So, you have firmly decided to play the bass guitar, but since you’re starting, you’re not quite sure which one you should pick.
And guess we can all thank those “helpful friends” feeding us with even more options and asking “why don’t you pick acoustic bass first?”
Well, let us help you and explain what you are really looking for.
Table of Contents
- TL;DR: Acoustic vs Electric Bass
- What is an Acoustic Bass?
- What is an Electric Bass?
- Relevant Characteristics Between Acoustic and Electric Bass
- Similarities and Differences
- Pros and Cons of Acoustic Bass
- Pros and Cons of Electric Bass
- What About an Acoustic-Electric Bass?
- Factors to Consider When Choosing Between an Acoustic or Electric Bass
- Bottom Line
- People Also Ask
TL;DR: Acoustic vs Electric Bass
Loud, bright and clear tone
No additional equipment needed
The way it was meant to be played
Limited purpose for live performance
Inaudible without amplifier
Can’t match with the acoustic guitar loudness
Can be expensive to set it up in full
Perfect choice for kids & hobbyists, people who want to practice, etc.
Perfect choice for pro players whether it’s recording or performing live
What is an Acoustic Bass?
Acoustic bass origins send us south to Mexico. Band Orchestras from Mexico, known by the name Mariachi, played several 6-string acoustic models throughout decades and some basses are still being played out there.
In general, acoustic bass instruments are hollow body instruments which means their tonewood interior is not made of full wood pieces. Instead, its interior space resonates while being played and creates a sound that is much more distinctive than other basses. Strings made for acoustic bass guitar are made from bronze and they might specifically shine a bit more in the treble spectrum.
As for other aspects, the acoustic bass guitar shares concepts with the electric bass guitar. The 4-string layout and the same tune setup are there. They also come with 20 frets and a bit wider fretboard when compared to other instruments. Notes are tuned into E-A-D-G and sometimes it may come with an optional piezo pickup to reinforce the sound further, too.
What is an Electric Bass?
The electric bass is the true foundation of countless legendary songs and it’s the main source of the rhythm along with the drums. It’s also interesting to understand and appreciate its importance while being aware that it was made not so long ago.
Originally it was made to replace the need for double basses in big band orchestras of the 1950s. There was a request to make the bass instrument more portable in general. Bands were getting louder and the double bass couldn’t keep up with the new requirements. Also, with bands getting bigger, double bass was taking too much space in buses, too. it has been an irreplaceable part of modern music history.
Unlike acoustic bass guitar, electric bass guitar is a solid body instrument which means it doesn’t have any soundhole at all. This also means It produces the sound in a totally different way by applying a tone signal from the strings to the single or pair of pickups installed on tonewood.
The first commercial model ever made was Fender Precision and this model made the complete bass guitar history and even by today, it is considered as the Holy Grail of the bass instruments.
Electric bass usually comes as a 4-string model, the exact same string setup as the lower 4 strings on electric or acoustic guitars just tuned an octave lower. However, it’s not rare to find a 5-string that creates an even lower tone with the low B string or even 6-string instrument nowadays.
Relevant Characteristics Between Acoustic and Electric Bass
20 (and more)
Number of Frets
20 (and more)
Up to 6
Number of Strings
Up to 6
No / Optional.
Type of Strings
Ease of Playing
Microphone, piezo pickups, Mixer, stompboxes, etc.
Amplifiers, preamps, cabinets, stompboxes, etc.
Similarities and Differences
Even if you’re a complete newbie, by throwing just a simple glance on these instruments while not knowing where to look, you might notice a couple of significant differences and similarities between these instruments:
What is the Difference Between an Acoustic Bass and an Electric Bass?
Here are some of the most obvious differences between these two instruments:
Body Shape and Size
Acoustic bass guitar resembles an acoustic guitar shape. It has a sound hole in the middle and a bit more thick neck than any electric bass guitar. In other words, acoustic bass is a hollow body instrument, while electric bass is a solid body.
On the other hand electric bass guitar “borrowed” its shape from the electric guitar so it will be significantly thinner. There are even some mini electric bass models made for kids and smaller people.
While electric bass has some pickup configuration, acoustic bass doesn’t come with such equipment in general. Pickups, on the other hand, are an essential part of every electric bass and it’s what gives them a tone we all love.
But, some specific acoustic bass models are equipped with the pickup system and those are known as acoustic-electric bass guitars.
Electric bass probably won’t have enough loudness to be practiced without an amp. Acoustic bass on the other hand will utilize its soundhole to generate the sound and thanks to the usual bronze strings setup acoustic bass sound might be even brighter than an electric bass counterpart.
Acoustic instruments tend to have wider fretboard and acoustic bass is no different. On the other hand, electric bass guitars may come in different neck widths. Ibanez went here a step further and provided most of their instruments with the narrow neck width so that guitar players can play bass as well.
Acoustic and Electric Bass Similarities
Here’s a quick recap of the similarities between acoustic and electric bass models:
While the shape and body type may vary, the tonewood selection is pretty much the same. Most of the material that you would find for electric bass instruments can be used for acoustic bass as well.
String Setup and Tune
Both instruments have the same string order and both may come in not just 4-string but 5-string models as well. The intonation and the setup is pretty much the same
Regardless of the sound differences, both instruments are capable of playing virtually any bassline. There is no specific genre that seems to be easier to play on acoustic or electric bass guitar.
If you have played only acoustic or electric bass guitar and for some reason you get offered to play another one, you should be glad to know that all the playing experience you’ve gathered on your instrument can be easily applied on the other regardless if it's an acoustic or electric version.
You can pull the strings, use the pick, or even slap and pop those strings regardless of the instrument being acoustic or electric.
Pros and Cons of Acoustic Bass
These are the major pros and cons for acoustic bass guitar instrument:
Ideal for Practicing
If you would like to audition it and since it doesn’t ask for any additional cable or any other equipment, acoustic bass guitars are ideal for such a call.
Good Choice for Kids and Hobbyist
As it doesn’t even require plug ‘n’ play, kids will have so much fun with this instrument as they won’t be confused with setting up the acoustic bass guitar. This makes it the perfect choice for all young beginners.
And the same could be applied to hobbyists, people who love to play but don’t have any intention of becoming a professional. Such a purchase will cost them a lot of money.
Once you purchase the model that you really love, you’re pretty much done with the major part of the investment. If you want you can purchase a microphone and small mixer at a certain point if you’re about to perform live, but that’s pretty much it.
Requires External Gear for Live Performance
As we mentioned above, there is some gear you might need if you want to perform with your acoustic bass guitar on any stage. Microphones, mixer, and speakers at least for monitoring.
Not as Loud as Acoustic Guitar
One might think that acoustic bass guitar will accompany acoustic guitar in a perfect way, but, because of its size and the tone they need to produce, acoustic bass will be significantly quieter when compared to typical acoustic guitar. This may cause you a problem balancing the instruments out and spoil the fun of playing together on a campfire or similar events.
Acoustic bass guitar is an ideal instrument for practicing your basslines no matter what genre you’re interested in. It will ring across the room in a way no amplifier will be needed and will allow you to go out even on a balcony while playing. Casual players will love the freedom this instrument brings them.
Pros and Cons of Electric Bass
Here are the most important traits and flaws of electric bass guitar:
Electric bass guitar is the only way to go if you want to play live or record in a studio. Sure, you can use decent acoustic bass guitar, but, “the real” bass sound comes from the electric bass counterpart. And, if your budget allows it, you can go really professional with it or stick to budget models instead.
Combined with various preamp and effects, the sound options for electric bass guitar are endless. You can make an aggressive, soft, percussive, or fat sound while using the same instrument. And if you want to experiment even further, you can even install MIDI-pickup and play even synth sounds by playing electric bass guitar.
But in general, be sure that if you can’t make the specific sound with the electric bass guitar, then such sound probably doesn’t belong to bass guitar sounds at all.
Acoustic instruments tend to have higher action because the strings need to resonate in order to produce a sound. This might be awkward for playing fast and percussive parts. Since playing bass is all about having a responsive instrument, an electric bass guitar will behave much better for your basslines.
Bunch of Extra Options
Electric bass is the main version of bass guitar as an instrument so you will find various models - thin neck, mini-scale, 5-string, 6-string, various tonewood, color finishes, or even type of strings.
Can’t Be Played Without an Amp
Electric bass guitar requires additional equipment to sound like it should. The sound it generates on its own is not very loud and it needs to be amplified.
A Bit More Expensive Solution
Sure, bass guitar on its own doesn’t have to be so expensive, especially with Squire and Ibanez Gio bass guitars. But, if you want to make a decent sound, you will have to invest a little bit more than for acoustic bass guitar. Having a proper bass amp, cables, tuner, effect stompboxes is something you will have to purchase sooner or later.
In general, electric bass guitar should be your all-around choice. Some electric bass guitars will even fit all the genres respectively, but anyway, consider this instrument as your first pick if you want to get serious with your playing whether it’s recording, live performing, or jamming with friends.
What About an Acoustic-Electric Bass?
Acoustic-electric Bass is a middle ground solution that practically enhances your acoustic bass guitar with a piezo pickup, usually placed in the sound hole or under the saddle.
We would like to think of acoustic-electric bass as an upgrade of the acoustic bass guitar. It shares all the traits but brings up one of the most important - the ability to be used with external audio sources such as PA speakers or preamps.
Without the cable, it behaves just like a regular acoustic bass guitar and if you insert the cable, the control will remind you of playing an electric bass guitar.
Yes, you could put a microphone in front of your acoustic bass guitar and get a nice tone, but, this way is much more practical and handy as you don’t need to bring up any additional equipment with you and sometimes it even comes with the onboard tuner as well.
However, it’s also safe to say that it’s still far from the electric bass guitar use and its sound may only resemble what electric bass brings. So, it won’t replace the need for the electric bass guitar, but it will be a very handy instrument to travel around or jam on it.
It will have much more sound than the electric bass guitar because of the sound hole on its tonewood and it could be used in a live band or for practicing without an amp too. These features make it really appealing to all players regardless of the genre they are into.
Factors to Consider When Choosing Between an Acoustic or Electric Bass
Things are pretty much simple when it comes to choosing between acoustic and electric bass guitar. The main thing you should know is that the difference between electric and acoustic bass guitar shouldn’t be mixed with the difference between guitar counterparts. The difference in that category is much more specific and audible.
In the bass guitar world, choices are much easier. If you want to go professional, electric bass is mandatory. If you want to play with any band, the answer remains the same. So, acoustic bass guitar is more or less a thing you would purchase for a hobby or have something to practice without using a bass amp. But, in case you have both instruments, frankly, we doubt you would use it as much as your electric bass.
Electric bass is the main instrument of every bass player. So, if you’re buying your first instrument, the only situation in which we would advise you to go for acoustic bass is if you don’t have enough money to purchase both electric bass and decent amp so you could start learning how to play as soon as possible. And even in that case, an acoustic-electric bass guitar would be a much better choice than just a plain acoustic.
We hope that we resolved the dilemma of acoustic and electric bass guitar for you.
As you can see, things aren’t so complicated luckily and it’s all about the money you have to invest in. If you plan or dream to go professional at some point, every decent electric bass guitar can bring you there.
But, if you’re more of a hobbyist, you can save some money by buying an acoustic bass guitar instead. The best part is that if your ambitions grow, all the things you learn on acoustic bass can be applied on electric bass, too. Nice win-win situation, isn’t it?
People Also Ask
This section is intended to be similar to an FAQ section. Please provide a concise reply to the question(s) below and begin the discussion with a short intro.
Are Acoustic Bass Guitars Any Good?
If you don’t have the urge to play on bigger venues, acoustic bass guitars will be a good choice, especially for your practicing purposes. You won’t need any cable or amplifier so you can bring it anywhere you want and it might be a trait that you really enjoy.
Can You Put Electric Bass strings on Acoustic Bass Guitar?
It might come as a surprise, but, yes, acoustic bass guitars can use electric bass strings as those strings have less tension than the original acoustic bass guitar strings. It will result in a tone that’s not so bright and clear, but it won’t harm the instrument at all.
Can You Slap on Acoustic Bass?
Yes, you can slap literally on any bass guitar instrument out there. The sound may be different because of the nature of the very instrument and the strings’ tension, but the technique will be pretty much the same.
Which is Easier to Learn, Acoustic Bass or Electric Bass?
There isn’t so much difference regarding learning those instruments. But, we can tell you that acoustic bass has fewer things to think about such as preamp, cabinet, pickup position, additional pedal effects, so if this all sounds overwhelming to you, it’s totally fine to start with acoustic bass.
Can You Play Electric Bass Without an Amp?
In theory, no, it won’t be possible. The sound won’t be loud enough to be used for performing or recording. But in real-life situations, you should be able to hear at least some tone for practicing if the room is quiet enough. New strings might help out in this cause, too.
Should a Beginner Start With an Acoustic Bass or Electric Bass?
In general, it all depends on the music genre you’re interested in and your budget. In both cases, the scale and the frets will be pretty much the same, minus the tension difference. But, to be honest, we can hardly imagine a genre where electric bass wouldn’t be our first choice.