Are you looking for the best bass guitar? Different people have different needs in their instruments, so there isn’t a universal best instrument. However, some instruments are distinctly better than others. Here are my recommendations, as well as some additional information to help you make a well-informed decision.
The Ibanez 5 String bass guitar is a solid, affordable, and reliable option for both newcomers and traveling musicians. It features a slim maple neck, a lightweight body, and an active Phat II EQ that adds more low-end power. Ibanez is one of the most popular companies producing bass guitars, and their focus on instruments shines through in the overall quality of this product.
This particular unit also has a bass boost knob. Some people won’t want to use this because it changes the sound a little, but I generally prefer having options to not having them. The main flaw of this purchase is that it’s just the instrument, with no bags, accessories, or other supports.
- More affordable than most guitars in its range
- Excellent overall sound
- Has a bass booster knob that can further modify the sound
- The combination pickup works well with many different systems
- The five-string setup gives more versatility than the more-common four-string setup
- Manufacturing issues mean some units have wobbly pickup covers
- May have more fret buzz than expected
- The manufacturer has limited troubleshooting support, which means you may need to return it and get a replacement
The T24NMK-D is part of Washburn’s Taurus series, which is a higher-end line compared to many of the other options on this list. This particular option features a mahogany body, a maple/mahogany multi-lam neck-thru, an ebony fingerboard, and dual Washburn J pickups. At about nine pounds, it’s also reasonably light and suitable for extended playing sessions.
The pickups are passive, which means you won’t have to worry as much about power and electricity while you’re playing. The sound can switch between mellow and quiet or rather punchy and distorted, both of which are great for a bass guitar. Overall, this is a high-quality product that’s well-suited to professional use.
- The smooth elements are comfortable and easy to play
- The high-quality pickups offer an outstanding overall sound
- The single neck/body construction is steadier and more reliable than instruments that are pieced together
- Comes with a gig bag for transportation
- Especially good for experienced musicians
- More expensive than most other options on this list
- Requires some user skill, so it’s not ideal for beginners
- May require a visit to a luthier (a repair specialist) when you get it to make sure there are no manufacturing defects that would impact play
Schecter isn’t as famous as some instrument makers, but they do have several decades of experience, and that shows in the polish of this instrument. What really sets the Stiletto Extreme-4 apart from most of the competition is its flexibility. With both 4 and 5 string configurations and left-handed access, any player can find a viable version of this instrument.
This unit features a mahogany body with a quilted maple top, a rosewood fretboard, and a humbucker pickup configuration. At 13 pounds, it’s noticeably heavier than some of the options on this list, which could affect you during long play sessions. It does not come with a cord for plugging into your amp system, so you’ll need to buy that separately.
- Mid-range pricing offers quality sound at a reasonable cost
- Provides deep, resonating tones
- The frets are well-marked for easy access
- Functionally a much better instrument than its price suggests
- Suitable for professional use
- Comes with a limited lifetime guarantee
- Available in left-handed versions
- Still more expensive than some of the other options on this list
- May require professional setup to get the most out of it
- Relatively heavy for a bass guitar and may be troublesome for beginners
Yamaha is easily one of the best companies in the business, so it’s no surprise they have an option high on this list. The TRBX174EW is part of their larger TRBX line, a set of focused bass guitars suitable for players of all skill levels. This line comes in an incredible variety of colors, which adds a level of personalization that most other manufacturers can’t match.
The TRBX174EW is among the most affordable options, with an exotic wood top and matching headstock that gives it a distinctive appearance. The 100 and 200 lines use passive pickups, though, so you’ll have to switch to a 300 or a 500 if you want to get active support instead. Overall, this is a high-quality product, especially for its price.
- More affordable than most bass guitars on this list
- A higher-quality product than the price suggests
- Outstanding sound
- Comes with access to Yamaha’s customer support, which is broadly better than many smaller, newer companies
- A solid entry-level alternative to the other products reviewed on this list
- Packaging may not be robust enough to protect it properly
- Has occasional manufacturing issues that may cross-thread or strip screws
- Some factories producing these have more problems than others
Now here’s something you don’t see every day. Most bass guitars are completed products, ready to play after a little bit of tuning and maintenance. This is not one of those instruments. This is a do-it-yourself bass guitar kit that asks you to put all of the pieces together and set it up on your own.
The reason I’m recommending this product isn’t that it’s a great instrument in its own right - it’s actually rather basic. Rather, the reason it’s worth considering is that taking the time to learn every part of the guitar, including tweaking things, can help you get significantly better at maintaining your primary instruments. That’s almost as important as knowing how to play.
- Excellent for learning more about how tuning and maintenance affect the sound of an instrument
- Uses okoume wood for the body, maple for the heck, and composite ebony for the fingerboard
- More affordable than most other bass guitars
- Relatively easy to put together
- Does not come with instructions
- Not suitable for professional use
- Only available in a right-handed version
- Requires sanding and staining if you want actual color
Sterling is the budget imprint of Ernie Ball Music Man, a larger manufacturer that also produces an assortment of high-end instruments, strings, and other components. That’s relatively common in the bass guitar industry because in-house components offer significantly more reliable quality control, but it is worth noting before you go shopping.
This instrument weighs about nine pounds, with a basswood base and a hard maple neck that work together to provide a sturdy and reliable instrument. All models in this line feature an adjustable truss rod, active electronics, and an adjustable bridge so you can further customize your sound. All-in-all, this is a reasonable budget option.
- Sounds comparable to some instruments that are significantly more expensive
- Comes with affordable components that are easy to replace if you want to
- Usually arrives mostly in-tune
- The 4-string version is available in a left-handed option
- Definitely requires setup before use
- Poor quality control in some areas may require several returns
- Comes with a pull-out connector, rather than a fixed one
- The 5-string version is not available in a left-handed version
ESP’s B-206SM is a relatively rare six-string bass guitar. The added string makes it capable of playing more-complex sounds than the 4-string and 5-string options that are more common on this list. The switch to more strings also requires several different components, but they work well enough on this model.
This instrument uses an ash body topped with spalted maple, giving it a natural wood look. The neck is a maple/rosewood combination, while the electronics include a passive pickup with an active EQ. Sadly, this instrument does not come with a case, so you’ll need to buy your own to match it.
- Rarer six-string format produces a wider range of sounds
- Suitable for many different types of music
- Powerful pickups and 3-band EQ work with a variety of systems
- More expensive than most bass guitars with fewer strings
- Not a good choice for beginners
- Relatively heavy at 12 pounds
12-string bass guitars are relatively rare, with the design only surfacing in the mid-1970’s. This particular bass has a mahogany body and a maple/walnut neck with a glossy black finish. The strings are oriented in four groups of three strings each, and it comes with EMG-HZ pickups and a Dean 3D pre-amp to further modify the audio.
Although ostensibly similar to a traditional four-string bass guitar, this instrument requires additional practice to use to its full potential, so it’s inherently not suited for beginners. That said, it’s also a reliable instrument capable of producing sounds that regular electric bass guitars can’t, making it an easy pick if you’re looking to create the most complex sounds.
- A rare design that can produce more-complex sounds than other instruments
- Outstanding sound quality once tuned properly
- An excellent choice for skillful players
- Significantly more expensive than most other bass guitars
- Relatively heavy at 12 pounds
- Has a wide neck, which can make it hard for users with smaller hands to play
- Does not come with a bag or case
Like 12-string bass guitars, 8-string guitars are relatively rare, so there aren’t nearly as many buying options. However, the added strings make this a good midpoint between a regular 4-string and the particularly-complex 12-string. Frankly, this is as high as most people will ever want to go.
The Studio-8 uses mahogany with a Bubinga center, as well as a diamond custom bridge and EMG HZ pickups. The limited lifetime guarantee offers some protection against defects in manufacturing, while the availability of a left-handed version makes this far more accessible for some buyers.
- High-quality audio in most ranges
- Comes in a left-handed version, which is extremely rare for instruments with this many strings
- Has a smooth, dark finish
- Weighs almost 15 pounds, which is significantly heavier than most other options
- Requires extra care while tuning to get it to sound good
- Does not come with a case or a bag
Now here’s a rare product. Seven-string guitars are vanishingly rare products, and their price reflects that. The neck of Ibanez’s SRAS7 uses a mix of maple, purpleheart, and rosewood, with a distinctive two-tone coloring on top. The key feature that sets this product apart is its inclusion of both fretted and fretless sound on one instrument.
The body itself is a mix of poplar burl and ash wood, both of which are relatively uncommon. However, this is an expensive bass guitar, and 7-string options are so rare that most instructional guides won’t cover them. Accordingly, this instrument is best for experts who know how to adjust their style, rather than beginners who are still learning how to play.
- Offers one of the widest ranges of sounds of all bass guitars
- Flexible combination of fretted and fretless strings offers easy transitions
- Uses a durable bridge for string isolation to avoid sound interference
- Extremely expensive compared to other options
- Limited instructional materials
- Weighs about 30 pounds, requiring significantly more strength to use for extended periods
Most of the time, you get what you pay for in an instrument. That’s why it’s hard for me to recommend a budget guitar outside of one situation: You’re a newcomer, and you want a decent instrument to practice on without spending too much money. In that sense, Crescent’s Electric Bass starter kit is an affordable way to get started as a musician.
This unit is primarily made of rosewood, which helps it stay relatively light and easy to hold the guitar for extended periods. Note that you may have to take this into a shop for help adjusting the truss rod and filing down any frets that are too high; quality control isn’t as common in instruments this affordable, so it’s more likely to need the help.
- The most affordable option
- Great for learning how to play the guitar at the start
- Sounds reasonably good for the price
- Not good enough for professional work
- More likely to need professional maintenance when you first get it
- Likely to wear out sooner than other instruments
How Many Strings Should I Get?
That depends on the type of music you want to play. Most players, by far, stick with four strings for the huge majority of their careers. Anything other than four strings is for more-complex play. Here are the main differences between the other styles:
5-String: 5-string guitars have an extra B on the lower end, which provides deeper tones. This is most useful with heavy music styles, where low notes are more popular.
6-String: 6-string guitars are similar to 5-strings, but they also have a high C string, which is useful when making solos or progressive music.
What Type Of Scale Should I Use?
Bass guitars have three common scale lengths. You can find other lengths on the market if you look, but those are usually limited to custom or special-purpose instruments rather than general instruments.
A scale of 30” or less is a short scale, a scale of 34” is long scale, and a scale of 35” or more is an extra long scale. Most people find 34” to be just about right for the majority of situations. Small users may prefer the short scale instead, while the extra long scale is mainly useful for 5-6 string instruments where the added length is necessary.
Should I Get A Fretted Or Fretless Instrument?
Fretted bass guitars are the most common option, and where most people start. These indicate where strings must be fretted, or played to ensure it will be in tune with the rest of the song. Fretless instruments don’t mark these, expecting the player to find the correct place to play for any given song.
Almost all instruments are exclusively one or the other here. The 7-string guitar described above is a rare exception to the general rule and works best as a concept more than anything else. Fretless instruments are harder to learn and not used for most popular music, so it’s better to wait on those until later in your career.
What Are The Most Common Types Of Woods, And What Are They Good For?
Aside from the number and placement of strings, the wood choice is arguably the most important part of choosing a bass guitar. The most common types of wood are:
- Agathis: Agathis is a cheap type of wood, widely available in Asia (where many guitars are manufactured). It’s somewhat maligned for being low-quality, though this is usually the fault of other components rather than the wood itself.
- Alder: Alder is a well-balanced wood that offers both clarity and versatility. This is one of the most common types of wood used in bass guitars, and therefore a great overall choice for most musicians.
- Ash: Ash is another popular choice for bass guitars. Its overall sound is slightly brighter than Alder, which makes it a popular choice for upbeat and energetic music.
- Basswood: The aptly-named basswood is an affordable body wood that comes across as softer than most other options. It also has a shorter sustain. This is usually considered a negative, but for music with fast and complex basslines, the shorter sustain is extremely useful.
- Mahogany: Widely considered a high-quality wood, mahogany is heavy and dense, which makes it harder to use the instrument for long periods. However, it also has a warm sound and a long sustain, which makes it ideal for smoother and slower songs.
- Maple: Maple is like a blend of ash and mahogany, offering a bright sound and a longer sustain when compared to Alder. This is a particularly popular choice for the top of the guitar, and many musicians use it for studio recording since it works especially well in that environment.
As you can see, there are plenty of wood choices out there. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different options at a shop to find which materials sound the best to you.
If you’d like to learn more about different woods and how they impact a guitar when installed in different areas, check out this comprehensive guide.Yamaha has a similar guide for acoustic guitars here. This isn’t as relevant for bass guitars, but knowing how different woods are used in different types of instruments is useful for reorienting your understanding when you’re going from one type of instrument to another.
Check Out: My Picks for the Best Acoustic Guitars Today
Now that you know more about the bass guitar options currently on the market let’s review some final details before you make a purchasing decision. The Ibanez 5 String GSR205 is the best overall option for most players, but that doesn’t mean it’s the best choice for you.
If you’re a professional musician, Washburn’s T24NMK-D is a significantly better option, well-suited to the traveling life and playing in different environments. If you just want to get the best instrument at the lowest possible price, Crescent’s Electric Bass Guitar Starter Kit is ideal for beginners of all types (and it also is a great guitar gift for your friends).
The rest of the products reviewed above are essentially alternatives to these three options, ideal for different situations. I’m particularly partial to #4, the Yamaha model, which is a good alternative if you’re not sure what else to get.
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