Not even an upright bass. Yep. Even though it’s kind of assumed that the majority of bass parts are played on a bass guitar in pop music, it’s far from being the only instrument capable of producing bass frequencies and lay down a low end fatter than Santa’s chimney torturing ass. It can be a keyboard instrument, a horn, an electronically manipulated instrument, or a burping elephant.
The many facets of bass
Of course one of the major contenders is synth bass. In most of the electronic music and hip hop – if it’s not a sampled hack job – the bass notes are represented by synthesizers. You would think it’s a rather new solution to do so, but I can assure you that ever since synths existed, they have been used in every possible role. Bass is one of those roles, and the following one is a great classic example.
Synth bass – can be done with style
The amazing bass line of this song is played on a MiniMoog synth. It all has been done by a left hand, back in 1972. Well, there are actually two bass lines. The awesome, most prominent 1st one goes well into the midrange (I guess we could call it the baritone or even tenor part). The 2nd one playing “one five” or plain root notes is very soft, and sits in the very bottom. After a while, the edgy, dynamic line disappears a bit, just to come back again. This most famous version of “Popcorn” by Hot Butter is actually a cover of the 1969 original by Gershon Kingsley, but that one didn’t have such a dynamic bass line.
Hot Butter – “Popcorn”
Powerful low end – a Hammond B3 and its pedals
Another keyboard instrument that’s more than capable of generating healthy bass notes is the organ. (No, not that woody one you just entered the gutter with.) The Hammond B3 even has a row of bass pedals, and masters like Jimmy Smith were able to utilize those, at least on slower tunes. Other times, he just played the bass lines on the lower manual, no problem. Check him out, he’s amazing.
Jimmy Smith – Organic Groundbreakers (Pearls Before Me) [Full Album]
Octave whammy + guitar
Now if you don’t have a B3 or a bass, but you do have a guitar and a Digitech Whammy pitch shift pedal (or other kind of octave pedal or rack unit that’s capable of going down one octave), you can do what Jack White of The White Stripes does. Play bass lines on your guitar, even in real time. No kidding.
The White Stripes – “7 Nation Army”
A tuba? No kidding
Now this following tune by the German band Fools Garden was pretty big in Europe. And besides being a great, catchy pop song, it’s got an interesting bass sound going on as well. The bass instrument in the verses and the bridge sounds like a tuba. It was probably played on a synthesizer, because no tuba player is credited. All in all, it sounds like a pretty faithful tuba patch.
Fools Garden – “Lemon Tree”