Exploring the Differences: Bass Guitar vs. Upright Bass

In this article, we will compare the bass guitar and the upright bass to explore their differences. You will learn about the unique characteristics of each instrument, including their sound, playing techniques, and physical design. We will also discuss the different roles they play in various genres of music, and the advantages and disadvantages of each. By the end of this article, you will have a better understanding of these two popular bass instruments and be able to choose the one that suits your musical preferences and style.


Are you a music enthusiast? Do you find yourself drawn to the deep, resonant tones of the bass in your favorite songs? If so, then you may have come across two main types of bass instruments – the bass guitar and the upright bass. While both instruments serve a similar purpose, there are significant differences between the two. In this article, we will explore these differences and help you understand which instrument may suit your musical preferences and needs. So, let’s dive in and explore the world of bass guitars and upright basses.

What is a bass guitar?

The bass guitar, also known simply as the bass, is a stringed instrument that is similar in appearance to the traditional guitar but with a larger body and longer neck. It is typically played with the fingers or a pick, and it has a range of four to six strings that are tuned to produce deep, low-pitched sounds. The bass guitar is an integral part of various music genres, such as rock, funk, jazz, and pop. Its versatile sound and rhythmic capabilities make it a popular choice among musicians.

Exploring the Differences: Bass Guitar vs. Upright Bass

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What is an upright bass?

On the other hand, the upright bass, also known as the double bass or contra bass, is a much larger and more traditional stringed instrument. It stands upright on its endpin and is played either with a bow or by plucking the strings with the fingers. The upright bass produces rich, deep tones that provide a solid foundation in classical music, jazz, and orchestral compositions. Its unique sound and grandiose appearance make it a captivating instrument to behold.

Physical Differences

Size and shape

Perhaps the most obvious difference between a bass guitar and an upright bass is their size and shape. A bass guitar is relatively compact and easier to handle, with a size comparable to an electric guitar. Its slender body and narrow neck allow for comfortable playing, especially for those with smaller hands. On the other hand, an upright bass is a much larger instrument, standing at average heights of six feet or more. Its deep hollow body and broad shoulders give it a distinct appearance, making it instantly recognizable on stage or in an orchestra.

Number of strings

Another physical distinction between these two instruments is the number of strings they possess. A typical bass guitar has four strings, although some models can have up to six strings. The four-string configuration is the most common, with each string tuned to E, A, D, and G notes, respectively. This setup enables bass guitarists to cover a wide tonal range efficiently. In contrast, an upright bass traditionally has four strings tuned to E, A, D, and G, similar to the bass guitar. However, extended-range upright basses with more than four strings are also available, providing even greater versatility in terms of tonal possibilities.

Exploring the Differences: Bass Guitar vs. Upright Bass

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Sound Differences

Tone and timbre

When it comes to sound, the bass guitar and upright bass exhibit noticeable differences in tone and timbre. The bass guitar has a bright and punchy sound, thanks to its solid-body construction and magnetic pickups that capture the vibrations of the strings. This results in a more focused, defined tone that is well-suited for genres like rock, funk, and pop. On the other hand, the upright bass produces a warm, resonant tone with a rich, woody timbre. Its large, hollow body allows the sound to resonate more freely, creating a deep, mellow tone that is perfect for jazz, classical music, and orchestral pieces.

Volume and projection

Another factor to consider when comparing bass guitar and upright bass is their volume and projection capabilities. Since the bass guitar is electrically amplified, it can produce a significant amount of volume without requiring excessive physical force. This makes it ideal for live performances in larger venues or spaces where the sound needs to be projected over the band. In contrast, the upright bass relies solely on its acoustic properties for volume and projection. While it can produce a sufficient volume in smaller settings, such as jazz clubs or smaller venues, it may struggle to compete with louder instruments in larger venues without additional amplification.

Playing Technique

Fingerstyle vs. bowing

The playing technique used for the bass guitar and upright bass also differs significantly. The bass guitar is primarily played either with the fingers (fingerstyle) or with a pick. Fingerstyle playing involves plucking the strings with the fingers, allowing for greater control over dynamics and nuances. This technique is commonly used in various music genres, allowing bass guitarists to deliver intricate bass lines and melodic hooks. On the other hand, the upright bass is traditionally played with a bow, known as bowing. This technique produces a smoother, legato sound and is commonly utilized in classical music and orchestral settings. Plucking the strings with the fingers, also known as pizzicato, is also a common technique for upright bass players, especially in jazz and contemporary genres.

Plucking vs. slapping

In addition to fingerstyle playing, the bass guitar has another technique known as slapping. Slapping involves striking the strings with the thumb or popping them with the fingers, creating a percussive, funky sound. This technique adds a rhythmic and percussive element to the bass lines, making it a favorite in genres like funk, rock, and slap bass solos. Conversely, the upright bass does not lend itself well to slapping due to its large size and the need for a bow when playing more delicate passages. Therefore, slapping is generally reserved for bass guitarists looking to incorporate a unique flair into their playing style.

Exploring the Differences: Bass Guitar vs. Upright Bass

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Musical Genres

Suitability for different genres

Both the bass guitar and upright bass have their place in various music genres, although they excel in different ways. the bass guitar’s versatile sound allows it to seamlessly blend into rock, funk, pop, and jazz music. Its ability to provide a rhythmic foundation and deliver melodic lines makes it a favorite in these genres. On the other hand, the upright bass shines in classical music, jazz, and orchestral compositions. Its deep, resonant tones create a solid foundation for harmonies while adding an elegant touch to any ensemble.

Popular bass players in each genre

Numerous legendary bass players have made their mark in different genres, showcasing the capabilities of both the bass guitar and upright bass. In the world of bass guitar, iconic figures like Flea (Red Hot Chili Peppers), Geddy Lee (Rush), and Victor Wooten (Béla Fleck and the Flecktones) have pushed the boundaries of what is possible on the instrument. Their innovative playing styles and technical prowess have influenced countless aspiring bassists in the rock and funk genres.

In the realm of upright bass, musicians like Charles Mingus, Jaco Pastorius, and Ron Carter have become revered figures in the realms of jazz and classical music. These virtuosos have demonstrated the expressive and melodic capabilities of the upright bass, inspiring generations of bass players to explore the instrument’s potential.

Role in the Band

Rhythmic foundation

One of the primary roles of the bass guitar and upright bass in a band setting is to provide a solid rhythmic foundation. Both instruments contribute to the groove of a song, anchoring the rhythm section and connecting the harmony and melody. The bass guitar accomplishes this through its percussive attack and defined tones, allowing it to lock in with the drums and drive the pulse of the music. The upright bass achieves a similar effect with its resonant, sustained tones, giving the music a sense of depth and grounding.

Melodic and soloing capabilities

In addition to their rhythmic duties, both the bass guitar and upright bass have the potential to contribute melodic lines and even take solos. The bass guitar, with its more defined and articulate sound, is often given more melodic opportunities in contemporary genres. Bass guitarists can play intricate bass lines that enhance the song’s melody or take center stage with compelling solos. On the other hand, the upright bass’s rich, expressive tone allows it to create melodic counterpoints and play solos in jazz and classical compositions. While the upright bass may not have the same level of technical agility as the bass guitar, its unique sound and expressive capabilities make it a valuable asset for any band or ensemble.

Exploring the Differences: Bass Guitar vs. Upright Bass

Portability and Accessibility

Transportation and setup

When it comes to portability, the bass guitar has a clear advantage. Its compact size and lighter weight make it easily transportable in gig bags or hard cases. Bass guitarists can effortlessly carry their instrument to rehearsals, gigs, or studio sessions. Furthermore, the bass guitar requires less setup time, as it can be easily plugged into an amplifier or PA system for immediate use. Conversely, the upright bass’s large size and cumbersome nature make it more challenging to transport. It often requires a specialized case or gig bag and additional equipment, such as a stand or a transport cart. Additionally, the upright bass needs to be properly set up, including adjusting the endpin length and positioning the bridge, before it can be played.

Availability and cost

In terms of accessibility and cost, the bass guitar holds an advantage. Bass guitars are widely available in music stores and online, with a wide range of options to accommodate different budgets. From entry-level models to high-end professional instruments, there is a bass guitar for every player. On the other hand, upright basses are less commonly found in music stores, and they tend to be more expensive. Due to their specialized nature and the need for quality craftsmanship, upright basses often come with a higher price tag. This makes them less accessible to beginners or those on a tight budget.

Learning Curve

Ease of learning for beginners

If you are a beginner looking to learn how to play the bass, the bass guitar may offer a gentler learning curve. The bass guitar’s narrower neck and lighter gauge strings make it easier for beginners to form chords and navigate the fretboard. Additionally, the bass guitar’s electric nature allows for instant feedback through an amplifier, helping beginners hear their progress and make adjustments to their playing technique. On the other hand, the upright bass requires more physical strength and dexterity to pluck the strings and maneuver around its larger body. Its acoustic nature also means that beginners may have to work harder to produce a good sound, as compared to the bass guitar.

Transferable skills

While there are differences in the learning curve, the skills developed on either the bass guitar or upright bass are transferable to some extent. Many of the fundamental techniques, such as fingerstyle playing, rhythm, and note reading, are applicable to both instruments. For example, a bass guitarist can easily transition to playing the upright bass by relearning the techniques specific to the instrument. Similarly, an upright bassist can adapt their skills to the bass guitar with some adjustments in technique and mindset. This transferability of skills allows for greater musical versatility and opens doors to exploring different genres and opportunities.

Exploring the Differences: Bass Guitar vs. Upright Bass

Electric vs. Acoustic

Amplification and sound modification

One key distinction between the bass guitar and upright bass is the ability to modify and amplify the sound. The bass guitar, being an electric instrument, can be easily connected to amplifiers or effects pedals, allowing for a range of tonal possibilities. Bass guitarists can experiment with various effects, such as distortion, chorus, and wah-wah, to shape their sound and add unique textures to their playing. On the other hand, the upright bass, being primarily an acoustic instrument, does not lend itself as easily to sound modification. While it is possible to use pickups and preamps to amplify the upright bass, the tonal possibilities are more limited compared to the bass guitar.

Acoustic vs. electric performances

The choice between an acoustic or electric performance also differs between the bass guitar and upright bass. The bass guitar is often played in amplified settings, whether in a live band performance or in a recording studio. The amplified sound allows for a more even balance with other instruments and ensures the bass guitar can be clearly heard. In contrast, the upright bass is traditionally played acoustically in jazz and classical music performances. Its rich, resonant tones carry well in acoustic settings, creating a more intimate and organic experience for the audience.


In conclusion, the bass guitar and upright bass are two distinct instruments that serve different purposes in the world of music. The bass guitar offers a compact, versatile option, ideal for rock, funk, pop, and jazz genres. Its bright tone, ease of transportation, and accessibility make it a popular choice among bass enthusiasts. On the other hand, the upright bass provides a deep, resonant sound that adds elegance and depth to classical music, jazz, and orchestral performances. Its larger size and impressive presence make it a captivating instrument to behold.

When choosing between a bass guitar and an upright bass, it ultimately comes down to personal preferences and musical goals. Consider the genres of music you enjoy and the sound you wish to achieve. If you are drawn to the punchy, versatile tones of contemporary music, the bass guitar may be the right choice for you. However, if you have a passion for the rich, expressive sounds of jazz or classical music, the upright bass may be the instrument that resonates with your musical soul.

Whether you choose the bass guitar or the upright bass, both instruments offer unique opportunities for musical expression and creativity. So, pick up your chosen instrument, embrace the low-end frequencies, and embark on a journey of exploring the depths and grooves of the bass world.