The bass guitar might look like a seemingly simple instrument, but the reality is that building a solid, reliable bass guitar requires some fine craftsmanship and experience. There are many parts of a bass guitar, and each plays an integral role in delivering its deep, robust sound. This article will break down the bass guitar’s anatomy, discussing each individual part and its importance. Let’s get into it!
Parts of a Bass guitar diagram
Don’t let the fact that bass guitars have fewer strings fool you. Bass is still a complex instrument that takes time to learn. There are three primary pieces of a bass guitar, each broken into many more parts:
- The head: The head is also known as the headstock and houses all the various tiny mechanisms used to secure and tune the bass guitar.
- The neck: The neck of the bass guitar is the home of the fretboard and is usually held by the left hand of the player. You push the bass strings down onto various points on the fretboard to alter its pitch.
- The body: The body of a bass guitar is where the other ends of the bass strings are secured. Most players will play these strings using their right-hand fingers, with the body of the bass strapped against their body for easier control.
The headstock is the very top of the bass guitar and is responsible for securing and tuning the bass strings. The headstock is joined to the bass’s neck via the nut.
The headstock consists of mechanisms used to tune the strings, called the machine heads. Some headstocks also come with a removable plate just above the nut, allowing you to adjust the truss rod inside the neck. This plate is called the truss rod cover.
Headstocks come in various shapes and sizes, some with 2 machine heads on each side and others with all 4 machine heads on the same side.
Bass guitarists often confuse machine heads with tuning pegs. The machine head refers to the entire mechanism that secures the bass string, whereas the tuning peg is the adjustable hardware that you actually use to change the pitch of your string.
Machine heads usually contain one or two gears that work with the tuning peg to alter a string’s pitch. These gears turn the tuning post, which is used to fasten the bass string to the headstock.
The tuning peg is the part of the machine head that you use to adjust the string’s pitch. Tuning pegs are generally made of metal and look like the ears that stick out of the headstock. When tuning a bass guitar, you will use the tuning peg to adjust the tension of your bass string and change its pitch accordingly. Most bass guitars come with four strings, each of which is fastened to a machine head on the headstock.
String tree & tuning post
The tuning post is a steel cylinder that sits perpendicular to the tuning pegs and has a hole through its center that is used for threading and securing your bass string to the headstock. On certain bass guitars, you will find a string tree a bit further down the headstock.
The string tree is used as a guide for some of the higher strings on a bass guitar and provides some added support to ensure they don’t fall out of place while playing. The string tree can also help give bass strings some extra sustain whenever you play an open note.
The nut is a crucial part of a bass guitar. Aside from acting as the crossover point from the neck to the headstock, the nut also largely determines the playability of each bass string.
The nut is a thin piece of plastic, wood, or bone with grooves of different sizes that fit each bass string. The size of these grooves will affect the string height or action, and this will determine how easy it is to push notes onto the fretboard with your left hand.
Adjusting your bass guitar’s nut might seem straightforward, but a wrong move can render your bass unplayable. So, if your nut is not adjusted properly, I recommend getting a professional to take a look at it.
Your bass guitar neck is the long piece of wood that runs from the headstock to the body and is where your left hand sits when you play. The neck consists of a fretboard, frets, an inlay, and a truss road.
Most bass necks are curved on the back side to make it easier for the left hand to hold and play notes simultaneously. The inside of the neck contains a truss rod, which gives the neck both structural support and some flexibility.
The fretboard is the front part of the bass guitar’s neck and is used for changing the note of each string. Fretboards are usually made from high-quality hardwoods like maple, rosewood, or maple for their firm but spongy properties. The choice of wood will also affect the tonal character of the bass guitar.
The fretboard of a bass guitar has between 19 and 24 frets, depending on the size and scale of the guitar’s build. Each fret is set at specifically marked intervals to help map out the notes along the neck of the guitar.
The fretboard is divided using thin pieces of metal wire that run along the width of the fretboard. Some basses are fretless and come without frets, which gives them a clear, distinct tone, but these are not nearly as common as fretted basses.
The truss rod is a long cylindrical strip of steel that is placed inside the neck of the bass guitar. The truss rod provides the bass guitar with much-needed structural support, counteracting the pressure of the strings. This part also allows you to adjust the rigidity of the neck for playing or tonal preferences.
You can adjust the truss rod through the truss rod cover, which is on the headstock of most bass guitars. However – much like the nut – the truss rod should only really be adjusted by a professional guitar technician that knows what they are doing. It is easy to destroy a bass guitar by adjusting the truss rod too far in a specific direction.
Certain bass guitars come with a thin strip of wood in a different color on the back of the necks. This piece of wood is known as a skunk stripe and is part of the truss rod fitting. Some manufacturers install truss rods into the back end of the bass guitar’s neck and then use the skunk stripe as a seal. Skunk stripes can also come with specific designs to enhance the aesthetic appeal of the bass guitar.
Inlays mark specific points along the fretboard, making it easier to memorize and navigate. Most guitars and bass guitars have inlays at frets 3, 5, 7, 9, 12, 15, 17, 19, 21, and 24, but this can also depend on the design choices of the person making the guitar.
Most inlays are just simple dots or tiny markings at these fret points, but some craftsmen like to place more intricate artwork along the fretboard as a personal touch. These artworks can include anything from flames and insects to patterns and brand logos.
The electronic parts of a bass guitar are stored in the body. The body is the largest part of a bass’s anatomy. On the front side of the body are the bridge and saddle (used to secure the bass strings at the bottom), the pickups, the thumb rest, and the pickguard. The front side of the body is where your right hand sits and plucks the strings. This is also where the volume and tone knobs are located.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the components that make up the body of a bass guitar.
The bridge on a bass guitar is an anchor point for the strings and secures them to the body. The bridge is usually made of steel and is glued and screwed into the front of the body to keep it in place. The bridge also plays a small role in setting the overall resonance on the bass.
The saddle is a strip of metal fitted next to the bridge and is used to guide the bass strings and set their desired action. The saddle serves a similar purpose to the nut but on the opposite end of the bass. This part also transfers vibrations from the strings into the body, and adjusting its placement will affect the guitar’s tone, resonance, and playability. Bass strings tend to have an independent saddle for each bass string to ensure their ability to hold tension.
As the name suggests, the cutaway is a curvature cut into the bass guitar’s body and is designed to give the players easier access to the higher notes on the fretboard. Bass guitars generally come with double cutaways, which vary in shape and size depending on the manufacturer’s design preferences. Most bass guitars have a strap button on the tip of the upper cutaway to allow you to attach a strap.
Thumb rests aren’t common on bass guitars, but they are a unique part featured on specific designs. As the name suggests, a thumb rest is a small piece of material that sits above the bass strings on the body and supports the thumb while notes are played with the fingers. Similarly, a tug bar is a rest that sits below the bass strings for your fingers to rest on while you play the strings with your thumb.
The pickups are extremely important parts of a bass guitar that come in configurations of 1, 2, or 3, depending on the make and model. Pickups sense the vibration of the strings and transfer the signal through a guitar cable to the amp. These devices are placed beneath the strings on the body to capture the vibrations that are created when you play bass. The pickups are placed at specific points on the body, between the bridge and neck. Bass pickups can either be single-coil or double-coil (humbuckers).
These are one of the most critical parts in terms of sound and tone, as pickups play an essential role in determining how your bass sounds when played through an amp, mixer, or studio interface. Understanding how pickups affect your tone can come in handy when shopping around for a new bass guitar.
Volume & tone knobs
The volume and tone knobs of a bass guitar are located below the bridge allowing the right hand to access them easily. Depending on your bass guitar’s make and mode, you may have one or two-tone knobs to adjust the bass and treble of your guitar’s output signal. These knobs are always accompanied by at least one volume knob (sometimes one knob for each pickup) to allow you to adjust your levels on-the-fly.
Also known as the jack socket, the output jack is the hole on the body of a bass guitar that you plug your guitar cable into. The cable will then connect to an amplifier, effects pedals, or recording interface. The output jack is usually located on the front side of the bass guitar’s body or the bottom.
The pickguard is a flat piece of material glued onto the front of the bass guitar’s body to the side of the pickups and strings. The pickguard aims to protect the body from any bumps or scratches caused by right-hand movements while playing. Many manufacturers use their pickguards as a chance to add some kind of decorative touch to the bass guitar’s overall look, and they can come in a wide span of shapes, colors, and designs.
The final parts of a bass guitar are the strap buttons, which are small pieces of metal that are screwed into the sides of the bass guitar’s body and are used to secure the guitar strap while playing or performing. Most strap buttons are in the same place across bass guitar designs, and these can be further reinforced using strap locks, which you can purchase at most music stores.
And there you have it – the fundamental anatomy of the bass guitar! Whenever new players ask me for valuable non-playing knowledge, I always suggest that they learn about the construction of their instrument. Learning about the parts of your bass guitar will give you a much better understanding of the instrument as a whole. And now that you know the basics, you are ready to start jamming along to some legendary bass lines!
Looking for more advice on getting started with bass guitar? Check out my guide on the best beginner bass books.