If you’re in the market for a new bass, we’ve got you covered! Read on and check out some of the more important factors and choices that you should keep in mind when selecting your perfect bass.
Body and Tonewoods
Usually comprised of several different pieces of wood all working together in order to deliver their intended timbre, the body of a bass says a lot about the sound of the instrument. For many players out there, the feel of a bass is just as important as its tone because no matter how sweet that beauty might sing, there’s no point in playing if it just doesn’t feel right. Although not as important, you should also consider the design of the body. You’re most likely going to spend many years with your new bass so why not aim for something that matches your style. Don’t be afraid to try out different shapes until you find one that works for you.
If tone is what matters most to you, the single most important factor in a bass body is the wood which it was crafted from. There are many different tonewoods available, each with their own signature sound and flavor. While there are more tonewoods available, these are by far the most common when it comes to the bass:
Maple: A hallmark of Maple is its clarity and definition, which makes it a favorite among many bassists and recording engineers. Being a very dense wood, Maple provides the bass with excellent sustain and a bright, crisp tone.
Mahogany: Basses made from Mahogany are generally described as having a warm and full bodied sound. Mahogany is also known for its medium density and low resonance which gives the low end frequencies of the bass a more prominent emphasis and calms the snappier string attack that you would typically get with ash or alder.
Ash and Alder: By far the most common tonewoods, these two are very similar in that they both provide good sustain, resonance and an evenly balanced sound that is known for being rich in harmonic overtones. One of the reasons why many guitar makers choose ash in particular is due to its attractive grain, which is why several instruments made from this tonewood come with a transparent or semi-transparent finish.
Basswood: A signature quality of basswood is its extreme softness which easily absorbs vibrations. Its shorter sustain makes basswood a very popular choice for bassists who tend to play fast or more complex techniques. It is also a favorite among bassists looking to play a wide range of music.
Agathis: compared to most tonewoods, agathis is by far one of the least expensive which makes it a common choice for entry-level basses, but that doesn’t mean many wonderful instruments haven’t been created from it. As far as sound goes, it lies somewhere between mahogany and ash/alder, having a resonating tone that features the lower midrange over the upper treble.
There are a few different areas of importance when it comes to the neck, the first of which you should be concerned about is its size. A common problem encountered by those making the switch from guitar to bass is the added girth of most necks and greater width of the fretboard, making it much more difficult to pull off complex riffs as easily as they would on guitar. If you feel as though your hands might not be big enough for a standard scale bass neck and are looking for something more akin to the size of a guitar, consider getting a short scale bass.
Beyond size and scale length, there’s also a matter of what type of neck; bolt-on or neck-through-body. While this might not seem like a bid deal to new players, there have been plenty of heated discussions among bass veterans as to which is the better design. But as it goes, both have their strengths and weaknesses. The bolt-on design is by far the more common of the two and features a neck made from a separate piece of wood that is bolted on to the body. The biggest strength of this design is the ability to replace the neck in case it’s damaged.
With a neck-through-body design, the neck and the body of the bass are entirely connected as they are carved from the same source. Bodies that feature this neck design, which are made from several pieces of wood glued together, are known for their greater sustain and more prominent energy transfer. This design typically features extremely high quality wood which in turn greatly increases the quality of the instrument.
There are plenty of choices as far as pickups are concerned, and although what’s great for some might not be at all useable for others depending on style and sound preference, there are some solid choices you can’t go wrong with. First thing’s first; active or passive pickups? Slap bass players usually prefer active pickups as they are much better suited for conveying that sudden twang due to the added power these pickups offer. Most basses on the market ship with passive pickups and get the job done just fine. Depending on the type of bass, be it a five-string, acoustic electric or otherwise, manufacturers such as Bartolini and Seymour Duncan offer superior work in both active and passive pickups for most bass variations and should suit almost any kind of player, but remember, the best pickups will do you no good unless you have a quality bass body and excellent strings.
Other Things to Consider
Beyond the body, neck and pickups, there are a few other things to consider when searching for a bass. Intonation for one – the space between the frets which determines whether the notes play in tune as you move up the neck – is very important. If it’s off, it will not be able to be tuned. The fingerboard is also something you should take a look at. For one, a coated fingerboard gives a whining, trebly sound with longer sustain, much like a fretless bass. Uncoated fingerboards on the other hand provide a warmer, more natural sound. And speaking of fretless basses, which are known for having a warmer, smoother sound, are always something to consider if you’re up to the challenge of playing without the frets to guide you, relying instead on muscle memory. You also have the choice of selecting the number of strings. A regular, standard bass comes with 4-strings tuned to E-A-D-G which might be a better choice for those new to the instrument as they are easier to handle and learn on, it also has a much narrower neck than 5 or 6-string basses. The drawback is that they obviously don’t have the range of a 5 or 6-string bass.
All in all, selecting your brand new bass should be an exciting experience that can easily be made into a hectic one if you don’t know what to look out for. Happy hunting!