An upright bass is a stringed orchestral instrument designed to play in a very low range, intended to add depth, power, presence and melody to the sound of any musical group, and assist with establishing the beat along with the percussion—hence, why bass and drums are considered the “rhythm section.” While the upright bass is a standard instrument in the stringed section of an orchestra, it can and has been used in other forms of music, including blues, jazz, rockabilly, country, bluegrass and folk. Ultimately, the application of upright bass in any form or genre is up to the individual player.
Upright basses are strung with four strings that are much thicker than the strings on a violin or viola (the higher-pitched stringed instruments in its category), and are tuned to the same notes as the lowest four strings on an electric guitar (E-A-D-G), but tuned down one octave in pitch. The upright bass is most commonly played in two ways—either with the fingers in a plucking, thumping or slapping fashion, or the instrument can be played with a bow (similar to the cello).
In terms of appearance, upright basses closely resemble the other members of the orchestral stringed instrument family (violin, viola, cello), though the upright bass is much larger in size. The materials most often used in upright bass construction are maple (typically for the back and neck), spruce (typically for the top), and ebony (typically for the fingerboard and tailpiece)—though less-expensive upright basses can have laminated tops and backs. Laminate upright basses—commonly used in schools, or by touring musicians—are very resistant to damage from heat and humidity, as well as to the physical abuse they are likely to encounter in such environments.