No one can deny that the 4-string electric bass guitar is a cornerstone of any band. Together with the percussion, the bassist creates the powerful rhythm that gets the audience moving and becomes the heartbeat of a melody. Being the most common type of bass guitar, the 4-string is essentially the gold standard instrument for the low end, and it's usually tuned to the sound of a double bass.
One of the most important things to consider when choosing your new 4-string bass is the body style, and with that, the tonewood that it's made of. For a country or folk bassist looking for rich acoustic character, a semi-hollow body is the perfect way to warm up your tone right from the start. Solid-body basses, on the other hand, are right at home in any genre of music, particularly rock and metal. For either style bass, take a careful look at the wood. Alder is a popular choice due to its well-rounded tone, while a musician looking for added warmth and smoothness might prefer mahogany. If you're a technical player looking for tight sustain to nail fast bass lines, basswood may be right for you. On the other hand, high-sustain lovers will appreciate the brilliance of maple.
Once you've decided on your favorite tonewood, the next step in shaping the sound of the bass is the pickup system. With this instrument, you have your choice of active or passive pickups. The difference is simple: an active pickup contains a small built-in preamp, while a passive pickup sends an untouched signal directly to the output. The end result is that passive pickups deliver a classic, full tone that works well with any amp while active pickups put out bright, clear sounds with added power to push an amp into high overdrive if that's your thing.
You can also decide between fretted and fretless styles for your 4-string bass guitar. With a fretted fingerboard, the guitar neck is divided into semi-tones and you've got a visual and tactile guide for your finger placement. This makes fretted models easy to learn on, and the pinpoint contact with the metal frets can impart a clear, precise quality to the bass' sound. A fretless fingerboard, by comparison, is a great choice for experienced players, where you'll take advantage of the smooth surface to slide your fingers for more dynamic sounds. By pressing the string directly against the fingerboard wood, a fretless bass also gives you a slightly softer sound.
No matter what style of bass you decide on—solid or semi-hollow, active or passive, fretted or fretless—the most important thing to keep in mind is that it's perfectly suited to your own tastes. If you're not sure where to start, take a look at some of your favorite bassists and see what they play: the first step to following in your idols' footsteps is to look for a matching bass guitar to put yourself on the same footing.