Playing bass as a Guitarist

I recently accepted the offer to join a friends metalband as a bassist. It has been a while since i played in a band and i want that back in my life.

However, advancing my guitar-journey remains my primary goal.

I was just curious how the experiences of others with that arrangement are. I know i am not alone as it is quite common for guitarists to help out as bass-players. I only know one person who has always been exclusively a bassist.

Of course it is not going to hurt to learn another instrument but i am especially interested if you find it helps with playing rythmguitar.

Do you find your guitar technique translates well to playing bass or should i prepare to develop new motions?

While we are at it, what should i look out for when buying a new bass ? Rember i am doing this to up my style, so i will buy a sexy Ltd F-series anyway, i just want you to tell me its good.

Have a nice day, everybody!

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I’m a guitarst who plays bass just to record bass parts in his music.

Bass is a LOT different than guitar. I mean, the mechanics are very similar, at least if you play with a pick, and I’ve found playing bass seems to benefit my guitar playing (going from bass strings on a 34" or 35" scale to a guitar makes a guitar feel very easy to play, at least), but a lot of the “writing” is very different. For riff based music you can usually just double the guitar, but for less riff-based, more chordal stuff, thinking about arpeggios and how to connect one chord to the next is probably helpful.

I definitely play bass like a guitarist, though, and a “real” bassist will be able to pick me out as a guitarist in a heartbeat. If you’re serious about learning how to play bass properly and not just play the root note under every chord, I’d start by learning a lot of bass songs in a lot of different genres just to give you a better idea of how the bass functions in an arrangement.

Also, I firmly believe that a good 90% of how “tight” a mix has nothing to do with the mix, and how tight the bass guitar locks in with the drummer. Fair warning!


I’m primarily a guitarist, but one of my most active gigging bands employs me as a bassist, so I’ve had to really focus on my bass chops over the past year or so. Here’s an unscientific collection of differences I’ve noticed when playing bass:

-Right hand fingers. There’s a ton of technique involved and I’d love to see Troy take a crack at it some time. I mainly use a two-finger plucked style, but the “pluck” is deceptive: you want to draw the pad of your finger across the top surface of the string, somewhat like a violin bow, for best efficiency and tone.
-Economy plucking: efficient, clean bass playing has a ton of left and right hand muting across all strings; one thing that facilitates this in a two-finger style is economy plucking. If a string change goes from a lower-pitched string to a higher one, you have to alternate fingers, but if it’s from higher-pitched to low (e.g. the first two notes of the Billie Jean bassline) then you can do a sort of “sweep” with your finger, just like you could with a pick. The thumb can also “sweep” in the opposite direction.
-Timing: this is such a mystified aspect of bass playing that it’s hard to find any useful information, but here’s my most condensed takeaway: when playing bass, the END (release) of the note acts like a note itself. The way you mute at the end of a note, and the articulation of the note, is just as important as playing the note on beat.

I’d love to try to articulate my thoughts better if you’ve got any specific granular questions on this.


Thx for your insight, drew.

The band has 3 albums of tabbed out songs which i am going to learn. I hope that will give me a good enough idea of what they expect the bass to be like. From what i have heard, it mostly doubles the guitarline during riffs and plays simple chordprogressions during melodies.

Thanks for the offer! However, i ll definitly use a pick :smiley:

I can do some simple plucking on classical guitar but not anywhere close to the technique which would be required. Many riffs involve 16th tremolos around 180-220 BPM, so i’ll have to use a pick.

Do you have any recommendations here? How do you approach fast picking on a bass compared to guitars?

I was thinking of getting a bass (a MM Bongo). Do the metal guys mainly play with a pick? Why? Is the pick mainly to go faster than two fingers?

Although I love metal, if I had a bass, I think that I could not resist trying to figure out funk…

It’s a little bit easier for most to go faster with a pick, but there are plenty of videos on YouTube of guys in gimmicky tek-deaf metal bands playing at stupid speeds with their fingers for show.

The fingers have a pronounced “clanky” sound on a bass and it sounds really fantastic in a mix. Practically a necessity for some of the old school death metal sounds.

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Watch a few Billy Sheehan tutorial videos. Honestly, once you build your calluses up enough to get a bit more attack (and, well, nut hurt yourself), I’m not convinved a good fingerstyle bassist couldn’t play faster than one with a pick.

You can get a lot of “clank” out of a bass with a pick as well, but it’s definitely a very different tone.

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