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The Acoustic Bass Guitar: A Relative Newcomer

Sep 17, 2008
If you find out someone is a guitarist and you ask them what kind of guitar they play, chances are that the answer will not be "the acoustic bass." In the world of guitars, this instrument does not have an overly large following. It lacks the historical tradition of the classical acoustic guitar and the sexiness of the electric bass. However, the acoustic bass should not be discounted, as it does hold a certain place in the world of music. Although rarely utilized in its early years, it gained a foothold during the late 1980s when it was used during MTV Unplugged programs.

Acoustic bass guitars are an extremely recent advent as compared with most other versions of the instrument. The first acoustic basses on record are those made during the 1950s, and the first modern such instrument was developed in the early 1960s. The modern acoustic bass is accredited to Ernie Ball of California, who was supposedly felt that since electric guitars had bass instruments, acoustic guitars should too. Regardless of his motivation, Ball went on to collaborate with a man named George Fullerton and together, the two of them developed the first commercially produced acoustic bass, the Earthwood. This instrument was produced from 1972 to 1974 and again from 1976 to 1985.

An acoustic bass guitar, unlike its electric cousin, has a hollow wooden body similar to that of a steel-string acoustic guitar. It is generally fretted and possessed of four strings, although variations on this makeup do occur. The sound produced by this instrument is quite low, and as a result it can be difficult to hear unless an amplifier is used. Therefore, most acoustic basses have pickups that allow them to be used with amplifiers. Manufacturers of these instruments include Fender, Gibson, Ibanez, Tacoma and a number of other companies.

It should be noted that while the modern acoustic bass dates back only to the 1950s, traditional Mexican music has utilized this instrument for much longer. This style of music actually uses several kinds of acoustic basses. One of the most common is the "baja sexto," which resembles a twelve-string guitar that has simply been tuned an octave lower. This instrument has been used in Texas since the 1920s, when "Tex-Mex" music began to become popular. A variation on the baja sexton is the "bajo sexton," which is tuned slightly differently.

Finally, it is impossible to discuss bass guitars without bringing up the "guitarron," the largest of the Mexican acoustic basses. This instrument is very large and has a strikingly deep body. It has six strings, as opposed to the modern acoustic bass's four, and is commonly used in the music of mariachi bands. Because of its great size, the guitarron produces a loud sound and does not require electric amplification, at least in smaller venues. This attribute, the number of its strings and the fact that the guitarron is fretless all make it noticeably different from the modern acoustic bass. Despite these variations, Mr. Ball is believed to have used the guitarron as inspiration for his invention.
About the Author
Victor Epand is an expert consultant for guitars, drums, keyboards, sheet music, guitar tab, and home theater audio. You can find the best marketplace at these sites for guitars, acoustic bass guitars, guitarrons, sheet music, guitar tabs, and home theater audio.
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