Electric, Acoustic, and Acoustic/Electric Bass – Untangling the Differences

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The electric bass guitar revolutionized modern music when it was first introduced. It was much more compact, light, and transportable than the traditional upright bass – and with a good amplifier could project its sound much more effectively. Although the method of playing bass guitar was different from that of upright, the principle was the same. As a result, many musicians either switched to electric or learned electric in addition to upright. Its place in music cannot be understated.

Due to improvements in amplification and bass guitar and string design, it is now possible to achieve great bass sound with acoustic or acoustic/electric bass guitars. This article reviews the differences and similarities between these types of basses.

Electric Bass

From the time Leo Fender brought the Precision Bass onto the market in the 1950s, the electric bass has been the primary method for low-end players to express themselves. It works the way a standard six-string electric guitar works. The vibrations produced by plucking a string are received by one or more electronic pickups, which are typically a series of copper wires wrapped around magnets. These pickups transmit the vibrations through a cord to an amplifier, which then produces the sound.

The sound produced by a bass guitar and a bass amp can be affected in several different ways. The shape and size of the pickups are a large factor. Many bass pickups are a single bar, which may produce a more “twangy” sound. More commonly, they may have a split pickup, which reduces unnecessary noise and has a slightly deeper sound. The placement of these pickups on the body will affect the sound. Many basses offer two or more pickups and switches and knobs to vary the output from each pickup, thereby affecting the tone and enabling you to better personalize your sound. Amplifiers often have additional knobs which can further shape the sound. In addition, there are multiple effects pedals which offer you a multitude of sounds.

Acoustic Bass

Guitar companies large and small offer acoustic counterparts to the electric bass. They are constructed in much the same way acoustic 6-strings are. With acoustic basses, the resonance and tone are produced by the guitar’s shape and the size of its soundhole. The type of wood used for its construction has a greater effect on the sound than it does with an electric bass. Most acoustic basses are relatively lightweight and easy to play (although typically bigger than a 6-string guitar).

For smaller venues, these instruments are fine by themselves; for medium-sized venues, you may occasionally find a microphone will be all you need to get your music across. If you find yourself needing amplification for your acoustic bass, there are a wide number of pickups available. These pickups attach easily onto your bass’ soundhole. Although you will not have quite the same variance in sound available to you as you might with an electric bass, your instrument will sound clear at any volume with a good pickup.

Acoustic/Electric Bass

Acoustic/Electric basses offer a nice hybrid of the above two types. They are constructed like acoustics, but have a built-in electric pickup and jack for easy amplification when wanted. There is typically a series of knobs or slides on the side of the bass to shape its sound.

Which One is Best for You?

There are no hard and fast rules here. Consider the genre of music you are playing, the size and type of venue you typically would play in, and your own personal taste. Take a trip to your local music store and try a few. You’ll find that a particular style and sound suits what you’re trying to say with your music.

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