IT is an instrument which often takes second fiddle to the lead guitar in the rock-and-roll stakes, despite being played by some of the most famous musicians on the planet.

But now bass guitarists could be about to step out of the shadows and take centre stage thanks to the pioneering work of Scottish scientists.

And they won’t even need to brush up their finger skills to hit the right notes, as the secret of their success will be down to the instrument’s strings.

Dr Jonathan Kemp of the University of St Andrews’ School of Physics and Astronomy, along with the University’s Music Centre, developed revolutionary strings using fresh construction techniques which take the instrument to places previous performers were unable to reach, in a tonal sense.

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The new equipment means bassists can play higher notes than before – and in a more pleasing harmony, according to the science behind the strings.

The better-sounding guitar was created by a Scottish team who tweaked the production process. Project leader Dr Kemp, an accomplished performer himself, said: “Normal bass strings can be played far up the neck. But the lowest pitch strings sound bad and are poor at harmonising with higher notes.

“My new strings allow for improved tone when playing high up the neck of the instrument.”

The academics team used a technique known as “lumped construction”.

They believe it will change the musical landscape.

Dr Kemp said: “It has only been applied to piano strings before.”

Dr Kemp’s study, published in SN Applied Sciences, showed bass guitar strings are inharmonic when fretted, or pressed down, higher up the neck.

Those that are tapered at the bridge, which transports their vibration, sound even worse.

Dr Kemp, who sells electric guitars online, and his colleagues, found making them thicker produces a string with much greater harmony. It also improved pitch.

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The four-string bass guitar has been a staple of the pop and jazz scene since the 1950s – with Paul McCartney, Lemmy of Motorhead and The Who’s John Entwistle counted among the legends to pick up the instrument.

Bass has been hailed as the most critical instrument in a band, providing the foundations of both rhythm and harmony and the “pumping heart of rock” for decades. Famed as a multi-instrumentalist and singer, Paul McCartney’s first instrument was the bass guitar, bought when he was 18.

His skill with the instrument can be heard on the iconic bassline of The Beatle’s famous track Come Together, on their 1969 album Abbey Road.

The instrument is also regarded as the workhorse for a band, less flashy than the lead guitar but vital to holding everything together.

Entwhistle told others he learned the instrument so he would always be in demand, famously saying: “I set myself up to be a bass guitarist and bass players get a lot more work than people like me.”

American singer-songwriter Suzi Quatro, who rose to fame as a bass player, was more succinct in her praise for the instrument.

“Guitar is for the head, drums are for the chest, but bass gets you in the groin,” she said.

Other famous players include Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Level 42’s Mark King and Adam Clayton of U2. American Jaxx bandleader Charlie Hadden, also had a poetic outlook on the instrument, although he played the double bass.

He said: “The bass, no matter what kind of music you’re playing, it just enhances the sound and makes everything sound more beautiful and full. When the bass stops, the bottom kind of drops out of everything.”

Dr Kemp’s previous research has included developing electric guitar strings which allow chord bends to be achieved that were not previously possible on standard guitars, such as Fender Stratocasters.