THE ELECTRIC BASS
1) THE BODY.
On the body of electric guitars you will find PICK-UPS. These come in two types, the Split Single Coil and the Full Single Coil. Most Basses come with a bridge pick up and a neck pick up. Nowadays the Full Single Coil is the most used over the range of Basses. Different Basses will offer different combinations of pick-ups and certain combinations give the sound of certain styles whereas others are a compromise of different sounds.
On the BRIDGE (where the strings are connected to the body) you will find the mechanical parts for setting up the bridge. Do not touch this unless you know what you are doing as any adjustment changes the tuning of the instrument.
On every Bass you will find a SELECTOR SWITCH, TONE KNOB, VOLUME KNOB AND JACK SOCKET. The selector switch enables you to select different combinations of the pick-ups available. The tone knob changes the sound from the pick-ups in the same way that a E.Q. control changes the sound on a hi-fl. Sometimes you will have a tone knob for each pick-up but normally there is only one. The volume knob changes the volume coming from the pick-ups and leaving the guitar. Again you could have a volume knob for each pick-up or just one for all. The jack socket is where you plug the guitar lead into to connect you to an amplifier.
2) THE NECK.
This consists of the FRETS and FRET MARKING DOTS. Most fret marking dots appear on the 3rd, 5th, 7th, 9th and 12th frets although there are variations or no dots at all. The front of the neck, where you put your fingers, is called the FRETBOARD.
3) THE HEADSTOCK.
This is at the end of the neck and the main parts are the NUT (where the strings pass through), and the TUNING or MACHINE HEADS. All Basses will have TRUSS RODS and the TRUSS ROD COVER can be found on the Headstock.
BUYING A BASS
Before you start learning the Bass you have to buy one. So, what makes a Bass a good Bass or a bad Bass? There are certain general things to look for and do when you are buying a Bass. The main ones are :-
1) Look for signs of abuse – Holes in the wood, especially the neck and Fret-board, dirt on the Fret-board, etc, . look for signs that something is broken and that something similar, but not the same, has been put in it’s place. Broken tuning heads will not hold their tuning and a Bass that doesn’t stay in tune is worthless. Tuning heads can be replaced, but be aware that they are not cheap and this can seriously increase the cost of the Bass.
2) Hold the Bass so that you are looking along the front of the Bass from behind the Bridge and the Neck is facing away from you. Now look at the frets and check if they are all parallel to each other. If they are not, this means two things – Firstly that the neck is warped and will only get worse (it will not get better), and secondly the Bass will never be in tune all the way along the neck. By this I mean that even if the open strings are tuned, some or all the frets will he out of tune. These things make the Bass totally worthless – DO NOT BUY IT.
3) Look at the width of the Neck. If it is larger than 2 inches/5 cm, at the widest part, then it will be physically more difficult to play correctly and you may find that you have to compromise your technique. DO NOT BUY IT.
4) Play a note on every fret of each string. By doing this you will hear if any of the frets buzz (as opposed to sounding cleanly). This can mean a few things – the fret has come loose and is higher than the others, that the neck is warped (this is indicated by more than one fret buzzing or the same frets busing for all the strings), or that the Saddle in the Bridge is at the wrong height (it is normally too low). THESE MAY BE REPAIRABLE BUT IT IS BEST TO SIMPLY NOT BUY THEM.
5) Check the Tuning or Machine heads. If they feel loose, rattle or don’t change the tuning as you turn them then you will never be able to keep the Bass in tune and you will have to pay for them to be replaced. THESE MAY BE REPAIRABLE BUT IT IS BEST TO SIMPLY NOT BUY THEM.
6) Check the distance between the strings and the tops of the frets. This is called the action of the Bass and the larger the distance the harder the Bass will be to play. Be careful, the action may have been lowered in order to make the Bass appear easier to play but you will find that all the frets buzz and the only way to remove the buzzing sound is to raise the action.
7) It is not advisable to buy a really cheap Bass, even for a beginner, as the reason the Bass is cheap is that it is not very good. A Bass that is not very good will make playing a lot harder and often results in the beginner giving up all together, as a Bass teacher I have seen this many times. Spending around $200 – $300 is a reasonable price and Basses do not lose value overnight so you should be able to get most of your money back if you choose.
8) Firstly check all the electric’s work by plugging the guitar into an amplifier and trying all the different settings on the selector switch and any other switches, turning all knobs while playing to check that they are making a difference to the overall sound. If you get noise created by the movement of switches or knobs then this will not get better so either get the shop or seller to repair the problem or don’t buy the guitar. This will cause you no end of annoyance. When trying out the guitar either take your own amplifier, if you have one, or use the cheapest amplifier in the shop. An expensive amplifier is often set-up to make guitars sound better than they do in reality so beware. A cheap amplifier will give you a much better idea of how the guitar sounds.
9) The Bridge of an electric guitar is generally more elaborate than other types of guitar and therefore can present their own problems. Check for damage. The examples below show what the bridge should look like when it is set-up correctly.
10) Check that all the screws, etc., are adjustable and that there are not any missing. Lastly check that the tremolo arm, if there is one, works correctly by playing all the strings and then moving the tremolo arm towards the body of the guitar – GENTLY. After doing this check that the strings are still in tune and if they are not this would be a major problem, so DO NOT BUY IT.
11) Lastly play the Bass for a few minutes. Get used to the sound and feel of the Bass. Do you like It? This is very important because if the Bass does not feel good in your hands then you are less likely to want to play it.