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Electric Guitar vs Bass – The Ultimate Showdown

So, you want to learn about the differences between guitars and basses? 

You’ve come to the right place!

Today we are comparing electric guitars to bass guitars. We will look at the various factors that make these instruments different. 

You will get a detailed comparison of the Bass and Electric guitars. 

Check out our other post about the best electric guitars on the market today!

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Table of Content

Major Differences Between the Bass and Guitar

  • Size
  • String Count
  • String Pitches
  • Sound

Bass Guitars vs Electric Guitars – Shootout

This next section explores the main differences between electric guitars and basses in detail. Whether you want to play guitar or want to play bass, this guide explains the difference between the two. Both instruments have been used in many styles of music, from classical music to more modern music. Both instruments can play melodies, but guitars are better for harmonies as basses have fewer strings. 

For more info on different types of guitar, check out our other post!

Size : Electric Guitar vs Bass

The size of electric guitars and bass guitars vary drastically. The Bass guitar basically looks like a scaled-up version of an electric guitar. 

best scale and size compared - electric guitar vs bass

A full-sized electric guitar is typically anywhere from 36 to 40 inches from top to bottom, the average length is 38”.

In contrast, full-sized bass guitars range from 42 to 46 inches, on average, around 44”. 

The size difference is reflected in other areas of the instruments and is an essential element of why bass guitars are so different from electric guitars.

Basses need to be longer so they can accommodate lower pitches. The longer a string is, the lower a pitch can be achieved. The same is true in reverse, shorter strings are better at producing higher pitches. The Bass is elongated to make enough room for the increased string and scale length and has a much longer neck than a normal guitar.

The fretboards of bass guitars are also much larger than electric guitars. This is easily measured with the scale length. The scale length measurement determines the length between the instrument’s nut and bridge. 

The scale length of a bass guitar is on average around 34”, where a guitar is typically around 26”. 

The fretboard is also often wider on bass guitars. This is measured with nut width. The nut width of an electric guitar is on average 1.55 inches. The standard nut width for a bass guitar is around 1.75 inches and above. 

You might expect bass to have a thinner neck because it uses less string, however, the strings are thicker and longer, which require more spacing between them to remain easily playable. 

Generally, the frets of an electric guitar are much closer together than the frets of a bass.

Bass guitar frets are both wider and taller. The length is increased to accommodate for the lower vibrating frequencies to be produced on the neck. There is more space between lower frequencies than high frequencies. 

Guitar’s frets are closer together thanks to their small scale length, this makes it easier to play chords and complex, fast solos. 

For beginners, it is often easier to start playing on an electric guitar rather than a bass. The increased length of a bass guitar requires more finger stretching. This may be uncomfortable for new players. 

The short scale of an electric guitar will be a bit easier to play for players with smaller hands. You can always learn the basic motions on guitar and transfer to bass later on. As you will find out later, the music theory, scales, and note positions of both instruments are very similar.

To find out more about the weights of guitars, see our post on what do electric guitars weigh.

Strings

One area of significant difference between these two instruments is their strings.

The differences here are vast. Bass strings and guitar strings are arranged completely differently. Although bass and guitar share some similarities, guitar players will find playing bass fairly easy. Learn scales for one instrument, and they will still sound good.

If you learn bass scales, you will be able to play some elements of them on a standard guitar.

Strings

For starters, most bass guitars typically use only four strings, whereas guitars use six strings. 

(Although there are models which break these rules, eg five-string basses).

The tuning is also slightly different, with bass guitars being tuned an octave lower than regular guitars. 


The strings of a bass guitar will be tuned to E-A-D-G.

The strings of an electric guitar are tuned to E-A-D-G-B-E

The difference is the Low E of bass is tuned to E1, where the guitar’s lowest string is E2.

Additionally, the strings on a bass guitar are wider and longer than a regular guitar. This is so they can produce lower frequencies. 

This is an interesting difference, and one I believe comes more from history than convenience. The electric bass guitar has its origins in the double bass and cello, which used 5 and 4 strings respectively. As electric instruments began to be invented, the double bass and cello were reimagined by the Fender company, creating the first mass-produced electric bass guitar in  1951. 

Low frequencies tend to lack clarity, and not work so well for harmonic or chordal music. Chords sound fine higher up, but playing chords with low notes sound muffled and obscure. This is one reason why bass guitars typically use 4 strings instead of 6. It helps to increase the precision of their low tones.

Pitch

The pitches of these instruments differ too. 

The pitch of electric or acoustic bass is tuned an octave lower than regular guitars.

The notes stay the same, just the octaves are changed. 

Whilst the octave tuning of each string is different, between the instruments, the way scales work is very similar. Scales on bass guitars are the same patterns as regular guitars, although lacking the higher two strings.

This makes learning scales a transferable skill that can be passed from instrument to instrument. 

The muscle memory of playing guitar scales makes playing scales on the bass feel familiar. 

Any music theory learned is transferable across these, and other instruments. 

Due to the lower string count, bassists tend to think about music theory and scales in a slightly different way. Bass players are known to use more arpeggios than scales, as this is more suitable for the constraints of the instrument. Some players use 6 string basses, which are a little closer to a guitar in design, but still a full octave lower. Often the additional strings are tuned one 4th above and/or below.

Tone & Frequencies

The tones of these instruments are also generally very different. 

The frequencies and harmonic content of both instruments are vastly contrasted. 

Electric guitars have a typically brighter, thinner, and more cutting sound in comparison to a bass. Electric guitars have a higher concentration of mid and high frequencies. The lowest E note on an electric guitar produces a fundamental frequency of 82.4Hz, where the low E on bass guitar is around 41Hz.

A bass guitar’s sound would be described as warmer, fuller, with a larger concentration of low and sub frequencies. 

The exact frequency content and overtones vary from model to model, largely based on the wood, pickups, and strings used. However, the fundamental frequency ranges of the instruments are almost an octave apart. Although a bass guitar doesn’t quite have the upwards range as a regular guitar.

Tone & Frequencies

Thanks to the harmonic structure of these instruments and their strings, the tones are also very different.  Electric guitars have a more complex harmonic structure, generally with more overtones and harmonic partials present. 

A good bassist and a drummer form the basis of the rhythm section. These players must hold down the groove when they play songs. At the same time, they are free to express themselves. 

Amplification

It isn’t only about the instrument itself, but also the device that projects its sound.

Amplification is a huge factor of guitar and bass setups, and unfortunately, they aren’t always compatible between the two.

When it comes to amplification, there are Bass Amplifiers, and there are Guitar Amplifiers, and it’s advisable to use the right one with the right instrument. They are both designed completely differently, and using the wrong type with the wrong instrument can damage the speaker cones.

There are several differences in this category

Amp differences:

The amplification circuits will be designed with the specific frequencies of the instrument in mind. Bass amps are designed to perform better in the lower frequency ranges, where guitars amps are more tuned for the mids and highs. 

You may also be presented with different controls in the amp circuits.

The frequency response of a bass guitar is completely different from an electric, being concentrated in the lower, sub frequencies. For this reason, the circuits need to be balanced differently to work most effectively with the bass frequencies.

Amp differences

Cab and speaker differences:  

The speaker cones and cab designs are also different for these two instruments. 

Bass cabinets tend to use larger speaker cone sizes than electric guitars.

Guitars tend to use smaller cabinets, in larger quantities. Often (but not always) bass cabinets use a single speaker cone where guitar amp use 2, 4, or even 8! 

Lower frequencies require larger cones to produce their tones. This is why sub-speakers are always huge. Speakers can only produce frequencies as low as their physical properties allow. This is why bass cabs use much larger speakers. By the same token, smaller speakers are better at producing high and mid-range frequencies. This is why professional mixing speakers often use multiple cones – a sub, a mid, and a tweeter. This way each speaker cone is tuned to perform well in its required frequency range and doesn’t have to produce frequencies that are beyond what it is capable of. 

Trying to play frequencies through unsupported speakers will quickly make the sound quality degrade, particularly if the volume is loud. 

Which is easier; Guitar or Bass?

It ultimately depends on your musical interests and to some degree your hand size and dexterity.

At face value, the bass guitar is easier to learn, and arguably easier to play. 

The kind of techniques used on bass guitars is simpler than guitars. To play bass well, you don’t have to learn chords. Also, it has 4 strings, so there are fewer notes to learn and the scales are less complex.

Bass guitars are also less fiddly than electric guitars. Bass strings are fatter, with more room between them. This makes it easier to play than a guitar, as less fine motor control is required.

However, if you have small or weak hands, the bass guitar may feel harder to play.

Particularly if you have shorter fingers, the distance between the frets is a little longer on a bass guitar, which will feel like more of a stretch., making for a less noble performance.

Guitar chords and guitar solos may be hard for some players to learn, although you will need to learn both if you want to play lead guitar. You can play the same chords on a bass guitar, or a six-string bass. The chords won’t sound as good because of the thicker strings. 

Should you play bass or guitar?

The answer here is yes! Well, you should play both at some point in your life. Learning the techniques and motions of one instrument will help you progress at the other. It also helps to understand the psychological process other musicians are experiencing when you play with them. If you are a guitarist, try playing some bass to get a feel for what the bassist’s job is – and vice versa. 

There is a more serious answer here though. Really it depends on how you want to play music.

I think if you are looking to be more of a solo musician, you will get further learning guitar. Bass is a lot of fun, but really only works in the context of a band. There aren’t many solo musicians who play bass – although there are some. 

If you learn guitar, learning bass will feel pretty natural to you anyway. It isn’t like learning is exclusive. Learning a second instrument helps improve your overall musicianship.

I would recommend new musicians to start on guitar and then specialize in the bass if they feel it’s the right direction for them.

Summary

This concludes the bass vs guitar shootout. Now you should understand the differences between these two majestic instruments. 

It can be a lot of fun to play either instrument. You can learn to play guitar and bass, learning both will help to increase your understanding of the other instrument. So many guitarists only learn the guitar, particularly lead guitarists. But a good guitar player will have an understanding of both acoustic guitar, basses, and the key difference between the two.