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postheadericon Parts of a 4-String Bass Guitar - Beginner Lesson 1a

Anatomy of a Basic 4 String Electric Bass Guitar

At first glance it may be overwhelming that there are a lot of working parts on a bass guitar that you should familiarize yourself with. It is important to become familiar with the names of the parts of the bass and their location on your instrument. Once you get the hang of it all you'll be able to talk shop with any player and sound like a pro! I chose a basic Fender Precision style bass as this is one of the more common designs of a bass and has all of the essential parts. There are all kinds of different flavors of bass out there but the basics are the same on all of them, there just might be more of certain things (strings, pickups, volume/tone controls, frets, etc.). Some people use different terminology for different parts of the bass so I'm including the common names of different parts. I might note that the names of the basic parts of an electric bass are the same names used on an electric guitar also. 

anatomy of a 4 string bass

Body - This is the largest part of the Bass. It is generally made of a hardwood such as Maple, Ash, or Mahogany. There are many types of woods used for the body of a bass guitar and some are even made from composite materials (Acrylic, Carbon Fibre, Fiberglass, Etc.). This is the part of the bass that everything is attached to that makes the bass work. It is generally the part of the bass that is the most "recognizable" and is what set a lot of models apart from eachother. The wood or material the body is made of generally is the defining factor of how heavy the instrument is, and the fundamental tone or sound of the bass (how much bass, treble, etc.)
Pickups - The pickups are what take the sound of the strings vibrating and allows that signal to be sent to an amplifier and lets us hear the sound. Without pickups the bass would not be able to be heard very well. There are many types of pickups that define a lot of tone of the instrument as well. Most basic pickups are just a coil of wire wrapped around magnets put into a plastic case. Some pickup manufactures have modified their design to allow "humbucking" so that the pickups don't pickup outside noise or "hum" from lights, TVs, and other electrical devices. Some manufacturers also use different materials in making their pickups, and also wrap their coils differently to give different tonal options.
Bridge - The bridge is attached to the rear of the body and is where the end of the strings are "attached". The bridge has metal saddles that allow you to adjust how high the string are off the neck and the space between the strings. The material and mass/weight of the bridge is another defining factor in the tone of your bass. Generally the heavier and denser the material it is made of the longer the sustain and more punch the bass will have when amplified.
Output Jack - The output jack is what allows you to plug your bass into an amplifier or recording device. Most basses have a 1/4" mono jack. There is not much to the jack.
Volume/Tone Control OR Pots - The Volume and tone controls (or pots which is short for potentiometer) are what allow you to control the volume output of the bass, and allow you to control tone. The bass pictured has one volume knob, and one knob that controls the tone. As you add more pickups or perhaps a more advanced preamp will generally yield more knobs, switches, etc. But the core is the same, they control the volume output and the tone of the instrument.
Pickguard - The pickguard is not standard on all basses. Its doesn't serve any real purpose effecting the tone or workings of the bass. It is more decorative and in a lot of cases is a "cool factor". Its functionality is basically to protect the wood underneath it from being scratched in the event of the player using a pick (or perhaps someone throwing a beer bottle at you).
Neck - The neck is another one of the more important parts of the bass. It is the long part of the bass that has the strings running along it. It can be attached to the bass with screws, it might be glued on, and some manufacturers actually use a "neck through" design that have two pieces of wood glued to an extra long neck adding to sustain and tone. The neck is generally made of hardwoods but some people are starting to use more composite materials (Carbon Fibre, Aluminum, etc.). The shape of the back of the neck is one defining factor in how the bass feels. The width of the neck is another defining factor. Some necks are fatter, some are skinnier, and there are different shape profiles (a C shape, a V shape, or a U shape are some of the more common). The frets are attached to the neck. Some basses have no frets and are generally called "fretless" necks. This basically makes the bass so that there are no "markers" that specifically determine the note being played.
String Tree OR String Guide - The string tree or guide generally hold the strings down as the pass over the nut to the machine gears. Some necks are at a certain angle that require this to happen otherwise the strings do not fit in the nut properly. Some basses do not need a string tree/guide. It all depends on the angle of the headstock and the location of the tuning gears.
Head OR Headstock - The head or headstock is end of the neck farthest away from the body. It is another defining factor in the look of a bass. It is where the nut and tuning gears are attached. It is generally considered "a part of the neck".
Tuning Gears OR Machine Heads OR Tuners OR Tuning Pegs - There are many names for the tuning gears as you've probably noticed in this. The tuning gears serve the critical role in what note each string is tuned to, maintaining that pitch, and allowing you to easily change the pitch of each string. Tuning gears are another factor in the overall tone of the instrument depending on the material they are made of and their overall mass/weight. They come in many different shapes, and depending on the headstock shape may be setup differently in so far as if they are all in a row such as in our example here or if there are 2 on one side and two on the other, or 3 on one side and one on the other.
Nut - The nut is a small piece of material that has slots cut for each of the strings that keeps their spacing set and helps determine how high the strings are off the fretboard. The material of the nut varies but the three most popular are generally Bone, Plastic, and Graphite.
Frets - The frets are attached to the neck and allow different notes to be sounded. Each fret sounds a 1/2 step musical note. The material of the fret is almost always made of some sort of metal. The shape of the fret may vary in width and heigth. Some basses do not have frets at all leaving the sounding of notes up to the ear and technique of the player. The number of frets on an instrument can vary but your average Fender bass will have 21 frets. Some basses have 24 or more frets, some have fewer.

Last Updated (Wednesday, 28 July 2010 13:24)