Now I’ll be the first to admit that I’m new to the bass and am hungry to learn not only how to play it but about the instrument too, but there’s one thing that’s been bugging me.
What is it about the p-bass that so many people like?
It’s available from £80 cheapy to £2k+ bonkers money but it seems to me that there’s nothing stand out-ish about them to make them so popular.
I appreciate that many old rock stars played them, but back then it seems that it was the go-to instrument- I can’t imagine that there was the variety about that there is today.
So, please educate me. I have a p-bass which plays very well, but I can’t see what the appeal is, especially at the higher end of the market. Not looking for an argument, but I just don’t get it and I need the fine people on this forum to enlighten me.
I think the main reason is that it’s so recognizable. Because it was pretty much the only option for a long time, people have gotten used to the P bass sound. Being creatures of habit, people tend to like what they already know.
Personally, I also like its simplicity. Just a volume knob and a tone knob. No bells and/or whistles.
I think that there must be an aspect of that. It does surpise me how similar most basses sound to each other. I messed around with guitars about 30 years ago and the difference in sound from one to another was incredible. You don’t seem to get that much with a bass, which is a shame.
That’s not an accurate statement of the situation. There are many differences in how various bass configurations sound. Pickups contribute most to the equation, but so do onboard preamps, when equipped on basses. Different shaped/sized neck profiles also affect how the bass makes you play, which can also affect how you approach it and how it can sound.
There are signature sounds to classic basses, such as the Precision, Jazz bass, Rickenbacker, Hofner, StingRay, etc., etc., etc.
Apparently, you have experienced this phenomena with various guitars. If possible, drop by as many music stores near you to try out as many different basses, whether different brands or the same, and see what you feel and hear. With a larger sample group, you will likely be surprised to hear the differences.
The P-bass is often called a “one-trick pony” that, however, does this one trick exceedingly well.
I am one of the few in here that is not too ecstatic about the P-bass; most people adore it and think it’s the pinnacle or essence of bass-ism, as it were
Don’t get me wrong - I like the sound of a P-bass; I just don’t like the feel of a typical classic P-bass with its chunkier neck. There are varieties, of course, but somehow I have yet to find one I like…
I really wish you could try my EBMM Cutlass, @joergkutter. I believe you’d really dig its neck. It has a thin C neck profile and the nut width is 41.3mm.
I’m with you on the classic wide/chunky P neck, though: I don’t like it. I know there are legions who do, and I respect that, but it’s just not my preferred playability feel. Mileage invariably varies.
At the end of the day P bass and Jazz bass has been in most songs you hear on the radio ( man I feel old saying it, ). It’s the familiar sounds and tone. If it’s Rickie or Ibanez then people would be attracted to that.
One trick pony is an awesome way to go. I’m not really a big fan of Jack (of all trades) do a few things well that’s enough. Punchy high and booming lows is all we need on the P bass.
Nice in the middle string spacing at the nut 41.3mm. Sitting beautifully between jazz and MusicMan
When people say the P bass does one trick really well, what this means to me is that basses do sound differently, especially in the mix, and the trick the P does is to fit in the mix for a wide variety of sounds. Ramones, Linda Ronstadt, Pink Floyd, Hank Williams, etc. No one will ever get mad at you for showing up with a P bass. They can work with it.
To take a shot at the original question - Precision basses were the original bass, which led to them being used in many, many genres even after later technological advances. Additionally, they were relatively inexpensive so they got a lot of use in a lot of the alternative genres. That plus the great inherent punchiness of the P-pickup made them kind of an unofficial bass configuration for punk, for example. You see lots of them (or P/J) in punk.
Then, add to that - by miracle or whatever, Leo got a lot right on his first try. They just feel good and while not versatile at all for tone are verty versatile in use in that they will work in almost any situation.
More modern basses do a lot of specific things better than a P-bass; the Jazz bass has a growl and kind of thinness to it that works well with jazz and rock; double humbuckers bring a really rich and thick tone that works well in heavy genres, and P/J’s add a little versatility.
But there’s a lot of beauty in that original, simple design.
I don’t know, man. I was a double-humbucker supremacist for a long time but I really fell in love with my P-Bass.
You can definitely get a bad one. A cheap or bad P-bass is as bad as any other bad bass. But good ones are awesome; simple, effective, feel good, and a very workable tone.
I look at p-basses as the Volkswagen Beetle of basses. My personal experience is that more complex basses (active, passive, double humbuckers, PJ, etc.) are just more complex and p-basses are so simple that what the player does counts perhaps even more and the whole “versatility” topic is a deep rabbit hole. What I think really counts is what a fat p-bass neck feels like to you vs. a thinner jazz neck.
There is some truth to the tone on a p bass comes from the player themself.
But you can get all sorts of necks with a P bass. The fat stereotypical p bass neck lends itself to sitting back in the pocket in the groove, while a fast jazz neck on a p bass puts you in the mind of a punk band.
I personally am fond of the 54 style P with the single coil pickup. It is super simple in design and capable of so much. this is what I’m talking about, 54 pbass with a Jazz neck
Beautiful bass!!! I absolutely agree with you, @Wombat-metal. I have mentioned before that if there is a bass I regret having sold is the Squier CV 50’s p-bass (43mm neck). It felt and sounded really good. If I had the chance to exchange my Fender Mustang for one, I’d do it, a 50s or a “regular” p-bass with that nut width. The Squier 60s CV have the same neck too. (But I don’t want a 3rd bass.)