Bass Guitar Guide

An introduction to the bass guitar

This is an introduction to the bass guitar


The bass guitar plays a major role in any modern band, providing the link between the drums and the guitar. As part of the rhythm section, the bass guitar player is part of the back bone of the band.

If you are interested in playing the bass guitar, this guide should be a good starting point to show you the basics of setting up and playing your instrument.

Setting Up:

The basic things you will need to start playing the bass guitar are:


a bass guitar!
a set of bass strings
an amplifier (unless you are playing an acoustic bass)
a lead
a pair of headphones (unless you donít have any neighbours)

The strings

Most bass guitars will come equipped with a set of strings, but sooner or later they will need to be changed, either due to breaking or, more likely, due to ageing. The quality of the sound produced by your instrument will be better with new strings.

Bass strings come in different standard gauges, usually .040 to .100 or .045 to .105 (for 4 string bass). 5 and 6 string sets are based around the same gauges, but with extra strings. The only thing that determines which gauge you require is your playing style and personal preference, although if you play hard, a thicker gauge is probably better.

To string your bass you will need to thread the strings through the bridge, and then pull them reasonably tight and cut them off with wire cutters, about 3 to 4 inches past the machine heads. Next, push the end of the string into the machine head slot/hole, then start winding! But remember, the method of stringing your bass will be different depending on what type of machine heads are on your bass, check your instruction manual!

Once you have all the strings on your bass, you need to tune them up. The easiest way to do this is with an electric tuner. Plug one end of your lead into your guitar and the other end into the tuner, then switch on! play each string in turn, trying to play the same hardness etc. as if you were playing a tune. Adjust the tuning pegs until the string is in tune, then move onto the next string. Once all the strings are in tune, go over them again, as tuning one string can alter the tuning of the others! Standard tuning is E, A, D, G, or for a 5 string bass B, E, A, D, G, but of course you can tune the bass how you like! A popular alternative tuning is drop D, which is D, A, D, G.

bass truss rod

The Truss Rod

The truss rod controls the curvature of the neck, and therefore the distance between the fingerboard and the strings (the "action"). This is an important part of the set up, as too low an action will cause "fret buzz" when playing fretted notes, and too high an action can make it too difficult to play! too high an action can also make the bass sound out of tune when playing higher up the fingerboard. A good way to check your action is to press the string at the first fret with one hand, and at the 12th fret with the other. The string should be close to the frets, but not touching. If the string is far from the frets, the truss rod needs to be loosened, if it is touching, the truss rod needs to be tightened. Look in your manual for how and where to adjust your truss rod, but be careful, it will only require a very small adjustments. You should only adjust by a quarter of a turn before checking again.

bass bridge

The Bridge

Once your truss rod is adjusted, re-tune your bass. now, with your tuner still plugged in, play the harmonic at the 12th fret (A harmonic is played by resting your finger on the string above the fret, but not actually pushing it so that it makes contact with the fret board, then plucking/strumming the string). The harmonic at the 12th fret should be the same note as you tuned the string to (e.g. if you are playing the E string, the harmonic at the 12th fret should also be E). If the harmonic is too low, the string is too long and the saddle needs to be moved towards the neck (the saddle is the part of the bridge that the string sits on, and is usually adjusted by a screw mechanism). If the harmonic is too high, the string is too short and the saddle needs to be moved away from the neck. This is known as adjusting the intonation. This should be repeated for each string.

bass pickups

The Pickups

The distance between the pickups and the strings is an important part of setting up your bass. You need to play your bass for a while and decide where you want the pickups. Ideally, you should have your pickups set up so that they are as close to the strings as possible without making contact when you play (although some players like the 'clicky' sound produced when the strings hit the pickups, think Korn!). The closer you have your pickups to the strings, the better they will be able to "pick up" the movement of the strings as you play.

To adjust the height of your pick-ups, simply take a screwdriver and turn the screws! (usually in each corner of the pickup) tighten the screws to move the pickups away from the strings, and loosen them to move the pickups away.

After all this, your bass should be ready to play!

Enjoy :D
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