The Bastard Instrument: A Cultural History of the Electric Bass

Univ. of Michigan. (Tracking Pop). Jul. 2024. 368p. ISBN 9780472056811. pap. $24.95. MUSIC
What would the pop tunes of today be without the booming basslines that permeate the genre? The string bass—a descendant of the viola da gamba, not the violin—operated as a foundational instrument in various forms of Western music for centuries. That’s before the invention of the electric bass guitar and innovations in amplification opened the doors to new tonal pathways. Many music fans take these shifting soundscapes for granted today, but there’s more to it than meets the ear. In bass player and music scholar Wright’s (music history, Univ. of North Texas) ingenious twist on contemporary pop musicology, he deftly explains the influence of a new propulsive low end and the technological advances that made it possible. The latter ranges from important but lesser-known developments, such as Everett Hull’s amplified peg, to familiar and iconic instruments, like the Leo Fender Precision Bass. This work teams scholarship with detailed examples and specificity, expertly intertwining the tools of the trade with analyses of significant songs across pop, country, and rock. An index and endnotes help make the book a valuable reference.
VERDICT An edifying and valuable survey of the electric bass, an often overlooked mainstay of modern music.
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