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 best bass guitars list.
With improvements in manufacturing and technology, there has never been a better time to become a bassist, while competitive pricing across the board means that value for money is paramount.
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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 to buy right now?
The industry standard Music Man StingRay 5 is one of the best bass guitars around, while its little brother, the SUB RAY5 offers seriously great value for money and puts some higher-priced five-string basses to shame.
The Music Man StingRay Special is testament to the idea of progressive improvement, and this new breed of StingRays incorporates many features to improve the player's experience, as well as creating one of the most unmistakable sounds in bassdom.
The Dingwall NG3/5 is one of the finest five-string basses around. Far from being the sole preserve of rockers and metalheads, the NG3/5 makes the most of extended string scale to provide killer bass tones across the whole neck. The low B string is potently defined while the Darkglass Tone Capsule preamp gives impressive tonal flexibility.
How to buy the best bass guitar for you
Bass guitars have come a long way since their inception and never has the player had so much choice or value for money on offer. But with so many basses available, what should you look for when hunting down the best bass guitar for you?
First, you must remember that every bass is different. You could line up ten examples of the same bass by the same manufacturer and find differences in weight, playability and sound, so find one that works for you; don't buy a bass that you have to fight against in order to play it.
The neck is of paramount importance, so if it doesn't feel right, move on. If the height of the strings (called the 'string action') is too high to be comfortable, this can be adjusted at the 'bridge' (at the end of the body where the strings are anchored) to suit you.
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Check that the hardware (bridge, machine heads on the headstock, controls) are all securely fitted and operate smoothly. The pickups, which convey the vibration and movement of the strings, should be securely fitted and it’s worth checking that the seating screws raise/lower each pickup when adjusted.
Consider the weight of the bass too – if it's too heavy, you may get a sore shoulder or experience neck/back pain, but there are straps available to reduce the effects of a heavy instrument.
For ease of reference, we’ve split this best bass guitars guide into four price brackets: sub-£/$500, £/$501-£/$1,000, £/$1,001-£/$2,000, £/$2,000+ – and found the best prices for each product.
The best bass guitars to buy right now
A pocket-friendly StingRay with impressive tones
Price: $474/£389/€419 | Made In: China | Colour: Black Gloss | Body: Basswood | Neck: Maple | Scale: 34-inch | Neck Joint: Bolt-on, six-bolt attachment | Nut Width: 45mm | Fingerboard: Maple | Frets: 22 | Pickups: Passive humbucker | Electronics: Active two-band EQ | Controls: Volume, bass, treble | Hardware: Chrome hardware, open elephant-ear machine heads, fixed chrome bridge | Weight: 4.2kg | Case/gig bag included: No | Left-hand option: Yes
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 never been more enticing
Price: $608/£499/€538 | Made In: Mexico | Colour: Sonic Blue Gloss | Body: Alder | Neck: Maple | Scale: 30-inch | Neck Joint: Bolt-on, four-bolt attachment | Nut Width: 38mm | Fingerboard: Pau ferro | Frets: 19 | Pickups: Passive split and single-coil | Electronics: Passive | Controls: Volume, tone, pickup selector switch | Hardware: Chrome hardware, open elephant-ear machine heads, standard bridge | Weight: 3.4kg | Case/gig bag included: No | Left-hand option: No
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.
One of the best bass guitars for those on a budget
Price: $401/£329/€355 | Made In: Indonesia | Colour: Mist Green Gloss | Body: Mahogany | Neck: Maple and mahogany | Scale: 34-inch | Neck Joint: Bolt-on, four-bolt attachment | Nut Width: 43mm | Fingerboard: Rosewood | Frets: 24 | Pickups: M3 humbuckers | Electronics: Active two-band EQ | Controls: Volume, pickup pan, bass, treble, five-position performance EQ switch | Hardware: Black nickel hardware, Yamaha die-cast machine heads, top-loading bridge | Weight: 4.1kg | Case/gig bag included: No | Left-hand option: No
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.
A pocket-friendly version of the Rush front-man's classic axe
Price: $1121/£919/€992 | Made In: Indonesia | Colour: Black Gloss | Body: Alder | Neck: Maple | Scale: 34-inch | Neck Joint: Bolt-on, four-bolt attachment | Nut Width: 38mm | Fingerboard: Maple | Frets: 20 | Pickups: Passive vintage single-coil pickups | Electronics: Passive | Controls: Volume, volume, tone | Hardware: Chrome hardware, Fender open elephant-ear machine heads, Fender High-Mass bridge | Case/gig bag included: Deluxe gigbag | Left-hand option: No
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.
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5. Ibanez SRH500-DEF Bass Workshop
An electro-acoustic from the dragon's private collection
Price: $755/£619/€668 | Made In: Indonesia | Colour: Dragon Eye Burst Flat | Body: Mahogany with spruce top | Neck: Jatoba and bubinga (five-piece laminate) | Scale: 34-inch | Neck Joint: Bolt-on, four-bolt attachment | Nut Width: 38mm | Fingerboard: Panga panga | Frets: 24 | Pickups: AeroSilk piezo system | Electronics: Active | Controls: Volume, tone, individual piezo gain adjustment | Hardware: Black matte hardware, Ibanez machine heads, custom bridge | Weight: 2.8kg | Case/gig bag included: No | Left-hand option: No
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.
6. G&L Tribute L2000
A trimmed-down workhorse with exceptional tones on offer
Price: $969/£795/€858 | Made In: Indonesia | Colour: Natural Gloss | Body: Swamp ash | Neck: Maple | Scale: 34-inch | Neck Joint: Bolt-on, six-bolt attachment | Nut Width: 44.5mm | Fingerboard: Rosewood | Frets: 21 | Pickups: G&L MFD humbuckers | Electronics: Active two-band EQ | Controls: Volume, bass, treble, pickup selector, series/parallel selector, preamp control selector | Hardware: Chrome hardware, open elephant-ear machine heads, G&L Saddle Lock bridge | Case/gig bag included: yes | Left-hand option: Yes
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.
An NG2/5 with an extra pickup opens up further tonal possibilities
Price: $2,074/£1,700/€1,835 | Made In: China | Colour: Moca Purple Gloss | Body: Alder | Neck: Maple (three-piece laminate) | Scale: 34/37-inch | Neck Joint: Bolt-on, four-bolt attachment | Nut Width: 52mm | Fingerboard: Maple | Frets: 24 | Pickups: Dingwall FD-3N Neodymium pickups | Electronics: Active Darkglass Tone Capsule three-band EQ | Controls: Volume, pickup selector, bass, low-mid, hi-mid, active/passive switch | Hardware: Smoked chrome hardware, Hipshot-licensed open-gear machine heads, Hipshot-licensed monorail bridge units | Weight: 4.2kg | Case/gig bag included: No | Left-hand option: No
The NG2 was a raging success for Dingwall, designed in conjunction with Nolly Getgood of djentsmiths Periphery. With bassists modifying their own basses with an additional third pickup, the NG3 was launched, opening up the extensive tonal palette even further.
Ergonomically designed with a hefty electronics package that could level most buildings, the NG3 is a head-turner right from the off. The satin finished neck is outstanding, making it one of the smoothest playing five-string basses available. With a punchy tone and solid bottom-end, every note stands out no matter how you play it.
Don't be put off by the fanned frets or the rock/metal connotations, this bass works in every context. The NG3 is a sleek machine from top to bottom.
Thunder's bassman Chris Childs brings his ideal bass to market
Price: $2,379/£1,950/€2,104 | Made In: Germany | Colour: Black Gloss | Body: Alder | Neck: Maple | Scale: 34-inch | Neck Joint: Bolt-on, six-bolt attachment | Nut Width: 44mm | Fingerboard: Ebony | Frets: 22 | Pickups: Sandberg humbucker and split-coil pickups | Electronics: Active two-band EQ | Controls: Volume, pickup pan, bass, treble | Hardware: Black hardware, Sandberg lightweight open elephant-ear machine heads, Sandberg bridge | Weight: 4kg | Case/gig bag included: Gigbag | Left-hand option: Yes
With a stellar career as a session ace before becoming an integral part of Thunder for more than 20 years, Chris Childs knows a thing or two about basses. This bass is the culmination of years of experience and trying everything out there. The result is a best bass guitar contender that delivers in looks, playability, quality of tone and is likely to withstand a life on the road.
Classy in presentation, sonically the Enigma hits hard but with enough finesse and tonal quality to make it far more than just a 'rock machine'. Consider the Enigma a fine 'all-rounder' with a quite splendid low B performance. Definitely worth checking out!
9. Music Man StingRay Special
The perennial favourite goes from strength to strength
Price: $2,560/£2,099/€2,265 | Made In: USA | Colour: Burnt Apple Gloss | Body: Alder | Neck: Roasted maple | Scale: 34-inch | Neck Joint: Bolt-on, five-bolt attachment | Nut Width: 42mm | Fingerboard: Roasted maple | Frets: 22 | Pickups: Music Man Neodymium humbuckers | Electronics: Active three-band EQ | Controls: Volume, treble, middle, bass, five-way pickup selector | Hardware: Chrome hardware, Music Man ultralite open elephant-ear machine heads, Music Man bridge | Weight: 4.1kg | Case/gig bag included: Hard case | Left-hand option: No
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 tech, the bass has been brought up to date and 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.
One of the best bass guitars around, hands down
Price: $4,268/£3,499/€3,776 | Made In: USA | Colour: '59 Burst Satin | Body: Chambered swamp ash and 4A flame maple top | Neck: Maple | Scale: 34-inch | Neck Joint: Bolt-on, four-bolt attachment | Nut Width: 38mm | Fingerboard: Pau ferro | Frets: 21 | Pickups: Sadowsky hum-cancelling single-coil pickups | Electronics: Active Sadowsky two-band EQ | Controls: Volume, reverse pickup pan, vintage tone control with push/pull bypass switch, stacked bass/treble | Hardware: Chrome hardware, Hipshot Ultralite machine heads, Sadowsky high mass bridge | Weight: 3.2kg | Case/gig bag included: Sadowsky softcase | Left-hand option: yes
The Sadowsky name is synonymous with Roger Sadowsky's high-end instruments, and with so many big name endorsees it’s not difficult to see why. This Satin Series instrument is a new addition to the catalogue but is every inch a Sadowsky through and through.
Impressive playability and finishing are perfectly matched by the electronics package, producing a playing experience like no other. If Jazz Bass tones float your boat, you will be in sonic nirvana with this instrument. Sure, the price-tag is hefty to say the least, but you get what you pay for – an instrument to last a lifetime.
About the author
Mike Brooks has over 4,000 live performances behind him and has written for Bass Guitar Magazine for over 15 years, interviewing legendary bassists and sharing his wealth of knowledge when it comes to instruments and bass equipment.