Great Basses and the People Who Play Them

Glenn Sutton teaches guitar, electric bass, keyboard, theory and improvisation for over 30 years, he specializes in rock, blues, jazz, Latin, Brazilian, classical, country, and folk.

Bass Legends and Their Preferred Basses

To the uninformed, the bass guitar may not seem as important as the other instruments in the band. But the bass serves a crucial function as the link between the melody and the rhythm of a song. Think of your favorite song, and then imagine it without the bass line holding it all together. It simply wouldn’t be as good.

Although there are many good bassists, some stand above the crowd and have become true bass masters. It may be surprising to you, but the vast majority of these well-known professional bassists use one of only a handful of models. Here, we will review some of the best-known basses and the musicians who use (or have used) them.

The Fender Precision Bass

Fender Precision bass

Fender Precision bass

This is the granddaddy of them all. Developed in 1950 by Leo Fender, this was the first successful mass-produced bass guitar. Most models have a single split-coil pickup and a tone switch. This has been the go-to bass for many of the most renowned bassists, so this is a relatively tiny list of players:

  • Roger Waters: Pink Floyd (was also their primary songwriter)
  • Carol Kaye: Session musician for The Wrecking Crew who has appeared on an astounding 10,000 recordings, including songs by The Beach Boys, Simon & Garfunkel, Frank Zappa, Glen Campbell, and the MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE Theme by Lalo Schifrin
  • Bruce Dickinson: Iron Maiden (also their chief songwriter)
  • James Jamerson: Appeared on most Motown Records recordings during their classic era

The Fender Jazz Bass

Spurred on by the success of the “P-Bass”, Fender introduced the Jazz Bass in 1960. It has a wider harmonic range due to having 2 pickups (more on some models). It has a slimmer, easier-to-play neck. Despite its name, the Jazz is used by musicians of all genres, including the following:

  • Jaco Pastorius: Ground-breaking jazz player, who worked with legends Weather Report and Joni Mitchell, and recorded several innovative solo works before his untimely death at age 35
  • Geddy Lee: Rush (also their vocalist and keboardist)
  • Bootsy Collins: Parliament-Funkadelic
  • Noel Redding: The Jimi Hendrix Experience
  • Timothy B Schmitt: The Eagles

The Gibson Thunderbird

The sibling to the Firebird guitar, Gibson introduced the Thunderbird in 1963 and has been manufactured on and off ever since. Its high-output sound and distinctive design have made it the bass of choice for many rock musicians. Here are some of them:

  • Tom Hamilton: Aerosmith
  • Krist Novoselic: Nirvana
  • Kim Gordon: Sonic Youth
  • Nate Mendel: Foo Fighters
  • Glenn Cornick: Jethro Tull
  • Gene Simmons: Kiss

The Gibson EB-3 Bass

The EB-3 was introduced by Gibson in 1963 and discontinued in 1979. A replica model is currently available from their sister brand Epiphone, and Gibson currently makes the similar SG Bass. They have a body similar to their iconic SG guitar, most are short scale, and they have 2 pickups and four tone switches. Here are some of the best known players:

  • Jack Bruce: Cream
  • Andy Fraser: Free
  • Bill Wyman: The Rolling Stones
  • Doug Yule: The Velvet Underground

Music Man Basses

After leaving the company bearing his name, Leo Fender co-founded Music Man. They developed the Stingray and Bongo basses. These well-made basses are renowned for their deep, resonant tone, Notable Music Man bassists include:

  • Nathan East: played with Eric Clapton, Toto, and others
  • John Myung: Dream Theater
  • Cliff Williams: AC/DC
  • Ross Valory: Journey
  • Tony Levin: Alice Cooper, ABWH, Peter Gabriel
  • Flea: Red Hot Chili Peppers

These bass models are among the best, but this article only scratches the surface of what is available out there. Drop by a music store today and find the bass that will make you a legend.

 

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