The world of bass guitars has never been so enticing, with instruments covering every requirement, preference and price range. If you can imagine it, chances are it's already a reality – and quite possibly on this list of the best bass guitars in 2021.
In this guide we’ll offer up some expert insight on the best bass guitar for you. We’ve got basses for every style, genre and budget, and to make this list they have to be a bit special in their own way. We’ve even searched the internet, on your behalf, to find the best prices going for each model we’ve chosen. Winner!
This guide seeks to provide you with expert insight on the best bass guitars, the features to consider when buying your first, or your tenth, bass, and a list of the best instruments to check out. What’s more, we’ve hunted down the best prices to save you time.
What are the best bass guitars available today?
While we stand by each and every bass guitar on this list, there are some which naturally rose to the top of our affections. Buying ‘the latest American Fender’ is perhaps not going to win you any points for obscurity, but in the Fender American Performer Precision there exists a reminder why Fender has the heritage it does in the bass world. We found it to be versatile, well made and extremely easy to play.
Bonus points, at the other end of the scale, for the Sterling Music Man SUB Ray5, which impressed us greatly with its overall high standards of playability and build quality.
Best bass guitars: buying advice
When you’re looking for a bass, it makes sense to look for the best you can afford. But with so many basses available, what should you look for when hunting down the best bass guitar for you?
First, and most important, is how a particular bass feels to play. By their nature, bass guitars are large and often heavy, particularly if you’re a beginner. Over time you’ll gravitate towards a particular size and scale length that suits you and the techniques you employ, so it pays to try a few different styles before you settle on the right one for you.
The shape of the body and the neck will have a huge impact on a guitar’s overall playability, and you’ll likely have your own preferred characteristics. Consider also whether fretted or fretless necks are the way to go or, if you’re feeling adventurous, consider looking at fanned-fret models which are superb for certain styles of music.
Think about the tone you’ll want too; for some, one simple, solid sound will be enough, but for others the ability to blend pickup tones together according to the situation is a plus. The choice of woods used in the guitar will also have an effect on its tonality. Ash and alder, for example, produce a balanced tone whereas a mahogany body will project more warmth and pronounced emphasis in the low end. Not a bad trait for a bass to have.
When it comes to bass strings, you’ll find the vast majority of basses are four-string, although intermediate and advanced players – or those looking to achieve a specific genre’s sound – may find themselves looking to five- or six-string basses.
Whichever bass guitar you choose, it’s important it looks, feels and sounds the way you want it to. Here’s a look at ten of the best to suit any budget or style.
The best bass guitars to buy right now
Look in any guitar store and you’ll find the bass section stacked full of Fenders. You see, while it’s primarily known for its more famous Strats and Teles, Fender has actually had a near monopoly on the bass scene for decades thanks largely to its Jazz and Precision models.
The Fender American Performer Precision Bass is the flagship of the 2020 lineup, marrying up exceptional American-built quality with the tone you’ve been dreaming about. The Greasebucket tone circuit is a nice touch, adding in a bit of extra tonal variety, while the satin finish makes it a dream to play.
Read the full Fender American Performer Precision Bass review
The SUB RAY5 is an impressive instrument from top to bottom, with the build quality you associate with Music Man instruments and a booty-rattling tonal performance that belies its equally impressive price-tag.
The level of finishing is very good and, although it lacks a little of the presentation sparkle of its big brothers at the top of the range, the player gets a whole heap of bass for their buck.
Playability is top notch and for those venturing into the world of five-string basses for the first time, this is the perfect introduction. Available in various colours, buy with confidence and be amazed!
Short-scale basses have gone through something of a renaissance recently, bringing more female players into the world of bass, as well as offering plummy old-school tones that are very much in fashion right now.
With both split and single-coil pickups on offer, a selection of tones are available, but be aware that the shorter scale length reduces the speaking length of each string so the tone is markedly softer than you may be accustomed to with a long-scale bass.
Playability is impressive while the choice of pau ferro as a fingerboard timber gives the bass more bounce and a harder attack. Effective for all playing styles, pick and fingerstyle players will especially love it.
Yamaha consistently produce high-quality basses at every price point and even at the cheaper end of the scale, their instruments are some of the best bass guitars around.
This budget five-string bass guitar competes well with basses costing twice the price, incorporating an impressive pickup and circuit combination, solidly effective hardware and an overall setup that makes you want to play it.
If this guitar incorporated a mid-EQ control as well, it would likely trounce many instruments priced well above it; but even so, the bass projects very well with authority and clarity. Available in assorted colours, touches like the sculpted pickup casings and the comfortable neck profile make this bass a real winner.
Read the full Yamaha TRBX305 review
This bass is a very lively performer all round with a grind and twang rarely heard in a bass of this calibre. Straight out of the supplied Deluxe gigbag, this bass bowls you over with its playability, fine setup and sturdy construction.
Black block position markers retain a vintage vibe along with the black gloss and white scratchplate aesthetic. Players of all styles can make use of the features and tones on offer, but at this price, few Jazz basses play as well as this model. Prepare to be as blown away as we were.
Read the full Fender Geddy Lee Signature Jazz bass review
Short scale bass guitars aren’t for every taste, that’s for sure, but they did happen to be big enough for perhaps the best-known band in history. Paul McCartney himself is synonymous with the Viola bass shape, although his was a German-made Hofner, but these iconic little instruments are still going strong today thanks to the Epiphone Viola.
For under $/£/€400 you get a sweet-sounding, well made bass with plenty of charm. Thanks to its shorter scale length, it’s easier for younger learners to use and the maple body and neck deliver a nice, snappy twang which compliments clean guitars well.
Electro-acoustic basses can be something of a mixed bag, but with the SRH500 Ibanez have come up with a fresh take, utilising the standard Soundgear instrument design and producing a very useful instrument. If carrying around a large bodied electro-acoustic has put you off taking the plunge, then this bass could well be for you.
With only volume and tone controls to contend with, the bass is very intuitive and responsive. Individual piezo gain trim pots for each string are easily adjusted should you need to boost or cut the output level of each string. Fitted with flatwounds as standard, and a glorious matte finish, this Ibanez sits comfortably amongst the best bass guitars out there.
Leo Fender's third instrument company, G&L, was where he claimed he built the finest instruments of his life. Despite this being a cheaper version of the American-made L2000, there is no doubting the quality on offer or the tones on display.
With an active two-band EQ, series/parallel pickup switching and selective preamp operation, the player has plenty of options at their disposal with which to sculpt their tone.
Substantially built and solidly constructed, this bass can address any musical style and perform admirably, while slap and pop players will enjoy the glassy high-end available. The L2000 Tribute is a joy to play and well worth investigating.
The StingRay has gone through many changes over the years, but the launch of the Special was perhaps the most radical overhaul of the old favourite. Making use of new technology and addressing certain areas of modification, the bass has been brought bang up to date and now features lightweight machine heads, a redesigned bridge and Neodymium pickups, all of which have reduced the overall weight.
The active circuit has been modified while the necks are now of a roasted maple construction which has contributed to the new tone. But don't panic, the famed StingRay tone is still there, it's just been brought into the here and now.
Some bass guitars look like pieces of elite precision engineering – or art – even to people who have no interest in bass guitars. Or precision engineering. Or art. The Ibanez Premium SR1304B is one such example, although it backs it up with some of the finest build quality, design, and choice of tonewoods you’ll find at this particular junction of the market.
The use of Panga Panga, which Ibanez claims improves the clarity and attack of your playing, is an interesting one and certainly adds a dash of visual flair. But it’s the beefy Nordstrand single coil pickups which left the biggest impression, giving a breadth of tone and texture that would suit many different styles of music.