American Standard P-Bass

The Rising Popularity of the Bass Guitar

Winds of Change

Rack of bass guitars at Dave's Guitar Shop MilwaukeeWe’ve seen a major shift in the music landscape in the last three years, largely due to the increased interest in learning or relearning an instrument. If there is anything positive to take away from an international pandemic, it might be the reinvigoration of the music community. The isolative nature of the pandemic gave people the opportunity to reignite musical passions that may have been put on the backburner. Simultaneously, a tidal wave of new musicians has emerged, but you may be surprised to learn that many are not gravitating towards the guitar.

Bucking tradition, new players don’t necessarily revere legendary guitar maestros of the past the way they used to. The contributions of legends like Jimmy Page are well documented and certainly still celebrated, but it seems this new swath of musicians are more interested in the John Paul Jones story. More and more, we’re seeing new musicians' muse come from a place of thunder. The harmonic and rhythmic foundation of so many great bands, and a long underrepresented instrument in the music zeitgeist; all hail the bass!  


Before We Get Into It

This article may come off to some folks as an indictment of the guitar, but that is not at all what this is. Just so we are all on the same page, we’re still Dave’s Guitar Shop! The legendary “Mecca of the Midwest” for guitar players and collectors alike. We still love the six-string as much as we did 40 years ago, and that’s never going to change. 

Think of this as a love letter to an instrument that, for a long time, has been perceived as the “easy version” of playing the guitar. Bass is as much a part of the guitar family as a Ukelele or Mandolin, and should be shown the same kind of reverence for its contribution to modern music. We intend to highlight why the bass is so great, why the bass has gained so much popularity, and where to start if you’re new to the bass. So, let’s get started!


Basses to Know

Good guitar players can control the eyes of a crowd through technical precision and phrasing, but when a bass player is laying a groove, they control the audience in a visceral way. Bass frequencies can be physically felt, and have the power to compel a crowd to move be it dancing, flailing, moshing, or toe tapping. A seasoned bassist knows what kind of grooves to put down, but they also know what gear to use to elevate their tone. For the uninitiated, here are some important bass guitars to be aware of.

 

Fender Custom Shop Limited Edition 51' P-Bass Relic in Nocaster BlondeFender Precision Bass

Leo Fender had a knack for getting things right on the first try. Fender introduced the Precision Bass, colloquially known as the “P-Bass'' in 1951. Born out of the necessity for bass frequencies to cut through a mix in big band settings, this model stands the test of time because of its ease of use. Just plug in, and you get a fat, punchy tone that almost immediately sounds good.


Fender Jazz Bass

Who would have thought Jazz musicians would make things moreAmerican Ultra Jazz Bass in Texas Tea complicated (because of course they would.) The Jazz Bass was designed as a logical next step in Fender’s line of bass guitars. Jazz musicians were looking for a cleaner, more articulate sound from their basses. Additionally, Jazz Basses generally feature slimmer necks and narrower nut width than P-Basses, to accommodate the often complicated bass lines played by Jazz musicians. While their initial conception was with Jazz artists in mind, Jazz Basses have become synonymous with modern music, and is often the go-to for bass players far and wide. 


(Ernie Ball) MusicMan StingRay

It’s actually kind of hilarious seeing how important Leo Fender,Music Man StingRay Special 4 HH Bass in Pacific Blue Sparkle a non-musician himself,  was in the early days of electric guitar and bass. After selling his namesake to CBS in 1965, Leo was approached by Forrest White and Tom Walker of Tri-Sonix, which would eventually become MusicMan. Leo, in his quest for innovation in the music world, helped develop the StingRay; the first production bass to feature active electronics. This allowed for bass players to have a mix-cutting, scooped tone that places the bass foreword in a mix. The StingRay became a favorite amongst funk
artists and “slappers” for exactly this reason. 

Rickenbacker 4001/4003

This iconic bass was the second bass designed and built by Rickenbacker. Introduced in 1961, the 4001 bass added a neck pickup to their 4000 bass as a high-end appointment to the original design. The 4001 was in production up until 1981, and was then replaced by the 4003 which is still in production today. The 4003 shares much of the same DNA as the 4001, and variations on this model have been used by a wide array of musicians with wildly different styles including the likes of Paul McCartney and Lemmy Kilmeister.

Höfner 500/1 “Beatle” Bass

This violin shaped bass guitar is frequently replicated by various different brands and builders, but the iconic one is the 500/1 that Paul McCartney played in throughout the 1960's with a little band called The Beatles. Its hollow bodied construction gives it a sound that loosely references more traditional upright bass tones, while still maintaining the volume and punch of an electric bass. There is a natural grit present in its tone, so while it has its roots in the 1960’s, it has become synonymous with indie-alternative music. 

Why is Bass so Popular Today?

Bass in Pop Music

Painting with a broad brush, a majority of the chart topping hits you hear on the radio are also songs you might hear at a dance club. Generally they’ll share a common element; bass! Earlier, we expressed that bass tones create a visceral response to the listener, often eliciting physical movement in the form of dance. It’s no wonder Pop music leans so heavily on bass to create feelgood songs in heavy rotation. 

When the Disco movement made its debut in the discotheque and club scene of the 1970’s, it proved that drum and bass-driven music was here to stay. Groups like Chic, ABBA, and the Jackson 5 (to name a few) placed the bass guitar in the front of the mix, resulting in a trend that has persisted ever since. A modern example of this is  Dua Lipa’s song Levitating, which spent 70 weeks in the Billboard Hot 100 chart. That song prominently features a disco inspired bass groove with its own built in melody.

Bass is not suddenly popular, its presence in pop culture has persisted for the last 50 years. It’s not that people suddenly started playing the bass, it’s that a majority of the music that we consume is bass-centric. While many artists lean on larger than life personalities to market their music, the bass is foundational to the sounds they’re selling. 

 Mesa Boogie D-350 Bass Head

Social Media

It used to be that everyone wanted to be a guitar player or lead singer, and that’s not by accident. When bands market themselves they often highlight an individual in that group (think Angus Young,) because it’s easier for the audience to relate to one person instead of a whole group. In the age of information, every musician is accessible! If you like the way the bass sounds on The Beautiful Game by Vulfpeck, a quick Instagram search allows you to follow and interact with Joe Dart. Today, your favorite artists are just a click away, and as a result, instruments like the bass are gaining more and more notoriety. 

Secondly, while guitar is a staple of Rock and Roll’s history, our idea of “the guitar hero” isn’t the same as it was throughout the 60s, 70s, and 80s. The heroes of today aren’t legendary for playing sold out shows at Wembley Stadium, their audience is through the lens of a camera and distributed through phones and computer screens. Social media has brought fans closer to musicians’ personal lives than ever before, and created a meritocracy for what fans want to hear. Sure, guitar still dominates the digital landscape, but internet personalities like Davie504, Charles Berthoud, and juliaplaysgroove have created a platform for bass to flourish as more than it ever has.

Additionally, while it isn’t unique to the bass, every musician has a voice online. If you have a song that the world needs to hear, with the right recording equipment, creativity, and drive you too can take part in the cultural exchange of musical ideas. It doesn’t take much to find an unknown musician's rendition or cover of a popular song, or an original piece of music. There are so many creative voices in the world, and for the first time in human history, you could potentially hear them all!


Bassists you Should Know

Now you might be inspired to dip your toes in the world of bass, but maybe you don’t know where to start. That’s okay, Dave’s Guitar Shop has got you covered! We’ve compiled a short list of bass players that you should check out, the projects they’re a part of, and the type of bass they use. 

Flea - Red Hot Chili Peppers - Fender Signature Jazz Bass
Joe Dart - Vulfpeck - Ernie Ball MusicMan Stingray
Stephen Lee Bruner - Thundercat - Signature Ibanez 6-String Ibanez Bass
Steve Harris - Iron Maiden - Fender P-Bass
Victor Wooten - Various Artists - Fodera Ying Yang
Marcus Miller - Various Artists - Fender Jazz Bass 
Larry Graham - Graham Central Station - Moon Larry Graham Signature Jazz Bass
Tina Weymouth - Talking Heads - Höfner Club Bass
Kim Deal - Pixies - Ernie Ball MusicMan StingRay
Meshell Ndegeocello - Solo Artist - Reverend Signature Fellowship Bass
Pino Paladino - Various Artists - Ernie Ball MusicMan Fretless StingRay/Fender P-Bass
Tony Levin - King Crimson/Peter Gabriel - Ernie Ball MusicMan StingRay/Chapman Stick
Mohini Dey - Solo Artist -  Mayones Comodous MDi 5 
Tal Wilkenfeld - Jeff Beck - Sawdowsky Bass
Les Claypool - Priumus - Carl Thompson Custom Fretless Bass
Cliff Burton - Metallica - Modified Rickenbacker 4001
Adam Nolly - Periphery - Signature Dingwall Bass
Laura Lee - Khruangbin- SX J-Bass

 

If you're thinking about buying a bass, questions about gear, or just want to talk shop; give us a shout at any one of our four locations. We'd be happy to help in any way we can!


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