Slap bass is one of the most satisfying techniques, both to play, and to listen to. Although you can slap on most basses, some bass guitars are perfectly suited for creating slaps & pops.
Playing slap bass requires technique, rhythm, and stamina. If a particular instrument doesn't enhance all of these qualities, then slapping will become an arduous task. With the right bass guitar, it becomes much easier to master.
The Best Bass Guitars for Slap & Pop
Despite the common misconception that their instruments are simply cheaper versions of Fender models, the gradual increase in standard has made Squier a force to be reckoned with in their own right.
The Jazz bass is considered to be the gold standard across many genres. With its notoriously warm, articulate tone, and inviting playability, the Jazz has held its place in the top-tier of bass guitars for many decades.
Squier’s Classic Vibe ‘60s Jazz Bass is a great choice for the slap and pop technique. Taking inspiration from the original Fender model, they have used the classic offset-waist body in the style of a J bass.
This body shape is combined with a smooth, fast-action neck, which allows you to play slap bass for long periods without succumbing to fatigue. The speed at which the neck plays is instrumental for playing octave slaps and moving vigorously around the frets.
The tight and warm tone is provided by a pair of Fender-designed, Alnico single-coil pickups. Expressive and crisp, these pickups produce plenty of attacks and sound big across the frequency range.
You also get separate bridge and neck volume controls, so if your slapping is predominantly played in a certain frequency band, you can tailor the dynamic balance. Additionally, the poplar body feels solid without being overly heavy on your shoulder.
The Sterling StingRay by Music Man is arguably the perfect instrument for slap bass. Popularized by some of the best slap-bassists to ever touch a 4-string, such as Flea, Louis Johnson, and Bernard Edwards, this bass guitar combines playability with tone.
The Sterling incorporates all of the most celebrated aspects of the original Ernie Ball Music Man Stingray into a more modern, streamlined instrument. With the classic combination of a teardrop pickguard and 6-bot neck, the bass retains the feel of the original models.
The thick, funky tone is enhanced by the inclusion of Active Electronics humbuckers. The custom-designed powered preamp is joined by separate volume controls, along with high and low EQ controls which are secured on the signature chrome plate.
Slap bass can be taxing on your instrument, especially in terms of tuning and intonation. To ensure that the Sterling Stingray holds its tuning, Music Man has utilized the 3 + 1 tuning key arrangement.
This creates less tension on the strings and allows for highly accurate tuning.
The SR400EQM by Ibanez offers a more affordable alternative to the high-end SR series basses, but sounds and plays very similar to that popular range. Thanks to the combination of maple and rosewood used for the 5-piece neck, the bass is comfortable enough for slap and pop techniques.
Additionally, the SR400EQM has an arched body that is composed of nyatoh and is layered with quality maple. This combination isn't too heavy and is comfortable even when playing slap bass for long stints.
One of the main reasons that the Ibanez SR400EQM is well suited to the slap and pop style of bass, is its warm sounding, tonally-flexible humbucking pickups. Designed by Ibanez, they also include a 3-band EQ for adjusting the frequency output to suit your playing.
The neck is based on the profile of the SR4 model and plays exceptionally fast. It makes moving up and down the scales at a pace an easy undertaking, and prevents hand fatigue from occurring with its comfortable design.
Schecter’s range of impressive bass guitars continues with the omen Extreme. The responsive rosewood fretboard is perfectly suited to rhythmic styles of playing, like the slap and pop technique.
To form the top and back of the Omen Extreme, Schecter has chosen a flame maple top and mahogany body, decorated by black chrome hardware. The neck is also made of maple making for smooth transitions between notes.
To personalize the slap-bass tone produced by the Schecter Omen Extreme, you can tweak the frequency response using the 2-band active EQ. This lets you dial in the high-end frequencies and create a more punchy tone.
Sustain is a valuable quality for slap and pop bass playing. The Omen Extreme offers smooth, long-lasting sustain thanks to the combination of tonewoods used to construct the instrument and the naturally conditioned fingerboard.
Versatile, eye-catching, and brilliant for slap bass, the Japanese-made Yamaha TRBX304 is a wonderful instrument. It has a unique body shape that promotes effortless hand-placement and fights against hard-tiredness.
With a fast-action, 5-piece neck made from maple/mahogany, the TRBX304 is perfectly suited to syncopated styles of bass playing that require fast transitions and accurate finger-placement.
The tone produced by this Yamaha bass is full-bodied and crisp. With a pair of humbucking pickups and the Yamaha exclusive Performance EQ active circuit, the instrument is capable of an array of warm sounds.
The all-metal housing ensures that the inner circuitry of the pedal is well-protected, and the flexible power circuit means that it can be powered by either a 9V battery or a dedicated power supply.
With a dedicated tuner output also installed, you can isolate the tuner from the rest of your rig and protect your natural tone.
It takes a truly special instrument to still be popular after 60 years. The Fender Jazz bass has achieved this and continues to go from strength to strength as every new generation of musicians comes and goes.
The Player Series Jazz bass is a culmination of knowledge gained by Fender in the years of producing the previous models. For slap and pop style bass, the Jazz’s tone is perfectly warm, immersive, and tight-sounding.
For groove playing, the J Bass is unrivaled. The inclusion of Alnico 5 pickups enhances its warm, immersive tone that lends itself to R&B, blues, jazz, funk, and soul styles of playing.
There's also a volume control and two tonal controls installed below the pickguard. The shape of the Jazz bass is one of the main reasons it has stood the test of time, and this Player version stays true top the slim C-profile neck and uniquely narrow width.
How to Get the Perfect Slap & Pop Bass Tone
The sound of Marcus Miller, Flea, and Larry Graham slapping their bass guitars has inspired many bassists to pick up the instrument. However, although the technique owes a lot to its rhythm, the tone of slap and pop bass is what makes it unique.
Ideally, a slap & pop bass tone needs to combine aggression, power, fullness, and warmth. These four qualities are inherent in slap bass, so it's important to ensure that your bass rig promotes them all equally.
If you're looking for the aggressive, growling bass tone that is used by many slap bassists, then active pickups are the best option. They pronounce the plosives of the bass more clearly and create a rhythmic pop.
Alternatively, passive pickups produce a warmer, more immersive tone. Although slap & pop bass is most commonly associated with sharp transients, it also sounds great when the bass tone is less intense.
Using passive pickups is a great way to achieve this, especially when they are combined with a compression pedal.
Slap Bass Essentials
Rehearsing the technique of slap bass can lead to hand fatigue if you don’t have the right instrument and setup. Some of the things you need to consider are inherent in the type of bass you choose, while others can be changed at any time.
When you get a new bass guitar, the strings are fresh, which is ideal for slapping. Over time, the more you slap away at them, the more they will begin to wear out. This will affect the brightness and the attack they produce.
Consequently, I’d recommend changing your bass strings every few months to ensure that you retain the tonal qualities for slap and pop. You can experiment with the guage of the strings, as this comes down to personal preference.
Most slap bassists agree that it's best to choose an instrument with a long scale length for this technique. This is because you’ll need extra space when playing syncopated rhythms with your slapping hand.
Octaves are a huge part of slap bass, and therefore short-scale models can feel a little crowded as you quickly jump from one string to another with your fretting hand.
Another highly important capability of a bass suitable for the slap technique is being able to set the action low. This moves the strings closer to the fretboard, and therefore requires less tension to press down on the frets.
The reason this is important for slap bass is that it enables you to make clear sounds without needing to press too hard, reducing the change of your fretting hand becoming tired from this energetic motion.
Slap & pop is one of the most satisfying techniques a bassist can play. It combines rhythm and tone like no other style can do. When performed to a high standard, slap bass is one of the most universally loved instrument techniques.
Bass guitars come in many shapes, styles, and sizes. Due to the intensity of slap & pop bass, it's essential to choose an instrument that promotes the technique and doesn't make it any more arduous than it needs to be.
Whichever of the listed instruments you choose, I'm sure they will improve your slap bass playing.