Acoustic bass guitar

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An acoustic bass guitar.

The acoustic bass guitar (also called ABG or acoustic bass) is a bass instrument with a hollow wooden body similar to, though usually somewhat larger than a steel-string acoustic guitar. Like the traditional electric bass guitar and the double bass, the acoustic bass guitar commonly has four strings, which are normally tuned E-A-D-G, an octave below the lowest four strings of the 6-string guitar, which is the same tuning pitch as an electric bass guitar.

Because it can sometimes be difficult to hear an acoustic bass guitar without an amplifier, even in settings with other acoustic instruments, most acoustic basses have pickups, either magnetic or piezoelectric or both, so that they can be amplified with a bass amp.

Traditional music of Mexico features several varieties of acoustic bass guitars, such as the guitarrón, a very large, deep-bodied Mexican 6-string acoustic bass guitar played in Mariachi bands, the león, plucked with a pick, and the bajo sexto, with six pairs of strings.

History[edit]

Eston acoustic bass guitar with no electric pickup, fretless but with fretlike markers, made in Italy in the 1980s

The first modern acoustic bass guitar was developed in the mid-1950s by Kay of Chicago[citation needed] but the design did not show up again in a production instrument until the early 1960s when Ernie Ball of San Luis Obispo, California, began producing a model. Ball's aim was to provide bass guitarists with a more acoustic-sounding instrument that would match better with the sound of acoustic guitars. Ball stated that "...if there were electric bass guitars to go with electric guitars then you ought to have acoustic basses to go with acoustic guitars." Ball notes that "...the closest thing to an acoustic bass was the Mexican guitarron...in mariachi bands, so I bought one down in Tijuana and tinkered with it."[1]

Ball collaborated with George Fullerton, a former employee at Fender, to develop the Earthwood acoustic bass guitar, which was introduced in 1972. Production of this instrument ceased in 1974, resuming a few years later under the direction of Ernie Ball's employee Dan Norton, who still works for Ernie Ball Inc., until production finally ended again in 1985. The Earthwood acoustic bass guitar was quite large (and deep) in contrast to most instruments in current production, which gave it more volume, especially in the low register.photo 1photo 2photo 3 The Ernie Ball company describes Ball's design as "an idea before its time"; the instrument was little used in acoustic musical performances until the late 1980s, when the acoustic basses were used in performances on the MTV Unplugged television program.[1] The Earthwood was quickly supplanted by the Washburn AB-40 designed by Mick Donner and Richard Siegle. The AB-40 and the more affordable AB-20 became the instrument of choice for bass players appearing on Unplugged.

An early user of the acoustic bass guitar in rock was English multi-instrumentalist and composer Mike Oldfield, who had one custom-built for him by luthier Tony Zemaitis in the mid-1970s. Mike used the bass on a number of his recordings from that time onwards, a prominent example being his 1975 album Ommadawn. Brian Ritchie of Violent Femmes was also an early user of acoustic bass guitars.

Construction and tuning[edit]

Unlike the electric bass guitar, which is generally a solid body instrument, the acoustic bass guitar usually has a hollow wooden body similar to (though usually somewhat larger than) that of the steel-string acoustic guitar. The majority of acoustic basses are fretted, but a significant number are fretless instead. Semi-fretted versions also exist, although they are quite rare.

Like the traditional electric bass and the double bass, the acoustic bass guitar commonly has four strings, which are normally tuned E-A-D-G, an octave below the lowest four strings of the 6-string guitar. Like the electric bass guitar, models with five or more strings have been produced, although these are less common. In part, this is because the body of an acoustic bass guitar is too small to produce a resonance of acceptable volume at lower pitches on the low "B" string. One solution uses the five string acoustic bass to add an additional high string ("E-A-D-G-C") instead of adding a low "B". Another solution is to rely on amplification to reproduce the low "B" string's notes.

Washburn AB-10 Acoustic-Electric Bass Guitar

There are also semi-acoustic models fitted with pickups that are intended to be used with an amplifier. The soundbox of these instruments is not large enough to amplify the sound; instead, it is designed to produce a distinctive tone when amplified, similarly to semi-acoustic electric guitars. Thin-body semi-acoustic basses such as the violin-shaped Höfner made famous by the early Beatles and several Fender models are not normally regarded as acoustic basses at all, but rather as hollow-bodied bass guitars. There are also semi-acoustic basses such as Godin Guitars' "A-Series" that, once amplified, sound much closer between acoustic bass guitars and upright basses, and have been used in professional circles to "simulate" one when it would be impractical for transportation and other reasons to use a full-sized upright bass. As with semi-acoustic electric guitars, the line between acoustic instruments fitted with pickups and electric instruments with tone-enhancing bodies is sometimes hard to draw, especially when some instruments can also be equipped with a variety of pickups such as piezo pickups, the "standard" of acoustic-electric instruments as well as synth pickups that can replay "virtual" upright bass sounds and bring a semi-acoustic bass much closer to a double bass sonically. Saga Musical Instruments produces a four-string bass resonator guitar under their Regal brand name.videos National Reso-Phonic Guitars also produce three models of resonator bass guitar.[1]

Manufacturers[edit]

Other manufacturers of acoustic bass guitars (not mentioned above) include Alvarez, Ibanez, Breedlove, Cort, Crafter, Jerzey, Dean, Eko, Epiphone, Eston, Furch, Gibson, Guild, Washburn, Maton, Ovation and its subsidiary Applause, Michael Kelly, Prestige, Ribbecke Halfling Bass, Sunlite, Takamine, Tacoma, Tanglewood, Taylor, Larrivée, Warwick, Fender, Gibson and Martin.

Mexican bass guitars[edit]

Mexican guitarrón acoustic bass guitar

Traditional music of Mexico features varieties of acoustic bass guitars. The bajo sexto, with six pairs of strings, resembles a twelve-string guitar tuned an octave lower. The heavy gauge strings generate a large string tension, yet the guitar is built relatively lightly. The bajo sexto began to be used in Texas in the 1920s with the rise of "Tex-Mex" music, where it continues to be used to play the parts that would be played by the piano in traditional American popular music. It matches the standard tuning of a 12-string guitar, one octave lower. The tuning of these instruments is (capital letters are an octave lower than small letters):

BAJA SEXTO - Ee Aa Dd Gg Cc Ff
BAJO SEXTO - Ee Aa Dd Gg Bb ee[citation needed]

The guitarrón is a very large, deep-bodied Mexican 6-string acoustic bass guitar played in Mariachi bands. Other Latin American acoustic bass guitars exist as well, see: Bordonua.

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