James LoMenzo's Guide to Recording Bass
Part 1: Choosing a Bass
Journeyman bass player James Lomenzo (Megadeth, Zakk Wylde, David Lee Roth) has put together his definitive guide to recording bass in our new video series. Here he discusses the different types of bass guitar and sonically what you can expect from the different types.
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1. Bolt On
Bolt On Basses
Bolt On basses are so named, because of the fact that the neck of the bass is bolted on to the body. These were the first kind of electric bass guitar, brought on by the Leo Fender design in the '50s, and you will have heard on literally millions of records. You will find these types of basses on pretty much everything from rock to R&B and everything in between.
Bolt Ons have a very distinct characteristics, they tend to be really punchy in the lower frequencies, with a fast attack and a quick decay. They can sustain a bit depending on the components and setup that you have on any particular bass, but they are more commonly defined by their attack, with the overall sound being distinct and familiar in rock and roll. Generally they are set up with passive tone controls, although you can get them with active controls, where the bass has a battery in it and circuitry that brings up the level of the low impedance at the output. Passive basses typically have a knob accompanying the volume knob (or knobs) which controls the 'tone', essentially cutting off the top end to give a bit of control over the sound of the bass.
Fretted vs Fretless
The majority of basses you will come across are likely to have frets, which mark semitone separations between notes. If you press your fingers pretty much anywhere within two frets, you will get one note, so you don't need to worry about the tuning of individual notes like you would on an upright bass for example. Fretless basses, as the name suggests, do not have frets down the length of the fingerboard, instead the player must place their fingers in the correct position to create the note. This makes fretless bass generally harder to play as you will need to worry about the tuning of individual notes, however you are able to achieve proper glissandos where you slide smoothly between notes. You do have to apply more pressure to the strings in order to get a clear note, as the finger needs to hold the string still against the fretboard, whereas with a fretted bass, you only need to apply enough pressure to hold the string against the fret.
Besides the difference in style of playing, the main difference is the way that the bass sounds. Fretless basses tend to have less attack and less presence in the higher and mid ranges, so sometimes they sound less like a plucked instrument, and more like a rich and deep note which starts and ends in time. This means that fretless basses may not work so well in songs that require the bass to cut through with lots of high frequency attack, some heavier rock and metal for example, however there are also songs where a fretted bass may not perform as well, and a fretless may sound much better suited.