Bass guitars are similar in construction to electric guitars and share many of the same features, parts, and construction. But as any Bassist will tell you, it’s an instrument all it’s own.
In this article we’ll look at all of the bass guitar parts in detail. From the bass bridges to the bass neck, we will dig into each individual part and explain what it’s function is. Most of these parts will not vary if you’re playing a 4 string, 5, or even a 6 string bass.
Parts of the Bass Guitar
Bass guitars are such an important instrument in any band. If you decide to play one as your instrument of choice you want to know what you’re looking at. Even more common, once you buy a solid instrument you’ll start to find you have preferences for certain bridges, pickups or components.
Here is a full list of the parts of the bass guitar and the function of each.
The Headstock is at the top of the guitar and is sometimes refered to as the bass guitar machine head. This is where the Tuning keys (pegs) are housed, which you tighten or loosen to adjust the tone of the strings. Many bass guitars have a distinctive straight neck and no head, which separates them from traditional guitars. These “headless” bass guitars have Tuning Pegs on the neck instead.
The nut is the place where strings contact the guitar in between the guitar neck and headstock. You will see a rectangular block which is the nut. Evenly spaced grooves will hold the strings into place. Although small, the nut can make a different to the sound of the guitar.
The nut helps control the height of the strings, which need to be at the right height and tension for that true bass sound. Nuts can wear out quickly with use, so it is important to ensure that they are in good condition. If you ever need to get replacement necks put on your guitar you’ll also want to change out the nut at that point.
The Bass Guitar Neck
The neck connects the Headstock to the body of the guitar. There are two types of neck; the traditional “Bolt On” neck which is, as the name implies, bolted to the guitar body (Most Fender basses and guitars use this construction) and the “Neck-Through” which is made from several layers of wood lamenated together.
The Neck Through is believed to give a slightly more mellow playing sound, although both are popular. The Neck tends to be about 34 inches long, although custom bass guitars often have a this modified to suite the bassist and the style of music the instrument is being played for.
It is also common for Bass guitars to come with a solid shaft running through the neck to help with shape and to resist bowing.
The Tuning Pegs are on the Headstock and control the sound you will hear from the strings. You can adjust the tension to make the strings tighter or looser. Most pegs use a “worm gear” which tightens the string by wrapping it around the screw.
Depending on your headstock you may have 4 pegs on one side or 2 on each.
Bass Fretboard, Frets, and Inlays
The Fretboard is a piece of wood that lays on the face of the neck. Mounted on the fretboard are small metal blocks evenly spaced along the length of the neck. The metal blocks are called Frets and divide the neck into areas of different notes.
There are also little markers along the Fretboard called inlays. Sometimes called neck plates, these function as a quick reference where you are on the guitar. Most guitars will have between 20 and 24 Frets, although you can find guitars which have up to 32 Frets and are often used by soloists who need to play a wider range of notes. Fretless basses are also available and have a different more muffled sound, but are popular in Jazz.
Frets will wear out eventually. You can learn more about how to replace them and the cost at GuitarFact.
Bass Guitar Body
The Body of the guitar is the biggest and most distinct area. However, the only function is to provide a mounting point for the other parts of the guitar attach to. You will find all of the guitars electronics here, including the pickup mounting, switch knobs, control knobs and volume pots, tremolo bars, and input and output jacks. You’ll also find structural components like the bass bridges, strap button, and pickguard
Alder and Maple are popular woods to make a guitar body out of. Newer bass guitars have been made from synthetic materials such as Luthite.
Different sound quality can be obtained by hollowing out the Body of the guitar. This is more commonly found on acoustic bass models and electric “semi-hollow” styles, but can be done to a bass as well.
The Pickups are mounted on the body under the strings. Most pickups are rectangular blocks with metal circles on. These metal circles are magnetic and help convert the vibration of the strings into electric voltages that can then be converted into sound via an amplifier.
Most bass and electric guitars will have multiple pickups, each one makes a different tone according to their location. Pickups near the neck of the guitar tend to produce a lower, “bassier” sound while one located nearer the bridge tends to transmit higher ranges of notes.
Pickups might be the most common difference between basses, as some will go for precision bass pickups while others may want a traditional electric humbucker pickup.
The Truss Rod protects the guitar from bending out of the shape. Due to the tension of the strings and pressure the guitar can often bend at the neck. The Truss Rod usually spans the length of the neck and neutralises the pressure from the strings.
You can use a specific tool to adjust the Truss Rod, in order to repair any bowing in the neck, but shouldn’t attempt to adjust the Truss Rod to change the sound of the guitar. Most bass guitar parts guides skip this piece, but it’s important enough to be added!
Bass guitar bridges sit near the base of the guitar body and is where the strings are anchored into the body. The base unit is usually metal with the strings attached securely to it. A saddle holds the strings in place, with a small groove for the string to pass through.
You can make adjustments to the strings at the bottom using the saddle height adjustments. However, generally the novice will use the tuning pegs rather than adjusting the saddle. Heavier metals such as brass are often used to hold the strings in place.
The Pick Guard is the protective cover that covers the body of the guitar to prevent damage from repeated use with a pick. It can be made of a variety of synthetic materials, metal or wood.
No guide on bass guitar parts would be complete without the strings. You’d think the strings are fairly self-explanatory, but there are a lot of them. Check out our complete guide to bass guitar strings Here.
The Final Note
There you go! A great overview to bass guitar parts. Keep in mind that some styles of music tend to have features that others won’t. For example, it is fairly common to find a bridge tremolo on a jass bass, but that isn’t normal on a Fender Standard. If you want to play a particular style of music it might be worth talking to a local musician to get recommendations on key parts or models!
To learn more about the history, sound qualities, and much more concerning the bass guitar, check out these pages on Wikipedia and OnMusic.