YouTube is filled with guitar influencers teaching how to convert acoustic guitar to bass and it is surprising how a lot of them didn’t even attempt to offer some precaution, much less educate their crowd about the glaring differences between the two instruments.
The public’s common misconception about the guitar and the bass is that they are one and the same, just with varying numbers of strings. But the truth is, even though the functionality of the two types of guitars seem similar to each other, they actually differ in so many things especially when it comes to build.
The bass guitar requires different calibrations and measurements compared to the guitar to accommodate the heavier, thicker weight of strings and the lower register it produces. Neck length and fret spacing all adhere to the rules of music, making the instrument tonally accurate and fully playable.
Transforming an acoustic guitar to a bass will involve changing a lot of the instrument’s vital parts and the operation could create a Frankenstein monster if done by inexperienced hands. Meanwhile, adventurous guitarists and aspiring builders will show time and time again that no rules will be able to stop them from trying things in the name of guitar craftsmanship.
A complete shift to bass
Laying down bass lines is the sweetest thing in the world and it is understandable that you would want an unplugged option so you can practice wherever you fancy. Your decision to modify your instrument will hinge on your needs as a musician, so proceed with caution but be firm in your decision making.
If you can’t afford to buy a bass and this is your only way to have one, then go ahead and do it the right way to minimize any long-term damage to your acoustic. But if you already have an electric bass, you might wanna consider keeping the acoustic guitar the way it is.
There is no need for you to entirely quit six strings as learning it further will open up more sonic possibilities for you as a bassist, giving you the versatility and deeper understanding of chord progressions and scales. Most importantly, you can keep your acoustic guitar and use it to jam with your friends.
However, if your mind is already made up, there are points that you need to look into first, before attempting such a delicate procedure.
Factors to consider before converting acoustic guitar to bass
A guitar’s truss rod keeps your instrument’s neck stabilized against the string tension that’s forcefully pulling the neck and the bridge. Without a truss rod, the neck would bend from all that traction. Classical guitars don’t need truss rods because they use nylon strings, which can create much less pressure than steel strings.
It is most likely that all electric and steel-stringed instruments have a truss rod, except for knock offs since a metal shaft that runs through a guitar’s entire neck, adds so much to production costs. Classical and steel acoustic guitars with no truss rods can warp easily under pressure, so it would be better to avoid converting these acoustic guitars to bass, as they will only succumb to the hulking bass strings.
Get to know your instrument’s limits by researching what kind of truss rod was used for the guitar. Only the tougher ones will be able to withstand the low end and there are guitar models out there that come fitted with truss rods that can surprisingly hold things down.
Good acoustic guitar wood will play a vital role on whether your guitar parts will firmly stay in place. A truss rod will have a hard time controlling a neck that is made up of flimsy material. The more reputable guitar brands only use the most reliable wood for their instruments, so the chance that the wood underneath your bridge will crack from all the string tension, is fairly low.
Your plan to just let the bass strings go through the existing acoustic guitar bridge will be a futile one since the holes are much smaller. The saddles are also of a different size standard and this will compromise playability, not to mention the awkward spacing of the strings. Replacing the entire bridge system is your only logical option.
The nut will create buzzing or even cut the sustain of some strings if they are not calibrated for bass. A nut that will match the bridge is also essential for accurate spacing between strings.
Neck and Frets
Be reminded that the spacing and length will be very different from a bass guitar. Getting used to a much smaller fretboard will make things harder for you when you put your hands on a real bass.
This could become the ugliest part of the operation since you will need to replace the tuning pegs, requiring you to drill new holes to accommodate them. Luthiers would sometimes fill the old holes with wooden plugs and then conceal them with matching paint and lacquer.
Other ways to get that low-end bass on your guitar
There are other ways to access that lower register without having to sacrifice your new acoustic guitar and using an octaver is one of them. This gadget, which comes as effects pedals or sometimes as a built-in feature in some amplifiers, will artificially tune your guitar an octave or two lower.
This is an effective remedy, but the only downside is that you will need a pickup if you are using an acoustic, and you will still hear the sound of the original pitch that is resonating out of your guitar’s soundhole.
You may experiment on some baritone guitar strings to achieve the deep rumbling notes that you are after, without the punishing string tension that a set of bass strings might inflict on your acoustic guitar.
You will have to tune your guitar B to B, which is a perfect fourth lower than the standard tuning for six strings.
Last but not the least is detuning your guitar to drop D, drop C or a whole step lower from standard. You may also imitate a baritone guitar’s tuning using your regular set of strings if you wish.
The drawback of this setup is that the loosened strings could get quite wobbly and some buzz may result from the decreased tensity. But at least you won’t have to convert your acoustic guitar to bass, as a simple bridge and truss road setup by your luthier can help fix this problem.