History of the 4 String Bass Guitar

While the electric guitar sprang from the acoustic guitar, the amplified four-string bass guitar developed from the upright double bass. With its strings plucked or slapped (not strummed), the horizontally played electric bass surpassed its bulky acoustic predecessor in popularity decades ago.

To keep it from being drowned out by the drums, piano and brass instruments, musical ensembles such as jazz combos began to equip the tall, vertical-standing, acoustic double bass with electric pickups in the 1920s. It was first created by Lloyd Loar while he worked at guitar manufacturer Gibson. In 1935, musician and teacher Paul H. Tutmarc designed and produced the 42-inch cello-sized bass, equipped with piano strings and a pickup. Though not as bulky as a double bass, the instrument was still cumbersome, fretless and had to be played vertically. It was around 1940 when Portland, Oregon's L.D. Heater Music Co. distributed the electric four-string bass guitar. The Tutmarc-manufactured instrument was smaller than previous versions, designed with frets and a pickup, and was played horizontally like a regular guitar.

Leo Fender, a self-taught electrical engineer, created the Fender Precision bass guitar in 1951, which had frets. Unlike the fretless double bass, Fender's instrument enabled the bassist to hit notes with accuracy. As with previous four-string bass guitars, the Precision bass was fitted with an electric pickup, which was redesigned into a single "split pickup" six years later. The instrument's compact size (as opposed to the bulky double bass) enabled the bass guitar to travel on gigs with the rest of the band.

Fender created the jazz bass in 1960, which had two pickups. This popular design was copied by guitar manufacturers such as Gibson, Danelectro, Rickenbacker and Hofner, which mass-produced bass guitars later made famous by artists in rock, pop, soul, rhythm and blues, funk and reggae music. Among them were the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Who, Bob Marley and the Wailers, and the session musicians of the "Motown Sound."

James Brown, famously known as the "Godfather of Soul," released his song "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag" in 1965--and was credited for launching a new and original sound called funk. From the mid-1960s, into the 1970s and beyond, the now-classic lineup of bass, guitar (as a rhythm instrument instead of lead), drums, keyboards, percussion (congas, bongos, etc.) and brass instruments (such as trumpets, saxophones and trombones) focused on producing a "tight" sound. Musicians improvised while being careful not to interrupt "the groove," prominently driven by the bass guitar.

Paul McCartney, bassist for the Beatles, popularized the violin-shaped Hofner bass guitar during the band's live concert years. On the 1969 song "Come Together," McCartney's bass playing and Ringo Starr's drumming style combined to create a "swampy" blues-rock, which cover bands still struggle to duplicate today. The 1967 concept album "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band" featured songs ("With a Little Help From My Friends," "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds" and "When I'm Sixty-Four," for instance) in which the four-string bass guitar delivers the Beatles' signature sound of melodic and bouncy bass lines. The Who, another popular British pop-rock band, became known for prolific songwriter Pete Townshend's windmill-style guitar playing. Yet it was John Entwistle who used his four-string bass guitar as the band's lead instrument on "My Generation," "The Real Me" and other Who compositions. McCartney, Entwistle and a long line of bassists credited James Jamerson, a Motown session musician, as being influential to their bass guitar playing. Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2000, Jamerson's bass was at the core of the "Motown Sound." Instead of playing standard bass lines, Jamerson used his instrument as a duet with the lead singer. For example, the lyrics of jobless, drug abuse and ecology stand out on Marvin Gaye's 1971 magnum opus album "What's Going On," along with his smooth singing voice amid lush orchestral sounds. Yet, Jamerson's bass lines take listeners on an aural journey in the songs "What's Going On," "What's Happening Brother," "Flyin' High," "Save the Children" and "God Is Love."

Approved by Jesse Anderson