If you are confused as to how many frets a bass guitar should have, don’t fret (pardon the pun), because you are not alone in this perplexing issue. Even though there are standards to be followed in building stringed instruments, the number of frets vary depending on model and brand.
Whether you are planning to shop for a bass guitar or have a luthier craft a custom masterpiece, the number of frets is a detail that shouldn’t be overlooked. You have to fully determine what you want before heading to a music store or a guitar workshop to avoid any miscommunication that will only lead to your disappointment. Having a firm decision that is backed by research, will give you a better chance of obtaining an instrument that’s perfect for your needs.
A basic knowledge of various guitar models is enough to introduce you to the different fret specifications available out there. Factors such as the genre of music that you will be playing most often, as well as your skill level and physical build, should also be considered before finalizing your bass guitar goals.
History of Bass Guitar Frets
Although archeologists and historians can’t establish the exact period when frets were first used, the earliest known example dates back to the 3rd century C.E. in China. The lute that was unearthed in Niya ruins of Xinjiang, had gut frets but were nowhere close to what we see on most guitars since the 20th century.
Paul Tutmarc, a musician and an inventor from Seattle, Washington, is widely credited for creating the first modern bass in the 1930s. His invention, which was a fretted bass guitar designed to be played horizontally, became the basis for the version that musicians are accustomed to playing today.
The fretted electric bass guitar became popular when Leo Fender and George Fullerton launched their new design, the Precision Bass or P-Bass, which went on to be an iconic instrument that made its way to some of the most influential songs in music history.
The introduction of frets gave way to a ton of creative possibilities with the increased stability and extra spunk. In fact, funk pioneer Larry Graham invented the slap technique after realizing that the presence of metal frets produced a percussive sound when the string is thumped with a thumb.
Even with the success of the fretted electric bass, fusion jazz icon Jaco Pastorius decided to take out the frets off his 1962 Fender Jazz bass (a.k.a. the J-Bass) and covered up the crevices with marine epoxy to create what some believed was the first fretless electric bass.
By combining the smooth note transitions of a fretless upright with the loudness and faster playability of an electric, Pastorius was able to revolutionize the role of the bass to unprecedented heights.
How many frets does a bass guitar usually have?
For bass guitars, the number of frets can go from 19, 20, 21, 22 and 24. While there are no strict rules when it comes to deciding the number of frets, going beyond 24 frets is not the favored solution to accessing much higher notes. A six-string bass is a more practical answer to addressing the lack of range, since a very long neck might not be the most convenient option.
Why do Fender basses only have 20 frets?
The more recent generation of players often complain about the limited number of frets on Fenders, prompting some of them to opt for other brands that offer P-bass or J-bass style bass guitars with extended frets. Although Fender has launched a few special versions of their flagship bass guitars the Precision and the Jazz bass with 22 frets, the guitar brand still opted to stick to its origins.
Back in the early days of the bass guitar, no one ever thought that the bass would evolve into a solo instrument. A majority of songs recorded using the precision bass took advantage of its thick, warm, pulsating qualities that fueled a lot of sweet soul songs in the 60s and 70s. On the other hand, the J-bass provided some fresh and funky tones that set a lot of dance floors on fire.
During the inception and the first few decades of Fender’s bass guitars, venturing beyond the 15th fret wasn’t a very common concept since the primary objective of bass players was to maximize the low end. Fender chose to remain faithful to their company’s original 20-fret design that made the name popular around the world.
What basses have 24 frets?
Modern brands such as Ibanez, Sadowsky, Schecter, Spector and Warwick offer 24 frets. The extension allows players to access two full octave ranges on their bass guitars, making it perfect for those who love to inject some solos into their playing or harmonize with guitar lines at a higher register.
Purists will claim that anything more than 20 frets or 4 strings is a guitar, but that is just an exaggerated opinion from die hard guardians of the old ways. The truth is, it doesn’t really matter how many frets your bass guitar has, what’s more important is that you are enjoying the process of learning and creating music, while sharing it with people who appreciate your skill and talent.