Basitar & Guitbass Page
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Welcome to the world of Basitar and Guitbass.  You're asking yourself, "Self, what is a Basitar?"  and "Self, what is a Guitbass?" and finally "Self, Can I learn to play Guitar this way?"  I will answer the last question with a lyric: "10 million monkeys all picked up guitars, nobody taught them how, 5 thousand froggies rockin really really really hard, nobody taught them how."    Well you've come the only place where you can learn all about Basitars and Guitbasses, and even learn how to play them and join the froggies and monkeys.

If you have a question about anything on this page, or find that I've screwed something up, Email me.

Would you believe  Hit Counter  people have come here to learn about these instruments?  The last time I changed something here was Saturday, June 15, 2002 12:14 AM.



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b_head_small.jpg (3276 bytes)What is a Basitar?   A basitar is a normal (six string) guitar body and neck with only two somewhat large strings.  According to official specifications (as dictated by Chris Ballew, the originator of the Basitar, and former frontman of the Presidents of the United States of America or PUSA) the top (or lowest pitched) string is .060 gauge and the bottom (highest pitch) string is .036 gauge.  These strings are tuned to C sharp (or D flat if you're one of those half empty people) and G sharp.  A basitar is played much like one would play, well, a bass guitar.  The beauty of the tuning is that by fretting both strings across any fret (see the illustration), one can make a chord. Chris was most often seen playing Epiphone Flying V basitars, but also at one time or another played from the following assortment:  Hofner Violin Guitar, and these Gibson guitars:  Les Paul Junior, SG Melody Maker, and Double-necked SG.

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g_bridge_small.jpg (3398 bytes)What is a Guitbass?  A guitbass is a normal (six string) guitar body and neck with only three strings.  According to official specifications (as reported by various webpages and guitar magazine interviews with Dave Dederer, the originator of the Guitbass) the top (or lowest pitched) string is .065 gauge, the middle string is .045 and the bottom (highest pitch) string is .035 gauge.  These strings are tuned to C sharp, G sharp and C sharp (an octave higher than the low C sharp).  This tuning style is commonly referred to as "Dropped D tuning, down half a step".  If you are a newbie, disregard that last sentence unless someone who knows something about guitars asks you how you are tuned.  Guitbasses can be used to perform the same one finger across all strings on a single fret power chord thingy mentioned in the basitar discussion above (see the illustration).   Dave Dederer almost exclusively played Fender Stratocaster and Telecaster Guitbasses.

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Where do these instruments come from?  The basitar and guitbass were introduced to the world by Chris Ballew and Dave Dederer (respectively), who at the time were members of The Presidents of the United States of America. Chris also plays the basitar on his recent solo project, The Giraffes.  They have credited Mark Sandman of Morphine with the original idea for 2 strings, but Ballew had been fiddling with string setups and tunings prior to being "turned on" to the 2 string idea.  The guitbass was developed to complement the basitar.  Check out this article from Bass Player Magazine for a pretty good chronicle of the whole development.  The article is on, the  best place on the web to see what Chris Ballew is up to.

Here's a cool clip with somewhat of an explanation:  RA_logo2.gif (649 bytes) if you need a real audio player go get one here  freeplayer_g2.gif (1187 bytes).

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Why should I play one?   There are several reasons for playing a basitar or guitbass:

  1. You love PUSA music and want to play it.  This is how i got started playing the Guitbass.
  2. You are a novice guitar player, you want to rock, but are impatient and don't want to learn all those damn chords.  I also fall into this category.
  3. You know how to play the guitar or bass, but popped a few strings and can't afford replacement strings.
  4. You're an established guitar player and you've got lotsa guitars laying around, and are bored with the regularity.
  5. You have a tendency to get really drunk and can't play very well while intoxicated.
  6. You've got an old guitar that you bought while in high school, (which is now doing a bang-up job of taking up closet space) but never play it because you couldn't learn all those damn chords.

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How do I get/make one?   If you go to a music store and ask for a Basitar or a Guitbass, you probably won't do very well.  The salesman will either give you a blank stare, or laugh uncontrollably.  Your best bet, if you don't already have a guitar to turn into a Guitbass or Basitar is to get a second-hand guitar from either a pawn shop, or a music store that sells used instruments.  If you're filthy rich, just go buy whatever the hell you want.  Slight, mostly non-permanent changes need to be made to set it up correctly.   See the definitions of Basitar and Guitbass for proper string size and tuning.

Here's some tips from Chris Ballew on the proper setup:

...Well you need to file down the saddle at the bridge and at the head stock <the nut> to accomodate the larger strings. Otherwise the string will sit too far off the fretboard and the intonation will never be right...  ...The best situation is to have a floating bridge that is not attatched to the guitar or the hard to find Leo Quan Bad-ass bridge for guitars. Truss rod is not usually a problem but it may need tightening because the 2 strings don't have the tension of 6.
hope that helps...

More tips (from me):

  • A VERY IMPORTANT TIP:  when filing the nut (at the headstock), go VERY slowly.  You are essentially trying to widen the slot, not deepen it.  You don't want to make the slot too deep.  If you do, your strings will buzz like crazy when playing open notes, and the only way to fix this is to replace the nut.   Replacing a nut is not something you want to try yourself. 

  • For a basitar the strings are located in the slots normally occupied by the D and B strings, for a Guitbass, you put the strings in the A, D, and G string positions. 

  • g_head.jpg (16166 bytes)b_bridge.jpg (13217 bytes)As an added touch, remove the extra hardware from the bridge and the headstock.  It looks cool, and prevents you from having a bunch of pieces of metal rattling about as you play. 

  • Is the string size important?  YES, when I first set up my Guitbass, the store gave me a set of Ernie Ball Super Slinkys.  The three largest strings were .042, .032, and .024 gauge.   These were ok, but didn't produce that punchy PUSA sound.  After playing those for a while, (and breaking a string) I moved up to the Power Slinkys (.048, .038, .028).   It is amazing the difference in sound and tone that the larger strings produce.   As soon as I run out of my Power Slinky stockpile, I plan to move to even larger strings.  My friends at a local music store, Victor Litz, in Gaithersburg, MD, were able to special order me strings for my Guitbass from Ernie Ball.  I ordered strings sized .064, .044, and .036 to put on my guitbass.  If your store is an Ernie Ball dealer, they should be able to hook you up.  When I set up my Basitar, I went for the Jugular, using the .060 and .036 gauges.  When played through the right amp, It sounds perfect!

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What songs can I play?  Really, just about anything.  Obviously, PUSA songs!  The White House of PUSA is a place with quite a few PUSA tablatures, most of which are transcribed for Guitbass!   I purchased 'Guitar Recorded Versions' songbooks for the first two PUSA albums from Harris Music, they were published by Hal Leonard.  These books include lyrics, music, tablature, and chord charts (as well as cool photocopies of the original lyric sheets).   Try Harmony Central for tablatures, chords, lyrics from almost any artist you can think of. 

TAB Translation - Many guitarists use what are called tablature to read/write music.  I'm not going to attempt to give a full explanation on how to read tabs, because that has already been done here: Tablature Explained.  A good example of a tab that can be easily translated to guitbass is the song "Closing Time" by Semisonic from the album Feeling Strangely Fine.

The song basically has 4 chords throughout:

     G5         D5        A5         C5

finger.jpg (11184 bytes)The trick is, if you see a standard power chord like the G5 above, add one to the number of the A and D strings (5+1 = 6) and fret across all the strings on your Guitbass or Basitar (just like the picture to the left).  The translation for the D5 is a little more tricky, as it is played on the A, D, and G strings.   If you see something like this, you need to add 6 to the value for the D and G strings (7+6 = 13), and fret across all the strings on that fret.


Translated for Guitbass (same for Basitar, but lose the top row which represents the high C# on a Guitbass):

      G5          D5          A5          C5

Chord Letter Translation:  This is even easier, if you see chord letters in a song use the following frets as depicted in the picture below (if you are left-handed reverse the image):

frets.gif (86137 bytes)

C sharp can be called D flat, D sharp E flat bla bla bla (you get the idea).

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My Guitbass  

jaqvoc.jpg (25440 bytes)Here's a shot of me with my Guitbass.  If you squint, you can see the three strings, and the headstock and bridge with half the hardware removed.  I play (sometimes) with a band named FOG.   Check out the FOG homepage.


guitbass.jpg (14466 bytes)This photo allows you to see the detail of my Guitbass.  It is a Squier II, (by Fender) Stratocaster, made in Korea. Now most real guitar players probably wouldnt even consider this guitar even suitable for smashing onstage, but I had to keep things inexpensive. It is in great shape, the neck feels nice, but as far as Stratocaster goes, it is a little odd, (no pickguard, 2 single coil pickups, and 1 humbucker instead of 3 single coils, different knobs etc.) It has the proper body and neck shape, the neck is a one piece maple, and the body appears to be laminated something or other. It makes a great Guitbass though.  I purchased this guitar for $130 from Atomic Music, in College Park MD.

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My Basitar

basitar.jpg (8980 bytes)I was especially lucky to recently find a "used hard and put away dirty" Epiphone Flying V at a local music store, Victor Litz, in Gaithersburg, MD.  I could not believe it when I saw it, as I had been looking for something to make a Basitar out of for some time, and was hoping to find a Flying V, to recreate the actual instrument played by Chris.  Plus Flying V's are just plain awesome looking guitars.   New Epiphone Flying V's list at ~$600, can be found for ~$400.  The tag on this one was $150, I got it for $125.  I wish I had taken the time to take a "before" photo, but I was in too much of a hurry to fix this thing up.  When I bought it, the pickguard was covered with black tape, the dot inlays on the neck and pickups had green glow-in-the-dark paint, it had stickers all over it, parts of playing cards glued to it, one pickup was flopping around in the pickguard, and the tone pot was broken!  After a couple of hours I had resurrected the thing and converted it to a beautiful Basitar.   The differences between mine and Chris Ballew's is that mine is black, Chris preferred the red ones.   Also he used different pickups than the stock ones.  He told me that he "had Epiphone put in one p-90 <at the neck> instead of the 2 humbuckers that the flying V comes with."  I won't be doing this real soon, as it would cost me almost as much as I paid for my guitar for one of those pickups. 

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My Acoustic Guitbass

acoustic.jpg (21949 bytes)Last is my Acoustic Guitbass, It is a Yamaha FG-311 that I picked up for $30 from a friend's wife who was going to sell it at a yard sale!  (Maybe she should have tried playing Guitbass instead of Guitar.)  It too is a wonderful instrument.  I currently have strings sized .058, .048, .038 on it and it sounds and plays great.  I modified the nut as described above, but left the bridge alone, as I was afraid I'd really screw it up.

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Search Engine Humor

I thought this was funny (look at the spell check part):

search.jpg (16947 bytes)

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  • Obviously Chris Ballew and Dave Dederer for introducing these instruments to the Rock and Roll world.
  • Extra credit and thanks to Chris Ballew for all his help on setting up my Guitbass and Basitar and for inspiring me to join the froggies and the monkeys.  I too am now rocking really, really hard, and nobody taught me how!
  • Chris also gets credit for the background artwork (Lifted from PUSA's Self Titled Album).
    (he's getting $#!+loads of credit here, isn't he?  But credit where credit is due.   Plus, he's the nicest rock star I've never met!)
  • Oh yeah Chris also wrote the lyric at the top of the page.  It is from "Feather Pluckn'" on the previously mentioned Self Titled PUSA album.
  • Westwood One Entertainment "Spin Session #96-45" for the sound clip about strings. 
  • Dom Alessio of  The White House of PUSA for all the great PUSA tabs and for the list of basitars used by Chris Ballew.
  • Isaac Smith for the "Closing Time" tablature (found on Harmony Central Guitar Tabs).
  • If I left you out, thank you too.   Email me and I'll add you.

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If you have a question about anything on this page, or find that I've screwed something up, Email me.

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I got it for free at:

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