Multiple Basses or Just One? A Discussion for Working Bass Players

Multiple Basses

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Q: I’m a fairly busy bass player working with five or six different bands ranging from funk to soul to hip-hop/neo-soul to jazz to disco to metal and a few function bands which encompass just about everything else! For the last four years, I’ve mainly used one sound (neck pickup, flatwound strings) on one bass for everything. But I recently bought a new bass (essentially a P-bass with roundwounds) and I’m wondering if I should have more tonal options available to me for different songs/bands. What are your thoughts on having an arsenal of different sounding basses versus just using one?

A: Here’s my short version of an answer: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Now the longer version…

If you have a sound you love and you and your band mates think it’s a great sound for whatever music you’re making, I’d call that a win and not worry too much.

I have three primary basses I use for various situations. Two are Skjolds, and I love both sounds, but I always know exactly which one I’m going to reach for depending on either the sound of the music or the feel of the music. Each bass feels differently and I play them differently. I also use a passive Marleaux with an Aguilar P-pickup (passive) that has a great old school sound. I am a different bass player on each of those instruments and not only do I sound like the music demands, but I pick the instrument that makes me want to play like the music demands.

Other guys have one instrument that they love and use for everything. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that as long as the music is happening and everybody digs it.

You might very well pick up a few different kind of instruments over the years and have fun exploring different sounds, feels and textures. You might get into finding that sound that’s perfect for each style or stay with one good versatile bass that does a bit of everything (and there are plenty of instruments that get close enough to doing it all).

This is a real “follow your gut” situation. If you’re curious, explore and just remain open minded and keep your ears open. Let the sound and feel of the music guide you!

Readers, this is ripe for discussion. Let us know if you’re a “one bass” kind of person, or if you have a different tool for every job! Please share in the comments.

Have a question for Damian Erskine? Send it to [email protected]. Check out Damian’s instructional books, Right Hand Drive and The Improviser’s Path.

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  1. I’ve got a bunch of instruments. 4 strings, 5 strings, 6 strings, 7 strings, fretted, fretless, acoustic, electric. The weirdest is a 7 string fretless acoustic, but they all get used for recording depending on how I feel and what I need to play. And I’ve got a double bass too, because there’s nothing quite like a double bass sometimes.
    When I played with a swing band, I found exactly what I wanted and needed, and used that one bass and amp combo massively for about 3 years. But I now use nearly all the instruments on a regular basis and play/practice them as I feel inspired by them.

    Multiple instruments definitely works for me

    • Kelly

      Yeah but the question is, how many do you need “per gig”? Do you use only one or do you require at least 2 basses or more for any one gig or do you have one specific “all-purpose” axe that you can use all night.

      • Unless I needed a fretless for a few songs, my P-Bass is the only thing I take. I used to take a spare when on the road but #1 has never let me down so I don’t even do that anymore.

        • versuchsanstalt

          Hey Jd, it’s exactly the other way round for me.

          One day I might find a five string fretted version of my #1 to take it to the next level.

          If I need a third one with a different sound, I usually borrow.

      • I always take two basses. One that does the vintage thing really well,and one modern 6 just in case and as a backup! The one time I took only one bass to a gig,someone tripped and fell on it and broke the neck! As a Pro you should always take two basses to a gig just as a backup! You never know what can happen when things get hot on stage!

        • Ross McBride

          I’m with you . I only took one bass as that’s all I could afford ! However I had a gig on an island in Sydney Harbour and had just purchased a brand new 1978 P bass . On the first note of the first song ( Eagles ,victim of love ) the pickup short circuited into a howling scream and promptly ended the gig. I found out later that my bass was water damaged in transit to the shop I purchased it from. Ever since I’ve always carried at least two basses.

  2. Richard

    1) 99.99% of the audience can’t tell the difference between one bass or another.
    2) 99.99% of your tone comes from your fingers, regardless of what bass you’re playing.
    3) The right answer is whatever makes you (and your bandmates) happy.

    • B.E. Nelson

      I find that certain types of music demand certain types of basses.

      However Richard is correct 99% of you sound is in your fingers (might I add your note selections and plucking style).

      For Soul and Hip-hop, Salsa, or Classic Rock I use a Precision bass with flats. For Funk, Disco and any Modern Rock I use a Fender Jazz with roundwounds. For any type of Fusion or Smooth Jazz, I use my high end Ken Smith with active/passive controls. Actually my Fender Jazz with roundwounds can handle just about any music situation I find myself in. I’ve even used it for bebop jazz sessions where I palm muted the strings.

      At the end of the day it depends on your style(s) of playing, and whether your bass section fits he music you are asked to play. If other members of the band don’t complain, then you are doing just fine.

    • Ed Ardzinski

      True all three, but like getting to a certain level in tennis, eventually the raquet plays a role in the game. And while a certain brand of bass might have some distinctive sound, most pro level instruments can vary their tones a lot.

      And some basses get a new vibe/tone/sound the oddest ways. I slapped some old Fender flats on my son’s first bass, a 15 year old Ibanez GSR-200. I never liked that bass much with RW’s like my son had it set, but with these flats it plays and sounds great. While I’d slot that as mainly a “Mowtown Sound” bass, with the J bass bridge pickup screaming it has a solid top end bite. It’s not all Jamerson.

      As an electric player it helps to be able to play with and without a pick. Some song might have a tone that is only achieved using a pick…some bass might react better to picking than fingering…ditto for having frets and not having frets. ;-)

    • Correct on all counts.

    • Scott

      I think that most of the time (by which I mean well over 50% of the time) the audience can’t really tell the diff between one bass or another… other musicians, though, CAN tell the difference, esp in lower volume situations… and esp other bassists.

      However, saying that 99.99% of your tone comes from your fingers, regardless of the bass being played, is an oversimplification-bordering-on-gross-exaggeration, most specifically and especially in low(er) volume situations.

      In lower-volume situations, like backing acoustic players in smaller room/coffeehouse-type situations or playing other small rooms in a jazz trio, quartet, etc situation, the fingers DO count for a lot, obviously – but a lot of the also sound depends on string-choice, pickup choice & setting(s) as well as the amp/combo being used and the settings for that particular rig. In much-higher volume situations, not so much.

      This has been my personal experience over the years… aka JMHO.

    • true but I find that certain basses respond to different techniques, I’d never play funk on my Ric but a pick sounds great. I have a spector that is great for funk but with a pick sucks

    • David

      I agree with Richard..:)

  3. I say if you have the money for a specific bass for each gig go for it. Its not a requirement and you can play damn near any gig outside of djent with a 4 or
    5-string p-bass

  4. John s

    For the first 10 years of my professional career, I had one bass and one amp, mostly due to poverty. I learned to wring every possible tone out of that thing, but still, I lost work because I didn’t have the right gear for certain gigs (upright for jazz, 5 string for R&B, etc). Now I have a whole bunch of basses, but each is a tool for a specific job – my MIM P is a great all around rock bass, and I can leave it at gigs and not worry. My 6 strings are perfect for jazz soloing, my upright covers traditional and standards gigs, etc. it’s all about productivity. If a bass doesn’t get used for a year, it goes out the door.

  5. I have just two basses, a Fender Precision and a fretless Kala U Bass. All sorts of tonal options!

    • Getting that Jaco-esque J-Bass bridge PU sound out of either of those basses is near impossible I’d say.

      • Bill

        Realistically, How often do you need “that Jaco-esque J-Bass bridge PU sound” on a gig?

  6. I mainly play blues, R&B with a side of funk now and then. My 5 string P-Bass (all parts, none of them from Fender) handles it all nicely. I’ve tried Alembics, G&L, a Gibson RD and a Peavey Cirrus but nothing covers all the bases like like my Precision. I have a Lace Helix fretless 5 that I rarely have an excuse to play but there’s not enough of a market to make it worth selling. I’d be fine with just another P5 for backup plus I’ve given some thought to building a 4 string P-Bass just to get comfortable with a 4 string again (haven’t played one in 25 years).

  7. Donn R. Westmoreland

    I’m a serious hobbyist bass player, and I favor the multiple instrument plan.

    My basses are all 4 string; I have a 2013 Fender Jazz that I didn’t like at first but have grown to enjoy a lot. I have it strung with flatwounds and it gives me a woody-with-twang/midrange rich/fluid tone. I have a 2012 Epiphone Les Paul Special Bass that has two mini-humbuckers in it and makes totally different sounds than the Fender, much better for crunchy Rock or use with distortion. It’s very narrow neck appeals to me a great deal and I rip on it a bit differently than the Fender, it’s strung with GHS Pressure Wound strings; which are bright and at the same time easy on the fingers and frets. I also have a 1978 Guild B-301 which no longer has the stock pickup in it, a previous owner replaced it with a Jazz Neck pickup. I love this bass, it’s a real nice instrument, it is much nicer ‘feeling’ than either of the other basses (quite possibly due to its vintage nature), though there is nothing wrong the other two. I currently have it strung with the GHS Pressure Wounds. My plan is to replace the pickup with a Joe Barden which I think will give the instrument a lot more presence than it has now. It’s a simple bass, one pickup, tone, volume control that’s it, I love it. For many years it was my only instrument and I got by just fine with it. It has a deep tone, bright yet still woody and dark, and it’s a neck through body bass so it’s sustain is into next week. Were I accompanying an acoustic guitarist this bass would be my main choice.

    Not only do I get the luxury of making different sounds for different music, I can play whichever one suits the mood of the day, or always know I have a back-up should one fail for any reason. Though it may be appropriate to only love one woman at a time . . . it’s perfectly O.K. to love a whole bunch of basses.

  8. Rob

    For a little while I went the multiple bass route, but it didn’t take me long to realize it was way too much fuss than it was worth. Now I’m back to just using one each gig.

    A couple factors for me: First, it’s just a hassle to have to transport and look after more than one instrument. Not to mention the hassle of switching them in the middle of sets.

    Second, and most important, each instrument has a different sound and probably they’re going to output volume at different levels. That means you’re probably going to have to make adjustments to your amp. Also, the sound guy is going to have to make adjustments.

    So the bottom line for me was that it started to get to the point where the changing of basses and all that went with it became too much of a focus rather than just thinking about the music. Especially when, as someone stated already, nobody in the audience could probably tell the difference anyway.

  9. I have a ’66 Moserite solid body; long scale, narrow neck. It has ruined me for other basses, they all seem like logs to me now.

    • Warwick Corvette

      I had the same bass back in ’66! Yeah, it’ll spoil ya. I still complain about other basses having 2x4s for necks!

      • And then there’s me, going nuts trying to find a 4 string P-Bass neck with a 1 3/4″ nut. Warmoth only goes to ! 11/16″. I used to play Jazz basses and I always swapped those scrawny necks for a P–Bass neck.

  10. I play with a touring band and basically use one bass with a second as a backup. The sound guy makes me sound great! I could be playing through a 10 watt practice amp and the sound people will make me sound like I am going through a twin SVT cabinet. When I play small clubs than it’s my vintage J bass. I like a lot of thick bottom with a touch of high end for clarity. I could play virtually any bass. Don’t need multiple basses. Just play finger style. If I was a slapper or treble monster than it would be a different story.

  11. 5 string fretted for versatility and the majority of songs, and a fretless 4 string for jazzier numbers is all I use now. Don’t get me wrong have played 4,5,6,8 and Fretless basses live and loved experimenting but the 2 bass combo I mentioned just works for me. I play funk, blues, rock and a bit of Jazz in a covers band. I have a two channel amp, one channel mixed specifically for each instrument. Keep it as simple as possible live! I found if I had more than 3 of anything (basses, snare drums) I just had a more difficult time deciding the what to use!

  12. Marco

    Most working bassists own one bass they use for everything and sometimes a second one as backup but only if the other is in repair. Working bassist is meant to be 200+ shows a year.

    Having a lot of basses is unnecassary like the ‘ey’ in ‘okey’ but it makes a lot of fun.

    Like you said you used mostly one bass and one sound for almost the complete range of genres. So why search for something different.

    – Never change a winning team.
    – Work on your music.
    – Spend money on lessons.

  13. I use a Fender Jazz V (American Standard) and a Ricky 4004. Some of the songs in our set really need use of the B-String on the Jazz but other than that I mainly use the Ric. It’s a bit more responsive and it’s got more bottom end, and being lighter is more comfortable for long stints. Sometimes though space is very limited and I don’t have enough to accommodate changeovers so in that case I only take the Jazz

  14. Over the years I’ve bought and sold basses but always went back to one I bought nearly 14 years ago.
    I agree with “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it”
    Although I did replace the pickups on it so maybe I’ve gone against the motto :-(
    Anyway, my view is it’s all about the sound and feel. If that’s with 1 or more basses that’s up to you.

  15. My main three basses are a fretless 5 string Ibanez, a fretless Goldtone micro bass, and a traveler headless p style. I also use a homemade cigar box bass, a p-style frankenbass (assembled from various parts), a fender jazz active 5, and a modified dean acoustic bass. Mostly it is according to the style of music I’m playing, and my mood. As stated, most of the tone is in the fingers.

  16. Matt

    My main reason is that I have several alternate tunings I use on a four-string that range from E Standard to Drop C. Anything lower than that I have a fiver for. It’s easier to have one bass for standard with a Drop-D lever on the E string, which can also be used for E-flat or D Standard. Then another one tuned to Drop C# which can be returned to Drop C when required. This is also easier on the necks, since I usually use heavier strings for Drop C or C#. Rather than range a retune from E all the way down to C (two whole steps or 5 frets worth of pitch) and then back up again, it’s better for the neck just to put appropriate strings on for the desired tuning range, adjust the neck accordingly, intone it the best I can (long scale is better for this), and then that’s my Bass for that tuning. Also, always have a backup. Preferably a “no-nonsense” bass with simple controls and passive electronics. This way if something happens to another ax, you just reach over, plug it in and go. No frills, no crazy. Just play. And as stated above, get a fiver for going lower. Or if you need more upper range a six will do as well.

    Now yeah, I know that a “good” bassist can perform all he needs to on a five-string. BUT, a smart bassist also knows that certain songs were written and played in certain tunings originally for a reason. Therefore playing them on an instrument different from the original makes it more complicated. But then I suppose you have to weigh that idea against the added costs of more instruments.

  17. I use just one. It’s custom made bass guitar for me. Calls it “Dingo Bass”

  18. Mark Ehmann

    I agree that if you have a sound and style that you and your band mates are happy with, leave it. But to me the main thing is what the song calls for. I use my Hofners and Ric on Beatle and Macca songs and my Fender Jazz on pretty much anything else (unless it calls for the tone provided by the aforementioned). The main thing is to capture the feel and the flavor of the song.

  19. Doug D

    I have a fender aerodyne p bass for my “go to” bass. With the pj pup config, I get get most tones I need. I have a fender mim p bass. I use heavier strings on that for drop tuning. I also use a fender fearless jazz just to keep my ear training going. I also use a gretsch electromatic with flats so I can practice without an amp. If I had to just have 1, I would keep the aerodyne. If I could have a second, it would be the gretsch. At a show, less is more though. Less fiddling with instrument swaps and eq changes. Use whatever you are most comfortable with.

  20. On the gig, I’m definitely a fan of “less is more”. I mainly use a Dingwall ABZ 5 string for my function band, as it covers a lot of tonal options with a easy to use eq. Outside of that though, I have 4 other basses. An ABZ 4 string as a backup, 2 Alpher Instruments custom basses which are my bass candy, and a MIM P Bass for a bit of fun (loaded with flats). I’ve tried switching between basses on a gig, but the difference in outputs between the Dingwall and the other basses makes it a pain in the backside, especially as I am also the band’s sound engineer! So now I mainly stick to my workhorse Dinger, and everyone is happy. :)

  21. Jeremiah Hamilton

    I think that if you are such a strong player you can make your statement with one bass, great. Where I’m at in Texas, if you show up to a blues gig with a 6 string bass you’ll never get called again. I truly agree that each bass you play (and I have a wide variety)
    makes you speak a different language. I think you just need to know what you want to say!

    • What about a five string? How do they react to that at a blues gig?

      • You’re kidding, right? If I got the gig it’s because I’m damn good at what I do, not for the string count on my axe. Getting below E is only 10% of what a 5 string is about, the main advantage is is the economy of motion going across the ‘board instead of up and down it. I’ve played 5’s exclusively in a blues environ. Nobody says a word.

  22. It’s use two, one P and one J bass…both top Quality American….both 5 string…I can get any tone I need for any type of music or band…

  23. Hunter Dixon

    I have a fretless Guild acoustic with nylon flats for jams around the wood stove, a 1960 Custom Shop Jazz with a fretless neck and steel flats because I like how it handles, and a fretless Steinberger L2 because I found one. I had a fretless Pbass with nylon flats but I sold it because I never used it. They all have their uses, all have the right sounds for the right times. All 4-strings. Never got into the 5+ thing.

  24. I have four basses: Jazz, Prec, Warwick Streamer and one custom made “precray”. This last one has jazz neck, prec body and MM electronic. This one can produce every sound you can imagine, so there is no need for another bass, except for a backup. On the other hand, I like the feel and sound of every bass I have, so I like to have all of them.

  25. Roland Kelemen

    I’d go for having one bass, that you really know how to play. You get a ton of options from strings, pedals, technique, tone knobs, amps, it’s weird but I think the guitar (only the wood and hardware without strings) is not that decisive factor in this question. I have had my 4 string p-bass for 10+ years, and the its sound still improves or at least changes, I use it with an EQ pedal, which gives a sufficient range of tonal settings. On the other hand if you prefer different type of stings you can’t avoid having more than one bass. I wonder if somebody has 3-4-5 guitars is there one which is “the instrument”, or do they love them equally?

  26. Kelly

    If it were up to me, I’d only ever use either my Yamaha BB 450 or my ’78 P Bass. But I always believe in being prepared for a string to break though it doesn’t happen often. So I carry two for easy transition rather than holding up the party while I change a string.

  27. I only really have one bass, a Warwick Streamer LX Jazzman, but you really need at least one backup! I found this out almost to my peril when one of the machine heads broke just after finishing a gig last Saturday night. From now on, I will always bring my backup (a Yamaha RB270J), just in case.

    • Wow. I’m a little surprised that a “Made In Germany” Warwick would eat a tuner. My Lace Helix (made in China) had cheap Schaller knockoffs and stripped the the gears on the B string. A set of Hipshots cured that. Overall, I’ve found that quality gear won’t give you a reason to need a backup at the gig. I can’t imagine the tuner on your Warwick going out with some warning in which case you could have put it on injured reserve and carried your Yamaha to a few gigs while scoring another tuner. That’s just me though, I’m a little obsessive about staying on top of things before they break. At least yours had the decency to break *after* the gig. I take my G&L along when I’m going to be gone overnight and too far from home to pick it up but I’ve never had to use a spare in 40 years. I could probably go out with just one but surely that would be tempting Murphy;s Law to kick in. It not always about reliability either; I’ve had bandmates get gear stolen on the road.

      • Well, after being in the audience at a reputable music pub gig where the guitarist playing an expensive Fender Strat reissue of some sort suddenly discovered it went completely dead (probably some soldering suddenly loosing its grip), and having no backup, I always bring a backup. No matter the price or quality, Murphy’s Law may affect your instrument.

  28. fender

    Give me a v5 fender Jazz,preferably a delux and I’ll march through any battlefield.

  29. David

    I have a few (13…) but all are different. 4 [email protected], 5, 6, fretted, fretless, electroacoustic, 3/4 size, and so on.
    I have 2 main ” go to ” basses, but over the years have used and obtained others either as spares, for a certain thing (one band needs the low B, the 3/4 has piccolo strings, etc).

    If you’re working regularly in different projects, I’d definitely consider a spare, just in case.
    Other than that, it’s a hobby, or a job, or both, so do what you want! As long as you obtain them honestly…
    David (UK)

  30. I have four, use only two of them live depending on the band, I have my main band, but play in other projects as well. One of them is a fretless 5 string, the others are 5 string J-kind, a real J, and a 6 string. I feel that all the bases (basses?) are covered this way.

  31. for me…coverband, many basses…original band, one bass (or two with a fretless), although for a while when I was in a cover band I used a line 6 Variax bass so I think while it was one bass it counts as many. Still love that bass but I have dreams of transplanting the electronics into a better instrument.

  32. yohanes setiabudhi

    As a session bass player, I have 5 main basses. ’92 Fender Jazz, ’82 Squier P, 4 strings custom fretless, G&L 2500 tribute with Sadowsky preamp and Palatino electric upright. I use them depends on the situation. But the number one is my P bass (with flat).

  33. Steve Rolfe

    I have always been a one-bass guy, even during periods where I was covering a wide range of styles. In nearly 50 years of playing bass, I’ve only had four that truly became my number one.
    Still, experimenting with project basses inspires me, and often leads to new approaches that I can then apply to my main squeeze. I’ve gotten used to the idea that 90% of them won’t supplant “the wife”, so I tend to scratch the itch with less expensive gear.

    Current #1: Dingwall ABZ-5. Current project: Squier VM Precision V.

  34. Tend to just stick to the one bass and alter my playing dynamics, tone/pickup controls on said bass and alter the settings on my amp. Does me just fine.

  35. Tom Stull

    I always bring at least two Basses. One may malfunction or break. Other than that, I get as many different sounds that I generally need with effects. I use Rickenbacker’s exclusively. They do the job.For me a bigger problem is finding a bass I am not afraid to take out and gig with. I am paranoid I will break one, or a drunk person will.

  36. Massimo de Stephanis

    Although I own many basses, I only I use just one per gig, depending on the sound needed. Sometimes two: when both fretted and fretless, or double bass and bass, are needed. I only brought a backup bass when I was in a pop tour, otherwise i take with me only spare strings (and an emergency tools case). Usually the main bass are a MIJ Fender Jazz and a MIM Fender Jazz (heavily modded), but also my old Ibanez MC2940 FL (very versatile and modern sounding) and a Danelectro Longhorn (for classic rock gigs) get their share.

    • Massimo de Stephanis

      edit: the MIJ J is fretless: I am a double bass player, and when playing bass I’m mainly a fretless player

  37. alex

    I own a bunch of basses (4, 5, actives, passives, fretless, acoustic …) and I have always found that even if you might get around with one bass for a specific gig, two is a better way to go. With two basses for a gig, you can add flavours in an infinite array:
    – a fretted and a fretless
    – a 4 for the confort and a 5 for that extra low end on specific songs
    – one with roundwounds and one with flats
    – an active modern beast and a passive P
    – or even just a go-to bass and a back-up just in case (bad things happen).

    Two basses are still manageable to lug around, whether on their specific gigbags/flycases or in a dual gigbag. 3 basses are too much, it begins to be a logistics nightmare. I have tried, and I won’t go back to this.

  38. Anonymousaurus

    I have 4 basses but 1 of them is my favorite gigging bass, and it pretty much does everything right. It’s a Fender American Deluxe 5 Str with Nordstrands and an Audere 3-band, which is extremely versatile. And I’m not even a “Fender” guy but the bass don’t lie.

    My other basses are “just as good” or “better” but that one always sits in the mix perfectly, and gives me, my band-mates and audio crew a perfect and serviceable tone every time. Fat and punchy with just the right amount of top end that fills in the spectrum from classic rock to modern gospel.

    I play in a corporate show band where we play literally all styles of music at some point or another.

    It’s also got an amazing set up, action, playability and neck. For some reason, even better than other identical versions of that bass. Just a special bass. It will always be my #1 until something else does all of the above and better.

  39. Wayne Renardson


    Like a swan, I’m a one-bass player. Back in 2005 I purchased a Turner Ren acoustic fretless 4 string (FL-4) and soon after bought a 22 lb Acoustic Image combo that served me well playing jazz over the years.

    I have a G&L 2000 and a fretless Fender jazz but hardly touch them.
    I played the Ren so much that in December of 2014 it began to sound funky— it lost its pizazz. So I shipped it back to Rick Turner and the folks there replaced the piezo pickup and did some neck resetting.

    Since I play only jazz from 1925-1965 it works well for this type of music. The bass is playing like a charm these days so I stick with it. Faithful, like a swan.

    Wayne Renardson
    Nashville, TN 37204

  40. i don’t have a lot of basses, but generally just go to one – fender p plus – p neck, j bridge, passive lace sensors – switchable in parallel or series. A good workhorse that’s a breeze to play..

  41. If you are a working musician you are playing in multiple environments, live (both small and huge venues), studio, TV, etc. As a session bassist playing both electric and upright I am requested by various producers to bring certain instruments for a whole range of styles and genres. You cant do it all on one bass or even three when you factor in active/passive and the multitude of string types.. over the past 35 years Ive used maybe 25 different basses on tours and over 2000 recordings, it would have been very boring if they were all on one bass! At least thats what I told my wife :)

  42. It’s a great question which I found really interesting, but honestly inconclusive because every posted answer has (respectfully) been on the money from their own perspective. If you can only afford one bass but you play really well and are in demand then guess what (?), you are probably going to continue doing what works for you. I’m in the habit of taking two good basses to a gig as a back up (broken string, dead battery if active only, sudden shift in neck if outdoors etc…), but that is from a practical perspective. I now have a number of differing but great basses in their own right that are all a joy to hear and play, but for example I am probably not going to take a fretless to a rock gig. That’s the dilemma if you own multiple basses, choosing the tool that best fits the job. Note I mean ‘best fit’. It’s not necessary to have multiple instruments to hand but it can make your life a lot easier if you can pull out the tool to suit the style you have been hired for. If you can adapt and pull it off by altering your playing technique along with knowing how to adjust your tone/preamp/amp, then you are in a good place. Take some time out to experiment with what you have – you may already have all you need.

  43. Tom Richards

    First, working musician needs two basses minimum. You should always have a spare around at a gig in case something stupid happens. Rarely does your amp go, and even then you can normally go through the house, but if you break a string or have a bad jack, etc. you need the second bass.

    As for opening up your tonal anythng, yeah, it helps to have some different basses to give you a bit of choice. But ultimately you will always settle into your sound. I’ve been a round wound guy for a long time, but am finally going back to flats on all my basses now that I found one that suits me. I live in the bottom, don’t slap or tap, play mostly with a pick. I like it to pound in your face. So a good set of flats with a pick, through something emulating an SVT, well…..

  44. How I wish I was this fulfilled by my sound that I’d ask this question. I love my basses more than words can describe but my dilemma is more of the “get this new piece of equipment or eat the next few weeks”.

  45. Gareth de-Witt

    I guess I am just greedy but I have 7. For ages I used an 70’s vintage Ibanez flying vee, my dear old mum bought me. I still have it and use it occasionally. Then found a jazz bass of the same vintage and make (Silver Series) which became my main bass till I saw a Stingray. I wanted that sucker so bad. I finally got it and it became my go to for everything. In the last few years I have bought a Squire fretless, a Steinberger Spirit and a Toby standard. I also got a nice Samick semi acoustic, which has an awesome sound. Do I use them all… YOU BETCHA!!. But my mainstay is still the Stingray?

  46. neepheid

    I use a different bass for every gig, it’s the same as choosing which shirt to wear.

  47. I have Seven basses! a mixture of 4,5,and 6 string instruments! I tend to play what`s right for the Situation most of the time,but at home I practice on all of them! It`s just about having options for me! As my dude Damian said”Different basses make you play differently! They also sound different and that`s the Dig yo!

  48. Kelly

    Always have two basses at gigs. My Yamaha and a P as back-up mainly for if I break a string of if I just feel like a change up. MIM Jazz fretless for folk, blues or jazz gigs. At open jams or non-paying gigs, only one.

  49. I find it hard to get around the fact that a fretless is played and sounds so different from a fretted. Do you need both sounds, that is hard to get around. Same with flats vs roundwounds when it comes to sound. Personally I have 3 basses filling different sound needs, one fretted with roundwounds, one fretted with flats and one fretless with flats. The fretted with flats (a SbMM Ray34) is my main bass, and I was surprised when I got it about how versatile that EQ is.

    I also have a passive short scale PJ for convenience when playing at a desk and as a battery-independent backup for gigs. I guess any of the basses could be gig backups, however.

  50. Jeremy O'Connor

    I think only bring what you need to the gig. The less basses in the car or on stage, the less likely something bad will happen to them.

    My Gear is:-
    Lakland 55-94 delux
    ’72 Fender Jazz Bass
    ’76 Fender P Bass
    Fretless Stuart Spector
    Fender Kingston Acoustic Bass
    Yamaha Silent Bass SB100
    Czech Upright Bass
    Lemur Music Fly Away Upright Bass

    I bring the 5 string Lakland to modern pop/RnB gigs, J bass to older covers gigs, Upright to Jazz Gigs and the silent bass to my sunday afternoon session. The rest get used on recording sessions/tours. I’ve only once had trouble bringing 1 bass to a gig, and that was snapping the neck of my upright 1 hr before the gig. I put my emotions aside, drove home and back with my other upright and did the gig, then cried myself to sleep later that night :p

  51. lordatwaterScott

    I have 3 basses, one is more for novelty and fun 1987 Ibanez RD 707 (Pink). The other two a 1991 Warwick Streamer and 2001 Lakland Skyline 44-01 are my mains. I usually bring both and chose which one is going to be played when I get to the show. The other is for if I need a downtuned bass for a couple songs or if I do something crazy like break a string (don’t laugh it has happened to me and I didn’t have a backup….had to use a guitar for the remainder of the set) Lesson Learned. Always have a spare.

  52. Steve

    I play a variety of “classic” rock. As a result, I like to try to make the song sound as close to the record as possible. For me , it’s a 5-string, 4-string and a fretless. While I agree that the audience can’t tell the difference much of the time, I find it easier to get into it if I feel like my “sound” is more authentic.

  53. Jeff

    I have several basses but I always depend on my Roscoe LG 3005 with Aguilar preamp and Bartolini pickups. This bass allows me to dial in practically any tone for any genre of music and it is solid as a rock. I do however always carry a backup bass due to the fact that if something happens to the Roscoe, ie failing battery or preamp I grab the spare. For me, one bass works but it is a high end instrument and I think that can make the difference as opposed to an “off the rack” bass…..Peace

  54. James Giles

    I try to use the right tool for the job. I keep a ’66 Fender Precision with flats for an old school sound, a Warwick five string for extended range and a contemporary tonal range (I just dropped an Aguilar pre-amp in this bass-great sound!), and a Warwick Fretless for the obvious reason . Many contracts now will insist on certain sounds or even instruments (I did a road run of Grease! where the contractor insisted on a Fender precision bass), and no one allows octave displacement anymore, so if the book goes below E, you must have a five string bass. Just some thoughts from a vintage bassist perspective.

  55. Kevin K. Gagnon

    I, myself, have more than one bass, and I pretty much get my “own” sound on all of them. I play a variety of music, from ’50’s , 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, and a little country and jazz to boot. I mostly use a 5-string to enhance my tone, and to keep current with the modern rock. As far as I am concerned, if it works for you and the band – it’s all you need.

  56. Jamie Ashby

    For me, it’s like deciding whether or not to use a plectrum; does it serve the song? My personal preference of bass tone does not always serve the song, so I decided to experiment with a few basses and have gotten my own formula about as down as I’m going to get it (barring a windfall and a roadie, anyway). Depending on the gig, I carry a ‘vintage’ bass (late ’70s/early ’80s) and something more modern (5 string), or a fretless, all as utilitarian as possible. That being said, I do find I tend to favour one bass most of the night, but it’s nice to have options.

    As is said, your mileage may vary.

  57. Gaute Rosvold

    I like to have many options for different kinds of music. Two years ago I got my first bass, it works great for a beginner and it’s weight is close to zero. But once I wanted to try more extreme metal, I bought a six string. It plays beautifully, but it’s heavy as shit, not something I’d use all throughout a long gig or a big venue. Planning on buying a jazz bass next week to defret it for experimental use. I play in a variety of bands, but mist notably an experimental avant-garde black metal band, in which I’m probably going to use all three basses.

  58. that bass guy

    If you have to have just one bass it should either be a Jazz or something very like it. Plenty of tones, ease of playing and many models to choose from. The only other bass I would have on hand (other than a string bass if you’re a player of that instrument) would be either a Precision or a hollow-body. The Jazz will cover all your modern stuff that requires clarity, and the other basses will cover those situations where you just need to bring the thump. My personal bass is a 5-string fretless but I would not recommend it for all settings because it’s just not always the sound a song needs.

  59. Jeff Cope

    This is a good read and discussion. I have 7 different Bass guitars and have tried everyone of them , but find myself reaching an playing my Les Paul Bass every time for me the sound is so versatile and straight to the point . So I guess I’d call myself a one Bass guitar kind of guy ……

  60. I went from three expensive 5-string Marleaux basses back to a Fender P and a Fender J, both 4-string and I do not need anything else. I’d like to, of course :-) but I don’t need to. The P is strung with flatwounds. It’s my main bass, the bass I feel most comfortable with.

  61. Tom Stull

    I should mention another reason for two basses. It was a good idea, for me, to have one in standard tuning and one tuned down.

  62. peter beulke

    Hi fellow bassists. Back in 1998 i was touring Europe and ,living in the UK, I was playing with a great guitar player called Gwyn Ashton, He said you need a spare bass in France .We were supporting the great blues legend Buddy Guy. If you break a string you will be in trouble. So i got my self a spare bass.If your lucky.enuff alot of gigs etc its important to have a good spare bass . Cheers Pete Boom Boom Beulke

  63. I play in some `niche` glam-doom band, low tuning (drop-C). This just needs one solid sounding bass, in my case; some fender type-P (to ripp through layers of low guitar&organ). @ Gig`s I`ll take 2 basses, for some ease of mind. Since the bass was invented during the beginning of `mass production`… it`s basic design is rock solid (Clarence Leo Fender was a `god` indeed!) and will never break down. So the `backup-bass` is only touched, when there`s too much time between songs (or some tech. problems with one of the other instruments). Audience won`t notice any sound difference, but may see some other cool `fender-type` rock bass (never a bad thing in a GLAM-doom setting). But when a gig is rippin` the roof, I just love to stick to my main P-bass; no sound change needed! A live bass-`swap` that is taking the `pulse` out of yer gig, is just plain stupid!
    @ Home/studio, it`s a totaly different thing! I like to play lot`s of music style`s, so I absolutely LOVE the many difference`s between different basses (construction, pickups, etc.).
    I own 12 basses at this time. I`m total addicted on (semi-) hollowbody basses (just love the acoustic feel & playing dynamics). Since my bass-obsession (@ age 14) began with slapping; there`s always a nice `slap-bass` in my collection (classic 4-str. stingray).
    Fretless bass is also a big love for me; It demands yer full concentration, and the fretless sounds also have an almost `healing/meditative` quality. So after almost 25 years of bassplaying, I see nothing wrong in collecting basses.. as long as you don`t f*ck up live & be the best bassplayer for your band/project.
    It`s a `gut` feeling indeed…
    Peache out,… Scott

  64. Gerry

    i have three basses and bring 2 on gigs, an active 5 and passive 4. I like having a back-up, but often play one for the entire gig.

  65. Steve Carriere

    Having multiple basses may or may not be a necessity for pros. I’m guessing for most of us, it’s a luxury. I have had many basses, usually not more than 2 – 3 at a time. I have never had a band leader tell me that I needed a certain bass, or never hire me again because of the bass I played. I sound 90% like me no matter what I play – bass or amp. I did a recording of jazz standards – think Sinatra – with a Geddy Lee jazz bass. I rolled both pups off a bit, rolled the tone off a bit, made good note choices and played with the feel that is necessary and it turned out great.

    Many basses are nice, some may even justify it, but I bet if push came to shove, many of us could get buy with our “No. 1” just fine.

  66. Regarding backup bass: happens to the best. SRV guitar change with almost no noticable sound change nor downtime (~ 2:30-3:15)
    What a roadie!
    PS: txs for exchanging all those great tips and ideas on notreble. This site is so helpful, even from a hobby bassist pov!