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10 best bass guitars 2020: four-string, five-string and electro-acoustic basses for every budget

10 best bass guitars 2020: four-string, five-string and electro-acoustic basses for every budget
(Image credit: Future)

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.

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.

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 bass 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.

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.

The best bass guitars to buy right now

Best bass guitars: Sterling Music Man SUB RAY5

(Image credit: Sterling by Music Man)

1. Sterling By Music Man SUB Ray5

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

Familiar StingRay tones
Impressive build quality
Highly playable
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!

Best bass guitar: Fender Mustang bass

(Image credit: Fender)

2. Fender Mustang bass guitar

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

Shorter scale offers great playability
Competitively priced
Solid construction
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.

Best bass guitars: Yamaha TRBX305

(Image credit: Yamaha)

3. Yamaha TRBX305 bass guitar

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

Highly playable, great setup
Fine array of tonal options
Body and pickup sculpting to improve player comfort
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)

4. Fender Geddy Lee Signature Jazz bass

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

Price: $955/£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

Outstanding tonal performance, lively and bubbly
Balances well with great playability
Classic tones and a neck to die for
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

Best bass guitars: Ibanez SRH500-DEF Bass Workshop

(Image credit: Ibanez)

5. Ibanez SRH500-DEF Bass Workshop

An electro-acoustic from the dragon's private collection

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

Great acoustic tones on offer
Superbly balanced, ergonomically designed
Warm but bouncy tone
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)

6. G&L Tribute L2000

A trimmed-down workhorse with exceptional tones on offer

Price: $799/£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

Vast array of tonal options onboard
Highly playable
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)

7. Music Man StingRay Special

The perennial favourite goes from strength to strength

Price: $1,899/£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

Recognisable tones
Multi-coil switching
Supreme build quality, built to last
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.