Is the bass in danger of losing its groove-making role?

How should technology affect the job of the bass player?

By Jon Liebman
Week of April 20, 2020

It’s always a great experience whenever I get to sit down with legendary designer Ned Steinberger. In our newest FBPO interview, published this week, I got to marvel yet again at how this non-musician has had such a dramatic impact on so many players throughout the world.

For this interview, we were also joined by acclaimed author Jim Reilly, whose new biography, Steinberger, hit the streets, last week.

Ned’s story is truly incredible. While he never set out specifically to serve the music industry, he fell into it pretty much by accident. His “headless” design became an absolute game-changer for musicians.

Ned’s creations got me thinking of other brilliant innovators, and the impact they’ve made in the music world in the post-Leo Fender/Les Paul era. Names that immediately come to mind include Emmett Chapman and Sheldon Dingwall, to name but two.

Chapman, of course, is the inventor of the Chapman “Stick,” a game changer if there ever was one. Once the Stick found its way into the hands of Tony Levin, Nick Beggs, Don Schiff, and other prominent players, the music world was never the same.

Dingwall, hailing from western Canada, is known for his fan-fretted layout, totally revolutionizing the conventional fingerboard. This amazing, totally unique system has been popularized by the likes of Dann Glenn, Leland Sklar, Adam “Nolly” Getgood, and many others, completely redefining the fingerboard as we know it. 

So how should innovations like these affect the role of the bass? And the role of the bass player? Does the bass still maintain its role as groovemaker? Or has it started veering off in another direction?

The way I see it, one can still groove on all of these instruments, notwithstanding the way they open up countless other opportunities for expression and soloing, limited only by the creativity of the player. In fact, some of the techniques applied to these instruments have gone far beyond what their creators ever conceived.

Still, the bass needs to supply the groove.

For those learning bass here at FBPO, our primary focus is on the groove. Our lessons in technique, sight reading, etc., are all means to that end. Simply stated, it’s vitally important for the bass player to maintain the role of groovemaker.

I marvel at innovators like Steinberger, Chapman, Dingwall, and the others who are incessantly obsessed with pushing the envelope. If becoming a solo artist is in the cards for anyone who embraces game-changing technology as introduced by brilliant minds like these, I wish them success. I just hope the bass never loses the groove-making role upon which the music world has relied for decades. After all, if there’s no bass, there’s no groove.

How about you? Have a thought on the subject? Leave a comment below and let me know what you think. In the meantime, watch my interview with Ned and Jim here.

Jim Reilly’s just-released biography, Steinberger, is available in the FBPO store.







Comments on Is the bass in danger of losing its groove-making role?

  1. Edwin Hurwitz says:

    “The bass should be the groove-maker. Always.”

    While I agree that the bass player does have a traditional role to play in many kinds of music, absolute statements like this are pretty silly. Bass as an instrument has just as much right to be as musically expressive as any other kind of instrument. Life is not too short. There’s no reason for it to lose its role. Obviously it’s silly for a bassist to go into an R&B gig and start playing atmospheric effects. Your argument is basically that if a thing is possible (bass occupying a non-traditional role) then it’s guaranteed to happen all the time via some slippery slope. Not everybody wants the same thing from their relationship to their instrument. Many have no interest in having it be their primary source of income and therefore building a reputation as a groover. Many, such as myself, can handle the groove role perfectly well, but also want to make other kinds of music.

    Absolutism and projection are both a negative influence in the music world. Music is about expression and communication and there should be no limitations. Otherwise, we relegate music to a static entity, always referencing the past and being blind to the possibilities in the future. That might be fine for classical music and the neo-classical jazz types, but again, life is not too short.

    I see a number of articles related to your concern about this, and I think it’s manufactured fear mongering. (“Has the Bass Lost its Mojo?” “What’s the “Right” Role For A Bass Player?”). Bass players are more diverse and amazing than ever, redefining its role and exploring the entire range of human expression. I, for one, applaud this.

    I have found it interesting that the players who do the best atmospheric and other avant garde stuff are also ferocious groovers, such as my friend and collaborator, Stacey Starkweather.

  2. marcus davis says:

    Nah the Bass Guitar will never lose its role for providing the groove in any senario.Without the Bass to provide that vibe or pulse theres nothing.

  3. Keith says:

    Nope! Take almost any hit song and remove the bass. The bottom literally disappears along with most if not all of the groove.

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