In the 1930s, musician and inventorPaul TutmarcfromSeattle,Washington,developed the first guitar-style electric bass instrument that wasfretted and designed to be held and played horizontally. The 1935 sales catalog for Tutmarc's company, Audiovox, featured his"electronic bassfiddle," a four-stringed, solid-bodied, fretted electric bass guitar with a30½-inch scale length. The change to a "guitar" form made the instrument easier to hold and transport, and the addition of guitar-style frets enabled bassists to play in tune moreeasily and made the new electric bass easier to learn. However, Tutmarc's inventions nevercaught the public imagination, and little further development of the instrument took placeuntil the 1950s.
In the 1950s,Leo Fender,with the help of his employee George Fullerton, developed thefirst mass-produced electric bass.
HisFender Precision Bass,introduced in 1951, becamea widely copied industry standard. The Precision Bass (or "P-bass") evolved from asimple, uncontoured "slab" body design similar to that of aTelecasterwith asingle coil
pickup, to a contoured body design with beveled edges for comfort and a single four-pole"single coil pickup." This "split pickup", introduced in 1957, appears to have been twomandolin pickups (Fender was marketing a four string solid body electric mandolin at thetime). Because the pole pieces of the coils were reversed with respect to each other, and the leads were also reversed with respect to each other, the two coils, wired in series,produced a humbucking effect (the same effect is achieved if the coils are wired inparallel). The "Fender Bass was a revolutionary new instrument, one that could easily be played by an electric guitarist, could be easily transported to a gig, and could be amplified to justabout any volume withoutfeeding back "
followed by the moreconventional-lookingEB-0 Bassin 1959. As with Fender's designs, Gibson relied heavily upon an existing guitar design for this bass; the EB-0 was very similar to aGibson SGinappearance (although the earliest examples have a slab-sided body shape closer to that of the double-cutaway Les Paul Special).Whereas Fender basses had pickups mounted in positions in between the base of the neck and the top of the bridge, many of Gibson's early basses featured onehumbuckingpickupmounted directly against the neck pocket. TheEB-3,introduced in 1961, also had a "mini-humbucker" at the bridge position. Gibson basses also tended to be smaller, sleekerinstruments; Gibson did not produce a 34" scale bass until 1963 with the release of the Thunderbird,which was also the first Gibson bass to utilize dual-humbucking pickups ina more traditional position, about halfway between the neck and bridge. A small numberof other companies also began manufacturing bass guitars during the 1950s:Kay in 1952,and Danelectroin 1956;
Rickenbackerand Höfneralso produced models. With theexplosion of the popularity of rock music in the 1960s many more manufacturers beganmaking bass guitars.First introduced in 1960, theFender Jazz Basswas known as the Deluxe Bass and wasmeant to accompany theJazzmasterguitar. The Jazz Bass (often referred to as a "J-bass")featured two single-coil pickups, one close to the bridge and one in the Precision bass'split coil pickup position, and was designed by Leo Fender to be an easier bass for aguitarist to play than the existing Precision Bass, due to the narrower nut (noted later). The earliest production basses had a 'stacked' volume and tone control for each pickup. This was soon changed to the familiar configuration of a volume control for each pickup,and a single, passive tone control. The Jazz Bass' neck was narrower at the nut than the
Precision bass (1½" versus 1¾").Another visual difference that set the Jazz Bass apart from the Precision is its "offset-waist"body. Pickup shapes on electric basses are often referred to as "P" or "J" pickups inreference to the visual and electrical differences between the Precision Bass and Jazz Basspickups.Fender also began production of theMustang Bass;a 30" scale length instrumentused by bassists such asTina Weymouthof Talking Headsand Bill Wymanof TheRolling Stones("P" and "J" basses have a scale length of 34", a design echoed on mostcurrent production electric basses of all makes).In the late 1950sJet Harris,later of The Shadows,became one of the pioneers of the bassguitar in Britain, initially playing a Besson/Framus Star bass imported from Germany which was later replaced by a Fender Precision.In the 1950s and 1960s, the bass guitar was often called the "Fender bass", due toFender'searly dominance in the market for mass-produced bass guitars. The term "electric bass"began replacing "Fender bass" in the late 1960s, however, as evidenced by the title of Carol Kaye's popular bass instructional book in 1969
The instrument is also referred to as an "electric bass guitar", or simply "bass".
The 1970s saw the founding of Music ManInstruments by Tom Walker, Forrest Whiteand Leo Fender, which produced theStingRay,the first widely-produced bass with active(powered) electronics. This amounts to an impedance buffering pre-amplifier on-board the instrument to lower the output impedance of the bass's pickup circuit, increasing low-end output, and overall frequency response (more lows and highs). Specific modelsbecame identified with particular styles of music, such as the Rickenbacker 4001 series,which became identified with progressive rock bassists likeChris Squireof Yes,while theStingRay was used by Louis Johnsonof the funk band The Brothers Johnson.In 1971,Alembicestablished the template for what would subsequently be known as"boutique" or "high end" electric bass guitars. These expensive, custom-tailored instruments featured unique designs, premium wood bodies chosen and hand-finished by highly skilled luthiers, onboard electronics for preamplification and equalization, and innovative construction techniques such as multi-laminateneck-through-body constructionand graphite necks. In the mid-1970s, Alembic and other "boutique" bass manufacturerssuch asTobiasproduced 4- string basses and 5-string basses with a low "B" string. In1975, bassistAnthony Jacksoncommissioned luthierCarl Thompsonto a 6-string basstuned (low to high) B, E, A, D, G, C.
In the 1980s, bass designers continued to explore new approaches.Ned Steinbergerintroduced a headless bass in 1979 and continued his innovations in the 1980s, using