Which are the best bass guitars ever? Any list is likely to include these iconic instruments
Like the electric guitar, the bass guitar has a surprisingly short history. In truth, it was as recent as the ‘50s that the bass became a more a common sight on stages. Like the guitar, its development was in part due to the changes in musical trends, and the increased volume levels they required.
It was also due to the fact that the acoustic upright basses more commonly played at the time were so big that bassists often had to travel separately from the rest of the band- they just wouldn’t fit into a single, regular vehicle with the rest of the band’s gear.
Since then, the electric bass has all but replaced the acoustic upright in contemporary styles of music.
The range of models now available is vast, and identifying the best bass guitars among them is not a clear-cut thing. After all, playing style, genre and taste are all key influencing factors.
However, it is possible to identify important and iconic designs that have helped to shape and evolve what we know as the modern bass.
Here are 3 of those basses.
Fender Precision Bass – 1951
Though it wasn’t, as many believe, the first electric bass guitar ever, the Fender Precision Bass was undoubtedly the design that brought this concept to the wider world.
Yet another Leo Fender classic design, the P-Bass has remained largely unchanged since its inception in 1951, much like the Strat, Tele, Jazz bass, Jazzmaster…. the list goes on.
Fender’s magic touch bore yet another, perfect design at first attempt, with a bass that took design cues from the Telecaster, and adapted them for a bass.
The larger slab, body had a double cutaway (a hint of what was to come with the Strat), with a single pickup, tone and volume control, and Fender’s trademark bolt-on neck and bombproof construction.
In the late ‘50s, the pickup was switched for a split-coil design, giving the guitar the form more familiar today.
The P-Bass’s influence is beyond measure, and to this day, its classic, punchy tone is a regular feature of rock and pop’s sonic vocabulary.
Fender Jazz Bass – 1960
The Jazz Bass was (surprise, surprise), another classic design at first attempt from Fender. It was introduced in 1960 as a ‘deluxe’ alternative to the Precision Bass. Though it was clearly a sibling of the P-bass, the J-Bass had many key differences.
It has a slightly more asymmetric body shape, like the Jazzmaster model released at the same time, with contours to make playing it more comfortable. The neck had been re-shaped, and had profile that was slimmer at the nut. It also had two single-coil pickups, with twin pole-pieces per string.
The result was a rich, but brighter tone, with more pronounced mid and upper frequencies, when compared to the Precision. It immediately found favour with smaller groups, who needed a sound that was more ‘forward’.
It is still astonishingly popular in all musical styles, but particularly, in funk, jazz, R&B, soul and fusion.
Musicman StingRay – 1976
‘At last’, I hear you say, ‘…a non-Fender bass’. Well, that’s not strictly true. You see, Musicman was born out of a company set-up by an ex-Fender employee called Tom Walker. He invited Leo Fender to be involved, and after a 10-year ‘non-compete clause’ of the CBS fender buyout contract had elapsed (preventing him from developing competing products), Leo started to design instruments again.
The StingRay was his first bass for Musicman. Yup- another classic Leo Fender design that was perfect on the first attempt…
The StingRay bore many of Fender’s Hallmarks. The body was similar to a P-Bass, it had a bolt-on maple neck, and the aesthetic had a touch of the ‘California Hot-Rod’ looks that characterised Fender’s instruments.
This was a very innovative bass. Firstly, the tuners were fitted in a 3+1 arrangement, which eliminated ‘dead spots’.
It was fitted with a large, soapbar, humbucking pickup, for plenty of rich, high-gain tone.
Crucially, however, this was wired with active circuitry, via a 9V battery. This gave the bass unprecedented punch, and power. The addition of a 2-band EQ made it even more versatile.
The StingRay’s classic, punchy tone, and versatile EQ made it a favourite for funk players- in particular for slap styles.
For more information about any of the models above, call our stores or customer service team (01925 582420), or order online today.
Joe is a contributor for the Dawsons Music blog. Specialising in product reviews and crafting content to help and inspire musicians of all musical backgrounds.