Like the electric guitar, the vibrations of the string cause an electrical signal to be created in sensors called pickups, which are amplified and played through a speaker. Various electronic components, and the configuration of the amplifier and speaker, can be used to alter the sound of the instrument.
The first mass produced electric bass was developed by Leo Fender, a well-known guitar manufacturer, as experiments with upright basses with pickups did not work very well at the time. Fender's Precision Bass was first sold in 1951. Pictures of these first basses can be viewed at the Fender website (www.fender.com). The change to the guitar form factor and the addition of frets made the instrument much easier to play.
From this first bass, other companies such as Gibson, Danelectro[?], and many others started to produce similar and sometimes, very dissimilar instruments. These basses were not only a way to leave the "dog house" at home (an affectionate term used by bassists to describe an upright bass), but to also bring the bassists further up front in the band mix, both visually and audibly. This work has been continued and many companies and individual luthiers[?] have joined the quest to take Leo Fender's original dream and idea to new levels.
The acoustic bass guitar (ABG) is similar to an acoustic guitar with a large, hollow body that is clearly audible without amplification. However, they are relatively quiet compared most other acoustic instruments and many ABGs retain pickups to enable them to function with louder ensembles while still maintaining some of the acoustic characteristics of the sound. See the The Violent Femmes first album for an example of acoustic bass playing in modern rock music.
The modern bass player has a wide range of choices when choosing an instrument, for example:
Add in the factors of amplification and effects units and it's easy to see why some bassists suffer from what is known as GAS (gear acquisition syndrome) ;-)
Many artists, such as Pino Palladino[?] utilize a fretless bass guitar for the smoothness of its slide and unique tone. As with any instrument, the electric bass can be played in a number of styles. Players such as Paul McCartney tend to favor a subdued, melodic approach, while Les Claypool of Primus and Flea of Red Hot Chili Peppers favor a funky "slap and pop" approach in which notes and percussive sounds are created by slapping the string with the thumb and release strings with a snap.
The slap and pop[?] method was invented by Larry Graham in the 1960s. Grahm's unique sound gained a broad audience when it appeared in the 1970 Sly and the Family Stone song "Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)". In the 1970s Stanley Clarke developed Graham's technique further, adding the popping and speed that are a hallmark of contemporary playing.
The following bassists are among those who have contributed to the developing role of the bass guitar:
The following manufacturers are among those that have produced widely regarded models of bass guitar: