What is the best bass guitar? Well, that depends. How much do you want to spend? What style of music do you like to play the most?
The best bass guitar is subjective to your budget and musical style. The top brands have models that fall into all price ranges and musical styles. A good starting point is to review the top bass guitar brands and then explain the price points. This will help you to decide on the best bass for you!
Best Bass Brands
Fender makes great basses. The Jazz bass and Precision bass are iconic in the music world. There is also the Mustang bass, but it's not as popular.
Different models of Jazz and Precision basses are available at prices from $500 to $2000. You can't go wrong with any of them.
The difference between a J bass and a P bass lies in the neck width at the nut, the body shape, and the pickups. The P bass has more of a low end growl, in your face tone. The J bass has a brighter tone with more mid-range growl. If you can't decide between the two, Duff McKagan's signature model is a good choice. It has a both jazz bass and precision bass pickups.
Notable players that have played Fender basses over the years include: Flea, Sting, John Paul Jones, Roger Waters, Duff McKagan, Mike Dirnt, and Nate Mendel.
Another major bass maker is Ibanez. They have been making good basses for decades, and their model line up is massive! We are talking 10 different series with different models in each series.
Of all the series, the SR is the most popular. They have a unique body shape that sits nicely in your lap for relaxed sessions. The finishes on Ibanez basses are unique, featuring a woody look with great detail. The main standout feature of Ibanez basses to me is their tonal capabilities. You can cover a lot of styles with the electronics that Ibanez is putting in their basses.
Ernie Ball Music Man
Another high-quality bass brand is Music Man by Ernie Ball. The most popular model is by far the Stingray. Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers played a Stingray for a large part of his career. These are high quality basses. They feature an 18-volt pream and 3 band EQ to allow you to dial in a wide variety of tones.
With high quality comes high price. Most of the Music Man basses ring up at about $2000. This is not a beginner price point. I recommend beginners choose a brand that offers an entry level priced model.
Another giant in the bass world is Yamaha. They've been making bass guitars since before I was alive. Their basses remind me of Ibanez. The bodies and finishes are of similar shape and look. A great thing about Yamaha is they have a variety of models from $300 on up to $3,000.
They make bass guitars with nearly every kind of pickup configuration. The BB series has the P bass/J bass pickup combo I mentioned above. They also feature active or passive modes. Preamps with EQ's are common as well. Like Ibanez, Yamaha makes basses that cover a wide range of styles. This makes them a brand to consider when shopping for a bass guitar.
Founded in 1931, Rickenbacker is a veteran in the bass guitar space. The look of a Rickenbacker is iconic. No other bass looks this way. Rickenbacker was the bass of choice for artists like Lemmy (Motorhead), Rick James, and Glenn Fry (the Eagles). Rickenbacker is like Music Man in that their basses are expensive. They do not offer any lower priced models. Most models ring in around $2000.
One unique thing that Rickenbacker does is something they call Rick-O-Sound. This is two output jacks on the bass. One is your regular mono jack. The other outputs both pickups as a separate signal. This opens up all kinds of sound possibilities. For example, you can put effects on one signal and run the other clean. You could also send them to different amps or pan them left and right.
Gibson is a major guitar manufacturer. Everyone knows about the Les Paul, but not everyone knows that Gibson also makes basses. Gibson has a few different line ups including the SG bass, the Thunderbird bass, and the EB.
The SG has a shorter scale that makes navigating the neck feel a bit easier. It also has dual humbucking pickups for a big sound. These pickups pair with volume and tone knobs that allow you to dial in the perfect tone for the song.
The pricing on Gibson bass guitars ranges from $1000 to $3000. Again, not beginner friendly unless you are a beginner with deep pockets. If you happen to fall in love with a Gibson bass but find the price too high, you could go for an Epiphone. This is Gibson's lower priced brand. With Epiphone you will find the same looks but with much cheaper pricing.
While not as high quality as Gibson, they receive rave reviews from their owners. It allows you to get the Gibson look and feel without the price.
Another solid choice for a bass guitar would be anything by Schecter. To me they look akin the Ibanez and Yamaha basses I mentioned above. They feature the same electronics configurations. Preamps with EQ's for getting a wide variety of tones. The body shape is similar, but has a wider base.
Schecter has a wide price range, with some great basses coming in around $500. Some notable acts that use either Schecter guitars or basses are: Modest Mouse, Danzig, Kendrick Lamar, Avenged Sevenfold, The Cure, Stone Temple Pilots, Nine Inch Nails, Motley Crue, Marilyn Manson, and many more.
I'll cut right to the chase here and tell you that much of Hofner's popularity is thanks to Paul McCartney. He used one throughout his career, and the violin shaped model is often referred to as the Beatle bass.
So is Hofner a good choice? Well, it was good enough for Paul McCartney. The shape is unique, and it has a classic look to it. The body is hollow which helps it get it's unique sound. It features two Hofner staple nickel pickups.
The high quality model is nearly $3,000. Hofner also makes a lower priced model call the Ignition series that is 10x cheaper. Owners are giving the budget model 5 stars, saying that quality control is high. Hofner makes a solid product, and would be a great choice for a bassist that also love the Beatles.
Squier is Fender's brand that caters more to beginners. It allows you to get that Fender look and feel without the higher price tag. Some players scoff at Squier as being lower quality, but they have stepped it up.
You can find Squier basses in the 200 to $500 price range. The same models that are available as Fender are available as Squier. The J Bass and P Bass are available, and so is the PJ bass. If you are a beginner bassist, consider trying out a Squier. It may surprise you.
Best Bass Under $500
My top recommendation for a bass guitar under $500 is the Yamaha TRBX504. This bass is versatile. The electronics feature both active and passive modes. The knobs on the bass allow you to control master volume, bass boost, mid boost, treble boost, tone, and bridge/neck blend. There is also a swith to change from active to passive mode.
The body is mahogany and the neck is a 5 piece maple and mahogany. The width of the neck at the nut is 38mm. This is the same width as a Fender Jazz bass, and it feels nice and slim. This is a great choice if you are serious about getting a great sound and only have $500 to spend. I highly recommend the Yamaha TRBX504 as your next bass.
The Ibanez SR655 is a great bass under $1000 and here is why:
It has a PJ pickup configuration that is great for a working musician to cover a wide range of tones. The body is ash and the neck is Jatoba and Bubinga. The ash body brings a bright and articulate sound out of the bass. It comes in 4 different finishes to suit your taste.
I chose the 5 string model as I figure that players shopping this price point could be ready to make the jump. If you aren't comfortable with a 5 string, Ibanez makes a 4 string model as well. It's called the SR650, and it'll save you $100.
For under $1500 you can get a Fender American Professional Jazz Bass. This is a classic. It has the V-mod single coil J pickups that provide the deep low end you've heard on countless tracks. The slim c shape neck is 38mm at the nut which feels slim and comfortable.
It doesn't have the tonal capabilities of some of the other basses on this list, but it's still versatile. The jazz bass has a volume control for each pickup that enables you to dial in your tone to your exact liking. There is also a tone knob further tone variations.
This Ernie Ball Music Man Stingray is a solid choice for a bass under $2000. The soap bar style humbucker will give you some serious punch. The 3 band EQ will let you sculpt your sound even further to your exact liking.
The Stingray has a maple neck that players claim is one of the best necks you can have on a bass. It's a bit of a thick neck which most players love for this punchy bass. The fingerboard is rosewood which will give you a smoother feel than maple. The neck attaches to the body with a 5 bolt pattern.
This is a solid bass at the ~$2000 price point, but you could also find plenty of great basses from other brands. Any of these brands have great offerings at this price point. It comes down to your sound preference. You also have to like how it looks, because if you buy a bass that looks great you will want to play it that much more.
The Music Man body shape isn't for everyone, but most people that pick one up agree that it has an amazingly punchy sound.
Bass Guitar Brands to Avoid
Bass guitar brands to avoid would be anything that prices in the the "too good to be true" range. You know the feeling, you are browsing the web and keep seeing a great looking bass for $79. It even has decent reviews! Buyer beware. With musical instruments you get what you pay for. You'd be better off going with something in the $200 range from Yamaha, Ibanez, or Squire than to buy a no name bass.
Thanks for reading, and if you have a bass to recommend please drop me a line!