Updated: January 25, 2020 by Richard Cole
Last Update June 2018 – Bass players are the backbone of the band. They are the guys who bridge the gap between the drummer and the rest of the band, holding everything together while also giving the music a whole new dimension of sound.
If you’re reading this, that means that you want to be this guy. You want to drive the rhythm and master the groove. Well, you’re in the right place.
We have pulled together an epic guide that will help you choose the right bass guitar according to your needs and your budget. Before we go any further, let’s talk about what is generally recommended to new comers and those who want to start simple.
– How to Choose The Best ?
If you stroll down your local guitar shop, preferably one that is large and fully stocked, you will see all kinds of bass guitars laid out. There will probably be some 5-string, 6-string basses, fretless types, bass guitars with active electronics and more.
All of these have their purpose and offer unique benefits, but do you really need any of that right away? The answer is no. Naturally, we can’t stop you from picking a sweet 5-string active bass guitar, but it is generally recommended that your first bass should be completely vanilla. With that said, let’s take a look at some things that you should know before buying a bass guitar.
You have to ask yourself what genre of music do you need your bass guitar for?
This is important because each bass guitar model offers different sound properties. If you want to play blues, rock, jazz, you might want to get a bass guitar with precision pickups or even single coils. On the other hand, if you plan on playing metal and similar genres of music, you’re probably going to want humbuckers on your bass guitar.
Setting your budget
Bass guitars, just like electric guitars, need an amp for you to have any tangible feedback. There’s nothing worse than practicing bass guitar without an amp. You are going to instinctively play a lot harder, because that’s the only way you will hear anything, which may lead to bad technique and over aggressive playing style once you plug your bass to an amp.
Because of this, and many more reasons you should factor in a bass guitar amp into your budget. It doesn’t have to be an expensive one, but you should definitely have at least something that you can use while practicing.
How many strings?
Bass guitars come with four, five or six strings depending on the model. A five-string bass guitar has an additional low B string that widens the range of tones you can play. However, it also increases the width of the neck. Six-string bass has both the low B string and a high C string, and these have a very wide neck.
If you are just starting out, a four-string bass guitar is what we, and most other experienced bass players recommend. However, if you have years of playing under your belt, a five or six-string bass guitar could be an interesting choice to you.
Active or Passive Electronics?
Whether you’ll choose active or passive electronics largely depends on your budget, and honestly your personal preference. Some find active electronics to be more practical and useful due to their boosted signal, and EQs that usually come with them. One the other hand, some bass players like the sound and feel of passive pickups.
Active electronics will cost more money, so if your budget is limited you should probably avoid this type of pickups. Chances are that if you’re just starting to learn how to play, you won’t really notice too much difference between active and passive electronics anyway.
Once you develop some skill and gain some experience, you will be able to appreciate different types of pickups, while developing a personal taste.
– Find The Coolest
While it’s really tempting to go all out and get the best bass guitar you can afford, keep in mind that unlike guitars, bass guitars really need an amp in order for you to have any substantial feedback.
So try to structure your budget in a way that allows you to include an amp, even a cheaper one.
– How to Make the Right Choice For Beginners
First category of bass guitars we’re going to address are the beginner models . Simple and affordable instruments that new comers can use to explore the world of bass guitar. We’ve got a couple of nice “starters” for you to check out, so let’s dig in.
Many experienced bass players, regardless of the music genre they play, have a special kind of affection for Fender Precision series. These bass guitars are just legendary. Some of the biggest names in the game used to play them, and still do.
Squier Affinity PJ Bass is not a Fender Precision bass, but it brings a decent chunk of that experience for a lot cheaper price. As far as beginner bass guitars that can be considered neutral go, this Squier is as good as it gets.
This classic looking bass guitar comes with a body made of alder with a polyurethane finish. In terms of tonewood quality, it’s a pretty decent combo for an affordable bass guitar. The neck is standard maple that features Fender’s C profile.
The sound this guitar makes is reminiscent of that vintage bass tone from the time when rock was in full force. Think ’60s and ’70s. Precision setup adds good definition and really gives that thumping sound.
Although this configuration of pickups and their performance makes this bass guitar almost perfect for rock and hard rock, you can definitely wander into jazz territory on one hand, or something like punk on the other.
Ibanez is known for making some of the best sounding bass guitars, especially for more aggressive genres of music like metal. Their GSR200 is almost legendary by now. It’s an affordable, entry level bass guitar with the same angry attitude you can find in more expensive and complex models.
Even so, it’s a very versatile bass with a good tonal fidelity. You can use this thing for just about any genre of music, but it just feels at home when its surrounded by high gain distortion.
Ibanez GSR200TR offers a smaller form factor compared to other bass guitars on the market. It’s more compact, but still very comfortable. The body is made of aghatis, a solid choice of tonewood for sure, while the neck is a one piece maple design with a rosewood fretboard. Electronics you get are P-Bass split style neck pickup, and a J-Bass bridge Pickup.
At a first glance, this setup looks similar to that we saw on the Squier above. However, this bass guitar comes with active EQ and Phat II bass boost. In practical terms, you get another dimension of sound shaping to play with. For this amount of money, that is an outstanding feature.
Tonal range of this bass guitar is wide and very versatile. You can dial in a very treble oriented tone of thumping nature, or you can go full muddy and just fill the sound with low bass tones. Pickups are pretty decent, although they might have a somewhat lower output compared to other models.
Fortunately, this is easily solved by increasing the volume on your amp. Phat II bass boost that Ibanez delivers with this bass guitar can be a great tool if you want a more thicker tone.
– Under 1000 Dollar Selection
When we take a swing into $1000 range, we looking at some serious instruments with a lot more features and overall potential. For this purpose we chose two models that are on the opposite end of the spectrum when it comes their heritage and public image.
We have one Sterling, a toned down variant of legendary Music man StingRay, and a more modern Schecter that represents the new kids on the block. Let’s check these bad boys out.
Everyone and their mother knows by know that Schecter delivers a lot of features for the price in their instruments. While their guitars are definitely more popular, Schecter also has an incredible lineup of bass guitars that follow the same policy of perfection.
Just by looking at this thing from 10 feet away, you can instantly tell it’s a Schecter. It has that body shape and finish combination that makes their guitars recognizable from afar. The body is solid mahogany with a quilted maple top, which comes in several variants.
Neck is a neck-through design made of multiple layers of maple and walnut, and just feels amazing in your hands. It’s fast, and the ebony fretboard is smooth under the fingers. As a whole package, this bass guitar is definitely among the best looking ones on the market.
However, a pretty bass is not necessarily a good bass. What makes this Schecter so awesome, aside from the neck-through design, is the electronics. You get a pair of EMG 35TW active pickups with three-band active EQ, which just opens the amount of tone shapes to a whole new level. Aside from the three EQ knobs, there are also two volume controls for each pickup. This bass is pure quality, and Schecter once again delivered an instrument that punches way above its price range.
In terms of sound, Hellraiser Extreme 4 can take you anywhere you want to go. Active EMG pickups may not be the best for recreating that authentic vintage rock sound, but you have a lot more tonal fidelity to play with. Just like all Schecter guitars, this bass guitar just shines when drop tuned and playing metal. However, you can scoop the mids and get that groovy funk sound as well.
Thanks to EMG pickups that have both the single coil and dual-coils inside, and EMG’s active EQ, you can thread the needle when it comes to shaping your tone. Schecter Hellraiser Extreme 4 is simply an awesome bass guitar.
Music Man bass guitars are legendary, period. They’ve been used for many decades, and have proven their worth countless times. Only downside is their price which makes them somewhat unattainable for the majority of bass players out there. However, there is an alternative.
Sterling’s Ray 34 brings just about everything the original Music Man Stingray was best known for, only in a more affordable package.
There are only marginal differences between the two in terms of quality and sound, which makes this Sterling a bargain in our opinion.
Sterling Ray 34 sports that recognizable Music Man design, with a round pick guard and half moon shaped controls section. The body of Ray 34 is made of ash, and comes with various finishes. Neck is a bolt-on design made of maple with a rosewood or maple fretboard depending on which variant you go for.
Electronics on this bass guitar come in form of one active Alnico humbucker designed after the original SBMM, with a very effective three-band EQ. Overall it’s a Music Man that went through a slight downgrade. With that said, many purist Music Man owners will tell you that the difference between the original StingRay and Ray 34 is almost marginal.
To put it in simple words, the sound this bass guitar produces is pure bliss. There’s tons of fidelity thanks to a very flexible humbucker and accurate EQ controls.
You can shape the sound any way you want, but you will always cut straight through the mix of any song no matter how aggressive the genre is. This Sterling can be a scalpel or a sledgehammer, that is completely up to you.
– Under 500 Dollar Selection
Right around $500 is where you manufacturers get really competitive with their bass guitars. It’s no wonder considering that its probably the most sought after price range.
In this category you will find some of the best bang for the buck bass guitars with enough features to allow them to hold their ground against more expensive models. We chose what we think are two best representatives for this price bracket, both in terms of sound quality and overall value.
That’s right, we got another Schecter for you to check out today. This time it’s a more compact and affordable Stilleto Extreme-4.
No need to be sceptical, it’s just Schecter doing their usual thing – offering so much for a price that is a steal. Let’s take a look at what exactly makes this bass guitar so awesome.
Stilleto Extreme 4 sports a quilted maple top and mahogany body with a nice finish. The neck is maple as well, and features a standard rosewood fretboard with pearloid/abalone vector inlays. It’s a thin C neck, so you know it’s very playable and fast. In terms of electronics, this bass comes with a set of active pickups made by Schecter.
These pickups belong to their successful Diamond Class offering a good range of versatility and tonal fidelity. Everything on this bass guitar is pure quality, from its build to its sound. Speaking of which…
You’re probably thinking that Stilleto Extreme 4 is just another heavy metal machine from Schecter’s arsenal. While that assumption isn’t necessarily wrong, this guitar is so much more than that. Diamond active pickups actually favor slap style a lot.
You can dial in a pretty sweet R&B tone and just let yourself go. If you really wanted to, you could step into jazz territory with this bass and it would deliver. Only thing it seems to do mediocre is the vintage rock sound. However it’s a small compromise for an otherwise beastly sound.
While they maybe don’t enjoy the same status as Music Man or Warwick when it comes to bass guitars, Yamaha is still one of the most important players in the industry. They are known for their balanced instruments, which also relates to their bass guitars.
TRBX304 we chose for you today is one of their best selling models in the $500 price range, and for a good reason.
This bass guitar is just so versatile that you will see it being used in a bunch of different genres of music. It’s a jack of all trades that keeps on delivering.
Yamaha TRBX304 comes with a solid mahogany body featuring one of Yamaha’s signature body shapes. Most bass players will agree that this is one of the most comfortable body designs on the market, period. Beveled edges and slim waist really make this Yamaha a joy to play. In terms of finish, there are numerous choices to pick from.
The neck is a five piece maple/mahogany design. Both the body and the neck are so well balanced that your left hand will be completely free to focus on frets instead of supporting the guitar.
Electronics on this Yamaha come in form of two M3 pickups which were designed and produce in-house. They are controlled by a very accurate and effective active EQ circuit that allows you to shape the sound with a lot of room to maneuver.
The sound you get with this guitar is very clear and powerful tone that lacks no definition or depth. Active M3 pickups with their EQ controls allow you to shape the sound anyway you want with great fidelity. There’s no genre of music that you can’t hit with this bass guitar.
The bass really responds well to both pick players and finger style players. Speaking of which, Yamaha’s M3 pickups come with defined grooves for your thumb. It’s not a game changing feature but we thought it was a very nice touch.
– Work On Budget – Under 300 Dollars
It’s time to take a peek at affordable bass guitars, and see what you can get for around $300. At this point you’re starting to see almost no active electronics, and instead more standard passive configurations.
However, it’s not necessarily a bad thing. These bass guitars still have enough juice to keep up with you as you perform in large avenues or small. We chose two affordable guitars that balance out quality and price really well. Let’s check out what we got in store for you in this price range.
Jackson is an old household name when it comes to guitars and bass guitars geared for heavy rock and metal. They have fallen out of the spotlight for a while, but Jackson is back with a really good range of models that are giving the main stage favorites a run for their money. Their Jackson JS2 Concert Bass is probably one of the best, if not the best bass guitars under $300. It is versatile, very well built and just packs a mean sound.
Jackson JS2 Concert Bass comes with a pretty peculiar choice of tonewood. Instead of something more common, Jackson decided to use Indian Cedro. This wood is softer than mahogany, but its related to it in a certain way. Despite its lack of hardness, Indian Cedro has good sound properties. The neck is standard maple design with Indian rosewood fretboard.
You will also find signature Jackson inlays along with their trademark headstock. In terms of hardware, they installed some decent stuff on this guitar, including the tuners and the bridge. Electronics come in form of Jackson High Output Humbucking Bass passive pickups which are pretty good compared to the competition in the same price range. These are controlled by two tone knobs and one master volume knob.
Tone you can get from this bass guitar is decent to say the least. There’s a lot of headroom in terms of what you can do with Jackson High Output pickups that come with the guitar, which allows you to get a really good metal or hard rock sound. Sure, it’s no Fender precision, but you will find the tone very thumping and defined.
In this price range, Jackson JS2 Concert Bass packs a lot of heat for the money. If you are into heavier genres of metal, this bass guitar will fit right in even though it lacks active electronics.
Once again Yamaha comes through with a very balanced affordable bass guitar that is a great middle of the road solution to those who don’t have a specific genre of music in mind.
Quality of this bass guitar is just amazing considering the price. You can trust Yamaha to give you a great instrument for a more than reasonable price.
This bass guitar is pretty basic. It features a standard Yamaha body shapes with no fancy beveled edges or anything of that sort. The body is made of alder with a maple neck and sonokeling fretboard. Why they chose this wood instead of standard rosewood is not known, but it works great.
Electronics are your standard single coil/split coil configuration with passive pickups and standard controls. In essence, Yamaha TRBX174 is a no thrills bass guitar that comes with pretty basic features, but also does what it’s meant to do very well.
The color of the tone you can expect from this bass guitar is what you would expect from any quality precision style model. The main benefit of Yamaha TRBX174 is the tone definition and clarity you get thanks to Yamaha’s pickups. It may not be the most versatile guitar you will ever play, but this Yamaha just does what it’s meant to do, and it does it well.
When you consider the price of this instrument, you can’t ask for anything more than that. It just beats anything in its category to the ground.
We have reached the end of this Epic Guide. We tried to give you a good cross section of the market, showing you some models you won’t usually find on these sort of articles.
You’ve probably noticed the lack of Epiphones, Warwicks and similar. We felt that those get mentioned too often, and that you should be exposed to other, equally good bass guitars that maybe don’t get enough attention.
Hopefully with this guide you will be able to make a sound decision regarding which bass guitar should be your first, or which model could serve you as a good addition to your collection.
We would like to thank you for staying with us, and wish you best of luck in finding the bass guitar you deserve.