Bass guitars are often overlooked in the instrument-popularity contest, but they’re vital to the foundation of music. Here’s a guide to buying a good one.
Most bass guitarists start off with a regular guitar and then decide they want to play bass in a band. Not a lot of them decide to play bass right from the get-go. Whichever category you fall under, it helps to have a starting point when selecting a bass to buy.
The bass guitar tends not to be as upfront in the limelight as the lead guitarist, but it is integral to the rhythm and feel of the music. Expert bassists do often take the spotlight for a solo every now and then, and many even play on their own because they are like one-person bands. There is a lot you can do with a bass guitar.
It is a common misconception that playing bass is easier than playing guitar, usually because there are traditionally four strings. But this is not really the case. Any instrument takes years of practice to fully master, and the bass is no different. With this guide, you should be able to find a suitable instrument on which you can hone your skills.
Best Bass Guitar
A good bass guitar largely depends on your preference, and expensive does not always mean good quality. That is why the top pick is a mostly inexpensive bass guitar, the Yamaha TRBX 174. This electric bass guitar may not be made of the perfect combination of woods, but it does offer range and versatility. Of all the basses on this list, this one offers the full scale and the full range of frets, all while giving a pure and rich tone, and that’s why it is number 1.
Guide to Buying Bass Guitars
Even if you think you’ve found the best bass guitar, don’t just buy it straight off the rack. If you’ve had a guitar before, then you know that you need to see if you connect with the instrument. If this sounds strange or if you don’t know what this means yet, don’t worry. With experience, you’ll come to understand it. If you do have some experience, this guide won’t be totally useless. There are plenty of factors that you need to consider before making a final purchase.
Note: this guide does not go into highly debated issues that tend to be of concern to pros or expert bassists such as those involving traditional and non-traditional, precision and jazz, fretted and fretless, or style and techniques. If you are inexperienced, you should have an expert accompany you when you are shopping.
Types of Basses
It’s important to first understand what kind of bass you really need. Most people would think of an electric bass guitar, which is the kind that is commonly used to play in live bands. There are also acoustic and semi-acoustic basses that are generally used for unplugged or mellower playing. And finally, there are stand-up or double basses, those large, cello-like instruments you might have seen in 1920s period movies and big band or swing music. This guide caters particularly to electric bass guitars, but there is a section for if you’re looking for acoustic bass guitars. Bass guitars also come with typically four strings, with a few people choosing five-string basses, and even fewer choosing six-string basses. The latter two basses produce lower notes.
What kind of music do you plan to play and in what setting? If you plan to play chill-out music in a laid-back or sophisticated pub, you might need an acoustic bass guitar or a semi-acoustic bass guitar. If you are hoping to play rock or metal music with a band, then you’ll need an electric. Once you know what you plan to be doing, you will have a good idea of what you’re looking for.
Once you know what you are planning to buy, you should plan how much you are willing to spend. A high-quality pro bass guitar can cost thousands and thousands of dollars, while new and used bass guitars can be as cheap as a hundred or two. If you are not sure about what you want to do with your bass, consider looking for bass guitars for sale or you might be wasting money if you find you don’t like playing. On the other hand, don’t buy a bass just because it is cheap. A midrange bass guitar will be good for beginners and intermediate players, and sometimes even pros. If you are serious, it is worth the investment.
Different bass guitars are constructed differently, and the qualities of the wood that they are made of actually have an impact on the sound. For instance, mahogany, my personal favorite, has a warm and full sound. Maple, on the other hand, is very bright. Alder and ash woods offer more resonance. Basswood is a highly versatile wood and beloved by speed demons and technical players.
Another aspect of the electric bass guitar to consider is how the sound is amplified. There are active pickups and passive pickups that “pick up” the sound and transmit it to an amplifier and then a loudspeaker. Traditionally, electric guitars and bass guitars had passive pickups, which magnetically pick up all the vibrations produced by the strings. This means that to control the tone you get, you have to cut the frequencies you don’t want.
Active pickups are battery powered and allow you to cut and simultaneously boost the frequencies of your choice. If one seems better than the other now, understand that there is a sound difference as well. Many world-class bassists swear by each of these types, so it is up to you to know what sound you prefer.
Passive pickups tend to have a warmer, fuller sound, while active pickups have a brighter, more trebly sound.
Yamaha produces everything from motorcycles to guitars, and the thing is that they do all of it really, really well. In the case of the TRBX 174, they’ve done a great job at giving bass guitarists a full range of playability.
This guitar is TGP’s number one pick not just because it looks as classy as it does. It has a full 34” scale with 24 frets, giving you the best range you could as for as a bassist. There is pretty much nothing you can’t play on this bass.
It is made primarily from Agathis, a cheaper woods for bass, which is why it is so inexpensive, but the tone is quite resonant and warm. The neck is made from maple. Yamaha has the same model for a little more money with maple and alder if you are interested.
This Yamaha bass guitar looks vintage, especially if you get the old sunburst finish, and it comes with combination split coil and single coil pickups, which enhances the tonal range. This guitar is ideal for rock and jazz music, but can solidly work for any genre.
- Full 34” scale length
- Full 24 frets
- Wide range and versatility
- Ideal for rock and jazz
- Affordable cost
- High quality
- Made from the cheaper woods
- Lacks the deeper tones (too treblish)
So far, a lot of bass players I know have said that Ibanez produces the best basses. Now, this is largely a matter of preference, but Ibanez does have an impeccable reputation.
This bass is also extremely affordable, but it does sound amazing for the price. The mahogany, rosewood, and maple combination for the construction gives it one of the deepest and warm tones you could ask for in a bass guitar at this price. This makes it ideal for heavy metal but well capable of playing most things you put it to.
The guitar has 22 frets and combination passive pickups with a 34” scale neck. If this bass guitar seems a little underwhelming, wait until you sit down to play it. It packs quite the punch!
- Full 34” scale length
- High-quality construction
- Mahogany, rosewood, maple woods
- Passive pickups
- Warm, rich tone
- Good for heavy metal
- 22 frets only
- Not the most tonally versatile
Epiphone is also a highly reputed brand and this bass guitar will make you see why. For starters, the mahogany, maple, and rosewood combination of wood are a force to be reckoned with. On top of that, the humbucker pickups will knock your socks off.
The full 34” fretboard has 20 frets, but the whole combination of elements that this baby is made of gives it some immense tonal power. The depth and richness of the sound is a lot to contend with, and truly at a steal of a price.
You might like this bass especially if you are into the heavier genres of metal and rock. It can greatly accommodate anything else, but at first glance, you’d say it belongs at a Black Sabbath gig.
- Construction quality
- Mahogany, maple, rosewood woods used
- Humbucker pickups
- Full 34” scale length
- Deep, rich tonality
- Powerful sound
- Ideal for those heavier genres
- Perhaps a little too heavy for its own good
- Only 20 frets
I love Fender. I’ve been around Fenders since I was born. Unfortunately, this one makes it a little low on this list because it just doesn’t give as much as the others on this list do. However, that’s not to say it doesn’t give a lot.
This gorgeous axe has an Agathis body (I would have preferred mahogany), with maple and rosewood for the 30” scale and 20 frets. This, along with the combination single and split coil pickups will give you nice, rich tone.
The clearly vintage looking guitar is in its element with some funk or classic rock, but don’t be afraid to venture into any other genre.
- Maple and rosewood neck/fretboard
- Classic look
- Classic sound
- Ideal for funk and classic rock
- 30” scale length
- 20 frets
This bass guitar from Dean has its ups and downs, but for a cheap bass guitar, it’s pretty darn good! Pair it with a good amp and pedal and you can get just about whatever tone you like.
The bass is made from basswood, maple, and rosewood, with a passive soap bar type pickup. Though it seems like a simple setup, this guitar is great for learning, practicing, and playing small gigs. This really is the beginner’s guitar, but it’s a good choice of one.
You’ll get a nice range of tones from the construction as well, so your versatility as a bassist shouldn’t be too hampered.
The fretboard comes at the full 34” scale length, with 22 frets to play on.
- Full 34” scale length
- Passive pickups
- Good construction quality for the price
- Basswood, maple, rosewood combination
- Range of tones
- Only 22 frets
- Not so great for gigging
Best Cheap Bass Guitars
If your budget is a little tight, then you can easily buy cheap bass guitars online or look for bass guitars for sale. Many people sell their old bass guitars for practically nothing. If you want your very own brand new bass guitar, however, the Dean E09M Edge is one of the cheapest you can find.
Best Left Handed Bass Guitar
Left handed guitars are hard to find because such a small population requires it. Many people tend to just play righty anyway. Electric bass guitars can’t be restrung and flipped around. If you need a left-handed bass guitar, try the Fender Standard Jazz Electric Bass, which might be a bit expensive but is high quality.
Best Bass Guitar for Beginners
If you are a beginner, then you’ll probably be best off buying a starter kit that contains everything you will need in addition to the bass guitar itself. Electric basses will need an amp, cable, strap, and a few other accessories. I would recommend the Squier by Fender Bass starter kit, which comes with a quality Fender amp, a gig bag, extra strings, and plenty more. It’s a worthwhile investment overall.
Alternatively, the Epiphone Toby Bass set comes with all the same stuff with the Epiphone brand and it’s of good quality for a starter. If all else fails, the Crescent Electric Bass set has a good budget kit, also ideal for kids.
Best Bass Guitar for Kids
There are a lot of kids’ guitars and kids’ bass guitars out there for really low prices, but what I would recommend is the Ibanez GSR M20 Mikro, which is a scaled version and it’s a solid buy for a good price. There’s also a great Oscar Schmidt Electric Bass, also scaled for kids and of good quality for a low price. The Dean Hillsboro Jr. isn’t a bad choice either, and is even cheaper but has a great tone.
Best Acoustic Bass Guitar
If you are looking to play unplugged (or semi-unplugged), there are some good options out there. I would suggest the Ibanez PCBE12MH, with mahogany, rosewood, and maple, so you’ll get a great sound. But if you want a semi-acoustic bass guitar, a good one to go for is the Dean EAB, which is also made of mahogany and rosewood, or the Fender CB 100CE Dreadnought, which is made of spruce, mahogany, and rosewood.
Best Five-String Bass Guitar
There are some amazing five-string guitars if you want to take it up a notch or if you’ve had a four-string and want to advance. Metal guitarists often prefer to get the extra lows of the B string on a five-string bass. If this is the case, I would recommend the Squier by Fender Vintage Modified Jaguar Bass V. It has a lot of punch and muddiness to it.
If Fender isn’t really for you, check out the ESP LTD B Series B 205, which is made of ash, maple, and rosewood for a great sound. There’s also a 5 string Ibanez GSR 205, made of mahogany, maple, and rosewood.
Whatever your choice might be, it is always best to take your time to figure it out, consider as many factors as you can together, and then decide. Ideally, you should try it before you buy it, even if you are planning to buy online. Look for a nearby store, ask an expert bassist you might know to accompany you, and give it a go to know how it sounds and feels. Don’t just “bass” your decision on only one or two factors or without a lot of thought.