When you think of a band you will usually imagine the usual line-up of a singer, guitarist, drummer, and… bass guitarist.
Often perceived to be the least important instrument you may be wondering if there are any successful bands that ditched the bass guitarist. No bass means more room for the electric guitar to take the main stage right?
As it turns out many bands have made it big and all without the help of a bass guitar. The common denominator of these bands however is that most of these bands had to change the way they play in order to make up for the missing instrument!
So let’s take a look at some successful bands that don’t have bass players and the ways they make up for the lack of the instrument considered to be the ‘glue’ of any band.
Rock Bands Without Bass Guitar
You might be surprised to learn that one of the most quintessential rock bands in history didn’t have a bass player.
Before they were the Doors, they fired their bass play deciding instead that their keyboardist Ray Manzarek could hold down the bottom end instead. Ray was idolized for this ability to split into two musicians when the doors played live and more than made up for their lack of a dedicated bass player.
When performing live Ray would use his left hand to hold down the bass notes of their songs while using his right hand to play the iconic organ melodies that run through so many of The Doors tunes.
While Metalica does have a bass player there was one controversial choice made in the final mix of ‘…And Justice for All’ that would make you think they didn’t.
On the album that brought Metalica into the mainstream, Jason Newstead’s bass performance on the album was all but muted.
So how did a metal band get away with releasing a heavy album with zero bass? Metallica guitarist James Hetfield explained the decision in 2008.
Hetfield claims the bass wasn’t necessary for a few reasons. Firstly, he believed the bass lines tended to act as an unnecessary double to the rhythm parts of his guitar. Secondly and more interestingly, Hetfield explains that his style of playing on the album eliminated the need for a bass recording.
On “…And Justice for All” Hetfield’s guitar tone is ‘very scooped’ meaning he performed in a way that had all lows and high, without much mid-range.
This balance of high and low on the guitar meant that the low parts of his playing acted as his own bass lines. The band agreed and ditched the bass recording… all of them except the bass player who to this day holds a grudge.
The Evens were formed after the mid-west punk band Fugazi came to an end. Deciding to start a two-piece Fugazi’s Ian MacKaye would take up guitar duties while Amy Farina hopped on drums.
Without a bass guitarist, the band had a noticeable lack of low end that they wanted to fill out when it came time to recording. To do this Ian MacKaye decided to play a baritone guitar.
A baritone guitar is a guitar with a longer scale length giving it more frets and a larger size. The reason The Evens used a bariton bass to fill out the low end was because baritone guitars can be tuned lower than a standard guitar.
This allowed the band to have a more percussive focus by using a deeper sounding guitar that made up both the lead and bass sounds of the music.
Unlike other bands on this list that were duos choosing to ditch the bass player, Sleater-Kinney are a trio that chose to have 2 guitars and a drummer instead of getting a bass guitar involved.
This trio came up with a way to keep their band dynamic without compromising on the low-end. In the absence of a bass player, both guitarists, Carie Brownstein and Corin Tucker tuned their guitars down a whole 1 and a half steps.
This gave their music a natural low end by making their chords and melodies a lower pitch. Tucker also used her style of play and tone to mimic what a bass guitar would have added to their songs.
The dynamic of having two guitarists instead of one allowed them to focus on separate types of playing to make their songs sound well-rounded and full without the need for a bass player.
Pop Bands Without Bass Guitar
The White Stripes
The brother and sister duo of the White Stripes are a very popular band that has never had a bass player.
In their early music, the lack of bass gave the band their simplistic and raw sound; forcing them to make the guitar more aggressive and let the drums be the driver of the music.
As the band developed they started to come up with new ways to give their music bassey sound while remaining a two-piece. This was achieved by Jack White’s use of pitch-shifting guitar pedals.
Pitch-shifter pedals take what you’re playing and pitch it down. This works by lowering the octave of the note or chord being played. This means the guitarist doesn’t have to change the way they play. With pedal turned on a guitar will sounder lower or higher than what is being played.
Because of the way these pedals work, the lower note will be in tune with what the guitarist is playing. Some pitch-shifting pedals even allow playing both the normal sound and the pitch sound at the same time. The White Stripes used this effect to sound like an electric guitar and a bass guitar at the same time.
Sometimes leaving the bass out isn’t something that bands try to make up for with fancy studio tricks or keyboards. Sometimes it’s an intentional choice in tone. That is the case with the band Beat Happening.
This Indie-pop band formed in 1983 and their lineup has never featured a bass player. This was done in resistance to the over-production and perceived over-complication of rock music at the time.
Their lack of bass throughout their discography gives them a barebones sound that verges on punchy and upbeat to mellow and twee. Their consistent output over the decades has cemented them as a band that proves you don’t need a bassist to sound good!
It isn’t always a great idea when a band chooses not to include a bass guitar. An example of this is the band Japandroids (in my opinion, sorry to any fans reading!).
This duo consists of a guitarist and a drummer like many successful duos that don’t have a bass player. The difference with Japandroids is they don’t do anything to make up for the lack of bass.
While other bands use different tunings or instruments to fill the low-end; the music of Japandroids just sounds like they forgot to turn the bass amp on.
This, unfortunately, leaves their music sounding a bit empty or as if something is missing. This is especially apparent when seeing them perform live. Their music doesn’t have the dynamics to make their harmonies and melodies stand out when compared to other bands of the same vein.
What About Bands Without a Guitarist?
Death From Above 1979
While there are bands that don’t think they need a bass player there are also bands that think the exact opposite.
Death From Above 1979 are a punk duo from Canada that makes their huge punk rock sound without having ever picked up an electric guitar. The way they chose to avoid guitar is what gives them their iconic tone.
Instead of using a guitar, bassist Jesse Keeler uses a powerful bass amp called a Peavey Super Festival 800B. The amp has its gain set very high which causes the bass to sound fat and distorted.
The amount of distortion they’re getting out of a bass guitar makes bringing an electric guitarist on board pointless, They would probably get droned out in the mix.
This band is an example of how it’s usually easier to ditch a guitarist than it is a bass player.