The answer lies in your goals as a musician, what is important to you. The guitar is often seen as the more flamboyant instrument of the two and therefore the bass is the poorer cousin. This is a mistake and too simplistic. Let us understand what the bass is about so you can make your own mind up.
Milt Hilton who was a music great, especially known for his slap double bass said: “The bass is a service instrument….The word base means you support, foundation. If you put up a building, the foundation must be steady and strong. I must identify a chord for everyone, and only after that can I play the other notes. You learn to have a lot of humility. You must be content with the background, knowing you are holding everything together.” You can read more about Hilt here. Most bass players believe in the adage of ‘less is more,’ and the skill is knowing what not to play and to give that foundation.
That said after you have got your foundation right you can push your style to the forefront, you do not have to be stuck in a box that is the bassist at the back of the band, think of flea, Jaco Pastorius, Marcus Miller, Billy Sheehan none of these guys could be described as ‘boring’ or shy in being front of the stage.
Think of some of the greatest tracks out there without the bass, chances are if you cut the bass they will sound empty and hollow. Therefore the bass is the glue that keeps the band together.
Whether you choose bass or guitar to start your journey lies on what your goals are and what you are drawn to musically. The other obvious point is whilst it is good to start off focusing on one instrument to get that under your belt, there is a lifetime of learning to be done, which means you can add to your musical training by trying out the other instrument be it bass or guitar, later.
When you are a beginner and starting out you can get into playing a song quicker on bass than the guitar, so there is some truth that it easier to play. For example, when it comes to the guitar, you need to get your fingers of your fretting hand in the right shape, hold a pick and get the strumming pattern correct, all of which is done on tiny strings.
In comparison, the same song on the bass may just require one finger on one string playing fewer notes. Altogether a piece of music can be simpler on the bass.
However, bass players have to concentrate on getting their timing or groove right, if neglected the whole band will be all over the place and it will end up in a musical mess. A guitarist can get away with drifting adrift a bit here, or rather the consequence would not be so dire for the rest of the musicians.
Then there is as mentioned above FAQ, the ‘less is more’ bass player mindset which is needed to lay that foundation and get that foundation. (read the first FAQ).
There are generally fewer bass players than guitarists and therefore you will find less competition out there so often bass players are in more demand because of this. You will often find even less competition if you specialize in a specific genre of music. For example, depending on where you live, there may be fewer reggae bands about, but equally, there are fewer bassists who are good at playing reggae. There is often benefit in having a specialism, alongside general all over bass musicianship. Any band that is worth joining will understand the value of bass and will be grateful to find a decent bassist.
Focus on learning, try not to learn the bass and say, the guitar at the same time. Lots of people start with one instrument then they get detracted and think I want to play they keyboards now or the guitar. Whilst you could argue that you will split your time between instruments consider what would happen if you concentrated on that one instrument. This is the route to becoming a master of the trade not a mediocre jack of all trades. This is not to say that after you have a decent grounding in the guitar you cannot branch out to other instruments, but ensure that if your goal is to be a good bassist that you stick to this as your primary focus.
No! consider Tal Wilkenfeld’s talent or Rhonda Smith, my own daughter is getting pretty good at aged 14 playing a short scale bass. As a side note, while I mention short scale basses, they aren’t just for kids. Paul McCartney is famous for playing a short scale bass. See here why I think they are great instruments to own. What you will notice when you start to play is the challenge of becoming accustomed in terms of holding the strings down and stretching the figures. This is down to the need to develop strength and muscle memory in the hands. The only way out of this issue is to practice. There is a technique called microshifting, which is where you shift your hands up and down the fingerboard to play the note as opposed to stretching for the note. This can help. Therefore, whether it through playing a short scale bass or adjusting your technique, you do not need to worry about having ‘small hands’ as a beginner when learning to play.
All instruments require regular practice, daily is best, in the beginning, to reinforce the learning and get your muscles and fingers accustomed to playing. However, some instruments are harder to get a pleasing tone and results than others. Consider the violin. The violin is a challenging instrument to get a ‘good’ sound out of, even before you attempt to start to play any notes. The bass, fortunately, is not like this. If you practice every day for at least 30 minutes you will be able to play a simple bass line by the end of the month. It is also not an instrument that has an age barrier. As mentioned in my previous FAQ – it is a myth that you need to have big hands, you can be a child playing a short scale or micro bass or an ‘older’ adult, it really does not matter. With the variety of online tuition, you can also teach yourself a lot these days without having to seek out private bass lessons with a teacher.
When you are learning to play as a beginner it is better to start off with your fingers as it is an important technique to master. It is more versatile and indeed common skill to use. Once you have got the basics you can experiment with using a pick.