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"Bass" or "bass guitar"? That is the question.

Discussion in 'Miscellaneous [BG]' started by Bassist4Eris, Feb 13, 2014.

  1. Bassist4Eris

    Bassist4Eris Frat-Pack Sympathizer

    This might seem like the wrong subforum for this, but I think it's the best fit. I believe the way you answer this question partially shapes the way you play, and therefore this is a technique-related topic.

    Here is my premise: When one refers to our instrument as the "bass guitar", the noun in that phrase is "guitar", and "bass" is merely an adjective. This implies that one can do anything on a bass that one can on a guitar, which means chords, solos, two-handed tapping, etc., are all available. This is the way I approach the instrument.

    There is an equally valid school of thought, in which the bass plays primarily low notes, primarily roots, and/or primarily traditional patterns. In other words: it's a "bass", and therefore its purpose is to play "bass lines". In this case, "bass" has been promoted from adjective to noun.

    I know, I know, you have to do whatever is right for the song. I get that. Still, most players seem to lean one way or the other, and "what's right for the song" is largely an aesthetic choice rather than a "right or wrong" answer. If James Jamerson had played on a Stax session subbing for Duck Dunn, the resulting bass line still would have been "right for the song", but it would likely have been busier and more improvisational too.

    It might seem like a pointless thread on the face of it (I honestly considered not bothering to post it) but I think it might be interesting to explore whether (and how) the language we use affects the ways in which we approach our instruments.

    So, do you call it a "bass" or a "bass guitar", and do you believe that it relates in any way to how you approach it?
  2. tangentmusic

    tangentmusic A figment of our exaggeration

    Aug 17, 2007
    Well I'm not an English major, but I would say either/Or. Both are accurate. You play in the bass spectrum whether you play an upright, EUB or an electric solid or hollow bodied instrument held like a guitar.
    Bass guitar definitely differentiates it from Upright or double bass, as it's held like a guitar.
    Years ago you would get "electric bass guitar" as rock groups were going away from the upright and going with the strapped on guitar-oriented version.
  3. Bassist4Eris

    Bassist4Eris Frat-Pack Sympathizer

    Thanks for the reply. :) I wasn't thinking so much grammatically (in such a case, I would agree that both are correct) but rather whether you think of it as a "bass" or as a certain type of "guitar" affects your approach to it.
  4. Both are correct, and not just grammatically.
  5. Bassist4Eris

    Bassist4Eris Frat-Pack Sympathizer

    I agree completely. :)

    Again, the question is: does the language you use affect your approach?
  6. Bassist4Eris

    Bassist4Eris Frat-Pack Sympathizer

    The point of my thread seems to be being missed, so I assume I must not have explained myself sufficiently.

    It is well-known (or at least widely believed) that language affects the way we think about things, and it seems to me that, therefore, language can affect the way we play.

    Now, I call the instrument a "bass guitar". Not all the time; "bass" is a convenient shorthand. But I do think of it as a type of guitar, and that puts me in a certain mindset. I'm not ashamed of that mindset, but couldn't we all benefit from having a bit of both mindsets at work? So the question is: am I putting myself in a box unnecessarily because of something as silly as what I call my instrument? Are you? In what other ways do we unintentionally limit ourselves?
  7. But But but people might construe "Bass" as "Bass fishing"
  8. I say "bass" but I called a music store in the area known for brass and stringed instruments so I specifically said I was looking for strings for a "bass guitar" since guitars and basses are like 2% of their actual inventory.
  9. I see what you're saying, OP. I don't attach much significance to it, but I see the distinction. Personally, I call it "bass", except to differentiate it from a double bass. I think the bass guitar really fills more of a bass function than a guitar function, if that makes sense.
  10. Electric Bass.

    (still can be confused with that singing fish on the wall plaque)
  11. LarryBama

    LarryBama Supporting Member

    Mar 10, 2013
    My BTB776 is my "Bass". I also have a guitar and ukelele and two other "basses". One of the other basses is my "fretless" and the remaining one is a "bass guitar". And there is definitely a different mindset for me with the choice of words.
  12. Matthew_84


    Nov 7, 2010
    I say that I play bass, and no, I don't play chords
  13. Cmymud


    Oct 19, 2009
    Prince George, VA
    Bass, I understand you Op.
  14. TheAnalogKid

    TheAnalogKid Yer Doin' GREAT!!!!

    Dec 7, 2011
    Tacoma, WA

    I remember an interview in Guitar Player magazine from around 1985-86 with Jonas Hellborg. One of his poignant quotes was "I play bass guitar, not electric bass." As a teen just getting into the instrument, I knew where he was coming from. I suppose he was referring to the form of the instrument as opposed to the musical range known as bass. In other words, you can't play bass without a bass-range instrument, but I'm afraid I am splitting hairs here. :D:D:D FWIW, I still use bass and bass guitar interchangeably.

    O/T: Can you believe that infernal singing toy is still popular in some reaches of the world?
  15. HosMan

    HosMan Los! Zum dritten Mal denn!

    Aug 24, 2009
    Northern CA,USA
    Intelligent thread! I subscribe to your premise of the "bass guitar" 100%! Bass guitar can do virtually all a guitar can(but mo`thumpier!),imho. Determining factor would be the skill level,experience and ability of the individual player. What TBer isn`t in blown away by the virtuoso bassist`s ability and mastery over our chosen instrument(bass,or bass guitar)? Dream big,eh?

    I live in the "bass school of thought" i.e. traditional role,not only for my lower skill/ability level,but I truly love what bass is and does:rhythm,enhancing/energizing any given piece and supporting/connecting the other instruments.

    FTR,I usually call it a "bass" unless conversing with non-musical persons. :)
  16. Nope, not in the least.
  17. FretNoMore

    FretNoMore * Cooking with GAS *

    Jan 25, 2002
    The frozen north
    I play bass, I play a bass, I play a bass guitar, I play a bass line ...
    ... all of the above. I'm not worried about what people call it.
  18. Its bass guitar unless you're playing one of those 6 foot tall gamba looking things, what are they called, "Big Cellos"?
  19. GKon

    GKon Supporting Member, Boom-Chicka-Boom

    Feb 17, 2013
    Queens, NY
    Personally, I don't mentally separate the style of playing by the use of the word "Bass" vs. "Bass Guitar". I have always considered the bass/bass guitar an instrument with which you can play however you see fit.
    If anything I can be accused of, in the past, playing it too much like a guitar (as per your definition). In the last few years I've been learning to play it more like a bass (again, as per your def.) and really enjoying it!

    The only time I tend to used the term "bass guitar" is when someone asks me what instrument I play and they're are not sure what it is when I answer "bass". Usually they then ask "what's a bass", and I say "it's like a guitar, but better!" hahaha. Just kidding,
    I say, "it's like a guitar, but it plays lower sounding notes and usually helps with the rhythmic part of the song, also called a bass guitar".
  20. f.c.geil


    May 12, 2011
    English was one of my minors, and I am (and always have been) passionate about language. Your conclusion is not correct from a grammatical standpoint. From an emotional, linguistic, or musical standpoint, it becomes more a matter of opinion or personal choice, but from the standpoint of actual language, most of us play bass, not bass guitar.

    Guitar: a flat-bodied stringed instrument with a long fretted neck and six strings played with a pick or with the fingers

    Bass: a member of a family of instruments having the lowest range; especially : double bass