Have you finally committed to learning an instrument but you’re not sure whether the bass or the guitar is right for you?
Do you picture yourself shredding at the front of the stage or grooving in the back?
Many musicians find themselves staring down this common crossroad.
Although these two instruments belong to the same family, they’re not quite the same.
In this guide, you will learn all about the bass and the guitar plus four key differences to help you choose the right instrument for you.
Is It More Fun to Play Bass or Guitar?
The answer to that question depends on who you ask.
If you ask a guitarist if it is more fun to play bass or guitar, they will likely say the guitar.
Ask a bassist and they will likely say the bass.
There’s nothing worse than forcing yourself to learn an instrument that doesn’t sing to you.
The truth is –– both are equally fun, but the one you find more fun to play will depend on which interests you the most.
A good way to open your ears to which instrument is calling your name is to pay attention to how you listen to music.
When a good song comes on, ask yourself:
- Do you feel the groove and nod your head to the beat?
- Do your ears perk up when you hear a guitar solo?
- Do you hear the low melody notes that support the chord changes?
- Do you find it easy to hear or sing harmonies in the music?
If you feel the groove and hear the lows, you might be a bassist at heart.
If you love guitar solos and can pick out harmonies in the music, the guitar could be the better choice.
The best way to find out whether you’re a guitar hero or a bass god is to get to know the instruments a little –– feel it out first. The experienced teachers at Northwest School of Music can introduce you to each instrument to help you make the right decision for you.
Should I Play Bass or Guitar? 4 Differences to Help You Choose
To a new musician, the bass and the guitar may look like the same instrument.
The bass and the guitar belong to the same family of string instruments so you will find a few similarities — still, there are some clear distinctions between the two instruments.
Here are four key differences between the guitar and the bass that may help you choose which one is best for you.
#1: The Difference in Cost
There are expensive and inexpensive options for both instruments.
However, taking into account comparable brands and whether you choose to buy new or used, you will probably find both the bass and guitar fairly equal in price.
In 2020, the average cost for a guitar and bass was $609, but there are more affordable choices in both instruments that are beginner wallet-friendly.
Average Cost of a Bass
A starter kit is a smart way for beginners to embark upon their bass-playing journey.
Most bass starter kits can cost around $300+ and include the following:
- Extra strings; and
- Instructional DVD or book
Average Cost of a Guitar
Before basing your decision on price, you may want to consider if you prefer an electric guitar or an acoustic guitar.
Keep in mind the genre of music you’d like to play.
Both the acoustic and the electric guitar are versatile, but one may lend itself to a particular genre more than the other.
The acoustic guitar and electric guitars can be played with or without amplification, but the electric guitar will require an amplifier for performance.
For a beginner, an electric guitar starter pack typically costs around $300-400+ and includes the following:
- Extra strings; and
- Instructional DVD or book
If you’re interested in performing without an amplifier, you may want to consider the acoustic guitar.
An acoustic guitar starter pack including the same as an electric guitar starter pack minus the amplifier and cable can cost less than $300.
#2: The Difference in Strings
One of the biggest differences between bass and guitar is the difference in strings, which can vary in:
- Gauge; and
The differences in strings on each instrument can make playing easier or harder depending on the size of the instrument, your dexterity, and how sensitive your fingers are.
Comparatively, the majority of guitars have six strings while most basses only have four strings.
Consider these key string differences when choosing your instrument.
Strings on a Guitar
The common electric guitar has six strings and the standard tuning is to the notes E-A-D-G-B-E.
That means the lowest string is tuned to the low note E, the next a perfect fourth up to A, the next a perfect fourth up to D, and so on.
Though most guitars have six strings, some guitars can have seven, eight, or twelve strings.
If you choose to play an electric guitar, you have the option of either steel or nickel strings.
However, if you play acoustic guitar you can choose between metal strings or nylon strings which are:
- Easier on the fingertips; and
- Offer a more delicate tone
Strings on a Bass
Although most basses are the standard four-string, basses have more options in numbers of strings and different neck modifications.
The bass guitar can have anywhere from four to twelve strings. This can give players more opportunities to experiment with different tunings and playing styles.
A bass is tuned the same as the lowest four strings of a guitar, E-A-D-G, except the tones are one octave down in pitch.
Although your typical bass will have just four strings, they’re usually more expensive than guitar strings.
You will find the strings on a bass are longer and thicker to create the lower bass notes versus the octave-up notes played on a guitar.
If you have sensitive fingertips, you may find bass strings to be easier on your fingers than guitar strings, which are much thinner.
#3: The Difference in Roles
Another key difference you might want to consider is the different roles the bass and the guitar play in a band and how that may –– or may not –– speak to your personality.
Role of the Bass
The bass supplies the foundation that holds up the music.
Bassists tend to stand further in the background to keep rhythm with the drums.
This role might appeal more to you if you have a shy, quieter personality.
But don’t be fooled, oftentimes the bassist is relied on to carry the band.
Whether it’s …
- Settling into a groove with the drummer in jazz and soul
- Holding down the base of the chord in pop; or
- Providing the meat of the guitar riff in metal and hard rock
… bassists play a less visible, yet integral role in the band.
Role of the Guitar
There’s a reason why a band’s front person usually plays guitar.
This instrument is often front-and-center of the band — so if you enjoy the limelight, the guitar might be for you.
Whether you’re playing lead or rhythm guitar, there won’t be much of a place for you to hide.
These two roles both play the guitar but lead guitarists are more likely to play solos and other melody lines in the music, while the rhythm guitarist will play mostly chords.
Sometimes two guitar players share these duties, or one player can take on both roles.
Looking for the right environment to develop your hidden Keith Richards?
At Northwest School of Music, we teach over 200 students in both private lessons and group classes at our studio in downtown Salem, as well as in-home private lessons.
#4: The Difference in Size
It may be hard for new musicians to tell a bass from a guitar, but if you place them next to each other, you’ll definitely see a difference in size.
The total height of a guitar or bass can vary, but the scale length of the bass is longer than the guitar.
Size of a Bass
A standard bass or long-scale bass is 34-inches long and a short-scale bass is 30-inches.
Short-scale basses have a shorter distance between the frets, ideal for players with smaller hands. This shorter, more compact feel makes it easier to travel up and down the neck. Short-scale basses often use slightly heavier gauge strings creating a thicker, more meaty sound.
You may find basses that have anywhere between 20 and 24 frets, depending on:
- The style of the bass
- The length of the neck; and
- How far apart the frets are spaced
Size of a Bass
The scale length of most six-string guitars ranges between 24 and 25.5 inches.
However, the scale length of a guitar can vary between 24 to 30 inches.
A baritone guitar measures around 27 inches in scale length, between the scale length of a bass and a guitar.
Is Bass Harder to Learn Than Guitar?
If you’re still undecided about which instrument is right for you, you may be wondering “is it easier to learn bass or guitar?” Or “should I learn bass or guitar first?”
While it’s true that many musicians start off playing one of these instruments and transition into playing the other, which one you will find easiest may also depend on your dexterity.
As a guitarist, one of the first and most important things you will learn to play are chords and their various shapes.
Playing chords on a guitar requires a certain amount of finger dexterity to hold different strings down at different frets along the neck.
But guitarists have the opportunity to choose between playing a more chord-heavy rhythm-based style or a solo-heavy lead guitar style.
Like a lead guitarist, bassists tend to play individual notes but focus more on providing a steady rhythm requiring slightly less dexterity.
On the other hand, those with smaller hands or more tender fingers may find it difficult to adjust to the thickness of bass strings if deciding to use a finger-style of playing.
Should I Play Bass or Guitar? The Experienced Teachers at Northwest School of Music Can Help You Learn to Play Whichever You Choose
There’s no need to wonder if it’s easier to learn bass or guitar — when you’re just starting out any instrument will seem challenging. But at Northwest School of Music, you will find caring teachers to support you along the way.
Founded in 2006, Northwest School of Music provides quality musical education to both children and adults.
With private and group lessons available, Northwest School of Music has just the right program to help you reach the next level.
Whether you’re new to learning the “bass-ics” or perfecting your sweep-picking, your inner rock star is waiting –– register today!