Although the concept of a bass guitar was first developed in the 1930s, it wasn’t until the 1950s that mass production met with popularity and the concept of an electric bass guitar became mainstream. Once the idea of an electric bass guitar took hold, and was used widely in groups and bands performing across the world, many companies began developing new styles and methods to create some fantastic ideas for the instrument, and help its popularity grow. Today the electric bass guitar has stepped forwards from the dark shadows of the back of the stage to take a much more prominent position at the front – and has become known as a very popular and stylish instrument to play. Not forgetting, of course, that the quality of sound and versatility have come a long way too.
Since it took about twenty years for the idea of an electric bass guitar to become a mainstream popular idea, it is unsurprising perhaps that it took another twenty years for the next big jump in design and innovation. It was in the 1970s that the company known as Music Man was founded by Leo Fender. It was this company that designed and created the StingRay, which was the first bass guitar to include active electronics. Although these active electronics can sound quite complex, the simple effect was to increase the range of high and low notes, and enhance the crispness of each.
In the early seventies a company called Alembic created the basic design for the high end bass guitars, known as boutique guitars. These were crafted using the highest degree of expertise, with the most highly skilled craftsmen using the finest quality materials. With unique, custom designs, the most premium woods available and some of the most innovative electronic gadgetry included, these boutique bass guitars became well known as the top guitar to have – and brought bass guitars from the back of the stage to the very front – an equal to the standard electric guitar.
Over the next thirty years the designs of electric bass guitars have varied, with new innovations, odd and unusual features and designs, including a headless bass by Ned Steinberger, who also introduced the Trans-Trem tremolo bar. A few years later the Guild Guitar Corporation introduced the astonishing fretless bass, known as the Ashbory. Quite how a guitar would work without frets would challenge any sane thinker – but the Ashbory used silicone rubber strings, with a piezoelectric pickup. The result of this was a sound more like a double bass than an electric guitar.
It was in the nineties that five string basses became popular, and prices began to reduce quite significantly, seeing pre-amplifiers built in to most bass guitars – previously something reserved for the higher end guitar. Today we see electric bass guitars include digital modelling circuits actually built in to the guitar – almost like having a computer built in to the body of the guitar, and able to enhance, distort, amplify and altar the voice of the guitar in such a way that it is possible to program the guitar to sound like any of the well known types of guitar available previously.