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10 best bass guitars 2021: four-string and five-string bass guitars for every budget

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10 best bass guitars 2021: four-string and five-string bass guitars for every budget
(Image credit: Future)

The bass guitar is often an overlooked element of a band, but remove it, and you can lose the gel that holds the band together. Bridging the gap between the percussive nature of the rhythm section and the melody of the lead instruments, the bass does way more than simply hold down the low-end. If this sounds like the job for you, then you’ll want to check out this list of the best bass guitars available right now. 

It can be challenging to know where to start with so much choice out there, but don’t worry, we are here to help. We have instruments from the biggest names in bass, from Fender, Ibanez, Music Man and G&L. 

In this guide, we’ll offer up some expert insight on the best bass guitar for you, no matter the style, genre, or budget. Of course, to make this list, the basses have to be special in their own way and bring something unique to the table. We’ve even searched the internet, on your behalf, to find the best prices for each model we’ve chosen, to ensure you get a thumping good deal.

Looking for a great Black Friday music deal? Check out our Black Friday guitar deals page for all the latest news and the best bass guitar offers.

Best bass guitars: Our top picks

While we stand by each and every bass guitar on this list, it’s hard to deny the heritage the Fender Precision Bass has. After all, the first-ever electric bass radically changed the face of popular music, and the design has remained relatively unchanged for 70 years! For us, the Fender American Performer Precision is the perfect balance of the classic P-bass sound, playability and craftsmanship, while being relatively affordable for an American-made instrument.

On the other end of the scale, we have the Sterling Music Man SUB Ray5, which impressed us greatly with its overall high standards of playability and build quality.

Best bass guitars: Product guide

Best bass guitars: Fender American Performer Precision Bass

(Image credit: Fender)

1. Fender American Performer Precision Bass

The bass you’ll aspire to play

Specifications
Price: $1,299/£1,022/€1,238
Made In: USA
Colour: Satin Lake Placid Blue, Arctic White, 3-tone Sunburst
Body: Alder
Neck: Maple
Scale: 34”
Neck Joint: Bolt on
Nut Width: 1.625”
Fingerboard: Maple
Frets: 20
Pickups: Yosemite Jazz
Electronics: Greasebucket tone circuit
Controls: 2 x volume, 1 x tone
Hardware: Vintage-style steel saddles, Vintage paddle keys
Weight: 3.7kg
Case/gig bag included: Deluxe gigbag
Left-hand option: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Pro-level tones+Satin finish is nice+Lighter than it looks
Reasons to avoid
-A few more colour options would be welcome

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

Best bass guitars: Sterling Music Man SUB RAY5

(Image credit: Sterling by Music Man)

A pocket-friendly StingRay with impressive tones

Specifications
Price: $349/£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
Reasons to buy
+Familiar StingRay tones+Impressive build quality+Highly playable
Reasons to avoid
-Lacks the finesse of the top range models

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!

Read the full Sterling by Music Man Sub Ray5 review

Best bass guitar: Fender Mustang bass

(Image credit: Fender)

3. Fender Mustang bass guitar

Short-scale basses have never been more enticing

Specifications
Price: $699/£555/€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
Reasons to buy
+Shorter scale offers great playability+Competitively priced+Solid construction
Reasons to avoid
-Softer tone due to scale length

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.

Read our full Fender Mustang Bass review 

Best bass guitars: Yamaha TRBX305

(Image credit: Yamaha)

One of the best bass guitars for those on a budget

Specifications
Price: $384/£325/€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
Reasons to buy
+Highly playable, great setup+Fine array of tonal options+Body and pickup sculpting to improve player comfort
Reasons to avoid
-Lacks mid EQ-Slightly weighty

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 

Best bass guitars: Fender Geddy Lee Signature Jazz bass

(Image credit: Fender)

5. Fender Geddy Lee Signature Jazz bass

A pocket-friendly version of the Rush front-man's classic axe

Specifications
Price: $1,099/£888/€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
Reasons to buy
+Outstanding tonal performance, lively and bubbly+Balances well with great playability+Classic tones and a neck to die for
Reasons to avoid
-Might be too bright and twangy for some

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

Bets bass guitars: Epiphone Viola Bass

(Image credit: Epiphone)

6. Epiphone Viola Bass

You might have seen these before…

Specifications
Price: $399/£297/€349
Made In: China
Colour: Vintage Sunburst
Body: Maple
Neck: Maple
Scale: 30.5”
Neck Joint: Set
Nut Width: 1.65”
Fingerboard: Rosewood
Frets: 22
Pickups: NYR Mini Humbucker
Electronics: N/A
Controls: 2 x volume, 1 x tone
Hardware: Chrome die-cast
Weight: 5.4kg
Case/gig bag included: No
Left-hand option: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Unique sound+Great for beginners+Iconic styling
Reasons to avoid
-Not the most versatile, tonally

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.

Best bass guitars: Ibanez SRH500-DEF Bass Workshop

(Image credit: Ibanez)

7. Ibanez SRH500-DEF Bass Workshop

An electro-acoustic from the dragon's private collection

Specifications
Price: $699/£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
Reasons to buy
+Great acoustic tones on offer+Superbly balanced, ergonomically designed+Warm but bouncy tone
Reasons to avoid
-Might feel too lightweight to some

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.

Best bass guitars: G&L Tribute L2000

(Image credit: G&L)

8. G&L Tribute L2000

A trimmed-down workhorse with exceptional tones on offer

Specifications
Price: $699/£619/€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
Reasons to buy
+Vast array of tonal options onboard+Highly playable
Reasons to avoid
-On the heavy side-Chunky neck profile

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.

Best bass guitars: Music Man StingRay Special

(Image credit: Music Man)

9. Music Man StingRay Special

The perennial favourite goes from strength to strength

Specifications
Price: $2,1999/£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
Reasons to buy
+Recognisable tones+Multi-coil switching+Supreme build quality, built to last
Reasons to avoid
-D and G strings can sound lightweight-The Music Man tone isn't for everybody

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.

Best bass guitars: Ibanez Premium SR1340B

(Image credit: Ibanez)

10. Ibanez Premium SR1340B

Premium by name, premium by nature

Specifications
Price: $1,299/£1,111/€1,299
Made In: Indonesia
Colour: Dark Shadow Burst Flat
Body: Mahogany body with Ash/Panga Panga top
Neck: 5-piece Panga Panga/Purpleheart
Scale: 34”
Neck Joint: Bolt on
Nut Width: 1.5”
Fingerboard: Bound Panga Panga
Frets: 24
Pickups: 2 x Nordstrand Big Single Coils
Electronics: 3-band active EQ, 3-way mid-frequency switch
Controls: Master volume, Balancer
Hardware: MR5S bridge, Gotoh machine heads
Weight: 3.9kg
Case/gig bag included: Gig-bag
Left-hand option: No
Reasons to buy
+Stunning wood grain+Thin neck+Pickups sound great
Reasons to avoid
-Looks may prove divisive…

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. 

Best bass guitars: Buying advice

Close up of Fender Geddy Lee Jazz bass

(Image credit: Future)

When looking for a bass, it makes sense to look for the best you can afford. But with so many basses available, it’s isn’t as easy as looking for the most affordable option. So, what else should you be looking out for when hunting down the best bass guitar for you? 

Playability  

Arguably most important consideration 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. For the most part, a standard scale length bass will do, but if you are a beginner, or just have a shorter reach, then a short-scale option such as the Mustang may be better for you. It pays to try a few different styles before you settle on the right one for you. 

The body and neck shape 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. 

Tone 

Next, you need to consider the tone you want. For some, one simple, solid sound will be enough - at the end of the day, many great players have used the limited tones of the P-bass to great effect. Others seek a more versatile option, needing the ability to blend pickup tones together or even switch seamlessly between active or passive pickups. 

The choice of woods used in the guitar will also affect 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. 

How many strings do I need?

When it comes to bass strings, you’ll find the vast majority of basses come with four, and for most of us, that’s plenty. The traditional four-string option will cover most styles and genres, and for beginners just starting out, it may be the best choice. 

For those looking to achieve a specific genre’s sound, you may want to delve into the sonic potential of a five or six-string bass. A five-string bass will give you access to an extra low string - a low B in standard tuning - and the extended range of these basses is perfect for playing heavier styles of music. Of course, if five strings still aren’t enough, then you can always go down the six-string route, where you’ll not only gain the low B from the five-string but also a high C.