|Bass Mania 2|
|Electric bass guitar [bass guitar]|
The electric bass guitar was invented by Leo Fender and was first marketed as the Fender Precision Bass in 1951. The instrument was introduced to meet the needs of musicians playing the bass part in small dance bands in the USA: they wanted not only a more easily portable instrument than the double bass, but one that could match the volume of the increasingly popular solid-bodied electric guitar, and could be played with greater precision than their large, fretless, acoustic instruments. Fender's electric bass guitar answered all these requirements. It was based on his already successful Telecaster six-string electric guitar, with a similar body of ash and neck of maple. The four strings were tuned to the same notes as the double bass (an octave below the bottom four of the six-string electric guitar), and a single pickup fed controls for volume and tone. At first the instrument was manufactured only in models with a fretted fingerboard, which offered players the precision they wanted. Later, fretless models were also introduced; these enabled musicians to achieve greater agility and timbral variety than they could on fretted instruments.
For many years the name "Fender" was almost generic for electric bass guitars. The company introduced the Jazz Bass in 1960; this was a larger, heavier instrument than the Precision model and had two pickups. Both models have retained their popularity into the 1980s, and the designs remain practically unchallenged. The most notable attempt to change the construction of the electric bass has come in the 1980s from the American maker Ned Steinberger. The Steinberger Bass is constructed entirely from injection-molded plastics, lacks the conventional peghead at the upper end of the neck, and has a tiny body, barely wide enough to carry the pickups, control knobs, and machine heads.
The electric bass guitar was first used in jazz by sidemen with Lionel Hampton, who was highly influential in its acceptance among jazz musicians. Vernon Alley played a prototype of it as early as 1940, though the experiment was of little consequence. At the beginning of the following decade Hampton immediately adopted Fender's invention, allowing Monk Montgomery to join his orchestra only on the condition that he took up electric bass guitar. In 1953 Montgomery became the first jazz musician to record on the instrument; he may be heard to advantage on his brother Wes Montgomery's album Montgomeryland (1958, Pacific Jazz 5).
Although bass players in most jazz styles have continued to prefer the acoustic instrument, in the 1960s and early 1970s many double bass players, including such notable musicians as Ron Carter, began to use the electric bass guitar when required to do so, particularly for concerts and for studio work in styles that were oriented towards rock; some, among them Steve Swallow, began playing the instrument exclusively. Its popularity increased after the rise of jazz-rock; from the mid-1970s many electric bass guitarists, often influenced by rock or rhythm-and-blues musicians (notably James Jamerson, a house musician for Motown), achieved prominence in jazz without first having played double bass. At this time several players developed new approaches to the instrument. Stanley Clarke established a virtuoso technique of highly melodic playing, which may be heard on the album Stanley Clarke (1974, Epic 36973); Jaco Pastorius, using a fretless model, achieved a panoply of unusual effects (including chords made up entirely of harmonics, and slow, chordal glissandos) and an extraordinarily full ringing tone on such recordings as his LP Jaco Pastorius (c. 1975, Epic 33949), and Havona, from Weather Report's Heavy Weather (1976, Columbia PC34418). Other fine players include Anthony Jackson, a gifted improviser who has played with Al Di Meola and others, and uses an instrument with six strings. A few jazz musicians have taken up the Steinberger Bass; the most important of these is Jamaaladeen Tacuma, who praises the instrument's ability to produce a cutting tone without distortion and its suitability for his melodic playing. The title track of his album Show Stopper (1982-3, Gramavision 8301) displays both the instrument's strengths and weaknesses. Although his solos are extremely crisp and penetrating, the walking bass lines with which he accompanies the solos of his sidemen often sound thin and high-pitched.
As the electric bass guitar has only a very brief performance tradition, there are no formalized approaches to its technique. Fingering follows either that method of double bass playing which involves stopping the strings with only the first, second, and fourth fingers of the left hand, or an approach derived from that of the guitar in which all four fingers are used. The strings are normally plucked with the first two fingers of the right hand, though some musicians, including Swallow, use a plectrum. A method of playing that has been adopted by some jazz players, notably Clarke, involves striking the lower two strings with the edge of the thumb of the right hand and rapidly flicking the higher ones with the tips or the knuckles of the fingers. This style, often known as slapping, is a variant of the slap-bass technique and produces a very percussive, stinging tone as the strings hit the fingerboard, and, on occasions, the pickups.