The bass guitar (also called electric bass, or simply bass; , as in "base") is a stringed instrument played primarily with the fingers or thumb (either by plucking, slapping, popping, tapping, or thumping), or by using a plectrum.
The bass guitar is similar in appearance and construction to an electric guitar, but with a longer neck and scale length, and four, five, or six strings. The four string bass—by far the most common—is usually tuned the same as the double bass, which correspond to pitches one octave lower than the four lower strings of a guitar (E, A, D, and G). The bass guitar is a transposing instrument, as it is notated in bass clef an octave higher than it sounds (as is the double bass) to avoid excessive ledger lines. Like the electric guitar, the electric bass guitar is plugged into an amplifier and speaker for live performances.
Since the 1950s, the electric bass guitar has largely replaced the double bass in popular music as the bass instrument in the rhythm section. While the types of basslines performed by the bass guitarist vary widely from one style of music to another, the bass guitarist fulfills a similar role in most types of music: anchoring the harmonic framework and laying down the beat. The bass guitar is used in many styles of music including rock, metal, pop, ska, reggae, dub, punk rock, country, blues, and jazz. It is used as a soloing instrument in jazz, fusion, Latin, funk, and in some rock and heavy metal styles.
In the 1930s, musician and inventor Paul Tutmarc from Seattle, Washington, developed the first electric string bass in its modern form, a fretted instrument designed to be held and played horizontally. The 1935 sales catalog for Tutmarc's electronic musical instrument company, Audiovox, featured his "Model 736 Bass Fiddle," a four-stringed, solid-bodied, fretted electric bass instrument with a 30½-inch scale length. The change to a "guitar" form made the instrument easier to hold and transport, and the addition of frets enabled bassists to play in tune more easily. Around 100 of these instruments were made during this period.
Around 1947, Tutmarc's son, Bud, began marketing a similar bass under the Serenader brand name, prominently advertised in the nationally distributed L.D. Heater Co. wholesale jobber catalogue of '48. However, the Tutmarc family inventions did not achieve market success.
In the 1950s, Leo Fender, with the help of his employee George Fullerton, developed the first mass-produced electric bass. His Fender Precision Bass, introduced in 1951, became a widely copied industry standard. The Precision Bass (or "P-bass") evolved from a simple, uncontoured "slab" body design similar to that of a Telecaster with a single coil pickup, to a contoured body design with beveled edges for comfort and a single four-pole "single coil pickup." This "split pickup", introduced in 1957, appears to have been two mandolin pickups (Fender was marketing a four string solid body electric mandolin at the time). Because the pole pieces of the coils were reversed with respect to each other, and the leads were also reversed with respect to each other, the two coils, wired in series, produced a humbucking effect (the same effect is achieved if the coils are wired in parallel).
The "Fender Bass was a revolutionary new instrument, one that could easily be played by an electric guitarist, could be easily transported to a gig, and could be amplified to just about any volume without feeding back" Monk Montgomery was the first bass player to tour with the Fender bass guitar, with Lionel Hampton's postwar big band. Roy Johnson, who replaced Montgomery in Hampton's band, and Shifty Henry with Louis Jordan & His Tympany Five, were other early Fender Bass pioneers. Bill Black, playing with Elvis Presley, adopted the Fender Precision Bass around 1957.
Following Fender's lead, Gibson released the violin-shaped Electric Bass with extendable end pin in 1953, allowing it to be played upright or horizontally. Gibson renamed the Electric Bass in 1958 as the EB-1 (The EB-1 was reissued around 1970, but this time without the end pin.) Also in 1958 Gibson released the maple arched top EB-2 described in the Gibson catalogue as A hollow-body electric bass that features a Bass/Baritone pushbutton for two different tonal characteristics. In 1959 these were followed by the more conventional-looking EB-0 Bass. The EB-0 was very similar to a Gibson SG in appearance (although the earliest examples have a slab-sided body shape closer to that of the double-cutaway Les Paul Special).
Whereas Fender basses had pickups mounted in positions in between the base of the neck and the top of the bridge, many of Gibson's early basses featured one humbucking pickup mounted directly against the neck pocket. The EB-3, introduced in 1961, also had a "mini-humbucker" at the bridge position. Gibson basses also tended to be smaller, sleeker instruments; Gibson did not produce a 34" scale bass until 1963 with the release of the Thunderbird, which was also the first Gibson bass to use dual-humbucking pickups in a more traditional position, about halfway between the neck and bridge. A small number of other companies also began manufacturing bass guitars during the 1950s: Kay in 1952, and Danelectro in 1956;
1956 saw the appearance at the German trade fair "Musikmesse Frankfurt" of the distinctive Hofner 500/1 violin bass made using violin construction techniques by Walter Hofner, a second generation violin luthier. The instrument is often known as the "Beatle Bass", due to its endorsement by Paul McCartney.
With the explosion of the popularity of rock music in the 1960s many more manufacturers began making electric basses.
First introduced in 1960, the Fender Jazz Bass was known as the Deluxe Bass and was meant to accompany the Jazzmaster guitar. The Jazz Bass (often referred to as a "J-bass") featured two single-coil pickups, one close to the bridge and one in the Precision bass' split coil pickup position. The earliest production basses had a 'stacked' volume and tone control for each pickup. This was soon changed to the familiar configuration of a volume control for each pickup, and a single, passive tone control. The Jazz Bass' neck was narrower at the nut than the Precision bass (1½" versus 1¾").
Another visual difference that set the Jazz Bass apart from the Precision is its "offset-waist" body. Pickup shapes on electric basses are often referred to as "P" or "J" pickups in reference to the visual and electrical differences between the Precision Bass and Jazz Bass pickups. Significantly, Fender chose to label the headstock of this model with a decal noting Jazz Bass Electric Bass http://www.vintageguitars.org.uk/adDetails/359.
Fender also began production of the Mustang Bass; a 30" scale length instrument used by bassists such as Tina Weymouth of Talking Heads and Bill Wyman of The Rolling Stones ("P" and "J" basses have a scale length of 34", a design echoed on most current production electric basses of all makes).
In the 1950s and 1960s, the instrument was often called the "Fender bass", due to Fender's early dominance in the market.