History of Electric Bass – The Origin and Evolution

History of Electric Bass – The Origin and Evolution

The musicians and double bass players of the time.

We talk about history and the bass enters the 1930s. The electric bass first appeared as the solution at a time when the weight, volume of, and problems and comforted its predecessor, the electric bass, and the bass of two kinds.

Before we are forced to do this and on the history of poor people’s paragraphs for the pleasure of what you are curious about the bass, the electric bass?
And an electric bass

Electric guitar and bass O Lord, and there is a bulky and cumbersome tool in the melodic sounds with a characteristic noise chosen this kind of music.
It is usually 4 to stretch the strings, the guitar is much longer than the most similar to, and despite quite thick and unquestionable.

It should be noted, that this must be the explanation of the material, it is said, what has been talked about composite transducers or electromagnetic Pickups, which are responsible for the vibration of the strings in electric and beckons to the sound of those who undertook it turns into something on his desk.

Having said that, we can delve deeper into the origins of the electric bass and the rapid formation and incredible evolution of the day.
In addition to the four strings, its very well known tool? When we see the first time, the basketball authors O? What was your evolution?

As we have already mentioned, the origin of the bass can be found in the double bass. An acoustic orchestral instrument of large dimensions, generally played standing up, and played with a bow or with the fingers.
Although, more than its origin, it is correct to say that the bass descends from the double bass. Because its birth is due to the need to include bass and rhythmic sounds in modern music, through a more compact, economical and easy to play instrument.
But, of course, it was not easy to invent it, much less to make it popular among the musicians and double bass players of the time.
Stages and protagonists in the history of the bass guitar
To talk about the history of the bass, and any other amplified instrument, we should go back to the invention of electricity.
Similarly, we would have to talk about the origin of instruments, the importance of luthiers, and even the materials used to make strings.

We could spend hours documenting the history of any instrument. Therefore, we are going to summarize the history of the bass through the most important stages and protagonists of the four strings:

Events in the history of the bass guitar
As we have just seen, the history of the bass begins to be forged from 1920, although it is not until the 50’s that it starts to be used.
That is why we can consider it (relatively) as a new instrument. In fact, as the contemporary instrument with the widest range in the whole 20th century.
It is true that the electric guitar is capable of matching the success of the bass guitar. But it does not change much with respect to its predecessor the acoustic Spanish guitar, and the bass, as such, did not exist before.
So, we will now review the most important events in the history of the electric bass, from its initial rejection to its establishment as an essential instrument.
Events that, as you will see, make the history of the bass guitar worthy of mention in any music school.

The shortcomings of the double bass appear
The first electric double bass is born
The first solid body electric bass is invented.
First mass-produced bass: Precision Bass
Leo Fender positions the bass on the music scene
Bass performance increases: Jazz bass
The electric bass starts to become popular with Motown
James Jamerson, the Father of the electric bass appears
Paul McCartney’s media hype and Rock influence
The slap in the face of classical technique
Jaco Pastorius, the King of the Electric Bass appears
New styles culminate the positioning of the bass in music

The double bass

Despite having more than 500 years of history, the double bass began to stand out in the early twentieth century in the United States thanks to the evolution of modern music, and its enormous popular diffusion.
Due to its great musical contribution, it gradually began to cross the borders of orchestras, to become an essential instrument in new musical styles such as jazz, rock’n’roll or rockabilly.

However, as it gained prominence, it also showed certain shortcomings and drawbacks (especially in relation to comfort and volume).
So, in the same way that happened with acoustic guitars, the low sonority of the double bass compared to other instruments, limited its functions to little more than accompaniment.

The Electric double bass

At the beginning of the 20’s there were already several Luthiers who studied how to increase the sonority of the guitar, without the need to enlarge the dimensions of the instrument, and this is where the first protagonist in the history of the bass comes into the scene: Lloyd Loar (Gibson engineer and luthier), who in the early 1920s began to think about how to solve the problem of sound power. Taking advantage of the benefits of electricity, and after several experiments with magnets, in 1924 designed the first pickups that could be attached to the body of a conventional guitar, thus converting the vibrations generated in the body of the instrument into electrical signals that could be amplified by a loudspeaker.

First electric double bass in history

In the same year, Lloyd Loar thought about how to take advantage of this on the double bass. And so he presented a prototype electric double bass to be amplified, an instrument of vertical and semi-solid body somewhat smaller, which mounted a electrostatic pickups . But Gibson was not interested in the idea commercially , and it remained an idea or prototype (probably due to its dirty sound because there was no technology capable of properly amplifying the low frequencies), however, today it is known as the first electric double bass in history. In addition to being the starting point for several brands to experiment with their own models in the following years.in fact, among them was Gibson itself. Although, perhaps, the most notorious proposal was that of Rickenbacker with its models of the ” Electro Bass Viol “. A kind of double bass with a reduced body that included some pickups, and used its own amplifier as a support.

Electro Bass-Viol

Electric bass of the prestigious Rickenbacker brand introduced in 1936.

Paul Tutmarc and the first electric bass of the history

Despite all the advances and experiments that were made from the Lloyd Double Bass, no brand managed to establish this instrument in the music scene, in fact, all models were still designed to be played horizontally. But this changed in the 1930s, when Paul Tutmarc (American guitarist) used all these ideas to develop what is now known as the first electric bass in history: The Audiovox Model 736 Bass Fiddle . This instrument featured a short scale neck (30.5″), 16 frets, 4 strings, 1 magnetic pickup and was finally intended to be held and played horizontally . Undoubtedly, a design inspired by the advantages of electric guitars, which solved the problems of space, transport and comfort , besides being able to be amplified.even, by including frets, it allowed better find the notes and play it accurately and in tune.a success, right? Well, unfortunately, his idea of a “bass guitar” was hardly accepted among the double bass players of the time, and was a commercial failure.

Leo Fender and the current electric bass

Quality? unattractive design? little commercial influence? lack of commercial promotion? whatever the case, if anyone has gained worldwide recognition (in part deserved) for creating the first great electric bass in history, it is Leo Fender, and it is thanks to the famous ” Fender Precision Bass “.But he also developed a key piece in the success of the electric bass: a amplifier capable of reproducing bass frequencies with greater clarity, and called Fender Bassman . Now yes, a success, isn’t it? Well, either.

Fender Bassman

Bass-optimized amplifier, introduced together with the Precision Bass.

Leo Fender’s commercial success

Like Tutmarc’s first bass, Leo’s bass was also considered too transgressive . Guitarists saw it as a weird guitar, and double bass players considered it a small, insubstantial and strange instrument.
The truth is that one of the greatest acknowledgements that can be made to Leo Fender is his promotional work for the bass. For, even though it was not welcomed at its launch, he moved insistently to present the advantages of his new instrument.
Leo listened to the problems of the musicians, and started attending concert venues to show the advantages of his electric bass: The perfect solution to cover the low frequencies without the need of the heavy and dull double bass.
In addition, given the high number of guitarists, they had more and more competition and the bass was presented as an alternative to be part of a band.
He found the golden opportunity when he presented his Precision Bass to Lionel Hampton (Jazz musician, singer and bandleader), and the band’s bassist, Roy Johnson, gave it a try.
From that moment on Hampton, with Monk Montgomery as bassist (guitarist who replaced Roy), began to give his concerts with electric Bass instead of Double Bass. And, although Montgomery was not a great bass player, he became the first great forerunner of the Fender electric bass.

Monk Montgomery

Considered the first bass player in history playing with Lionel Hampton’s orchestra.

The perfect alliance: Precision and Rock&Roll

The move to include a bass in a jazz band created such a buzz that, even though it was in the shadow of the double bass, this instrument finally made its way into the music scene of the time.
Until Rock&Roll arrived. That new style that began to reveal itself with powerful and rebellious sounds.
A style that did not conform to the musical patterns of the time, and of course the double bass performance was not enough.
And who was his great ally in the bass? Of course, the volume, precision and sound versatility of the Fender Precision Bass .

The success of the Leo Fender Electric Bass

Thanks to the early acceptance of the Leo bass, Jerry Lee Lewis (considered one of Rock’s most influential pianists and singers) was one of the first to add it to his cast of instruments.
Even Elvis Presley’s bassist , Bill Black, began using the Precision Bass not only in live performances, but also in studio recordings.
(tixagag_8) Bill Black in Concert

In the picture we see Elvis Presley himself in concert, with Bill Black on… Electric Bass! a beautiful ’51 Precision Bass.
And this was not just anything. Because such was the success of Elvis worldwide that, in the background, the electric bass had the perfect promotion to become an instrumental trend.
Thus, and how could it be otherwise, musical styles such as the Blues did not take long to incorporate the Fender Bass to their musical projects.
In addition, the trend of high volume propelled by Rock, also began to become popular. Thus, amplified music started to become a worldwide standard.
A new trend that only the electric bass was able to keep up with, leaving the double bass increasingly behind.

The 60’s: the Fender Jazz Bass and the Father of the Bass

The success of the electric bass did not go unnoticed by the competition, and until the end of the 50’s several brands appeared that also launched themselves into this market niche, such as Rickenbacker and Höfner. Although it was in the early 60’s (coinciding with the rock boom) when the number of companies mass producing electric basses expanded, Leo Fender had already planned and articulated his next key move in the history of the bass: the Fender Jazz Bass. The Jazz Bass, introduced in 1960, took as a reference for its name its sister Jazz Master guitar, and was created as a Premium model of the Precision Bass.This instrument had a narrower neck to gain agility and speed in playing; two single pickups (one for bass near the neck, and one for treble near the bridge); an asymmetrical body; and finally 4 controls (although this was only on the first model. Later on, 3 controls were left: one for each pickup, and one that controlled the overall tone). Without a doubt, this bass was a nod to Jazz guitarists and bass players, who were looking for more performance in the electric bass. The J-bass offered an exahusive control of the instrument, offering a great versatility when configuring its sound.

But we don’t want to dwell on the characteristics of the first Fender basses. Because that’s why we wrote this article in which we tell you all the details and differences between Precision and Jazz bass.

We simply want to highlight that, such was the success that both Fender basses reached, that they have even marked the bases of design and construction of hundreds of bass models, becoming a manufacturing standard for manufacturers.But of course, the stage of the 60s was not only marked by the Fender Jazz Bass:

    • The “Motown Sound”
    • Bassist James Jamerson
    • Paul McCartney’s influence

Rock’s final blow

Fender Jazz Bass 1960

Fender’s second electric bass that offered unique versatility and sound control. A big draw for guitarists and jazz musicians.

The role of the Electric Bass at Motown

At the end of the fifties (in 1959) Motown Records was founded, a record company specialized in African-American popular music, and during the whole decade of the 60’s it was so successful that they even managed to differentiate themselves through their own sound: the “Motown Sound”, and if we had to highlight one of the great protagonists of this “Motown Sound”, it would be without any doubt the electric bass. And the fact is that, with the appearance of the new Jazz Bass, many Motown studio musicians began to experiment with the possibilities offered by the bass, musicians who, despite not being bassists, soon specialized in this instrument (such as Carol Kaye), and created a style of bass lines so significant that were positioned as a musical reference of the time. But this did not happen just because. Everything has an origin, and in the case of influential bass lines of the Motown Sound has its own name: James Jamerson.by the way, the fact that the first to play the bass were many guitarists, made them make use of the pick, and not just the fingers as Leo predicted (remember that his first bass had a piece to support the hand and play with the thumb).

Carol Kaye

Pictured here is Karol Kaye playing a Precision Bass with pick, who despite being a guitarist finally chose the bass as his main instrument. So, ladies, gentlemen, here is the first female bass player in the history of ” patrialbajo

The Father of the Electric Bass: James Jamerson

James Jamerson is considered to be the father of the electric bass guitar.An extraordinarily talented double bass player, who in the early 60’s traded the double bass for a Fender Precision Bass (played with only one finger).

James Jamerson

He played with only his index finger, never changed his strings unless they broke, and when he went out of tune they called in another musician (sometimes his own son).This excellent musician was noted for being the bassist of the (unnamed) studio band ” The Funk Brothers “, which worked with Motown from its inception, and is largely responsible for its signature sound. In fact, this formation has been responsible for so many “number ones”, that not even artists of the caliber of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones or Elvis Presley, are able to surpass it together, so James Jamerson (being the most prominent musician of this group) is responsible for the bass lines of numerous musical hits such as:

    • My Girl (The Temptations)
    • Ain’t No Mountain High Enough (Marvin Gaye)

I Was Made To Love Her (Stevie Wonder)

Thanks to these, and many other lines, for the first time in history the electric bass sounded by itself. So much so that even another great genius, Paul McCartney, took it as a reference without even knowing of Jamerson’s existence. Why is that?
As a curious fact, don’t look for James Jamerson’s name in the credits of the recordings, because Motown didn’t include them anywhere (at least until the early 70’s).

The bass becomes popular with Paul McCartney

If Leo’s commercial work in the 1950s, or the musical influence of artists such as Elvis Presley, made the electric bass recognized among musicians, the musical revolution of The Beatles, and the extraordinary work of Paul McCartney, positioned it in the ears of the whole world.

Paul McCartney

When the electric bass had already made a niche for itself among musicians, the international success of The Beatles arrived, and with it the public presentation of the bass in the hands of the great McCartney, and the media success of the band made the electric bass so popular outside the professional world that more and more people wanted to play it. Thanks to Jamerson’s influence, McCartney began to experiment with the electric bass in the mid-sixties, resulting in melodic and creative lines that finally took the instrument out of the background.By the way, as you may have seen in the picture, the bass is not a Fender. Paul McCartney was the first famous bass player who did not appear with one slung over his shoulder. sound? personal brand? marketing strategy?

Rock settles the importance of the bass guitar

Thanks to all these events, by the end of the sixties the electric bass was already a fully integrated instrument in musical formations, which coincided with the rise of Rock, psychedelia, and the tendency to turn up the volume and experiment with different sounds. So, it is from this moment that new renowned bass players like John Entwistle (The Who), new accessories like the first round wound strings (until then they were Flatwound), and new basses with more complex electronics that were not mass-produced began to appear. Concerts started to become massive shows, music got louder and louder, and amplification needs required more and more power and quality.

Super Vacuum Tube 1969

This was Ampeg’s most successful bass amp model of the time. The Ampeg SVT is considered a rock icon, and is still in use today. A 300 Watt, tube amp with an 8 cone 10 inch screen. Almost nothing.And did you know that John Entwistle is said to be the protagonist of the first bass solo in the history of rock (not the first bass solo with distortion in the history of rock)? (not the first bass solo with distortion in the history of bass…) Just forget about seeing him in any video. The producers at the time it seems that they were not very up to date, and hardly granted seconds to the bass player in the recordings.

The 70s: the settlement of the electric bass

Leo Fender sold his company in the mid 60’s, but he did not stop his professional work there.Faced with the innovation of other brands in the electronic performance of the bass, in 1971 he founded Musitek, a company that 3 years later would be renamed Music Man.Under this new brand in 1976 a new electric bass of enormous success was presented: the Stingray. A bass with active electronics manufactured in series (cheaper), which allowed to obtain a greater volume, and a greater versatility when it came to equalize its sound.but, on this occasion, the real protagonist of this stage was not Leo, but we highlight three key events in the stage of the 70s:

    • The finger technique revolution
    • The irruption of Jaco Pastorius

New styles and territories of the bass

Stingray bass 1976

Electric bass very linked to Funk, whose success is due, in part, to the influence of bassists like Louis Johnson (that we will see next) or Flea (Red Hot Chilli Peppers).

Graham, Johnson, Clarke and the Slap

The bass started out being played (sporadically) with the thumb. Then the guitarists introduced the fist and, at the same time, the bass players continued with the technique of index and middle fingers, but from the hand of the magnificent bassist Larry Graham, appeared the technique that he called “thumping and plucking”, a technique that replaced the rhythmic drumming, by hitting the strings with the thumb (thumping), and pinching the treble strings with the index finger (plucking). The result was a very rhythmic sound, which laid the foundations of funk, and which would soon be developed by Louis Johnson to give birth to the famous Slap.However, it was Stanley Clarke who would adopt the evolution of this technique, and who was responsible for making it very popular in 1974.For the first time the bassist was no longer just a protagonist, but the undisputed leader of the band.

Louis Johnson

Excellent bassist who helped the development and diffusion of the Slap technique, and to empower the figure of the bassist in the history of music.

Jaco Pastorius becomes a Legend

Without the pretension of wanting to silence the merit of manufacturers, luthiers and bassists who revolutionized the concept of the bass, in the mid 70’s there was an event of greater scope: Jaco Pastorius.Pastorius did not stand out for the slap, but he was a Jazz bassist who is considered as the most influential and revolutionary of the electric bass of all history.

Jaco Pastorius

So powerful is the influence of this bassist, that even today he is a ” influencer ” of the fretless bass, and of the basses with worn effect and without pickguard. Although he started out as a drummer, an injury forced him to change instruments, choosing the electric bass. He soon felt a strong attraction for Jazz, and Jaco’s golden period was between 1975 and 1981. Years in which he had the opportunity to play with great musicians, and to release his first solo album Jaco Pastorios (1976).he broke down all the limits of the bass; he elevated the creativity of the bass lines to another level; he took the chords to the four strings; he developed new expressive techniques such as harmonics (natural and artificial); he performed solos of great technical complexity; etc.No matter the musical genre, bassists of all styles began to explore the instrument, becoming the relay of their referents.
The bass was such a popular instrument, and was on everyone’s lips, that this led to the appearance of names such as:

  • Marcus Miller
  • John Patitucci
  • Steve Harris
  • Billy Sheehan
  • Sting
  • Flea

These bassists started from a well-developed knowledge base around the bass guitar. And since everything seemed to have been invented, the emphasis began to be placed on speed, and techniques such as tapping, and exaggerated flourishes.
Also the idea that the typical bass was the 4-string bass was abandoned, and the image of bassists with 5 and 6-string basses became more popular (especially in Jazz, although soon Metal would begin to incorporate it to reach more serious tonalities).
From them, in the nineties more renowned bassists continued to appear, and precursors of the instrument, such as Michael Manring or Victor Wooten.
And that’s how, without many more changes in the history of the bass, we arrived to our days.

Michael Peter Balzary “Flea”

One of the most influential bass players worldwide since the 80’s.

History of the electric bass today

As the history of the bass guitar has shown us, the evolution of this instrument until today has been very energetic and fruitful.
It can be perfectly observed how it was born from a need, how it gradually became popular, and how, with a whole world of possibilities to explore, it innovated both in production and execution.
In fact, it is not until the end of the 90’s, and the beginning of the XXI century, that we observe a generalized stop in the paradigm of the 4 strings.
Something completely normal, because between the 70’s and the 90’s we find the period of “virtuosity”, in which nothing was enough. This gave rise to bassists with very complex techniques, very fast execution, and resources that were intended to astonish everyone.
But now we are in a stage of relaxation.
A stage in which there is a tendency to look more to the past than to the future. Of abandoning frenetic virtuosity, to value more what we call intelligent minimalism.
Not in the sense of being simpler and more insubstantial, but in the sense of giving more value to the functional essence of the bass.
Although, of course, on the other hand, there is the rise of the Slap, and the percussive sense of this instrument. Which makes us reflect on this technique.
It seems that if you don’t play slap today, you’re not a good bass player. And, hey, it’s not that either, don’t you think?

Importance of the bass in musical history

We are so used to hearing the sound of the electric bass in recordings and live performances, that sometimes we forget that the history of contemporary music is linked to the history of the bass.
If you have followed from beginning to end the contents of this page dedicated to the history of the bass, you will have realized that it doesn’t matter the style.
We are not able to conceive modern musical history without this instrument of such a young age. In fact, while there are bands without electric guitar, the figure of the bass player is present in almost all bands.
Its incredible evolution in just 70 years of history makes it clear that this 4-stringed instrument still has a lot to say. And so it is not surprising that today the electric bass is such a popular and widespread instrument.
Thanks to its deep sound, its rhythmic function, and its undeniable melodic importance, it is a very attractive option for many musicians (and a must-have in any contemporary musical genre).
However, to close this first lesson of our bass guitar course, it is necessary that you know well the parts of a bass guitar, as well as the different types of bass guitars that exist today.

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