Arming the Artists

The evolution of the bassist

Posted: 19 February 2019

Updated: 14 June 2022

For over 70 years the electric bass has been key in helping to set the tone for modern music. Usually underrated, often overlooked, but forever essential, we look at what’s expected from today’s bass players.

Read time: 3 mins

Since the first mass-produced bass guitars hit the market in the early 50’s the bass has been a staple of rock and pop groups. On top of this if you speak to any bassist they’ll tell you that it is a pretty simple instrument to pick up and learn. So why are bassists often difficult to find, and when you do find one what’s expected of them?

Get collaborative

If you’ve read our piece on the role of a modern drummer you will already know that the relationship between drummer and bass player is critical. Today’s bass players need to have a connection with the drummer so they can establish a groove together. However, this doesn’t mean that as a bass player you need to religiously follow the beat. Less can be more. Think of Geddy Lee, Paul McCartney and John Paul Jones and they were more concerned with the space in between the notes, and not just filling out the song.

No need to fret

Playing bass doesn’t need to restrict you to just 4 strings. Nowadays there’s a whole host of bass guitar variations you can get your hands on, each with differences in tone and style. 5 string basses were originally introduced in the 60’s but fast forward to 2019 and you can play anything up to a 12 string bass. When you combine that with the option of a fretless bass and add in a wide range of playing styles, such as slap or picked, then you start to discover a whole world of tonal possibilities.

Styles for miles

Look back to the 80s and the rise of drum machines and synths meant that bassists and drummers felt at risk of being evicted from bands altogether. This isn’t an entirely inaccurate prediction when you look at the rise of hip-hop and the general lack of live instruments throughout that. However, there will always be a place for a bassist who can turn their hand to multiple styles and genres. This is why, generally, modern bassists have brought much more variety and a wider range of influences into what they play.