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Can a bad Guitarist become a good Bassist?

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by Misterwogan, Nov 25, 2012.

  1. I first learned to play guitar back in 1976 when I was 16 when I played in a church folk group. Then there was a long gap until exactly two years when I decided to get serious. I spent an awful lot of money on kit and invested a lot of time in doing it properly. Problem was, I wasn't getting any better – even after two years. Sure, I could play some fast Thin Lizzy solos, but they were always less than perfect and my anxiety levels were always high. To this day I cannot do a mistake-free pentatonic run on the guitar – at any tempo.

    Then about two months ago I picked up a bass. A super-cheap P-Bass copy, I have no idea why I bought it but I did. So I started some simple exercise: scales, major, pentatonics and blues at slow tempos. To my surprise I found that it was not as difficult as I was expecting. A major factor appeared to be the extra space that my E.T style fingers has to work with and the bigger strings. I was not fouling notes to the same extent that I do on the guitar.

    Another positive factor was my increasing awareness of where and what I playing. I went from being vaguely aware of intervals to being able to name the interval and note that I was playing. Again, something I did not do well on guitar.

    After a month of a daily practice routine, I decided to try some songs. I picked a few of my favourites from the 70's and 80's and approached the task as I would have on guitar – with apprehension.

    The results amazed me. On guitar it used to take me several weeks to learn a 16-bar solo and to play it at 60% of full tempo – if I was lucky. On the bass – this was now taking two to three days. At this point in time, I am taking on some of my favourite disco and funk grooves and although I don't expect to be playing these as a virtuoso just yet, the rate of progress and improvement on a daily basis in remarkable. One example being the groove from Disco Inferno. I could do this error free at 80% of tempo after two days. For me this was a massive improvement.

    Why is this? Why after huge effort and much time, am I still crap at guitar – and yet after just a few weeks relatively better at bass?

    Is it simply that my stubby finger tips are too big for the small strings – I always felt that this was the case but hoped that practice would resolve this.

    Or maybe it's because the songs that I'm playing on the bass are different to the songs I would play on guitar. On guitar I play hard rock and blues – on the bass, I'm playing the songs I love and grew up with, Rock, Disco, Funk...

    I am now seriously considering selling my guitars and amps – I can't see the point in going on with them. I have now invested in three basses: a Jazz Deluxe, a P-Bass standard and a Stingray HS and all of them see daily use.

    Has anyone else experienced anything like this?
  2. Kmonk


    Oct 18, 2012
    South Shore, Massachusetts
    Endorsing Artist: Fender, Spector, Ampeg, Curt Mangan Strings, Nordstrand Pickups, Korg Keyboards
    Oddly enough, I also started out on guitar in 1976. I played in bands but could never find a bass player. The other guitarist pointed out that every time I did a fill, it sounded like a bass line. I decided to try bass and found that it came very naturally. I still play guitar but bass has been my main instrument since 1978. I think some people have a natural ability toward one instrument over another.
    Old P Bass Guy likes this.
  3. I glad that you discovered this in better time than I did.
  4. Herrick


    Jul 21, 2010
    Munchkin Land
    Agreed, Kmonk. Some people are just suited for different instruments.

    Misterwogan, it sounds like the bass is for you. Are you having more fun with bass than you were with guitar?
  5. Best fun I've ever had with clothes on. I took out one of my guitars today, tried some stuff, crap as usual - back into case. Am now jamming along with Earth Wind and Fire - September, on me Stingray.
  6. ckdhaven


    Jul 19, 2012
    Cedar Rapids IA

    It happened to me.. I have been an average guitarist for 30 years. I always became frustrated and didn't want to practice because I was never "really good" and I never had the lightning speed I craved.

    Bought a bass when we added another guitarist to our acoustic group and I have never looked back. I still have my guitar rigs because we have many tunes where I still play the guitar in the group. But my new passion is playing the bass..

    Enjoy the ride!!!!!!!!
  7. Thanks. I feel less of a freak now. And don't you just love how you do don't really need tabs anymore?
  8. DirtySix


    Jan 8, 2012
    I have been playing guitar for 20 years. Last Christmas i got a 6 string bass. For almost a year now i have not touched my electric guitars (still play my flamenco). I have crazy long alien fingers and have always felt so cramped on guitars (flamenco has wider string spacing). The huge neck on the 6 string is amazing. My had has so much space to move and i love it. So i really think it might be the size of your hand and the larger string spacing that has made it more enjoyable.

    At this point i would not be overly sad if i didn't play my guitars again. I also found that when i switch back to guitar i am much better at lead now because of my bass playing. In any case keep an acoustic guitar around, who knows if you might want to compose in the future it might be useful or if a friend drops by and wants to jam.

    I love my bass!
  9. I'm not a fabulous guitarist, but since i have taken up bass again, i've been off like a shot, and developing in ways I never did on guitar, so I would say yes.

    And in the end, it may lead me to becoming a better guitarist as well.
  10. pacojas

    pacojas "FYYA BUN"

    Oct 11, 2009
    good on ya!:bassist:
  11. Bassist4Eris

    Bassist4Eris Frat-Pack Sympathizer

    I too started on guitar and basically sucked at it. I started when my dad bought me a guitar at age 14, and switched to bass at 16.

    In my own case, I attribute it to three things:

    1. I too have large hands like some of you, and still struggle to play guitar without accidentally muffling adjacent strings. But my hands were very well-suited to bass, and I picked up the technique fairly quickly. That said, some great guitarists have large hands, so it's not impossible.

    2. One band practice, our bass player didn't show up, but he had left his gear there, bass included, from last time (tells you how much he practiced). Since we had two guitars, and I wrote his bass parts anyway, I decided to play bass. And I completely fell in love with the entire role. For once, I felt like part of the music, not just some decoration on top of it. (I'm not saying that's the guitarist's role, I'm just saying how I felt).

    3. I did not practice or study music very seriously until I switched. This is, of course, a direct result of #1 and 2.

    And like DirtySix, I too have found that playing bass has improved my lead guitar playing. Part of that is I take solos on the bass too. Which club owners love. Everytime I do it, everyone heads for the bar. :bassist:
  12. I'm a bit of a freak in that I have average sized hands, shortish fingers but huge fingertips. Even so, I got past the index to pinky stretching in a couple of weeks thank to some blues grooves.

    Maybe we just need a four string guitar?
  13. jeffmensch

    jeffmensch Supporting Member Supporting Member

    Oct 12, 2012
    Cambridge, Ontario
    I hope so since that's the path I'm on right now. Took many guitar lessons in my teenage years and despite practising like mad never seemed to get very good. It always seemed like a struggle to navigate the fretboard with my crazy long 'spider fingers'. Rhythm and power chords were all right but solos were a mess.

    Many years later a couple friends that play guitar and drums together started bugging me to bring over my guitar and jam with them. I never felt that enthusiastic about it, but playing in a group did sound like fun. Instead of picking up the guitar again, the idea popped into my head to try the bass. Immediately it felt more comfortable in my hands and very natural to move around the fretboard. I bought a nice used one without even knowing how to play and signed up for lessons.

    When I told my friends they were jazzed that we'd have our own little power trio thing happening. I jammed with them after only taking five lessons and it was a blast. Been at it for a few months now a making great progress. Can't say I'm pro material but I'm having a heck of lot of fun.

    P.S. This is my first TalkBass post. Love this forum.
    WayneP likes this.
  14. This.
  15. jetbike


    Apr 2, 2011
    Sydney, 'Straya
    These stories ring so many bells for me (but it might just be tinnitus).

    My friends and I grew up listening to metal and we all wanted to be Tony Iommi/Kurt Hammnet/RandyRhoads. Aged 12 we started a band, apart from a committed drummer and a singer (who got the job because be couldn't afford an instrument) there were about four guitarists. One of these guys was a boy from outside of our core group of Dungeons & Dragons/Atari-playing social titans. He had long hair and a flying v, he could shred and made us all realize we were delusional. He said everyone called him 'Zed', but seemed to respond to Darren.

    Pretty quickly it dawned on me that there were too many guitarists in this band and I would not be able to compete with Zed/Darren, or even the other guitarists. I sold my department store Les Paul copy and bought an Ibanez blazer bass, and started listening to Geezer (but never could, and still can't hear Cliff, what a waste).

    Bass was a revelation! I loved it, and was in such demand. Within a month I was in about 4 bands! I moved from Metal to other genres in a way that I don't think would ever have happened if I'd bought a pointy BC Rich and tried to hold it down with Zed/Daren.
  16. Rockin Mike

    Rockin Mike

    May 27, 2011
    Yes, the same way a bad guitarist can become a good guitarist. Practice.
    Admiral Akbar likes this.
  17. Herrick


    Jul 21, 2010
    Munchkin Land
    Then a Winner Is You! :cool:

    I was playing guitar for 5 years or so but I was never really into it. I wanted to learn guitar since the music I mostly listened to was heavily guitar-based. I was good enough to play along to some of my favorite songs but I never really took to it. Guitar is very cool & sounds great but over time, I had less & less of a desire to produce those sounds. I had played bass in my late teenage years and I always had a great time playing it so a little over two years ago, I decided to get back into bass. I still have a guitar (a Carvin DC-727) but I don't play it as much.
  18. RoadRanger

    RoadRanger Supporting Member

    Feb 18, 2004
    NE CT
    Welcome to the Cult of the "One True Instrument" :D .
  19. mbeall


    Jun 25, 2003
    It seems that in today's pop music culture it is not all that unusual to learn how to play guitar without actually learning the fundamentals of music. How many guitars players do we know that can play the standard G chord, the one everyone knows how to play on a guitar, and not be able to tell you the note names and intervals that spell the chord. It seems it is possible to have some facility on the instrument and play in bands without really knowing what is going on as long as you've got enough chords "grips" under you hands and have the pentatonic down. The bass guitar demands a little more understanding of chord theory as we can not get away with just learning a couple of grips and call it good enough. I think it comes down to the requirements of the instrument in the genre of music. My guess is that the stuff you are now working on bass is stuff that you should have been practicing on the guitar but never did, the bass lines you are now learning are exposing you to ways of thinking of music that were not a priority before.
    I recently had a similar experience concerning thinking about voicing chords from the "top down" instead of "bottom up". Bass is the only tonal instrument to which I've ever dedicated any significant amount of time so everything I had ever worked on concerning harmony and chordal ideas was built from the bottom up. You know, cause I'm a bassist. But when approaching music we sometimes need to get beyond the typical requisites of a chosen instrument to really come to an understanding of what's going on.
    Anyway, cheers on rediscovering music through a new instrument. Cheers again on that instrument being a bass guitar.


    p.s. it has very little to do with your hands, it has more to do with what's between your ears.
    Lobster11 and mambo4 like this.
  20. CrazyCarl


    Nov 8, 2011
    Eastern OH
    I can not play a guitar to save my life. The strings are too small and too close together.
    WayneP likes this.