Choosing between playing a bass vs guitar can be a tough decision. You may have dozens of questions regarding the difference between the two or may not know a lot about either instrument. We will examine each guitar type for you and provide information to make your decision easier.
It may appear to be a monumental decision for various reasons, but if you consider your options, you should be able to make the best choice. Furthermore, you are not confined to only playing one. Many people begin learning the guitar and then decide they want to learn bass and vice versa.
Bass vs Guitar: What Are the Differences?
When it comes to sound, the two instruments are quite different. A bass guitar has a warm, rich tone to it and adds to the driving depth of the music. A guitar, on the other hand, has a higher pitch. There can be warmer notes, but it does provide more of a range.
While most people think these two guitars are complete opposites, they may be more similar than you realize.
Bass guitars are like regular guitars except they lack the two additional strings on the higher range. The tuning is also lower overall, but music theory, chords, and scales learned on one instrument translate to the other.
The instruments themselves are directly related. While most people think they must learn one or the other, this is not the case. You can switch between them at any time and be able to pick up on one exactly where you left off on the other.
The only thing to keep in mind is the different tunings used on bass and guitars and variations. Seven- and eight-string guitars do exist, as do five- and six-string basses. Once you understand the basics of guitar playing, the additional strings are easier to figure out.
Differences in Tuning and Sound
An electric guitar contains six strings. The standard tuning for it is E-A-D-G-B-E, indicating your lowest string is an E note, the next is an A, and so on.
Standard bass guitars contain four strings that are slightly larger. The tuning is the same as the last (lower) four strings on a guitar. However, it is one octave lower in pitch. Bass guitar strings are tuned to only E-A-D-G.
Bass vs Guitar: The Role
Despite being similar in theory, differences exist in how these instruments sound. Additionally, their purpose in modern music is quite different.
Some wonder about the purpose of a bass player in a rock band. Why are they necessary at all? Most bass playing is in the background, and many albums currently being produced are heavily laden with guitar and drums. The bass line gets drowned out, which becomes especially problematic since several guitarists detune the frequencies once reserved for the bass.
While many bass players are content playing in the background, good ones know their purpose is to carry the band. They are the backbone that holds other instruments in line. In genres like blues and jazz, the bass player works with their drummer and settles into the groove. In hard rock or metal, they supply the depth of a guitar riff, which audiences love.
While bassists may be viewed as background players, they always have an important role in any band.
Guitar has a more varied role than bass guitar. Bass and drums are the “rhythm” part of a band. Conversely, the guitar has the freedom to play using embellishments and solos.
Additionally, across genres, guitars provide some rhythm support. However, if the guitarist is offbeat, they are least likely to affect the entire band.
Lead and Rhythm Guitars
Lead and rhythm guitarists play different roles in any group. Lead guitar plays intricate pieces and solos, whereas rhythm guitars only play chords. Most rock bands allow two musicians to share these responsibilities. Also, one musician may take on both roles.
Guitarists are thought to be more musical than bassists. In rock, they attract greater attention. The solos and riffs make them more memorable than any other instrument.
In any band, guitarists are responsible for creating great riffs and solos and playing rhythm when required. Bassists are the driving force behind a band and are the group’s unnoticed heroes. Keep in mind, however, that this is just a general role. Musicians are known for pushing the boundaries on traditional roles, expanding music beyond its limits to create new unconceivable sounds.
Which One is Easier to Learn?
Most people think that bass is easier to learn than guitar since it has two fewer strings. This isn’t true. Depending on the genre and how hard you push, both instruments can be very easy or extremely difficult.
Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain demonstrated that you don’t have to be an exceptional player to succeed at rock music. It is easy to learn just a few chords and begin writing songs on guitar.
Conversely, stars like Eddie Van Halen and Jimi Hendrix made a name for themselves by being exceptional players and pushed playing the guitar to a higher level. This demonstrates the possibility of constantly trying to be greater than your current level and creatively thinking outside the box to explore the depths of what can be musically possible.
This is true of bass as well. It may be easy to join a group playing bass. If the basic notes are correct, that may be all you need to do. However, if you enjoy jazz or progressive rock, there is a great deal to learn.
When it comes to physical characteristics, beginners may find learning guitar easier. Bass is a bigger instrument in size. It has thicker strings, and some people struggle to fret notes correctly. However, if you want to learn bass, don’t allow this challenge to prevent you from learning.
If you want to join a group and quickly begin playing, then learning bass is easier. However, if you want to master either instrument, it is not an easy decision. Both bass and guitar can be challenging if you want to be the best.
When you begin, choose a path that inspires you. You can always change later. Select an instrument that truly excites you, and you will be more motivated to learn how to play it. This thought, though, may leave many people deadlocked in a decision if both instruments excite them.
Additionally, some people want an instrument that provides the best opportunity for success. They begin playing one with the understanding that they can easily transition to the other later. If this is the case, consider the practical aspects of both instruments. Bass guitars are larger with thick strings. Smaller people and beginners may find learning it challenging.
The size differences are illustrated by scale length. Scale length is the distance from one end of your fretboard on the left (providing you are right-handed) to where strings meet your bridge. Technically, the scale length is calculated by measuring the distance between the nut and the middle of the 12th fret. Then, it is multiplied by two.
Six-string electric guitars contain scale lengths of 24.75 and 25.5 inches. Four-string electric basses contain 34” scale lengths. These numbers do not indicate that basses have additional frets. It simply indicates basses are larger.
A short-scale bass contains scale lengths of 30 inches. They are smaller over full-sized basses, but chunkier over electric guitars. If you are unsure which will be more comfortable, visit a music store and try one out.
Still Undecided? How Can You Decide Between the Two?
In the end, it may boil down to personality. Reflect upon the following:
- Do you like being in the spotlight?
- Do you have a type-A personality?
- Do you want to write most of the music?
- Do you want to be the creative, influencing force in a band?
- Will you put forward the time to learn musical theory?
- Is your interest in music driven by expression and creativity?
- Among other people, are you unconventional?
- Does becoming part of a team interest you?
- Does rhythm move you more than melody?
- Does working hard to play an instrument mean more to you over accolades?
- Would you be content playing in the background, knowing that you do play a key role even if it goes unrecognized?
If you had more yes responses in the first set of questions, learning guitar might be for you. If you answered yes to more of the questions in the second set, you will love the bass. Again, these are general guidelines. There are bass players who receive a great deal of attention and guitar players that go unnoticed but love what they are doing.
When it comes to bass vs guitar, there are no definitive answers to which is a better option. It may come down to size, sound, what instrument draws your attention, or personality. Whichever one you choose, make sure that it is something you will stick with. If you are passionate about it, you will be motivated to learn and will never regret your decision.