A lead guitar is not so much an instrument, like the bass guitar, as it is a role in a band. A bass guitarist uses a bass guitar that has four strings to play bass notes. On the other hand, a lead guitarist uses a traditional six-stringed guitar to play solos, melodies, and passages.
Learning a new instrument or starting a band is a challenging but exciting venture. To take a step into the world of music will invite struggles and difficulties in trying to achieve what you want. However, we can guarantee that all of it will be worth it in the process.
The question now is, what instrument should you learn or what role should you play in your band? Well, the two most popular options are bass and lead guitar. How do these two differ? Which one is more difficult? And which one should you choose?
In this article, we’ll show you the major differences between a bass and a lead guitar.
Bass vs. Lead Guitar
First, let’s talk about the instruments each of these uses. As we’ve mentioned, a bassist uses a bass guitar, while a lead guitarist uses an electric guitar. So, what are the differences and similarities between a bass and an electric guitar?
Strings and Tuning
The major difference between a bass and electric guitar is the number of strings, which also influence their tuning. An electric guitar has six strings and uses the standard tuning E-A-D-G-B-E.
On the other hand, a bass guitar only has four strings, and it’s significantly larger than the electric guitar. Its tuning is similar to the low four strings of the electric guitar, which means it’s E-A-D-G. However, the bass guitar is one octave lower in terms of pitch.
The next difference between the two is how they’re played. You’re probably familiar with the electric guitar, and you might already know that there’s a multitude of techniques to play it. First, you have the chords by which you fret. Then, you can pluck the strings, hammer on them, slide your fingers, and a whole lot more.
On the other hand, bass guitars don’t play chords. Instead, they play notes. More often than not, a guitar is played by fretting one note on one fret and plucking the string with the index finger. However, advanced bassists also have advanced skills that enhance their playing styles. These techniques may range from slapping, sliding, and muting, among others.
This part is more about the role of the bassist and the lead guitarist rather than their instruments. Just like any other member of the band, each of these musicians plays a crucial role when performing songs.
There are thousands of amateur musicians in the world who wonder why bands even need bassists. They seem to just stand in the background, and you don’t even hear them loudly compared to the other instruments like the drums or guitars.
However, believe it or not, the bassist is actually the one who carries the entire band. Without them, the entire structure of the other instruments will fall apart. Bassists function as the backbone of each performance, especially the jazz and blues genre.
Bassists need to work with the drummer to ensure that they deliver the right groove to their songs. On the other hand, they also play the foundation notes necessary when the lead guitarist is playing his/her solo. Without the bassist, the band’s music would sound empty, if not awkward, as if it’s missing something.
If the bassist is the backbone of the music, lead guitarists are the wings of the band that allows it to fly. They provide flavor to the song by playing the melodic notes and energizing the crowd with their electrifying solos.
Additionally, lead guitarists tend to make the band’s music unique. They often define the overall quality of the band by providing extra sounds. That’s why lead guitarists have to be very creative but structured.
Even though the bass’s role as the band’s backbone is essential, the lead guitar is also indispensable because, without them, the band would lose character. While the bassist needs to be reliable throughout the whole song, the lead guitarist would often have a moment or two to shine out.
That’s why lead guitarists also need to have a lot of finger dexterity and smooth hand movements. They often have to spice up the song’s intro, outro, and bridge.
Which Instrument is Easier and More Important?
The bass guitar only has four strings, so it should be easier, right? Well, that’s not necessarily the case. It may be true if you want to be a basic bassist and just play the right notes, but even then, you must not mess up. Otherwise, one wrong note will surely stand out and ruin the band’s chord or note progression.
Additionally, playing the basic notes of the song is the bare minimum for bassists. In some bands and genres, they also have the responsibility of adding flavor to the music. You also need to consider that the bass guitar is heavier than a regular guitar.
On the other hand, the role of the lead guitar is undoubtedly just as important. Sure, bands can still produce songs and play music with just the drummer, bassist, and rhythm guitarist, but it wouldn’t have the character necessary to cement the band into people’s hearts.
Having said that, both of these instruments require a lot of patience, discipline, and practice to master. Furthermore, they can also be improved to be more versatile than just playing singular notes every beat.
Do you enjoy the spotlight? Then yes, maybe the role of lead guitar suits you. Are you a team player and like being in the background supporting the entire band? Then maybe being a bassist is a better fit.
Nonetheless, whether you’re planning to be a bassist or lead guitarist, what matters most is your dedication to your craft. After all, both of these instruments and roles have their own art style, and the most important thing is how you express yourself through them.
Eduardo Perez is a multi-instrumentalist with over 20 years of experience playing instruments such as piano, guitar, ukulele, and bass. Having arranged songs and produced music in a recording studio, he has a wealth of knowledge to share about analyzing songs, composing, and producing. Currently pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree in Interdisciplinary Musical Studies at Berklee College School of Music. Featured on Entrepreneur.com. Subscribe to his YouTube channel, or follow him on Instagram.