I'm a guitarist and bassist with over 35 years of experience as a musician.
Bass or Guitar?
If you are trying to decide between guitar and bass, then you have a lot of thinking ahead of you. Maybe you’re picking up an instrument for the first time and you’re having a tough time choosing which to learn. You may not know much about either instrument, and your mind may be filled with dozens of questions.
Rest assured: Even though this might seem like the decision of a lifetime, if you take a step back and think things through you can make the best choice for your situation right now, and worry about everything else later.
Or, maybe you already play guitar and your buddies are bugging you to switch to bass and join their band. This is a path many musicians follow when first deciding to pick up the bass guitar, this author included.
I played lead guitar for fifteen years before ever joining a band as a bassist, and it was really a hard decision. In this case, it’s very important to understand what you’re getting yourself into before you commit to a project and spend money on gear, only to end up regretting it.
In this article, we’ll examine the electric guitar and the electric bass guitar. With each, you'll earn some facts and information that will help you make the choice between two great instruments.
What’s the Difference Between Guitar and Bass?
If you are an absolute newbie to music you may not even understand the basic differences between guitar and bass. The two instruments are more similar than you probably realize.
Bass vs Guitar Tuning
The electric guitar is a six-stringed instrument, and standard tuning is E-A-D-G-B-E. That means the lowest string is tuned to the note E, the next to the note A, the next to D and so on. But knowing the notes isn’t really important right now, as much as understanding how the guitar and bass are related.
The standard bass guitar has only four strings and is a slightly larger instrument. The tuning of a bass guitar is the same as the lowest four strings of a regular guitar, except one whole octave down in pitch. Therefore, the strings of the bass guitar are tuned E-A-D-G, just like the lowest four strings on a regular guitar.
Similarities Between Guitar and Bass
In many ways, the bass is exactly the same as the guitar, except with two fewer strings and lower tuning. The same scales, chords and music theory you might learn on one carries over to the other. The two instruments are directly related.
This is important to realize because many players think they have to learn one or the other when first starting out. Realizing there is a direct correlation between the two might make your choice seem a bit less stressful. What you learn on guitar will apply to bass and vice versa. You can make the switch at any time.
Keep in mind, there are all kinds of different tunings used on both instruments and all kinds of variations of each instrument. There are 7- and 8-string guitars, and 5- and 6-string basses. Don’t let any of that worry you. Once you understand the basics of one instrument, the rest is easy to figure out.
The Role of Bass vs. Guitar
Even though both instruments are theoretically similar, sonically there are major differences. Also, their roles in modern music are usually very different.
One thing many young musicians wonder is why a rock band ever needs a bassist. I know I always did — until I became one. They’re just in the background, and many bands are so drum and guitar-heavy on their albums that you can’t even hear the bass.
This is especially true now that so many guitarists are detuning down to the frequencies once occupied only by the bassist.
In truth, while average bass players may be content with taking a backseat, a good bassist knows that his or her job is to carry the band. They provide the backbone that holds up the other instruments. In genres like jazz and blues, this means settling into a groove and working with the drummer. In metal and hard rock, it means supplying the meat of the guitar riff, that part of the sound that puts the audience through the back wall.
Good bassists are indeed very valuable, so if the bass is the path you decide on, then wear your choice proudly!
Guitar has a much more varied role than bass. Where the drums and bass are generally considered the “rhythm” section of a band, the guitar player has more freedom to go off-script with solos and embellishments.
Of course, in most genres, the guitarist needs to provide a certain amount of rhythm support too, but the whole band is less likely to go out of whack should the guitar player miss a beat.
Don't be confused by terms like "lead" guitar or "rhythm" guitar. Of course, these guys both play the same instrument, but lead and rhythm guitarists play different roles in a band. Lead guitarists are more likely to play solos and other intricate pieces, where the rhythm guitarist plays mostly chords. In many rock bands, two guitar players share these duties, or one player takes on both roles.
Guitarists are generally considered more musical than bassists, and in rock music, they tend to attract a great deal of attention. After all, it’s their riffs and solos that are most memorable in many forms of modern music.
To sum up: There’s a reason there is a video game called Guitar Hero and not one called Bass Hero. As a guitarist, your job is to write great riffs, play great solos, and know how to play rhythm when you need to. As a bassist, you need to be the driving force behind your band, and you’ll most likely be an unsung hero.
Remember, this is all very general. Many musicians have and will continue to push both instruments outside of their traditional roles. Try telling Geddy Lee of Rush or Steve Harris of Iron Maiden that they can’t write riffs like a guitar player, or tell Les Claypool of Primus that bassists can't be as musically expressive as guitarists.
Les Claypool and Primus
Which Is Easier, Guitar or Bass?
You may think that because the bass only has four strings that it’s an easier instrument to master, but that’s not necessarily true. Depending on what musical genre you’re interested in, and how hard you want to push yourself, both guitar and bass can be fairly easy or extremely hard.
Kurt Cobain proved you don’t need to be a good guitar player to succeed in rock. From that perspective, it’s pretty easy to learn a few chords and start writing songs on a guitar.
On the other hand, guys like Yngwie Malmsteen, Eddie Van Halen, and Jimi Hendrix made their marks by being great musicians and pushing the guitar to new heights. Looking at it from this angle, you could spend the rest of your life practicing and still never live up to your own expectations.
The same is true of bass. Sure, you can join a band as a bassist and, in some genres, as long as you play the right basic notes you’re doing all you need to do. Then again, if you want to play progressive rock or jazz, then you have a long road ahead of you as a bassist, and a lot to learn.
Physically, some newbies may find the guitar easier. The bass is a larger instrument, with thicker strings, and some new players struggle to fret the notes correctly. But if your heart is set on the bass, don’t let this stop you.
The verdict? If you just want to join a band and get playing as quickly as possible, then it is probably easier to be a bassist. But, if you’re really interested in mastering the instrument, neither is an easy choice. They are both extremely challenging if you want to be one of the best.
Nothing Yngwie Does is Easy
Let Your Personality Decide
Ultimately, you may want to make your decision after taking a hard look at your own personality. This might be the best way to decide if you’d be happier as a guitar player or a bassist. Consider the following:
Do you enjoy the spotlight? Are you a “Type-A” personality? Do you want to be the major creative force in your band, and write the majority of the music? Are you willing to put in the necessary time it takes to learn music theory? Is personal creativity and expression the main reason you are interested in music?
Or . . .
- Do you consider yourself unconventional, even among other unconventional people? Does being part of a team mean a lot to you? Does the rhythm of the music move you more than the melody? Does the enjoyment of working hard on something mean more to you than the accolades? Do you prefer to lay low rather than being the focus of attention?
If you said “Yes!” more often in paragraph #1 you might be happier as a guitar player. If paragraph #2 got more yesses then you could be better off on bass.
Once again, this is all generally speaking. There are plenty of bass players who are the focus of attention in their bands, and lots of guitar players who work on in obscurity.
Guitar vs. Bass Size
Up until this point this article has dealt with inspirational issues. I think it is important for new musicians to start out on a path that inspires them, even if that path eventually leads them somewhere they never expected. In the beginning, choose whichever instrument gets you the most excited!
Unfortunately, this advice still leaves some new musicians stumped. What if both guitar and bass get you equally fired up? Or, what you simply want to choose the instrument that gives you the best chance at success, with the understanding that you can learn the other later on?
In those cases, you may wish to consider some of the practical aspects of guitar and bass. The bass guitar is a bigger instrument, with thicker strings. This can make it a bit daunting for new players, especially smaller people.
Guitar and Bass Scale Length
The difference in size between guitar and bass is illustrated by a measurement called scale length. Put as simply as possible, the scale length is the distance from the end of the fretboard on your left (if you are a right-handed guitarist) to where the strings meet the bridge.
Put more accurately, scale length is calculated by measuring the distance between the nut and the middle of the 12th fret and then multiplying by two. But you don’t need to know that right now.
Here is what you do need to know: Most six-string electric guitars have a scale length measuring between 24.75 inches and 25.5 inches, where most four-string electric basses have a 34-inch scale length. That doesn’t mean bass guitars have more frets, necessarily. It just means the instrument is bigger.
There are also “short-scale” basses with a scale length of 30 inches. They’re smaller than full-size bass guitars, but still a bit chunkier than electric guitars.
If you are having trouble visualizing this, hop in a car and head on down to a local guitar store. Spend some time with both instruments. Hold an electric guitar on your lap, and then try a bass. Which feels more comfortable? You might find the bass is too large to manage. Or, it might feel perfect in your hands.
Let the person at the guitar shop know you are trying to decide between guitar and bass. Those folks are used to helping newbies choose their first instrument, so there is no reason to feel embarrassed by any questions you might have.
I hope you’re a little closer to making your decision. If you’ve already made your choice there is no point in delaying things. One of two things is going to happen here:
- You’re going to start learning an instrument, and never regret it. Maybe it will be guitar, or maybe it will be bass, and maybe you’ll switch in a few years. It doesn’t matter. Whatever you choose, get started in music. Because choice #2 isn’t the one you want to make.
- You’ll put off learning an instrument. You’ll procrastinate. It won’t happen this year. You’ll put it off again next year. Suddenly, one day, you’ll realize years of your life have passed, and you’ll find yourself wishing you had gotten into music long ago.
If that sounds harsh, it is meant to be. I do everything I can to encourage people to get into music because for me it was one of the best choices I ever made. I don’t care if you learn guitar, or bass, or the drums, or the bassoon. If you have a desire to get into music, do it!
As a new guitarist or bassist, your road is relatively easy (as opposed to learning the bassoon). There are excellent beginner guitars and bass guitars for beginners, and you can get an awesome starter amp for around $100. There are also starter packs that come with everything you need.
Should you take guitar lessons?
I advise at least considering it. After you have your instrument, you have to pick a path. Guitar lessons are not for everyone, but if you can find a good teacher and you learn well in that environment you will move along much faster on the instrument.
There are also many online learning resources available, and there's even software available for your computer. If you want to learn bass or guitar, you'll have a lot of help.
Once you’ve gotten started, the important thing is not to quit! Even if you only have a little bit of time to spend with the instrument every week, keep it up. Quitting is another regret you want to avoid!
Guitar and Bass Frequently Asked Questions
Got more questions? Here are more answers:
What’s the difference between bass guitar and lead guitar?
Bass guitar is an instrument whereas lead guitar is a role in a band, not an instrument. Very generally, we can generally divide guitarists into three groups: Lead guitarists, rhythm guitarists, and those who do both. Both rhythm and lead guitar players use regular guitars.
Are bass and guitar chords the same?
In the strictest sense, they are. Any chord you play on the lowest four strings on a guitar you can play on a four-string bass. However, because the bass has such a deep sound, chords can often sound muddy and inarticulate. For this reason, bassists fret the same chords slightly differently than guitarists.
Is the bass guitar a percussion instrument?
No, the bass is an instrument in the strings family, the same as the guitar. Percussion instruments are drums, xylophone, timpani, and similar. Some people may mistakenly think the bass is in the percussion family because it is so closely associated with a song’s rhythm.
Can bass guitar be played without an amplifier?
You can practice both bass and guitar without an amp. In fact, that is a good way to go about working on simple scale practice and dexterity exercises. You don’t need an amp for that. You may not even need an amp for playing in a band. The bass is an instrument that is sometimes run directly into the house system. I suggest at least using a direct box or pedal so you have some control over your sound.
Why is the bass guitar important?
The bass guitar is a key part of the rhythm section of a band. The bass works closely with the drummer to help form the backbone of the music. In addition, it adds depth and low-end to the sound. Without the bass, music would sound thin and lifeless. Unfortunately, the bass guitar is underrated by people who don’t fully understand its importance.
Guitarist or Bassist: What Does Your Future Hold?
Here are a few final things to consider:
Firstly, the instrument you choose today may or may not be the one you eventually go on to make your mark with. Plenty of musicians, this author included, play guitar and bass, and it’s great to be versed on both instruments. That way more opportunities are open to you when it comes to finding a band. It also helps you understand where the other guy is coming from when composing music together.
The point is, it’s good to be versatile. Right now, make the best choice you can between guitar and bass, but don’t feel like you can’t change your mind later on. And, don’t be afraid to learn both.
Know also that it doesn’t matter which you learn first. Because the tuning is so similar, much of what you’ll learn can transfer from one instrument to the other. In fact, most guitar instructors teach bass too.
Good luck on your journey to becoming whatever musician you are meant to be. There are no wrong choices, as long as you commit yourself to improve and learn, whether it’s on guitar, or bass, or both.
Bass vs Guitar
Michael James (author) on December 09, 2019:
@singerwithabass - Thanks for the kind words. What a great story you have! Thanks for sharing it. You are an inspiration!
singerwithabass on December 08, 2019:
What a great article! I really enjoyed it. I started playing bass 15 years ago, so happy I did. I was a mother of 2 young children and 38 (2004) years old. I was already a singer for about 15 years and wanted to play an instrument. I had played a bit of acoustic guitar for about 5 years but because I was a singer, I couldn't play without singing, therefore I never concentrated on the playing part. So I never got very good at it. My husband (guitar player) bought me a bass in 2004 and I decided to make a commitment to learn it. When I started, I couldn't even speak a word when I was playing, much less sing, so I was able to concentrate totally on the instrument. I spent about 30 min to an hour every day learning songs from tabs, cds, music books of songs I liked. My interest grew and grew. Within 2 years I was going to blues jams with my husband and finding other women to jam with (that was actually pretty difficult to find). My husband and I started a band in 2008 which we still have today. Flash forward 11 years, we currently gig about 20-30 times a year, have a successful 80s tribute band. I am a lead singer and bass player along with another lead singer and bass player. I get to do both. When I'm singing, the other player plays bass and vice versa. I'm able to sing backup vocals while I play. I consider myself an introvert but I love being the center of attention for short periods of time and I love being part of the backbone of the band. Bass is definitely my instrument. I only wish I would have started with it much sooner. I'm 53 now with grown children. My husband and I are enjoying empty nest life playing in our band. I consider myself a solid player with still so much learn and that's what I love about it, you can take the instrument as far as you want! There is always more to learn. I know that I will continue playing (and singing) as long as I am able to...60..70..100?
MegF27 on November 20, 2019:
Interesting article. I am seriously considering a bass guitar. I took lessons years ago and can read music but I am out of practice and never really felt comfortable playing the regular guitar. I learned keyboard as a child. Music will always be a hobby, since I just don't think I have a natural ability.
B A S S on October 21, 2019:
B A S S
Michael James (author) on September 02, 2019:
@SeleneMac - Is your goal to play guitar or bass? If your goal is to switch to guitar why not start with guitar? If you'd rather focus on bass first I suggest advancing beyond the beginner level before adding another instrument. This may take six months or a year, but many less, but it really depends on how fast you learn and how hard you work.
SeleneMac on September 01, 2019:
I want to learn both, and I have learnt piano and a bit of drums previously. I'm starting off with bass, and I'm trying to convince my friend who already plays to give me lessons (he's not patient enough but i'm getting there). How long do you think I'll be able to switch to guitar?
Rod on August 25, 2019:
Sounds good advice thank you
Godhimseelf on August 17, 2019:
If you chose bass, don't immediately try slapping or anything fancy. I'll admit, as a bassist i had it so easy starting off not needing to learn chords and fretting a million notes at once. The best thing you can do is start on really easy basslines and slowly go onto more intricate lines.
Michael James (author) on July 11, 2019:
Thanks, Dan, and good luck. Here is an article you might find helpful:
Dan on July 10, 2019:
Thanks a lot for the reply and words of inspiration! I will take that advice on board and use it to my advantage.
Great article by the way :)
Michael James (author) on July 09, 2019:
@Dan - If you are inspired by bass you should give it a shot. Take it slow and have realistic expectations and there is no reason you can't do it! In my opinion, there are few things in this life worse than regret. If you really want to play, you can certainly make it happen. Good luck!
Dan on July 08, 2019:
I wish I could play Bass. I got a guitar about 10 years ago but never really had the motivation to stick with it. I think, like most people, I expected results way too quickly and I needed to learn perseverance. I am a software developer, so for me, it was a major distraction from instruments.
As I get older (30's now) I am finding my love and appreciation of the bass guitar is growing very strong. Main influences for me are Duran Duran, Chic, Bernie Edwards (ofc) - So much talented musicians out there.
I like to think that the deep, thunderous bass touches the body and soul, while the guitar provides the mind journey with facemelting solos.
Rory Casey on June 10, 2019:
Learn to play the bass you will always be in demand there are not enough bass players around.
Michael James (author) on June 06, 2019:
@Chuck - Not exactly sure what you're asking. Are you saying they recommend a better quality bass over a Chinese-made bass? In my opinion there are some good instruments made overseas, especially for beginners and intermediate players.
If that's not what you mean please clarify.
Ash on June 05, 2019:
I wanna play bass 'cause of Mikey Way. But after I learn bass, I'm gonna learn guitar 'cause of Frank Iero, but I'm not going to play on the floor. The band MCR sparked my music. I kinda wanna learn bass first 'cause um, I originally played trombone, so yeah...kind of know how to hold a long instrument. (I'm really short, so I had to stretch to reach 7th position) And, low brass to bass. And I'm used to playing the bass-line, cause that's all the low brass would play. :)
Chuck on June 05, 2019:
the local music store put emphasis on the quality over non-Chinese made bass.comments?
Daniel Flaherty on April 29, 2019:
I've been playing Guitar since January of this year. I think its easier for me to learn how to play guitar since I know how to read sheet music in Treble clef because of playing Trumpet since 6th grade.
Michael James (author) on April 03, 2019:
@ Lil chicken strips - Nobody knows anything when they start. Just start somewhere!
Lil chicken strips on April 02, 2019:
im having a proplem myself idk if i should play gutar or bass but the problem is that idk how to play any of them
Steve from Brooklyn on February 16, 2019:
I saw on your first blog a gentleman, Sam Chapman, near my age, who was having some similar issues as I. Maybe my experience could help him. I also have a Strat. I almost gave up at first, but it's gets better the more you do it.
Michael James (author) on February 16, 2019:
@Steve - Good advice, and congrats on getting back into music! Thanks for sharing your inspirational story.
Steve From Brooklyn on February 15, 2019:
I played bass in a band when I was 15 - 18 years old. Regrettably, I stopped for 40 years! When I decided to return to playing, I knew I loved the bass, but would be mostly be playing alone. I taught myself acoustic 6 string, acoustic 12 and finally, at the old age of 68, got into electric! Love it. My first song - Jimi Hendrix's the Wind Cries Mary. (Hey, why start at the bottom.) Frustrating at first, but getting the first verse down.
I absolutely love it and do regret waiting so long to return, but it's never too late! My advice: Play and don't stop. Enjoy it. It's often frustrating, but the rewards outweigh the pain of learning.
Oh, I also returned to bass. I missed it too much!
Michael James (author) on February 01, 2019:
@Daniel - If you like bass you can certainly stick with it. You have plenty of time ahead of you to learn any instrument you want. Also remember that you can play more than one instrument. So, if you decide to learn guitar or keyboard or drums it doesn't mean you have to quit bass.
So there is no reason to feel pressure or confusion. Play the instruments you are interested in, practice every day, and everything will become clearer to you in time. Good luck!
Daniel on January 31, 2019:
I like bass because it is the first instrument I learnt to play on my own ,
unlike drum and keyboard I also like bass for the fills and gaps it occupies even if I am still confused plus Mr gopher I need your advice I'm still 14yrs and I am very determined .
Owen on December 03, 2018:
I like bass because of the feel that it makes
Michael James (author) on November 29, 2018:
@Kya - I think it's great that you intend to continue with music even after school. Good luck with your decision! Remember there is no wrong answer here and you can always learn the other (bass or guitar) later on.
Kya on November 29, 2018:
What a coincidence, I'm actually looking to transition from bassoon to bass or guitar!! (still deciding). Played for 6 years but now that I've finished school I can't use theirs anymore and I definitely can't afford my own yet (hopefully one day!). I really miss playing in a band though and want to play different genres of music, so hoping to start bass or guitar in the new year. I always loved the versatility of bassoon, you really get to play everything from bass lines and harmonies to the melody and some great solos, so I'm still having some trouble deciding between bass and guitar. Thank you for this article though, definitely gave me some new perspective and things to consider :)
Michael James (author) on November 26, 2018:
@Elston - Me too! He is a great musician and a huge influence for me as a bassist. I think new and experienced players alike can learn from him.
Elston on November 25, 2018:
I want to be steve harris
Michael James (author) on September 14, 2018:
Hi Lilli. Glad you are so excited about bass! In addition to the bass and amp you'll need an instrument cable, an inexpensive tuner and probably a strap if you intend to play standing up. You can get some guitar picks if you wish, though many bassists play with their fingers. You may also consider an instruction book, but I think new players can learn anything they need to know online for free. Good luck!
Lilli Schneider on September 13, 2018:
Very helpful and great article! Thanks for helping me choosing, I'm in love with the bass since my childhood, so I'm definitely going for BASS. Please what do I need to buy besides the bass and the amp, any other necessary purchase for a beginner? Thanks for answering me
Michael James (author) on September 06, 2018:
@Universe - If you think the singing is a key part of what you want to do, by all means experiment with bass and rhythm guitar until you find what you're looking for. It never hurt to be versatile, either.
I agree about the Painkiller solo. Amazing!
Universe on September 06, 2018:
I play both but I have decided to give more attention to the bass. I think that it serves the music and also I can sing with it while on guitar I would be constantly learning solos that for me always seemed to be just a rest from more interesting parts of songs (with few exceptions like amazing Painkiller solo). This would eat my singing routine time. If it turns out to be to hard to play bass and sing I will turn to rhytm-ish guitar. Any thoughts on that?
IHaveNoName on August 29, 2018:
I just prefer strumming and... why are bassists COOLER. I like classical, but my school only does bass so I will also learn bass, but I already know how play classical, Andy bass and classical are not that different.
Michael James (author) on August 24, 2018:
@George B - I think it is probably easier to go from guitar to bass. If you learn chords and scales and a little music theory on guitar it is easily applicable to bass. The same is true going from bass to guitar, but I think perhaps it won't be quite as clear.
Good luck, wherever you choose to start!
George B on August 23, 2018:
Hi, I'm one of those people who are planning to learn both bass and guitar. The question is, which instrument is easier to transition from? I'm torn, please help
Jimbo on August 01, 2018:
Very informative, thanks.
Michael James (author) on June 24, 2018:
Thanks for the kind words, Jake. I appreciate comments like this so much. I wish you the best of luck in learning guitar and acheiving your dreams.
Jake on June 23, 2018:
This is such a good article, a mouthful sometimes but an good one. It helped me realize I'd rather be a guitarist, I love the spotlight and I look up to guys like Kirk Hammet, thank you for inspiring me on my way to playing the best guitar ever. (I hope)
Wilson on May 22, 2018:
After playing bass in middle school and some of high school but losing interest due to a lack of connection with my teacher, I just started playing again a few months ago. Now I’m 19 with a fender jbass I had to force myself to pay for as motivation to get good, and I’m loving it! Obviously I’m still learning basically from scratch, but getting decent just from diligently playing at least an hour a day. I bought myself a cheap squirt strat a couple weeks ago just for fun and so I can have friends over to accompany me, but playing it myself has really helped my fingering on bass, as well as really understanding the concept of outlining chords
nick on April 02, 2018:
I've been playing rhythm guitar for a little over a year and a few guys asked me to be bassist in their band so we'll see what happens
Andrew on March 28, 2018:
Thanks for your positive article. It validated the choice I made to focus on bass for the next few years.
Ken Kopper on March 25, 2018:
Well I'm leaning toward Bass. I have an acoustic guitar but haven't done much with it. My personality seems to fit the bass. Plus I think I might like to experiment a bit more with the bass.
HeritageBoy on February 08, 2018:
Joe Dart from Vulfpeck makes me want to learn bass.
JJ on January 19, 2018:
I played lead and rhythm guitar for a long time, but was always fascinated with bass. I came up in the 6O's when Carol Kaye played the bass parts for the Temptations, Four Tops, Beach Boys and others. I loved that sound! Being that I have small hands, that presented a dilemma. I solved that with a short scale Epiphone EB-O which worked out quite well, once I got it set up correctly. It proved to be a great crossover instrument. I still play it, but I got the itch for a Fender Bass. I tried both the Jazz and Precision. The Jazz was easier with its narrow neck, but what I was really after was more the sound of an upright bass and the P-bass fit the bill! So I got one in 2014. Even though I've been playing most of my life, I still consider myself a newbie and always learning. I'm 64 now and still learning. I still love it. It puts me on cloud nine! You're never too old to begin!
Michael James (author) on January 11, 2018:
Thanks aaron! Good luck getting back to music!
Aaron on January 10, 2018:
Played bass years ago and just pulled it out again. I've always wanted to play the guitar too. I think I'll learn both. Great article, thanks.
Isaac on December 27, 2017:
Very informative and well written article...Thank you :-)
Michael James (author) on December 11, 2017:
@Ali - It sounds like you need to work on your right-hand technique (assuming you're a right-handed bassist). Many new players have the idea that to play clear-sounding notes they must pluck the strings carefully. That works, but as you describe you end up with a very weak sound. The way you pluck the strings has a direct impact on your tone, so try experimenting with different hand positions and don't be afraid to use a little more hand strength as you pluck the strings.
Alternatively, you can use a pick for a more aggressive sound. I know a lot of players prefer the sound playing finger-style, but I do think getting used to playing with a pick gives a bassist one more useful skill in the bag of tricks. Good luck!
Ali on December 10, 2017:
I play bass in my school and I just want to be a good bass guitarist and show everyone who's great at bass. My band agree that I play bass, but the problem is is that when I play, it is very quiet even if I put it at the loudest thing. I need your help Gopher.
Michael James (author) on November 13, 2017:
@Argonaut Octopus - I'm not familiar with that band, but I'll check them out if I get a chance. Thanks!
Argonaut Octopus on November 10, 2017:
Great article! I’m new to the world of music and this and many of your other works have given me tremendous insight.
Have you ever heard of Om? Their past albums only had a drummer and a bassist, and the bass fills the role of the guitar with a very unique distorted tone.
sdreamer on October 22, 2017:
I started out on guitar but want to learn bass in the future for two reasons:
1. It is WAY EASIER to join a band and make $$$ since bass players are in short supply and high demand just as drummers are. Every kid wants to play lead guitar but few want the bass.
2. I love hard hitting bass grooves from rock and metal. They drive the sound of the music.
So probably want a seven or eight string guitar and hard hitting six string bass in the future!
fghhh on September 18, 2017:
I play both, and guitar is much harder to learn, but in a different way.
If you like songs with certain bass / guitar parts
Then you will learn more quickly, because you really want to learn that part. And before you know it, you start playing better each day. So first play songs you like, instead of playing chords from paper.
adam kent on July 10, 2017:
Moo it's not as easy as a transition as you may believe.
Michael James (author) on July 04, 2017:
@Sonu: Neither is easy. However, depending on what kinds of music you are interested it, you may be able to get into a band quicker as a bassist.
Mahoor on May 08, 2017:
it was helpful for me. Thank you
Michael James (author) on February 22, 2017:
Thank you so much for the kind words, Monte! I appreciate it!
Monte Walsh on February 21, 2017:
In my previous post, I neglected to commend the author for a very good article. Forgive my lack of social manners! Thank you for providing interesting information and insight. I hope you continue to write articles like this, it keeps people interested in playing!
Monte Walsh on February 20, 2017:
Speaking from experience here. Learn to play both guitar and bass. Acoustic guitar and electric guitar. Jazz, rock, country, blues, metal if you must. Learn different styles, even ones you don't like. Learn the keyboard, learn theory, learn to read. Learn to sing lead and harmony. Be a musician. Just about anyone can think they sound good on high gain, so clean it up, play the blues, play country. Stevie Ray is clean. Get good at rhythm guitar, most don't. Learn to lay down a bass line that rules the band. Work with the drummer. Play less but better notes, both bass and lead. Who is really better, van Halen or BB King? Both are great, but who captures more emotion? And have fun!
Derek on February 13, 2017:
I thought this article was misleading. The fretting and tunings of the two instruments and the fact that you must learn scales on both are about where the similarities between guitar and bass stop. A great bassist may never learn to play guitar, as guitar requires a study of chords (harmonies between multiple notes being strummed at the same time). A "boring" bassist can hear or read the chords the guitarist is playing and hold down the root note between the melody and drums, but a competent bassist understands the modes, how to play scales over the chords, when to fill, how to fill, how to shift the feel of the groove and how to "speak" to the drummer and guitarist to affect the momentum. The dedicated guitarists I meet frequently don't know what to do on a bass. In fact, a study of either instrument can take a lifetime just in terms of technique, let alone which theories are needed to become proficient. I'd argue that chording on a guitar has its own vast technical challenges as you're transitioning the position of all four fingers of the left hand and often fingering or picking with the right in complex patterns, and even an amazing bassist can NOT just switch over to the guitar and make it work.
Bringing up 80's rock as an example is about the worst way to demotivate anyone looking to play bass. What about songs like Hysteria by Muse, or Red Hot Chilli Peppers, where Flea is extremely melodic, or Victor Wooten who brings an array of techniques to a different level? I would bet money that the most accomplished guitarists can't just switch to bass and do what these bassists do. Look at at Tal Wilkenfeld. She's so young, but plays with Beck and Herbie Hancock.
It's really important to keep an open mind and try both instruments, but eventually the truth is that whichever one you pick, it will be really hard work to be good enough to play with other musicians. If you feel marginalized by your group, maybe they're holding you back - or maybe you need to push yourself harder. I highly recommend lessons for anyone at any stage of your career in music. Even the pros practice multiple instruments, but they definitely aren't easily interchangeable.
Michael James (author) on January 03, 2017:
Thanks, Saurabh, and good luck!
Saurabh on January 02, 2017:
Thanks to your article, I am sure that I want to pursue the bass!
Michael James (author) on November 28, 2016:
Thanks rockbass. I think Les Claypool is a pretty respectable bass player, no?
rockbass2560 on November 28, 2016:
A good complement for this video would be adding a video with a good bass player.
Michael James (author) on October 31, 2016:
Hi Wizard: Thanks for the kind woards! The reason some people might feel bass is boring to play alone is because a bassline in a song is usually a repetitive, supportive part of the music. You can make things more interesting by cranking up the song you are playing on your home audio system and playing along. Or, you can learn stand-alone pieces or tunes that focus more on the bass to make it more interesting. Some bassists even learn classical music written for cello or other string instruments.
You can do whatever you want. Bass doesn't have to be boring!
Wizard on October 31, 2016:
Hi,I really enjoyed your article.
But i am still confused whether to choose guitar or bass.Some people say its boring when you play the bass alone and I am not planning to play for a band.So should i take up bass?
Michael James (author) on October 14, 2016:
@Fire: You have to choose whichever you think you'll like better. I can't answer that one for you. Good luck, and remember you can always learn both!
Fire on October 13, 2016:
Hello,I am not planning to play for a band.So should i choose to learn a guitar or a bass? Thanks.
Michael James (author) on October 12, 2016:
Hi About to Change etc: Two pretty famous guys I think of right off the bat who played bass, sang and had solo careers are Sting and Paul McCartney. Of course they had backing bands behind them. If you are talking about playing bass only and singing, that's a tougher order but I don't see why you couldn't do it.
I listened to Royal Blood, whom I had never heard of before. The bassist is basically performing more in the role of rhythm guitarist. I actually liked them quite a bit, and they have a very unique sound. However, on live recordings they do sound somewhat thin, like a band without a bassist.
Point is, playing bass isn't just about what the instrument is supposed to do, but about what the bassist actually does. Compare that to Primus and Les Claypool, who has a similar role in his band as a bassist and even uses many of the same distorted sounds as the guy in Royal Blood. But, he still manages to hold down the bass's role in the music.
Both approaches are unique and effective. There are no "wrong" answers, and if you see a path on bass I highly encourage you to follow it. As the dude in Royal Blood shows, you don't have to follow tradition to create great music. Make it your own and break down some boundaries. It's more fun that way anyway! :-) Good luck!
About to change musical direction on October 11, 2016:
Hi, thoroughly enjoyed your article and all the comments, too.
I have a background in violin and guitar, and be background I mean "I played awfully for a year or two". I stuck to piano on and off over the last five years, but just for the sake of plonking chords to accompany my songwriting.
I'm tired of being a better singer and writer than an instrumentalist, and I'm also tired of being dependent on a massive wooden thing I can't carry around (and I refuse to play a keyboard because I don't believe beggars can't be choosers haha).
So... the guitar.
Now I'm definitely not an acoustic girl. It'll never be me.
I remember being enchanted by electric guitars when I was 11 and feeling hope well up in my throat when I thought about playing. Funny how we forget dreams.
So your article was perfect because I recently learned that Royal Blood plays their main stuff on the bass. I think their album is pure gold, and the perfect proof of how effective simplicity can be.
So I guess my question is this:
Have there ever been bassists who were solo and sung? Sure, I'm reading about people who became stars in bands - but can one be solo with a bass? Is that a silly concept?
I like a challenge, and I'm not expecting to be performance ready any time soon. In fact I want to make this my lesson in consistency and patience. But I just wondered if it's a silly idea, as I know next to nothing abou guitars.
Also: I do lots of recorded a cappellas that are quite haunting, dark and deliberately empty - considering that, would a bass be enough? I'm not planning on doing happy full songs, but alternative stuff, hopefully with the occasional looped vocal for live performances (not too much, just enough for support). Do let me know what you think :)
Michael James (author) on September 10, 2016:
@MadKiwi: Certainly it would be a bit easier to learn guitar if you already know bass. Although, theory-wise, I think it is easier to learn bass after guitar. You'll still have some work to do learning guitar if you already know bass, and I wouldn't say it will be super easy, but you will have a good head start. Good luck!:
@Shelleyskydoe: Thanks for the kind words! Good luck with your decision.
MadKiwi on September 10, 2016:
Thanks for this article. I am going to take up Bass, because as much as I love hearing all the full on guitar solos from my heros, I've always really felt the basslines coming through. I would like to learn guitar in the future also. Do you think it would be fair to say that it would be easier to learn guitar after learning bass? Basically if you can master the 4 strings, adding another 2 shouldn't be hard ( rythym guitar wise at least). Is this a fair call? Thanks
Shelleyskydoe on September 10, 2016:
I play guitar and have played bass, but don't know if I'm willing to buy a new electric guitar or electric bass. So far I want both, but thinking of getting guitar first. Good article by the way.
Michael James (author) on August 31, 2016:
"Bassists are just cooler guitarists" - I think that needs to be on a t-shirt, Felix! :-)
Felix on August 30, 2016:
I am a bassist.
Not because I was a terrible guitar player, and had to change to bass. I WANTED to play the bass. But as a bass player, I don't want to be overlooked or cast aside. I'm the kinda bassist that gets your attention. The secret is yo get a nice, bright, punchy bass tone. You can use pedals, finger techniques to achieve this. Take Geddy Lee for example; he gets more attention that his guitarist, yes because he sings, but also because of his tone.
So bassists: don't be marginalized! Don't stay in the dark, assume your position! After all, bassists are just cooler guitarists.
Michael James (author) on August 22, 2016:
Hi Jarod. Picking up up guitar can certainly help expand your horizons and get you out of this funk. However, if you really like bass there are many musicians and genres that go much further than those boring, repetitive basslines. You might consider looking deeper into bass and finding those musicians who really push the boundaries of the instrument. Bass doesn't have to be boring! Good luck whatever you decide.
Jarod on August 21, 2016:
I'm glad I read this article. Recently I have been getting a bit bored with bass just because so many of the riffs are simple in the songs I want to learn. I have debated picking up a guitar and seeing if I could find some music that is fun to play or at least different, but I didn't want to feel like I was giving up on bass and all my time was wasted. The way you put it, it sounds like the transition will not be too hard and it will open many doors for new songs. I hate it when You hear a song on the radio you really like but you find the bass tab and it is the same four notes being played 8 beats again and again. It's is just boring to play that especially for someone like me who isn't in a band or planning on joining one. I think the guitar will work better for someone who likes to play alone often. And there is so much similarity I won't have to quit bass altogether and I can still use my old amp and stuff.
Michael James (author) on August 21, 2016:
Good luck, Elizabeth! And I'm glad this article helped you make your choice!
Elizabeth on August 20, 2016:
This was insanely helpful. I was planning on playing guitar anyways, but this made me sure. I mean, the main reason I chose to play violin instead of chello (my choice before I switched) was because I love playing the melody. I guess it makes sense, right? I'm going to try to convince my friend to play bass (she hasn't ever played), so wish me luck! And thank you.
Random Guy on July 04, 2016:
Michael James (author) on July 04, 2016:
Hi Random Guy. It's all part of the process unfortunately. Your hands will eventually toughen up, but for now take it easy and give them a chance to heal. If the issue is primarily with your plucking hand you can switch to a pick for a while. It's good to have pick skills even if you intend to play with your fingers. Hang in there!
Random Guy on July 03, 2016:
It's been about a week since I started practicing and I'm fascinated by what sounds a bass can produce! But I can't practice now because my fingers start blistering and hurt after playing for a while. Is this normal or am I doing something wrong? How can I prevent the pain and ''heal'' my fingers?
Michael James (author) on June 25, 2016:
@Random Guy again: If you mean you are using an aux-in to play music through your bass amp then most likely no, it will not sound as good as through regular stereo speakers. Bass amps are made to work with bass guitar frequencies. If you have a larger one with a tweeter it would sound better, but a basic 15-watt bass practice amp will be a little lacking in reproducing the full sound spectrum.
Michael James (author) on June 25, 2016:
@Random Guy: I'd have a local guitar shop check out your rig. The bass likely needs a setup which ought to eliminate the fret buzz. Even expensive basses often need a little tweaking right out of the factory. I think that pack comes with a Rumble 15 amp, right? I have one of those and its a pretty decent little practice amp. The hum is possibly due to the bass, not the amp. Again, I'd have a local tech look at it and see what they think. The hum may be a faulty ground wire or something, but Precision basses are sometimes a little noisy so it may just be par for the course.
I wouldn't quit on bass just because gear is giving you headaches. That kind of goes with the territory for both guitar and bass. You have to do what makes you happiest.
Random Guy on June 25, 2016:
Sorry to bother again, but I figured out the problem and gave the bass for repairing. I also bought an aux cable to play along with, but it doesn't sound really good and it doesn't catch some frequencies. Is this how it works, or does the amp need fixing too?
Random Guy on June 24, 2016:
Sorry to bother you but i decided to get a bass guitar. It's the Squier Affinity P Bass Pack. I really like it for it's price. But the amp gives me a disturbing hum and the frets buzz (not the Harris clicky sound). Is this supposed to happen? Also I really like playing it but I still feel nostalgic about guitar. So should I get the bass fixed up or sell it and get an Epi Les Paul?
Michael James (author) on June 24, 2016:
You're welcome, Random Guy, and good luck! Always feel free to post a question in the comments section of any of my articles. I do my best to respond as soon as possible.
Random Guy on June 23, 2016:
Thanks a lot. I really appreciate your response and think you are right. Bass seems like a lot of fun so let's go with it. I already knew that sooner or later I'd have a second instrument, I just didn't know where to start.
And after this, I know whom to ask for advice.
Thank you a lot.
Michael James (author) on June 23, 2016:
Hi Random Guy. If you love Iron Maiden you might really enjoy starting on bass. Steve Harris is one of the best rock bassists of all time, and 'Maidens music has some amazing bass lines that are a lot of fun to play (and very challenging at times).
But really the choice is up to you. Remember that what you decide now doesn't have to be what you stick with forever. Maybe you'll end up playing both, so for now choose whichever gets you the most excited and learn the other in a year or two. It's not like if you choose bass now you can never, ever play guitar.
It's all a journey. Make the best decision you can right now, and adjust later on. Good luck!
Random Guy on June 22, 2016:
Hey Guitar Gopher,
First of all, I love your articles and you've helped me a lot, but I still can't decide between bass and guitar.
I recently took up acoustic guitar, a bit later, a friend introduced me to metal.
For about 5 months, I was planning to buy an electric guitar, buy then I discovered how fun bass is.
The problem here is that I like getting attention but I also think bass is very interesting too.
I'm going to purchase the instrument (I don't know which one) very soon and would like to know what you think. I really love Iron Maiden and they're the main reason why I want to pick up an instrument.
If I go with guitar, I have decided to buy ab Epiphone Les Paul Standard, and the bass I'd go with is a Squier Vintage Modified P Bass.
Would love to know what you think.
Thanks in advance.
Michael James (author) on June 15, 2016:
Hi graceepoc! Awesome to see you're going to start playing bass. I don't think you have to jump through all of these hoops though, unless you truly feel like learning uke and acoustic guitar. What not follow your dream and start learning bass right now?
As for reaching chords, it's not something you should let deter you. Even guys with big hands don't expect to be able to fret chords and scales the same way on bass as they do on guitar. Bass chords don't exactly mirror guitar chords, even though the theory is the same. There are work-arounds, and ways to play that are most efficient for your abilities. You'll still want to learn to stretch as far as you can, but trying to use the same fretting-hand technique on bass as on guitar isn't always realistic for anyone, let alone newbies.
You can do it if you put in the work. I say go for it and never look back. Good luck!
graceepoc on June 14, 2016:
Absolutely loved this article! I've been playing the piano for 7 years, but playing the bass has been a big dream of mine. I picked up the ukelele just to get my fingers used to the strings, and I'm starting my transition over to the acoustic guitar. Which hopefully will allow me to be prepared for the bass!
I'm concerned though about what you say about the bass's strings being thicker and harder to fret clearly. My hands aren't necessarily small, but I have trouble reaching chords because I'm not quite used to it yet. Should I be worried about starting the bass one day because of reaching the chords?
Michael James (author) on May 31, 2016:
Hi Gary! Bassists are often relegated to a utilitarian role in the band, but it doesn't have to be so. Some jazz bassists are the leaders of their group and the focal point. In rock music the guitar often takes the stoplight, but some rock bassists are the primary songwriters and the best musicians in their bands.
Really, its up to you. As with any instrument, you can go as far as your ambition and talent takes you. If your dream is being the star of your band as a bassist, there is no reason you can't do that.
Gary on May 31, 2016:
I used to play the violin and thinking to switch either bass or guitar. In my place most guys play guitar and piano and i tried to learn guitar and works quite nice. Still i wonder if I should try the bass since it would look not so mainstream but do bassist really like have no attention when it comes to audiences? Kinda worries me since i kinda like in a spotlight and kinda not an trying to be different than my friends who mostly played the guitar, need advice from you! P.s nice article it really does help to sort things up!
noble on April 23, 2016:
this helped a lot i think ill start with bass thanks bra
Michael James (author) on January 19, 2016:
You're right anony. That part is meant as food for thought. I'd bet there are a lot of introverts that love guitar.
anony on January 18, 2016:
i don't think that section about personality is entirely accurate. I'm more of an introvert yet I still think I would still prefer the guitar
Michael James (author) on January 10, 2016:
Hi Jordan. I remember being very confused about the difference between guitar and bass when I was a kid too. That's one of the reasons I wrote this article. Thanks for the kind words!
Jordan from Denver, CO on January 09, 2016:
If only I had been able to read this article when I was 13. I bought a bass guitar before even really knowing the true difference between that and a regular six string. Long story short I ended up returning the bass in exchange for a regular guitar. While I still love bass and thinks it's extremely fun to play, it's just not as satisfying as a six string.