“I wasn't originally a bass player. I just found out I was needed, because everyone wants to play guitar.” - Tina Weymouth
Paul McCartney, Sting, and Gene Simmons, and Roger Waters are the highest earning bassists in the world. But before you can earn as much as them, you need to learn how to play the bass. You’ll also need to get your first bass guitar.
But that’s not all! You’ll also need an amp since you’ll probably be playing electric bass. However, there are other accessories that you’ll need to make sure you get the most out of your bass guitar.
Here’s what you should buy when learning to play the bass.
Bass Equipment: Bass Guitar Amp
To learn how to play bass with a tutor or on your own, you’ll need to have a bass on hand. You’ll also need an amp if you want to practise or play live.
You don’t need to spend a grand on your first amp. An amp for around £200 will do the trick and will stop you picking up bad habits because it won’t hide your mistakes with a great sound. It’s harder to make a bass sound good with a cheaper amp so it’ll force you to work harder.
An amp between 15 and 40W should be enough for practising in your home. You can change to a better one later on.
Here are a couple of amps that should do the trick:
- Warwick BC10 - £90
- Fender Rumble 15 - £80
If you’re just playing for yourself, you can also get headphone amps. These are amps the size of a box of Tic Tacs and you can plug your bass directly into it and then plug some headphones into it. Vox makes some for very cheap. This is great if you're going to be playing the same bass lines over and over again while you practise and you don't want your flatmate to barge in and throw your new electric bass guitar straight out the window!
Bass Guitar Accessories: Plectrums
You don’t necessarily need one to get started. You can play bass with your fingers for your entire life.
However, a plectrum (or pick) is a way to change how you play, get different sounds out of your instrument, and is easier on the fingers on your right hand. Bass strings aren’t very soft and if you play a lot, you’ll inevitably have sore fingers.
There are plenty of different types of plectrums and they come in different sizes, shapes, materials, etc. When it comes to the bass, you need to choose differently to how you would for an electric guitar or acoustic guitar.
Generally, it’s recommended that a bassist pick up a large plectrum, although a regular one will do just fine if you’re playing blues or rock. Plectrums are usually made of firm plastic, but you can get ones made of wood, horn, metal, or stone. The picks that aren’t made of plastic are usually the harder ones but they’re also more expensive.
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As a bassist, you’ll need to think carefully about the thickness of your plectrum. Choose quite a thick plectrum since the strings of a bass guitar are much thicker than those on a guitar.
You probably want something around 0.85mm (heavy). Some bassists play with 3mm picks (extra heavy) and others prefer a .5mm pick like a guitarist. You’ll need to try out a few different ones.
You should also pay attention to the end of the plectrum as this will be the point of making contact with the strings. If the end is pointed, you’ll get a brighter sound and be able to play more quickly. If the end is rounded, it's easier to play but you’ll get a softer sound. On the other hand, it’ll be harder to play quickly.
If you don’t want to lose your plectrums, consider getting a holder for your bass, keyring, or microphone stand.
Bass Equipment: Tuner
The strings of a bass guitar are tuned exactly the same as the first four strings on a guitar: E, A, D, G. Even though some basses have five or six strings, you should probably just get started with four strings.
You’ll need to tune your bass regularly, especially if you take your bass to music lessons, rehearsals, or concerts. A change in humidity or temperature can detune your bass. If your bass is out by a semitone, it’ll sound awful and you won’t be able to play in tune with the other musicians in a band. Make sure you tune your bass to the right frequency: 440Hz.
You should also consider learning about music theory. As an inexperienced musician, you should probably use a tuner rather than your ear to tune your instrument. You can also split the cost if you play with a guitarist as a lot of guitar tuners also work for basses.
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There are different types of tuners: chromatic, pedals, or clip-on. Very few tuners are dedicated just to bassists but if you must choose one, you might want the Korg Headtune HTG1 bass tuner. This is a clip-on tuner that you can get for very little and it’ll allow you to tune your bass by clipping it onto your bass.
Guitar tuners can also be used for basses. If you want a tuner pedal, you could get the Mooer Baby Tuner for less than £50. If you want a chromatic tuner, the Korg Sledgehammer can help you tune guitars and basses and can tell if a string is going to break. You can get one for around £50, too. A chromatic tuner is more versatile but it’s not as easy to use.
If you don’t want to invest in a tuner, there are also sites and apps you can get started with.
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Cables for Bassists
You’ll need to connect your bass to an amp with a cable. This is much like when you plug your headphones or speakers into your computer. You can get both straight and coiled cables.
You can get both mono and stereo cables, too. A mono cable doesn’t differentiate between sound coming from left or right channels. A stereo cable can distinguish. While this is useful for headphones, your bass only outputs in mono.
You’ll need to think about your budget and various other aspects of the cable:
- Coated cables, which are less susceptible to interference.
- Coiled cables, which take up less space.
- Golden cables transmit extreme frequencies better. This is an important investment for those wanting to record.
- A length of 4 metres is usually enough for playing at home or rehearsing.
If you’re getting started, you can spend around £10-£20 on a decent cable. A really good cable can cost nearer £50.
Monster Cable, Planet Waves, and Cordial cables are amongst the most popular. Fender cables are also quite popular.
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Other Accessories for Electric and Acoustic Bass Players
To get the most out of your bass, here are some other useful accessories you should consider getting:
- Metronome: while the guitar focuses on the melody, the bass is an important part of the rhythm section.
- A strap: for playing while standing up.
- A flight case or gig bag: for transporting your bass to lessons, rehearsals, or gig.
- A stand: to store your bass when you’re not playing it or if you don’t want to get it out of its case every 5 minutes.
- A stool: since you mightn’t always want to play standing up. Don’t forget to stand up from time to time, though. At a concert, you’ll play standing up.
- A music stand: for reading sheet music or tablature while you play.
Make sure you check out the different music shops both online and off. Of course, you might want to go to your first beginner bass guitar lesson before you start thinking about getting your bass guitar. Your tutor might be able to help you choose the right bass depending on the type of bass guitar player you are.
The style of music you like might go better with something like a beautiful sunburst Fender Jazz Bass rather than an ebony black Ibanez for example (though you'll probably want to look at something cheaper or copies).
Additionally, beginners don't need all the best equipment. When you're learning how to play the bass, an expensive Epiphone with a rosewood fingerboard will still sound terrible if you're getting the hang of things.
There are some very cheap entry-level models (such as the Squier Affinity series) that are great for beginners to get the hang of. You probably want to start at the low end, which is what bassists do anyway!