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What Are the Parts of a Bass Guitar?

You can call it a bass guitar, an electric bass, an electric bass guitar, or just a bass. All these labels crop up in discussions of music and musical instruments, and you may encounter individuals who believe that only one of these labels is correct. But it doesn't matter which term you choose, because they all refer to the same instrument.

The bass consists of three sections: The neck, the body, and the innards. The different parts of the neck and body are easy to see, but the innards aren't so obvious. You'd have to remove the cover (or covers) to get at the innards, but knowing why they're there is important.

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The neck

The neck of the bass guitar falls under the dominion of the fretting hand (usually the left hand). The following list describes the function of each part of the neck:

  • The headstock is the top of the neck. It holds the tuning machines for the strings.

  • The tuning machines (also called tuners or tuning heads) hold the ends of the strings. (The other ends are anchored at the bridge on the body.) By turning the individual tuning heads, you can increase or decrease the tension of the strings, which raises or lowers the pitch (sound).

  • The nut is a small piece of wood, plastic, graphite, or brass that provides a groove (in this case, a small indentation) for each string. It establishes one end of the vibrating length of the string.

  • The fingerboard is attached to the front of the neck and is the flat side of the neck, beneath the strings, that holds the frets. The neck and the fingerboard usually are two separate pieces, but not always. The frets are embedded in the fingerboard.

  • The frets are the thin metal strips that are embedded, perpendicular to the strings, along the length of the fingerboard. They determine the pitch of the note that's played. Frets are arranged in half steps (the smallest unit of musical distance from one note to the next). When a string is pressed against a fret, the string's vibrating length, and thus its pitch, is changed.

  • The strings, strictly speaking, aren't part of your bass, because you remove and replace them periodically. However, your bass would be absolutely useless without them (except maybe as a “bass-ball” bat). The strings are connected to the tuning machines at one end and to the bridge at the other. The vibration of the strings produces the sound.

  • The back of the neck refers to the part of the neck where the thumb of your fretting hand rests.

The body

The body of the bass guitar falls under the dominion of the striking hand (usually the right hand). The following list describes the function of each part of the body:

  • The pickups consist of magnets embedded in a plastic bar that lies underneath and perpendicular to the strings. You may have two magnets for each string or one long magnet for all the strings. The magnets form a magnetic field, and the vibration of the string disturbs (or modulates) that field. This modulation is then translated into an electric signal, which in turn is converted into sound.

  • The controls are the knobs used for adjusting the volume and tone (bass and treble) of the pickups. They're located toward the end of your bass.

  • The bridge attaches the strings to the end of the body; it holds one end of each string. Modern pickups, such as piezo pickups or lightwave pickups, are sometimes installed inside the bridge. These pickups read the vibration of the string at the bridge.

  • The strap pin is the metal knob on the body near the neck, where you attach one end of your shoulder strap (usually the thick end).

  • The end pin is the metal knob on the bottom end of the body (by the bridge) where you attach the thin end of your shoulder strap.

  • The jack (also called the input jack) is the socket used for connecting the cord from your bass to the amplifier.

Well, there you are — who says you don't know jack?

The innards

The innards, sometimes referred to as the guts, aren't visible to the eye (they're hidden in the cavity of the instrument and covered with plates), but they're essential to the sound and feel of the bass guitar. The following list describes the innards of the bass guitar:

  • The truss rod is an adjustable metal rod that runs the length of your bass guitar's neck. The truss rod controls the curvature of the neck and fingerboard and keeps them stable. If you need to make adjustments to it, you can reach it through the top or bottom of the neck.

  • The electronics of a bass guitar are a collection of wires, “pots” (short for potentiometers, round devices connected to the inner side of a volume knob), and other important-looking electronic items that help convert the vibration of the string into sound. The cavity for the electronics usually is located under a plate on the back of your bass guitar's body. It also may be located under the control knobs.

  • The batteries are an option. If your bass has active electronics (electronics with their own power source), you have 9-volt batteries attached to the electronics. These batteries are located in the same cavity as the electronics or in an adjacent cavity on the back, and you need to replace them periodically. If your bass has passive electronics (no batteries), you don't have to worry about replacing batteries.

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