I play and teach electric bass. I also play and teach bass guitar. Are they the same instrument? Well, not semantically it seems. For years, there are those who default to the electric bass when referring to the instrument, as well as those who insist on placing it within the guitar family.
In the jazz community, the instrument notoriously has been given a bad name: it's the “pork chop”, the “slab”. What are we, playing in a butcher shop? These are not kind sobriquets. Anthony Jackson would most likely butcher you if he heard you refer to the instrument in these terms.
When I was 18, I had the honor of studying with Anthony Jackson. He vehemently insisted the instrument be called the Bass Guitar. For one, it was a more esteemed way to refer to the instrument, elevating it beyond the “chops” and “slabs”. More importantly, however, Jackson was of the opinion that the instrument was a distinct one; to him, it was part of the guitar family and needed to be identified as such. He even went as far as referring to the instrument as the “Contrabass Guitar”.
Personally, I am comfortable referring to the instrument as the electric bass, or the bass guitar. I do however agree with AJ, in that the instrument is more related to the guitar family than the family of bass instruments (viola de gamba, contrabass/upright bass). Saying I play electric bass really doesn't accurately describe the instrument in its totality. After all, my upright bass can be “electrified”, but it’s undoubtedly entirely different than the instrument to which we are referring.
At this point, things can get quite confusing (a blog post examining the full taxonomy and nomenclature for the bass is perhaps in order). This is why I like the clarity of “Bass Guitar”. Let’s just make sure we’re never put back in the butcher shop!
Lorin Cohen teaches electric bass, bass guitar and upright bass lessons in New York and via Skype. Contact Lorin here to learn more about lessons.