Knowing what things are actually called is super useful in many situations. Whether you’re learning the lingo of D&D, a specific type of hardcore workout, or a new musical instrument, knowing what to say can make your experience a lot better. Knowing the parts of a bass guitar is a great example of this. You’re here, so either you’re a bass player or you’re interested in bass. So, let’s learn some bass guitar anatomy.
Why you should know the parts of a bass guitar
We’ll start at the top and work our way down. Remember, having a good understanding of the parts of an electric bass will make everything easier, including talking to others about the bass.
Learning about the bass will be much easier too when you know what the teacher is referring to when they talk about frets, the fingerboard, and the neck. You’ll be able to follow their instruction a lot more easily.
Also, shopping for a new bass or for bass guitar parts is much easier when you know what the parts are called. So, let’s get into it.
Here’s a picture to reference as we go:
The headstock, tuners and nut
The headstock on a bass is located at the very top. It’s where the strings are wound around the tuning pegs, and often where you’ll find the maker’s logo. You’ll also find the tuning machines there.
Headstocks come in all shapes and sizes, and they’re often a very distinctive design feature. For instance, a Fender headstock is very recognizable for most people in the bass community. It’s so popular that it’s copied over and over again.
Electric bass headstocks aren’t just for design though. They have to be solid enough to hold string tension without warping or breaking. Also, the angle that they come off of the neck is critical. As the strings run through the nut at the top of the neck, the angle is important to how the strings will vibrate, how well they stay in tune, and how much fret buzz you’ll encounter over time.
The nut itself is also very important in the sound of the strings. It must be set properly and filed to hold the strings just right. Too loose and the strings will slop around and make noise, too tight and you’ll have a hard time tuning the strings.
The tuning machines are another critical part of the bass guitar. They’re also called tuners or other similar names, but they perform the same function no matter what they’re called. Tuners do exactly what their name suggests. They help you tune the strings.
Tuners are another item that can become a very distinct design feature of specific builders. Again, Fender bass tuners are well known for their shape and are quite sought after for both new instruments and for vintage collectors as well.
The neck and strings
The neck on a bass guitar is one of the most critical pieces of wood on the entire instrument. There are heated debates around the best type of wood to use and the best combination of neck and fretboard material.
The reason it’s such an important part of the bass is pretty obvious. It has to be strong enough to hold lots of tension from the strings, typically aided by a metal truss rod as well. It must be super comfortable in the hands, and it should look great too.
There are so many different options when it comes to bass guitar strings. We write about it all the time. There are round wounds, flatwounds, half rounds, tape wounds, and more. Each type of string sounds and feels different.
But, basically, the strings are there to vibrate over the pickups and make some noise.
The fretboard, frets, and fret markers
The fretboard is one of the most important parts of a bass guitar. As a bass player, you pretty much live on your fretboard.
As with the neck itself, fretboards are made from different types of wood, and each type offers something different. From pure aesthetics to speed and comfort up and down the neck, your fretboard makes a huge difference.
The fretboard is attached to the neck with glue unless you have a neck that is all one piece. Then, the fretboard is simply the top of the neck itself.
The frets are the small wires that are seated into the wood of the fretboard itself. There are different sizes and shapes of frets as well. Basically, frets on a bass help you to find notes along the fretboard. They make intonation much easier.
For instance, with a fretless bass, finding the exact place to put your finger for a B flat note takes a lot of practice and study. With a fretted bass, it’s much easier to know where to put your finger for the same note.
Fret markers are inlays set into the wood of the fretboard to mark specific frets. This makes quickly locating notes while you’re playing a much easier feat.
The body and pickguard
The body of the bass is yet another super important chunk of wood. You might think it’s less important overall, but it plays a very significant role in the tone of your bass. As your strings vibrate, the body, where your pickups are installed, picks up those vibrations and translates them to the pickups.
Harder, denser woods can produce tones that are brighter and more clear sounding. In contrast, softer, more open-grained woods can produce tones that some players feel are warmer and more full overall.
Types of tonewood on a bass is an interesting and well-covered topic. It really comes down to personal preference, but try to play a few basses that are made with different types of wood to see how much of a difference you notice.
The pickguard isn’t always present on a bass guitar, but the style they provide can’t be argued with. If you don’t play with a pick anyway, it’s not a necessary item on your instrument. They were originally used to protect the finish on a guitar, but they were carried over for aesthetics.
The pickups, tone/volume controls, and input jack
These pieces make up the electronics of your bass.
The pickups are incredibly important, and many bass players swap out their stock pickups whenever they buy a new bass. Pickups usually come in either humbuckers or single coil. Each type has its own pros and cons. And, yes, there are many different variations.
Fender Jazz Bass pickups, like the ones in the picture here, are single coil, while pickups like you’d find on a Fender P Bass are a split-coil humbucking style.
Whatever type of pickup your bass has, its main function is to “pick up” the vibrations of the strings and translate them into an electronic signal. That’s what your amplifier will then output as sound.
The tone and volume controls are pretty self-explanatory. Different basses will feature different numbers and types of tone controls. But, in general, they will always be there to shape the sound coming from your bass.
And, the input jack is even more self-explanatory than the tone controls. That’s where you plug your instrument cable in to connect to an amp, effects pedals, or an audio interface.
The bridge on a bass guitar
The bridge is where your strings connect with the bottom of the bass guitar. It’s actually a very important part of the bass guitar anatomy. It provides a point for the strings to contact the body of the bass and vibrate the wood to help produce the overall sound.
There are different types of bridges available, and each style can have a different effect on the sound of your bass.
Bass guitar anatomy: Final thoughts
While this is just a very high-level look at the parts of a bass guitar, it’s all you really need to get started learning and shopping around for equipment.
One great way to enhance your knowledge of bass, the language that bass players speak, and the anatomy of a bass guitar is by frequenting the more popular bass forums and readings lots of blogs available online today.
The more you immerse yourself in the world of bass guitar, the more natural it will all feel, and the more you’ll enjoy playing.