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When does a bass stop becoming a bass ?

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by coda, Jan 23, 2013.

  1. coda


    Sep 20, 2005
    Riverside, Calif.
    This has puzzled me for years.
    Through its a subjective question and open to personal interpretation, nonetheless where does a bass grow into a different instrument?
    I have played 4 strings since the mid 70s. If you struck a single chord in those days the band would stop and say if you want to play chords, play a guitar. Bass lines then were all about the groove. As more and more bass players use 5,6,7 etc. strings, when does the instrument evolve into something else? These players are unbelievably talented and their music is magic (just listen to Zander Zon on a 4 stringer) but just curious to other bass players opinions. :confused:
  2. For me it's when you need another string higher than the open G.
  3. Nashrakh


    Aug 16, 2008
    Hamburg, Germany
    Envelopes are meant to be pushed. So do instrument categories.

    For me bass is about a certain construction and timbre. Else a piccolo bass would just be a guitar with two strings missing, and eight string guitars would be bass. But they're built differently and have sonic characteristics that make them distinguishable.
  4. two fingers

    two fingers Opinionated blowhard. But not mad about it. Gold Supporting Member

    Feb 7, 2005
    Eastern NC USA
    I'm not that big into the labels. They are just tools for making music. So, while I understand your curiosity and your right to ask, for me it really doesn't matter at what point it makes the transition to another label.
  5. SactoBass

    SactoBass There are some who call me.......Sactobass Supporting Member

    You can use a baseball bat to play a fun game of baseball, or you can use a baseball bat to bludgeon someone to death. Different people use objects for different purposes.

    I have been playing bass for 40 years, and I only play 4-stringers. And most of the time, I play one note at a time. And I never play slap. But just because I choose to do what I do with a bass sets no expectation in my mind as to what someone else chooses to do with a bass.

    My philosophy is, each person should go forth and do what makes them happy in life, and don't spend time worrying about what others choose to do. And also, I don't spend time worrying about what others think *I* should do. We are all individuals with different interests, and thank goodness for that. It would be nightmarish to live in a world where everyone likes the same thing.

    All IMO, of course.
  6. john m

    john m Supporting Member

    Jan 15, 2006
    Bass players have been venturing into the solo teritory for years. I'm talking thumb position on the upright.

    A high C is not a new thing, nor is an extension on the E string.

    Better equipment--- instruments, and amps have expanded
    our ability to venture past the "lines".

    Let's hear it for creativity an bravery to step outside of the box.

    If you choose not to --bravo for tradition.
  7. ACNick

    ACNick Guest

    Oct 23, 2012
    South Florida
    I was playing a show at a bar, and during one break a young woman approached me and struck up a conversation:

    "You guys sound great! What instrument do you play?" She asked.
    "I play the bass." I replied, which seemed to confuse her. "The bass." I repeated, pointing to the majestic jazz bass standing on the stage.
    "Oh! The big guitar!" She said.

    That is when my bass stopped being a bass, and turned into "the big guitar".
  8. PipeRain

    PipeRain Operator Of Pointy Basses

    Dec 4, 2012
    Maybe when you put it down?

    Is it really an instrument if it isn't being played, or is it rather a mildly interesting, potentially functional bit of sculpture?
  9. When Stanley Clarke plays one.
  10. Musiclogic

    Musiclogic Commercial User

    Aug 6, 2005
    Southwest Michigan
    Owner/Builder: HJC Customs USA, The Cool Lute, C G O
    The Bass guitar never stops being a bass guitar if it still is strung in the bass range, just as a Bass Viol or Bass clarinet etc. Etc.

    People are so hung up on making everything into something different for the sake of conjecture or some ridiculous ponderance. With the present generation and those acclimating to the thought patterns of the younger generation, this will happen, but Bass instruments remain Bass instruments no matter what new and trendy label someone tries to hang on it.

    ERB's are called that because they wander into upper registers not common with the standard 4 or 5. Sub Basses venture lower, voila, you have your name tags. Piccolos, Tenors etc. Etc. All kinds of tags out there if you need to call your bass something else, or have one strung differently. Just like Guitars venturing into lower registers, instruments will always evolve.
  11. Habilis


    Jan 4, 2008
    Los Angeles, CA
    In response to the original poster: I feel that you are asking two questions here: One is "When does a bass guitar stop being a bass?" I think it's just a name, given out of convenience. And, as with all other naming conventions, it tends to break down over time.

    The second question is perhaps more important: "When is a bass player no longer 'playing bass?' "

    I have been playing bass for about 20 years, generally in punk/post-punk/indie bands, mostly trios, for most of that time. I have never felt constrained to playing 'just the root' or strictly "in the pocket" or whatever. Maybe if I were playing in more traditional genres I would feel obligated to do so, but these have mostly been bands I've either started myself or been in on since the beginning. Which means that *I* get to set the limits of what the bass is supposed to do in the band. Typically, I tend to fill out a lot of melody as well, partly because I'm the one writing the music more often than not, and secondly, just to fill in the holes in the entire sonic landscape.

    To me, it's a question of what is appropriate for the particular music you are playing, not what is universally appropriate for a "bass player" to play. Reggae bass is not jazz bass is not blues bass is not post-rock/experimental bass. I like the physical act of playing my traditional 4-string bass but I will not let the confines of traditional bass-playing determine what I play on it.
  12. J.Wolf

    J.Wolf Supporting Member

    Apr 29, 2003
    Asheville, NC
    When you stop thinking like, and approaching your role in the band as a bassist. The number of strings is irrelevant (says the six stringer)
  13. nostatic

    nostatic Supporting Member

    Jun 18, 2004
    los angeles, CA
    Endorsing Artist: FEA Labs
    A bass stops becoming a bass next Tuesday.
  14. mellowgerman


    Jan 23, 2008
    Orlando, FL
    In regard to the OP's question, I think it's hard to say. In my mind, the word bass could be applied to any instrument (taken out of context) that produces primarily "low frequency" sounds... or in context of a group, the lowest one.
    Bass Guitar makes me think first and foremost of a 4 string electric instrument that is held horizontally... but obviously (to me anyway) a 6 string Warwick is still a bass guitar too. And perhaps less obviously, a Fender Bass VI is also still a bass in my mind.
    In regard to how one plays the instrument, I don't think this changes what the instrument is... fingerstyle, tapping, pick, bow, kielbasa, etc...
  15. lfmn16

    lfmn16 Supporting Member

    Sep 21, 2011
    charles town, wv
    Never. Some people's minds are just too small to understand the concept of an evolving role. Just because someone doesn't like the way the bass is played, doesn't mean it's no longer a bass.
  16. cfsporn


    Aug 20, 2011
    New York City
    When you tune it up an octave and add a high B and E string.
  17. FrednBass


    Feb 24, 2012
    When it's got more than 4 strings.

    *grabs popcorn*
  18. stephenleejp

    stephenleejp Supporting Member

    Apr 20, 2008
    Virginia Beach
    It stops being a bass after 1 string! yeah that's right, I've been a one-string-tub bass player from the 30's, all you silly 4 bangers don't know nothin'n!
  19. SactoBass

    SactoBass There are some who call me.......Sactobass Supporting Member


    Nostatic: your posts never cease to crack me up!

    Well played, sir!

    (PS: this isn't connected to that Mayan calendar thingie, is it?) :eyebrow:
  20. The bass stops being a bass when you want it to stop being a bass. Whether that's at 5 strings, 12, or anything else.