Can’t decide which instrument to play?
We’ve all been there.
You probably already know that the vast majority of beginners choose the electric guitar over the bass guitar.
But is it really the better instrument?
We’ll examine why most prefer the electric guitar. We’ll also look at some big reasons why the bass guitar might actually be the better choice.
In the end, both are wonderful instruments. The decision comes down to your style and your goals.
Keep reading and we’ll help you figure out which of these great instruments is the better choice for you.
Table of Contents
- 1 Bass Guitar Vs Electric Guitar
- 1.1 What Is An Electric Guitar?
- 1.2 What Is A Bass Guitar?
- 1.3 Differences Between Electric Guitar And Bass
- 1.4 Similarities Between Electric Bass And Guitar
- 1.5 Advantages Of The Electric Guitar
- 1.6 Advantages Of The Bass Guitar
- 1.7 Who Should Get An Electric Guitar (And Why)?
- 1.8 Who Should Get A Bass Guitar (And Why)?
- 2 Bass Vs Guitar: Final Thoughts
Bass Guitar Vs Electric Guitar
Let’s begin by looking at both instruments individually, before comparing them to each other. We’ll finish by examining the advantages of each and discussing to which type of musician each is more suited.
What Is An Electric Guitar?
One of the most common problems guitar players had back in the first half of the 20th century was that their instrument of choice wasn’t loud enough for orchestras and ensembles.
Pianos, percussion, strings, and wind instruments would just swallow up the guitar sound and make it completely inaudible.
Some of the earliest solutions were the “resonator” acoustic guitars with steel strings. Eventually, innovators came up with a new concept that we now know as the electric guitar.
It has a solid-body or a hollow-body instrument, usually with the standard 6 strings, of the same thickness as those on acoustic 6-string guitars.
It also has a magnetic pickup. The pickup, serves as a sensor that picks up (thus the name “pickup”) the vibration of the strings, converts it to an electrical signal, and then sends it out to an amplifier or any other device that can further process the signal.
In most cases, electric guitars come with passive electronics. This means that they don’t require additional power within the guitar itself, but need an active amplifier in order to make them work.
There are also electric guitars with active electronics. They require a 9-volt battery in order to work. Their output is much higher and their tone significantly different. Sometimes it is even dynamically responsive to your playing.
There are also regular acoustic guitars with active or passive piezo pickups. They’re sometimes referred to as “electro-acoustic” guitars.
Additionally, a regular solid-body electric guitar can also come with a piezo sensor, which gives you acoustic-like tones.
Another solution comes in the form of so-called “synth” guitars which have a MIDI pickup, although they’re pretty specific and not that common.
In modern times, the so-called “extended range” electric guitars became increasingly popular. The 6-string concept was changed and now we have guitars with 7, 8, or even more strings.
Although this enters bass territories to some extent, their tone and practical implementation are different than that of the bass guitar.
What Is A Bass Guitar?
Bass guitars were originally developed back in the 1930s as a fretted, solid-body and horizontally-held alternative to the classic double-bass.
It featured four strings, just like the double bass, tuned to E-A-D-G. It also has a magnetic pickup.
But bass guitars as we know them today were not developed until the 1950s, by Leo Fender and George Fullerton.
Featuring the double-cutaway body design and one magnetic pickup, these were mass-produced as Fender Precision Bass guitars, or P-Bass.
These came with passive electronics, as well as frets like on your average guitar, and also required bass amplifiers in order to work. Over the years, the concept of the bass guitar was developed in a few different directions, to give us many different kinds of bass guitars.
Most famously, we got 5-string basses, eventually even getting ones with 6 or more strings. This allowed for coverage of even deeper sonic territories.
Another great innovation was the introduction of fretless bass guitars. While the same main principles were there, including the range that they covered, having no frets allowed for a true glissando and a true vibrato, just like on the regular double bass, all while keeping the sonic properties of bass guitars.
There have also been some examples of hollow-body and semi-hollow-body bass guitar models, although these aren’t that widespread. Acoustic bass guitars, both with or without additional electronics, have become popular over the years. You can even find fretless acoustic basses. Of course, you can also choose between active vs passive bass guitars.
Differences Between Electric Guitar And Bass
The main difference between bass guitars and regular electric guitars is their function. The bass is almost exclusively a backing instrument and often referred to as part of the rhythm section.
It usually covers a musical piece’s harmonic structure, with occasional fills here and there.
Meanwhile, a regular electric guitar can serve both as a backing and a lead instrument in pretty much any genre.
Bass guitars are one octave below regular guitars. This may be different with extended-range guitars, like those with 8 strings.
On the other hand, 5-string basses come with an additional bottom string, which is usually tuned to B, but it can go lower if needed.
Going back to the instruments’ functions, bass guitars cover harmonies either vertically or horizontally. This means that they can either play note by note, or two or more notes as chords.
However, in most genres, it’s not that common for basses to play more than one note at once, with the occasional use of two notes at the same time.
Fretless basses are almost exclusively intended for horizontal harmonies, meaning that they’re supposed to play only one note at a time.
This is due to the instrument’s nature and the fact that you can’t precisely hit the perfect pitch when pressing on two notes on the fretboard at the same time.
Guitars and basses have different numbers of strings. The standard for electric guitars is 6 strings, while basses usually come with 4 or 5.
While there are 6-string basses, their tuning is completely different, usually going B-E-A-D-G-C.
Additionally, since they cover different frequencies, basses come with much thicker strings, as well as different kinds of pickups.
You can have a guitar that covers some lower notes, like 8-strings or baritone guitars, but their pickups and strings make them sound like conventional guitars (although there are some slight differences–see our articles comparing baritone guitar vs bass and regular guitar vs baritone for more).
Fender used to make Fender Bass VI guitars, which were essentially like regular 6-strings only with longer scale lengths (distance between the nut and the bridge) and tuned one octave below. However, they still sounded pretty close to a standard electric guitar.
Similarities Between Electric Bass And Guitar
Both basses and guitars are stringed instruments, mostly with solid-bodies, that come with pickups and require specialized amplifiers in order to work.
They can both be played using a plectrum, or by using different forms of fingerpicking.
Additionally, basses can also serve as lead instruments in some settings and you can apply different effects units to alter their tone.
Another important thing to note is that they’re both transposing instruments, meaning that the notation for both is written one octave above their actual pitch. This is done in order to make notation writing easier and more practical.
Advantages Of The Electric Guitar
The main advantage of the regular electric guitar is its diversity of application. It can serve both as a backing and a lead instrument and you can even use it as a solo performer, playing guitar and singing at the same time.
There are also many different ways you can perform the guitar on your own and you can use an abundance of different pedals and other effects units in order to further sculpt your tone.
This all makes the electric guitars way more popular than the bass among both beginning musicians, and the average music listener.
Advantages Of The Bass Guitar
The bass is mostly used as a backing instrument. It’s usually considered as a “foundation” in bands, and even has a higher importance than the regular electric guitar in many musical styles.
You’ve likely heard plenty of bass guitarist jokes, often saying how they’re not as good musicians as other instrumentalists. But this couldn’t be further from the truth.
You can’t have a good band without a good bass player, but a weaker guitar player can sometimes be masked.
So even though the instrument is not as diverse in terms of different functions and tone-shaping options, the bass is an underrated foundation of every music genre these days.
Who Should Get An Electric Guitar (And Why)?
While it’s not uncommon for bassists to play guitar and guitarists to play bass, a strong division is still present.
Because it is often used as a lead instrument, predominantly in rock and metal genres, we’d recommend electric guitars to those who love these musical styles and who are aiming to play lead sections.
It’s also a great backing instrument in plenty of genres, so it has a diverse use as well.
Another thing that’s really attractive about it is the tone. It cuts through the mix more easily and is a better “platform” for different effects and various experimental sounds.
If you enjoy experimenting with things like that, then the electric guitar is probably the better instrument for you. We reviewed the best electric guitars for the money to help you find the perfect one for you.
Who Should Get A Bass Guitar (And Why)?
It’s no secret that bass guitars are far less popular among beginners than regular electric guitars. But as we said, the instrument’s implementation in modern music gives it a very important role.
Although bassists rarely take the spotlight, they’re the unsung heroes of modern music. Because it is a part of the rhythm section, the bass guitar is for those who prefer keeping the groove rather than playing leading melodies.
When you first start out, the bass is a bit easier to learn, because you can just play simple bass lines and follow harmonies. But things get more advanced after a while.
Bass Vs Guitar: Final Thoughts
You can’t go wrong with either of these instruments. Both are fun to play and have a huge impact on a band’s sound.
But both the bass guitar and the electric guitar have distinct advantages. Hopefully you now have a good idea which instrument’s advantages match up best with your own strengths and musical style.