Guitar vs Bass

At the Simi Valley Cajun & Blues Festival, there were musicians playing stringed instruments of all shapes and sizes: guitars, mandolins, banjos, bass, and fiddles. Why are there so many kinds of stringed instruments and what’s the difference between them? This post will focus on two of the most common: guitar and bass.

The guitar is the six-stringed key rhythm instrument in most blues music. Early blues musicians played with a slide–either a knife blade or broken bottle neck. By the 1960s, blues guitarists had plugged in and were playing electric guitars, and often the guitar was moved up from the rhythm section to lead instrument. In Cajun music, guitars have only recently been included in the instrument lineup and play second fiddle to the fiddle and the accordion. Guitarists play by strumming chords, filling out the sound by occasionally fingerpicking the melody.

The deep, rumbling notes of the bass fill the bottom of a band’s sound. The six-foot tall acoustic “stand-up” bass is the biggest difference between the big “bull fiddle” and the guitar. Its sheer size gives it its low, deep sound. The bass’ primary function is to hold the rhythm section together. It has four strings which are tuned to the bottom four strings of a guitar. One normally plays the bass with one finger or thumb, by plucking, slapping, thumping, or tapping on it. Modern bands often turn to electric bass as it is far easier to transport than the huge standup.

Both bass and guitar are critical components to Cajun and blues music. They add rhythm and soul to musical traditions that are steeped in both.