Back in the early days of the electric bass, nobody quite knew what the hell a bass should be. Should it be an electric version of an upright? No, not everyone has the lower back strength to really, truly rock out on stage with one of those things. Leo Fender’s Precision Bass set a precedent that was followed by pretty much everyone pretty much instantly, and almost all basses today are descendants of that design. But in the late 50s a few companies started messing around with something else. Some call it the bass guitar. Some just call it a six-string bass. But although Danelectro were the first to bring one to the mass market, Fender also took the idea and ran with it. Picture this: an oversized guitar with six strings, but tuned a full octave down, and with string spacing that’s much more guitar-like than bass-like.
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Sure, we have six-string basses now which have big fat necks and active EQ controls and bigass soapbar pickups, but the six-string bass/bass guitar is a unique instrument unto itself. It’s generally played with a pick, and quite a few models have whammy bars and three pickups. Virtually all of them have guitar pickups rather than bass pickups (well, Danelectro models have the same lipstick pickups as the guitar and bass models). And the physical design is usually based off an existing guitar shape rather than a bass one.
For instance, a few currently available models include the Squier Vintage Modified Bass VI and Fender Pawn Shop Bass VI (both of which are based on the Fender Jaguar but with an extra pickup and a more Jazz Bass-like upper horn); the Schecter Robert Smith UltraCure VI (which is based on the Cure guitarist’s signature ‘regular’ guitar model); Schecter’s Hellcat-VI (which is rather guitarry too); and the Ernie Ball Music Man Silhouette Bass, a lowdown version of that brand’s pioneering Silhouette guitar model.
Jack Bruce used one in the early days of Cream. So did Noel Redding in the Jimi Hendrix Experience. Robert Smith’s work in The Cure is crammed full of all sorts of six-string bass goodness. Listen to the high melodies in “Lullaby” or the lonesome, lowdown chords of “Pictures Of You.” Placebo’s Brian Molko and Stefan Olsdal use them quite frequently (a great example is “The Crawl” from Black Market Music). And The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach has been known to hoist one too. Even Eddie Van Halen got in on the action with the track “Spanked” from 1991’s For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge. On that album Eddie used a Danelectro, although Ernie Ball Music Man built him a double-neck version of his signature model so he could perform the song live.
These instruments – especially the Squier – are now much more readily available than ever before, so the next time you’re in a music store and you notice one, pick it up and give it a try.