Why don't bassists get as much credit as 'guitarists'

Is it because bass is perceived as “easier”?
Is it because playing bass isn’t as flashy? (You don’t see bassists generally don’t all the hand and body mannerisms of guitarists)
Is it because the bass sound itself generally runs along the … well … baseline of a song, while the guitar is more pronounced?

I asked a friend of mine to name five famous bassists and he came up with John Paul Jones, Geddy Lee and Les Claypool. That’s it.

…Jon Entwistle, Lemmy, Roger Waters, Jack Bruce, Bootsy Collins, Willie Dixon, Sting, Noel Redding, Paul McCartney

McCartney is chopped liver to this guy?

They say you’re not supposed to hear it, you’re supposed to feel it. That could be the reason it’s not flashy.

I have to argue that the OP is a flawed premise. It sounds like your friend isn’t much of a music person - not trying to slam at all, but come on, if that’s all they can come up with…

At its simplest, a bass can be used to hit the simplest notes and connect the drums and the chord instruments. If you want to play the stereotype game, sure, some bassists are thought to be the “introvert standing still” while the peacocks prance. But there are SO MANY exceptions to that that it really doesn’t work as a premise…

I suspect that’s the core of it. If you’re a casual fan of rock / pop music, I imagine that you primarily hear the melody in a song – and the melody in most songs is driven by the vocals, and possibly the guitar or keyboard. It takes being more knowledgeable about music, and instruments, to be able to listen for what’s going on in the rhythm section (rhythm guitar as well as bass and drums).

And, in the popular press, as you note, it’s the guitarists who usually get the notice.

For rock bands, I’d say this is very generally true. But there are many notable exceptions who play bass with some theatrical flair (e.g. Flea, Gene Simmons).

Have your friend listen to some Motown classics, then Google James Jamerson.

Listen to Jefferson Airplane, and Google Jack Casady.

Listen to Cream and Google Jack Bruce.

Game over.

There’s a comic strip that shows a musician, getting approached by the Devil. “Give me your soul, and I’ll make you the WORLD’S GREATEST GUITARIST!” Musician replies “You can’t have my soul, but what can you give me for $20?” The last panel shows the musician plucking a bass on a street corner and a little sign taped up to a wall reading “World’s Greatest Bassist!”

I don’t play any instruments and envy bassists, drummers and guitarists alike.

Yeah, bassists are regarded as part of the rhythm section. They get far fewer opportunities than guitarists to play flashy, “hey look at me” solos or even catchy recognizable riffs.

A band’s bassist is, for whatever reason, less likely to be a lead singer, songwriter, or founding member than is their guitarist.

And one other thing: those of us who got introduced to music by listening to it on transistor radios or boom boxes or low-fi record players or TV sets may not have been able to hear much of the bass. I seem to recall reading that when the Beatles’ catalog was remastered and released on CD it led to new appreciation for McCartney as a bass player. Personally, there are songs and albums that I never really heard the bass parts on until I re-bought them on CD.

It’s also hugely dependent on the genre. In progressive rock, bassists like Chris Squire, Ray Shulman and Tony Levin get easily as much credit as the guitarists, while in Jazz and Funk bass is often a lead instrument and the bassist a Flashy Star (e.g. Marcus Miller, Victor Wooten, Larry Graham, Bootsy Collins). In all of these styles bass lines are typically inventive and prominent, so there’s lots to listen to and admire, simple as that. This is also tied to Thudlow Boink’s point about crappy sound systems.

The basic role of a bassist is pretty easy to fill (yet even simple lines need a good sense of time and feel to really flow), but being a noteworthy bassist takes as much and as specific musicality and skill as any other stringed instrument at similar level.

Well, I fear I’ll get in another multi-page argument over this, but here goes:

I’ve played and still play both instruments. Generally, bass is actually easier to play. A lot easier. Guitar has the same problems with timing, etc. that a bass has. But the guitar has chords, and lead parts to worry about.

Now, there are actually hard bass parts out there, but even when there are, the corresponding guitar part is usually harder to play.

On top of those, it’s usually just a different job. When you’re playing bass, your part is usually meant to hold the song together while other instruments get to make flourishes, take leads, etc. When no one notices you, things generally went well.

All depends on the genre, I play the bass but I consider myself pretty up there on a technical level, I can do all the slapping, two-hand tapping, double thumb technique, but I also still sit there and play normal walking bass lines. If you listen to Victor Wooten’s solo albums and then a lot of the songs from Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, he shows off a lot less in the latter (though he does sometimes get flashy there too), because the bass is serving a different role in those groups.

I think its easier to master the basics of the bass than drums or guitar, that’s probably true so it has that is prob why they don’t get as much credit, but I think bass lines can be as technical or difficult to play as any other instrument. Sometimes when you are sitting there slapping and doing the double thumb, and throwing in some harmonic and little muted notes, it can get technical pretty fast, but the overwhelming majority of bass lines in most music just keeps pretty simples bass lines.

But if you think you can pick up the bass and a week later play Wooten or Les Claypool bass lines, that’s not realistic either.

I think also a lot of it is just in a band format, the overall writing format, the guitarist is prob going to write the majority of the songs, and the driving riffs of the song, even if it was really the bass player that wrote it people are just going to assume it was the guitarist anyway. :slight_smile:

I play guitar in one band, and bass in another. I love both, and since I don’t have to choose, I won’t.

Bass is easier if you’re a crap player and just want to be in a band to feed your ego. If you care about music and are a dedicated player, and have some talent, then you can shine at whatever instrument you play. But bass is the default choice of the non-musician who wants to be in a band, so bass gets less respect unless you’re an outstanding player.

However, good bass playing is more of a support role than a lead role, and some of us don’t care for the “lead bassist” routine. The band I play bass in has an outstandingly good singer and a very talented keyboard player, so I’m happy just to hold things together and add a little groove to the mix. If I wanted to go widdly-woo, I have a band of my own to do that in. I really like doing what I do on bass in that band, and I don’t feel like it’s any less cool than what I do on guitar in the other band. It’s all good. And playing unobtrusively is very much a skill that doesn’t get the respect it deserves.

Pretty much sums it up. When I hear Tina Weymouth play her 3-note riff for Talking Heads’ cover of Take Me to the River, I always think about how simple it is, but how hard it grooves. I appreciate bassists who focus on that.

Fewer strings.

Man, those violinists, cellists, etc. have it so easy!


It is much more about the job a bassist is expected to do. It is one of those activities that is easy to start with but takes a lifetime to master.

Just my opinion but I think that was a whoosh.

I play both Bass and guitar - quite poorly. But I’m in it just for the fun of relaxing. I did notice though that when accompanying others it was a lot easier to “fake it” with a Bass through a song than with either lead or rhythm guitar. Possibly because the bass can be used to carry the fundamental flow; my fat fingers don’t have to re-position as fast.

Basically the Bass player is like an offensive linesman in football. He needs to do his job well or everything goes to hell. But him doing his job well lets the running backs and receivers get all the glory.

As others pointed out, I think this is part of it. It has fewer strings, so perhaps some of it is that the guitar has 50% more strings so it must be 50% harder. By that logic, piano must be 14-15x harder than guitar. Also, I’ve seen 6 and even 7 string basses (and, for that matter, a 9 string guitar). Hell, I’ve seen plenty of guitarists get 7+ string guitars, tune to drop D (or God forbid something like drop B) and just play the lowest string or two. When they do that, they’ve basically turned the guitar into a bass.

I think part of this is cultural (to the music we’re exposed to) too. After all, rock, metal, etc is “guitar” music, so we just sort of assume that the most talented musicians are the ones that are front and center. It’s not unlike sports, like football for instance, where a more casual fan sort of assumes that the skill positions are the most talented players on the team, and sometimes that’s true, but plenty of times it’s not.

It certainly gets top billing in many rock bands. I also think that, again, the culture plays a part in that, that people who are the types who are interested in being flashy and getting attention are more likely to play guitar or be primary vocalists, again, not unlike how positions like wide receiver tend to self-select for a certain personality type. And those who are less interested in that may be more interested in another instrument.

Speaking for myself as a musician, despite that the guitar just doesn’t speak to me the way piano does, I do love the sound and greatly appreciate guitarists, but certainly the idea of at some point playing in a band, being the front man is a turn off.

It seems to me that there’s sort of two theories about how bass works. Either it’s more or less part of the rhythm section, that it’s intended to give more gravitas to the beats or depth to the overall sound, but they’re not really instruments for carrying the primary melody or for a solo or what-have-you. Then there’s the other mentality that they’re just as much an instrument and integral to the sound as the guitar, vocals, keyboards, or whatever other instruments they’re playing with. Unfortunately, that latter mentality seems uncommon in unless the band happens to have a killer bassist (not unlike bands that only have prominent drums if they have a killer drummer), but I’ve heard and seen perform plenty of bands that have pretty solid talent through all the members, and they’ll make a point of writing so that all the members of the band get a chance to shine.

In my view, it really should be about what fits the music that is being written and the talent of those involved. I can really dig on some really awesome bass grooves as parts of songs, but I wouldn’t want to be in a band that focuses only on that sound.

Lead guitars get the spotlight. After that drummers, bassists, triangleists, tambourinists, and the guys that clack sticks together all get short shrift. You can use the same jokes for all of them:

How do you get a drummer/bassist/roadie/band manager to stand up?

You say “Will the defendant please rise”.