Bass Methods On Guitar

Before I first picked up a guitar, my first love was the bass.

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Before I first picked up a guitar, my first love was the bass. True, there's the old paradigm of the bass player as the fat guy chilling out in the back and the old drums stop, very bad joke thrown occasionally, but to me the bass was something else. There's something about playing the bass that hits those low, satisfying notes that can't be reached by too many instruments. Maybe that's part of the reason why I've loved open and drop tunings (though not seven strings; those are another story...). Also, I was a huge Rush fan when I began playing, so Geddy Lee had a huge influence on me; I loved the fact that a bassist could be the frontman, and face it, Geddy Lee is the man. He can sing and is one of the best bassists out there, though in my opinion he's the best. Though, over the years, an inexpensive acoustic was all I had access to, and that's what I learned on. Though, to this day, there's something about the bass that just hits a spot no other instrument can and playing one is akin to the feeling of family time during Christmas Eve sitting around a fireplace... you get the idea. It's not a home, the guitar will always be that to me, but it's an amazing instrument. When I started playing both, I progressed at playing bass rather quickly, as the need and demand for bassists in my area is somewhat high. I ended up picking the walking bass line from my local jazz band and learned to slap from listening to greats like Flea and Les Claypool.

Then, a few years ago, I started experimenting with different sounds on my Stratocaster, thanks to the help of an effects unit. I was just messing around when I thought, wouldn't it be cool to apply bass techniques to the guitar.... Pretty soon, a whole new world opened up to me, and now some of these factors filter in everywhere from small licks taking up a few or even sometimes in solos. Here are some nifty tricks I picked up that will spice up your playing. Just be careful not to overuse them, or the effect will lose it's glamor.

Slapping

The most popular funk bass technique, I simply tried it out one day and it fit, so it stuck. Slapping guitar strings is harder, as the strings are not as thick and are closer together. But, if executed correctly, slapping will make your playing louder and add a slightly percussive sound to whatever lick you're playing. What's even cooler is playing in open tunings; hammer on chords on the bottom three strings, slap with your picking thumb, and use the rest of your fingers to tap intricate melodies. It's possibly one of the coolest visual and tonal tricks up my sleeve. Okay, now for the good stuff: when you slap, you are really just snapping your wrist, holding out your thumb like a hitchhiker. Your thumb should be loose and bounce off the string(s) the moment they hit, kind of like a harmonic. If you want to pop, as bassists call it, place the other four fingers under a string, pull up a little bit (but not too much; you don't want tremolo guitars to go out of tune and you don't want to tighten the tension so the string will pop) and release, so the string hits the frets. This can create some cool harmonics in certain spots. As you get better, your thumb will become more acquainted with the technique and you will find a sweet spot where you can easily snap and pop. Of course, previous experience with these techniques on bass helps, but is not necessary. Experiment a little, create odd and funky sounds; I found once I slapped and popped the strings a little more than usual and they hit the pickups, which sounds pretty interesting. Generally, you want to slap the three thicker strings and pop the thinner three. Again, experimenting is the best way to perfect this technique.

Walking

So walking bass lines are the foundation of most jazz and even some blues. It's all based on the root-3-5-6-octave pattern, and back down. Generally, when walking, you want to keep all the notes within a four-fret distance or so, it makes life easier. If you want to mess with that, be my guest; some players have different preferences, like Eric Johnson moves some patterns to different frets and different strings for their variances in tonal quality. If you don't already know a walking pattern, watch another bassist do it or find a method of learning so, it's much faster than tabbing it out. Again, follow the root-3-5-6-octave-6-5-3 pattern Try moving it up and down strings and frets for experimentation among tonalities and chord changes. Eventually, you'll get the habit.

The same thing goes for bassists as well; applying guitar techniques like two-handed tapping to bass really produces some odd sounds. Again, just try everything you can find for the other instrument and apply it, with modifications if necessary. They will help mold and shape your sound.

By Nikhil Deshpande

55 comments sorted by best / new / date

    aeon20k
    good aryicle i have done some "Slap" guitar too its kinda hard on guitar my next idea is to use a violin bow to play lol im thinking along the lines of any stringed instrument technique to guitar if u want a bass sound pull a jack white and use a whammy on 1-2 oct. down has a wird bell tone but it gets the point across
    dedicated_2
    geez...i wish the UPS ppl and the packagers didnt have to go and break the bass's neck when shipped...i wsa soppose to hae a bass a whole month ago!!
    Raizer Sabre
    i'm kinda wondering now if anyone's used a coin to pick bass notes like brian may did with his guitar? i think he used that bohemian rhapsody and i'm rather curious as to how that would affect bass (i don't play any guitar by the way, this is just a thought that crossed my mind lol)
    Mr_DuDe_182
    Raizer Sabre wrote: i'm kinda wondering now if anyone's used a coin to pick bass notes like brian may did with his guitar? i think he used that bohemian rhapsody and i'm rather curious as to how that would affect bass (i don't play any guitar by the way, this is just a thought that crossed my mind lol)
    Yeah I Have, I Cant Get It Right, Frankly I Think It Sounds Horrible, Then Again That may Be Me As For The Slaps And Or Pops, I Just Have To Say: When I Started Playing I Was Bored To Tears Just Picking, And Was Usually Towards The Back Of My Band. Subsequently I Stopped Playing For About 6 Months, UNTILL! I Heard The Song: Higher Ground, (Needless To Say, I Needed New Pants , ANYWAY!) And Started Playing Its Octave Slaps And Pops, Progressed On, And Now 80% Of My Music Is Based On 'Em . Oh And Can Anyone Say, Frontman? ;D Thanks For The Article Mate, Twas Good, Have A Cold One, Mr_DuDe_182
    the_bi99man
    Everything I do on the bass (outside of slapping and popping), I learned on the guitar. The instruments are just so similar, they literally beg to be interchanged. And to Raizer Sabre, I play my bass with a quarter every now and then. Try playing a bass using a quarter as a pick (yes, it needs to be a quarter, because you should pick with the serrated edge), and lower the action on your bass so that you get a decent amount of fret buzz, then, on your amp, turn you treble and bass all the way up, while keeping all your mid settings at like 1-2 tops. Then play in Drop-D. No bass sounds scarier.
    Dkpine
    i don't know how you can just listen to flea and know how to slap, im hopeless, and its not got a lack of trying! although i have started preactising hand hand tapping on my bass, "the song for the fisherman" by 36 crazyfists is a cool little thing for bassists to play two hand tapping on.
    caucasian_ninja
    Like you, guitar is, and probably always will be, my first and foremost love. But just in general, I have more fun playing a bass. I just love that I can tear one up, be as smooth or as hard on it as I can. I love the amount of power that's exerted from my fingers while playing it, and I love the feeling of the strings. And yes, Geddy Lee IS the man.
    caucasian_ninja
    metalbassist12 wrote: All I have to say is, Flea is amazing. And slapping is a lot of fun, but you gotta have a nice sounding guitar to go with it or else it just kinda sits there.
    I have a problem with Flea. Well, not with him, but with everyone who doesn't know shit about bass playing and thinks that he's the ****ing god of bass guitar. (I'm not talking about you though, metalbassist12, you just made me think that.) It's like how when kids learn to skate, they think that Tony Hawk's the greatest skater EVER. But yeah, there are loads of much better bass players out there. Flea's a good funk player. Try Les Claypool or something for better, more innovative playing.
    Five Magics
    caucasian_ninja wrote: metalbassist12 wrote: All I have to say is, Flea is amazing. And slapping is a lot of fun, but you gotta have a nice sounding guitar to go with it or else it just kinda sits there. I have a problem with Flea. Well, not with him, but with everyone who doesn't know shit about bass playing and thinks that he's the ****ing god of bass guitar. (I'm not talking about you though, metalbassist12, you just made me think that.) It's like how when kids learn to skate, they think that Tony Hawk's the greatest skater EVER. But yeah, there are loads of much better bass players out there. Flea's a good funk player. Try Les Claypool or something for better, more innovative playing.
    In my opinion, you can't a have the best bassist ever, in general, you can only have a really good bassist suited to one genre really, such as Flea, conveniently, is very good at Funk rock.
    Ingsoc
    There are some very heinous bass players out there that don't get much publicity. Check out YouTube for some really nuts stuff. Victor Wooten (sp) is up there with Les CLaypool as an insane bass player in all areas, I would say he's only a little less skilled because he doesn't have much experience with the use of effect pedals and other tone manipulation effects. As far as clean tone playing goes he's insane though.
    verona_bassist
    nice article man, i like it alot, even though im an ok guitar guy, my bass has always been my eternal love
    Fender6
    when i first started playing bass, i used a cruddy tiny acustic guitar, and used the bass strings for the bass. Now i have a fender and a washburn
    Shaharz
    Proud bassist =] I dont have and electric guitar, but my friend does, and he wont let me slap it =[ He's afraid it will ruin the strings or something, I dunno., but i did slap it when he wasnt around. very cool sound =]
    metalbassist12
    All I have to say is, Flea is amazing. And slapping is a lot of fun, but you gotta have a nice sounding guitar to go with it or else it just kinda sits there.
    icepot
    pretty good article. i have never attempted the slap technique, but now i'll have to take it up. but in a side note/question... whats up with all the Eric Johnson bromances? i guess i have to listen to this guy a little bit more.
    olithebass
    some great bassists, vic wooten, les claypool!!, stu hamm, john patitucci, michael manring, billy sheehan in more of a shredding less musical kinda way lol. theyve all got theyre own style and they own at it
    halo4856
    Nice detail, i play bass in a band and well, slapping isnt an option even though it is fun as hell. after playing drums and guitar and the keyboard, i went onto bass, i have stuck with it for ever since
    hennebry
    Own a bass and proud. I agree with the feeling of an instrument that no other can produce the same sound as. I love the fact that the bass doesnt play absolutely all the time in alot of songs, gives the person a break and allows them to interact with the crowd
    rebreh
    hennebry wrote:Own a bass and proud. I agree with the feeling of an instrument that no other can produce the same sound as. I love the fact that the bass doesnt play absolutely all the time in alot of songs, gives the person a break and allows them to interact with the crowd what are u talkin bout willis. Bass plays just as much as anyone Own a bass and proud. I agree with the feeling of an instrument that no other can produce the same sound as. I love the fact that the bass doesnt play absolutely all the time in alot of songs, gives the person a break and allows them to interact with the crowd
    9badarv
    jthm_guitarist wrote: Is there like a bass revolution going on? Or did someone forget to remind me August is Bass Appreciation Month? Seriously though, bass guitar is under-appreciated and the world would be better off if more people played bass. Slapping guitar is hard but popping sounds awesome for funk.
    yea, there aren't as many bassists as guitar players. i think there is a 1:10 ratio
    Cal UK
    Cool article, I've tried slapping on my guitar it did sound pretty cool, although I know I wasn't doing it right.
    Nebblacktip
    Nice Article man. I'm a Bassist who occasionally plays guitar, although i don't use a lot of my bass tricks on the instrument. However, i'm glad you added in that last part about bassists adapting stuff from the guitar, since that's something i do quite a bit (especially when Kristopher Dahl releases new lessons.) Kudos for thinking outside the box! Plus, the walking pattern can sound really cool if you sweep it properly up the whole guitar...
    Desh627
    Cool, good to see others are thinking of interesting techniques to expand your tonal palette. Yeah, the whammy tip will work, but I have two problems with that. One, you're not getting that "true" bass sound; it's a little wiry and distorted, not giving you exactly the tone you're usually looking for. I'd rather use a baritone or a Bass VI. Second, if you whammy your guitar down, where's the guitar in the song? Just stuff to take into consideration. Of course, sometimes things just happen to click (like in Seven Nation Army) and things work out well.
    bucket bot
    Yeah the first thing I thought of when I read the slap on guitar section was "Buckethead". I bet he'd be a pretty decent bass player too.
    Aziraphale
    I do a lot of slap guitar, especially on my seven string. And I just signed up as bass player for a band with my friends, so I've been looking into walking bass lines a lot because I love J-rock and you never hear the bass player stay on root notes in J-rock :p So this article is kinda inspiring, I'll work on this stuff a bit more. Thanks!
    Mky
    ^ There are some clips on Youtube of Buckethead playing the bass. Good article, I'm gonna try me some slap guitar! :cheers:
    thycrusader
    i love playing the bass. =) good article. especially the section on walking bass. i am expreimenting on walkign bass lines and if you're a bassist and want to try soemthing fun, yet challenging, try walkign bass. its alot seems like alot but once u egt in the groove of it. its alot of fun. plus it sounds really jazzy and laid back. again good article.
    vantage4
    ^there are some clips where buckethead and les claypool are messing around switching instruments and stuff, pretty cool.
    Cobalt Blue
    ive been trying to pop on guitar lately. never tryed slapping though. might have to give it a try.
    Scourge441
    Walking So walking bass lines are the foundation of most jazz and even some blues. It's all based on the root-3-5-6-octave pattern, and back down.
    Incorrect, my friend. Walking basslines consist of moving around the chord, and many don't follow a specific pattern at all. The 1-3-5-6-octave pattern is walking, but to say that all walking basslines are based on that pattern is a huge error. Beyond that, the article is pretty good. Also, Regi Wooten, guitarist for Bela Fleck and the Flecktones and brother of bass great Victor Wooten, is known for guitar slapping. Unfortunately, his tone sucks.
    jthm_guitarist
    Is there like a bass revolution going on? Or did someone forget to remind me August is Bass Appreciation Month? Seriously though, bass guitar is under-appreciated and the world would be better off if more people played bass. Slapping guitar is hard but popping sounds awesome for funk.
    Jawshuwa
    Mr_Jubby_Jubs wrote: I'm pretty sure two handed tapping on bass is rather common.
    I dunno about "rather common," but John Myung certainly does it well ! =3
    troyponce
    Your explaination of slap guitar is ever so wrong. On bass it works, but on guitar you use the corner of your thumb like playing fingerstyle and pop with that, and then slap down with your left hand to mute it.
    Desh627
    Incorrect, my friend. Walking basslines consist of moving around the chord, and many don't follow a specific pattern at all. The 1-3-5-6-octave pattern is walking, but to say that all walking basslines are based on that pattern is a huge error.
    Yes, I know; I play walking patterns all the time, usually very intricate; this is a place to get started if you haven't tried this technique.
    Your explaination of slap guitar is ever so wrong. On bass it works, but on guitar you use the corner of your thumb like playing fingerstyle and pop with that, and then slap down with your left hand to mute it.
    Read the article, I stated that it's mainly whatever works for you . If that works for you, great. I'm glad you found a technique that fits what you're doing. But, the main point I was trying to convey is to give it a shot, and modify it to what suits you as a player. Others may have trouble using your technique
    Macabre_Turtle
    I knew I couldn't be the only person who tried playing it like a bass, lol. Funny things is, I started doing that before I even started playing bass.
    Five Magics
    Great article - I know exactly how you feel about the bass guitar - where as when I played the guitar, it felt hollow, there was no power, I then picked up the bass and I could feel its power and it blew me away. I love playing something that I can physically feel going through my body. Yeah I've seen the slap guitar technique before, one band frontman tried it on an acoustic and it sounded phenomenal.
    Desh627
    jthm_guitarist wrote: Is there like a bass revolution going on? Or did someone forget to remind me August is Bass Appreciation Month? Seriously though, bass guitar is under-appreciated and the world would be better off if more people played bass. Slapping guitar is hard but popping sounds awesome for funk.
    Nahh, I've just written two articles; I've written more for guitar, they just haven't been posted yet. They'll come over time. I've got at least one or two more on the way soon.
    ooder the cow
    good article, liked it, makes watching buckethead do it seem much more accessible, and gives me an urging to try it out.