy who plays flamenco in it.
These bass guitars, as the name suggests, have a shorter scale length of 30-inches compared to the 34-inch scale length found in full-size bass guitars.
You can use roundwound or flatwound bass guitar strings of varying gauges made specifically for a short-scale bass.
In the 60s, short-scale basses were all the rage, but over the decades they got a bad rep as instruments for children or younger students. They didn’t recover from the stigma until recently, when prominent bassists started using them, allowing them to have a moment again.
Now, short-scale basses are seen as an interesting addition to a well-rounded bass collection.
A short-scale bass can also be ideal as a second instrument for guitar players looking to pick up the bass. The scale length results in an easy transition, given that most electric guitars have a scale length of 24 to 26 inches. The shorter scale length results in looser string tension.
Generally, bass players user a higher string gauge to offset this lower tension. You can also find specialized short-scale bass strings that offset the lower tension with a thicker core.
What does a short-scale bass sound like?
Short-scale basses sound fat, boomy, warm, and less defined compared to a regular-sized bass. Their old-school sound is often described as hollow and flubby.
There is a marked tonal difference between long and short-scale bass guitars due to the difference in string length.
Should I start learning on a short-scale bass?
Short-scale bass guitars are a good choice for a beginner or those with small hands. They are relatively lightweight and 3 to 4 inches smaller than long-scale basses.
The narrow neck, loose string tension, shorter scale, and compact body make them easier to play than a full-sized bass.
Famous bass players and models
Paul McCartney (The Beatles) played a short-scale Hofner 500/1 Violin Bass. Gibson SG Standard, Fender Bronco, and Fender Mustang are other famous factory-produced models.
You can also find short-scale bass guitars made by Ibanez, Danelectro, Spector, Gretsch, and others.
Featuring an eye-grabbing spalted maple body and top, a mahogany neck, and a rosewood fingerboard, the Kala U-Bass Spalted Maple is exceptionally balanced with a room-filling sound that belies its diminutive size.
A ukulele bass, bass ukulele, or u-bass is a bass-ukulele hybrid, the brainchild of Kala, the music instrument manufacturer. It hit the market in 2009 and created a buzz among the bass community.
The u-bass has the shape of a baritone uke, the playing feel of a bass, and the warm, wooly sounds of an upright. It can be solid-body or hollowbody, fretted or fretless, and acoustic or acoustic-electric.
Plus, a u-bass can be strung with round-wound, flat-wound, or nylon-wound strings.
Imaginably, it’s a highly customizable instrument crafted with traditional and exotic woods. Since Kala came up with the idea, they are the most popular u-bass brand.
But you can find entry-level models from Donner, Luna, Oscar Schmidt, and other ukulele manufacturers.
What does a u-bass sound like?
Tonally speaking, the u-bass has a unique sound, unlike any other type of bass guitar. It sounds deep and round with wooly character. The u-bass is surprisingly loud given the instrument size and is used in funk, hip-hop, folk, soul, and a broad range of genres.
It’s also popular in jazz and country for its ability to replicate upright bass sounds.
Is the u-bass a good choice for beginners?
The ukulele bass is not designed for beginners or younger bass students. It’s a niche or novelty instrument with unique character and applications.
The u-bass can be a great addition to a bass collection of gigging musicians and a relatively inexpensive way to unlock new sounds.
12-string basses are solid-body electric bass guitars with four courses of three strings each. A 12-ver is tuned eeE-aaA-ddD-ggG, with one fundamental string (E, for instance) tuned similar to a 4-string bass and the other two strings in the course (ee) tuned to the octave.
12 strings result in a lot of string tension. Therefore, these basses have a dual truss rod and/or carbon strips to mitigate the stress on the neck.
You can play them with a pick or rake the 3-string course with your fingers. Either way, expect a hand cramp and a fuller sound.
Less commonly, the 12-string bass may also refer to an extended range bass without fundamental/octave string courses or 12-string models with six courses of two strings.
As you can imagine, the 12-ver is not for students or beginners. In fact, it’s so niche that most professional bass players may never have encountered one either.
But there are some crazy things you can achieve with a 12-string bass and its glorious wall of sound.
What does a 12-string bass sound like?
No doubt, the 12-string bass is the most majestic rendition of the bass guitar. Its sound is often described as ‘a grand piano struck with a sledgehammer.’
Each 3-string course, when played, gives the instrument a thick and chorus-like sound, unlike any other type of bass.
Famous 12-string bass players and manufacturers:
According to the grapevine, Tom Petersson the bass player from Cheap Trick, teamed up with Jol Dantzig from Hamer Guitars to design the first 12-string bass guitar.
They have been used by the likes of Les Fradkin, John Gallagher, Doug Pinnick, and Jeff Ament among others.
But you won’t find a 12-string bass at your local music store. Except for models from Dean and Schecter, the online options are scant as well.
However, you can find manufacturers and skilled luthiers who will custom-build a 12-ver for you.
10. Piccolo Bass Guitars
Piccolo basses entered the arena in the ‘70s with the efforts of Stanley Clarke and Ron Carter.
Stanley Clarke, as the story goes, came up with the idea of the first electric piccolo bass. He turned to Carl Thompson, the famous bass builder, who made the first rendition with a shorter scale and tuned an octave higher than a regular bass.
Ron Carter, on the other hand, used a custom-built upright model tuned A1, D2, G2, and C3 in the 1973 album Blues Farm. He went on to release the ‘Piccolo’ album with the Ron Carter Quartet in ’77 wherein Carter played the acoustic piccolo bass, noted for his tasty bass solos.
The acoustic piccolo bass derives its design from an upright bass guitar and the electric counterpart is constructed in the same way as an electric bass guitar. An electric piccolo bass can have 4 to 8 strings and a 28” to 30” scale length.
One thing remains common regardless of type. All piccolo basses use thinner bass strings tuned an octave higher. There is no standard piccolo tuning, but it is always tuned in fourths, most commonly to E2, A2, D3, and G3 – the same pitch as the four strings on a guitar.
What does a piccolo bass sound like?
The piccolo bass is popular for its sparkling, octave-up sound that is used for playing high parts on the bass. Its guitar-like tone is a great choice to solo in the higher registers.
But the instrument lacks the deep, gratifying low end to play thick bass lines.
Some bass players argue that ‘piccolo’ is a tuning, as opposed to a type of instrument. There is some merit to that doggedness.
You can buy any short-scale bass and tune it up an octave. Also, you can convert a full-scale bass into a piccolo bass with mods and a special set of strings.
Famous Piccolo Bass Players
Lee Sklar, John Patitucci, Les Claypool, Michael Manring, and Joey Demaio are notable bass players who use a piccolo bass. Brian Bromberg has also used it brilliantly in his album Elephants on Ice Skates.’
Don’t miss out on the bass work of Wayman Tisadale who uses the piccolo bass a lot.
Bass Guitar FAQs
What is the most common bass guitar?
A solid-body 4-string electric bass is the most common type of bass guitar.
Among 4-string basses, the Fender Precision (P-bass), Fender Jazz (J-Bass), and bass guitar inspired by their designs are considered the most popular and recognizable bass guitar models.
Is a 4 or 5-string bass better?
A 4-string bass guitar is good enough to play most genres. A 5-string bass – due to the low B string – is better if you want additional low-end for more depth in your instrument’s range of sounds.
5-string bass guitars are popular for rock, jazz-fusion, and metal.
Can you slap on a 5-string bass?
You can slap on a 5-string bass guitar but there is a learning curve if you are accustomed to playing a 4-string bass. The B-string on top of the E can throw you off initially.
With enough practice, you can develop accuracy and clean playing. But the narrow string spacing can make it challenging to use slap bass techniques like double thumbing on a 5-string bass.
What picks do bass players use?
Bass players use picks that are thicker, bigger, and blunter. The average bass pick is 1.17mm thick, significantly more than the average guitar pick thickness of 0.89mm.
A bass has wider string spacing and thicker strings. Thick and blunt bass picks result in better tone and more control. But it’s an individual choice and you can use guitar picks to play bass as well.