The differences between standard electric basses (four strings) and standard electric guitars (six strings) are very clear: in addition to have a different number of strings, they also differ in their scale lengths, in their tunings, and of course, in their tones.

Nevertheless, in the world of extended range instruments, I feel that that the differences between these instruments attenuate. For instance, by considering a 7-string electric bass and a 7-string electric guitar, theoretically, these two instruments could have the same range. Moreover, I feel that similarities increase with the increase in the number of strings (10-string electric basses and 10-string guitars look very similar).

My questions are:

  1. given an electric "bass/guitar-like" instrument, how can decide if it is a bass or a guitar? What are the proper (and nontrivial) characteristics of each instrument?
  2. is there an interest to maintain two categories of distinct instruments in the extended range world?
up vote 3 down vote accepted

To answer (1), I'd say the biggest single difference between a guitar and a bass is actually the separation (finger space in millimetres) between the strings. The instruments are intended for completely different jobs and picking styles, hence the difference. (Yes I know bassists can play chords but that is uncommon in mainstream pop/rock.)

To answer (2), this is less certain. I'd say there will continue to be a need for guitar-like instruments to play lower-range chords, and for basses intended for finger-style single note work using the wider spacing.

The taste for extended range affects string length, string construction and number of strings, but it doesn't fundamentally change the other differences between guitars and basses. (There are exceptions like the Chapman Stick, but that's a completely different instrument so I won't go off the topic.)

There are marked differences between basses and guitars, the main one being the string length. On a bass, this allows a longer string to be at a playable tension, whilst being thick enough to play lower notes. The high C found on some 5 string basses will sound somewhat like the bottom or 5th string on a standard guitar. Conversely, the bottom (usually B) string on a 7 string guitar, although shorter, thus thicker, will sound somewhat like the D or G of a bass.

The gauge difference alongside the speaking length of the two types of guitar will make tonal and playing differences. A 6 string bass works well for chords, rather as a guitar does, but they're not easy to play on the lower frets, which have a greater span.

The pups and circuitry eq. will be biased differently, too.

For (1), look at the headstock and the tuning keys. Basses have bigger, thicker strings and need large tuning keys. Strings in the guitar range are considerably lighter and smaller and don't require the really big tuning machines.

For (2), not sure.

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