Buying one of the best cheap bass guitars is an exciting step in every bassists playing career. More often than not, cheap bass guitars are intended to be picked up by beginner bassists - offering an affordable, playable starting point for budding players. Any of the best cheap bass guitars can also act as a great backup bass, or a cheaper option for those gigs where you'd rather not take the expensive stuff. All you really need to know is, whether you're going back to school and starting lessons, going out gigging or just jamming with friends, there's a lot that can be achieved with a cheap bass guitar.
In the not too distant past, cheap instruments have been ones to avoid. The occasions in which curiosity got the best of us, found us playing bass guitars which were built poorly, played badly and sounded even worse. You'll be pleased to know that those days are well and truly behind us now, with huge amounts of killer bass guitars out there to be enjoyed by all types of players. There are many hundreds of great options which cover all angles, including sound, aesthetics and playability.
Obviously, there are still a few 'questionable' cheap bass guitars out there which can muddy the waters a little, and make finding the right cheap bass guitar a tough task. That's why we're here, and why we've put together a guide to the best cheap bass guitars out there right now. Let us help you cut through the noise and show you a selection of what we think are the best bass guitars around right now that you can get on a budget.
It doesn't matter what music you play, or whether you’re a beginner or a more experienced player, you’ll want to get the best budget bass that your wallet will allow. Our list covers both old-school, traditional style basses as well as more modern designs, as well as both 4 and 5 string options - we’ve got you covered!
We've even included some in-depth buying advice at the end of this guide, so if you'd like to read it, then click the link. If you'd rather get straight to the products, then keep scrolling - you're nearly there.
Best cheap bass guitars: Our top picks
If we had to narrow it down and pick the best cheap bass guitar currently on offer, then a strong contender would be the Sterling By Music Man SUB Ray5. This style of bass has been the go-to instrument for legends including Flea, Cliff Williams, Joe Dart and loads more.
Whilst it’s only got the one pickup, it’s versatile enough to cover modern and classic tones, so it’s well suited to a wide variety of applications. Also worth mentioning here is the Yamaha TRBX305 (opens in new tab) - it does a similar job, but without as much heritage or, in our opinion, aesthetic appeal.
What’s great about these basses is that they’re both available in a 4 and 5 string format, so you can pick whichever will work best for you!
Best cheap bass guitars: Product guide
Sterling By Music Man cannily offer both four- and five-string variants of this classic bass at wallet-friendly prices. We reviewed the five in 2017, discovering that the thunderous bottom end of the Music Man remains. And, though some may bemoan the lack of a midrange EQ, the SUB Ray5 remains as versatile as its more expensive siblings.
The robust build quality impresses and it’s a highly playable bass too: string spacing is narrow enough that diehard four-stringers should be happy with the inevitable wider fretboard; and that comfy satin finish neck makes for easy position shifting too.
Versatility, build quality and really very few compromises. This is a great bass that you can buy with confidence.
Read the full Sterling by Music Man SUB Ray5 review
We’ve come to rely on Yamaha’s sturdy build quality and the TRBX 305 is no exception, featuring die-cast nickel hardware, a laminate neck and a general reassuring air of roadworthiness.
A typically modern bass, there’s a characteristically powerful tone that projects well, helped in no small part by the active EQ. You’ll find bass and treble to explore the frequency extremes, but, like the Sterling, no midrange control. Yamaha’s EQ preset switch is a nice touch. Instant slap tone? Yes, thank you very much! Top end roll off for a fingerstyle solo? Just flip the switch.
Some may write off the Yamaha for being too clinical. We’d say it’s a great workhorse, especially if you’re looking for modern tones.
Read the full Yamaha TRBX 305 review
It was perhaps inevitable that Squier would appear on our list eventually, so extensive is the company’s range of affordable basses. Squier refreshed the entire Classic Vibe series earlier in 2019 and these models actually represent their midrange prices.
Channeling the look of the early P basses and featuring an alnico split-coil pickup, Indian laurel fretboard and vintage style bridge, there’s a lot to love here. And, like it says on the box, there’s certainly a classic vibe, albeit limited to two finishes – either Olympic White or Three-Colour Sunburst. We’d recommend checking out Squier’s ’60s and ’70s CV variants of both the Precision and Jazz bass. There’s sure to be something to suit you.
A sub-£350 price makes Epiphone’s recreation of this classic one of the best cheap bass guitars around. And, despite the bargain price, we found the EB-3 to be a high-calibre and proficient bass when we reviewed it back in 2017, with a fairly lightweight (3.9 kg) robust feel, plus decent quality tuners and stoptail bridge. And, though access to top frets is slightly restricted, the friendly low action more than makes up for it.
Max out the volume and tone controls, select both pickups, and thundering classic rock tones of greats like Jack Bruce and John Entwistle are easily dialed in. The full-length 864mm scale compared to the shorter scale original give this bass a clear defined voice and playability to suit modern players.
Read the full Epiphone EB-3 review
Facing stiff competition in the marketplace, the Gretsch Junior Jet II manages to stand out with cool vintage styling and great playability.
Tonally, there’s a smooth, rounded punch without too much bite or tonal harshness, best suited towards classic rock, ‘70s punk or, if you opt for the neck pickup, a warmer Beatles-y vibe. If you prefer a beefier, more contemporary sound, however, you may prefer to look elsewhere.
With its short scale neck, Gretsch’s diminutive Les Paul-esque singlecut is highly playable, with a familiar charm that should see you racing around the fretboard in no time. If you have small hands or if you’re after the punchy midrange only a short-scale bass can really deliver, the JJII might well be for you.
Read the full Gretsch G2220 Junior Jet Bass II review
Like the company’s EB-3, Gibson’s Thunderbird is very much imbued with ‘classic’ status. John Entwhistle, Gene Simmons and Nikki Sixx would regularly be seen sporting the distinctive offset singlecut. And, though Gibsons require deep pockets, Epiphone has long been providing budget offerings.
There are two models to consider. The Thunderbird IV (which sits around the $450/£350 mark) or, for a bit more cash, the Vintage Pro. Both bring a lot to the table but cost cutting measures are more evident on the IV, including a bolt-on neck. Several of the best cheap bass guitars in this list feature bolt-ons, but the through-neck design so defines the Thunderbird, we’d keep saving our pennies and hold out for the Pro Vintage - it does creep over the $/£500 mark, but it’s worth the extra cash.
The bass comes fitted with a pair of ProBucker humbucking pickups that are capable of dishing out both vintage and modern tones. Coupled with Epiphone’s great build quality the Thunderbird Vintage Pro is a stylish and reliable bass.
Featuring the classic PJ pickup configuration (a split-coil neck position humbucker and a single-coil at the bridge) and two-band active EQ, the retro-styled budget Ibanez appears ready to punch above its tonal weight.
Expect warm, not too lively traditional sounds; though it’s great to see active EQ on this budget model – the ability to add bass or treble helps bring a more modern touch to the TMB100’s sound.
In terms of playability, there’s a vintage feel from the 20-fret neck. The rounded body and rear contour aid comfort, though the top horn impedes a little top-fret access. Still, it’s part and parcel of this design and hardly a deal breaker, so if the looks appeal, this minor gripe shouldn’t deter you from parting with your cash.
Read the full Ibanez Talman TMB100 review
Squier’s bass offering includes Jazzes, Precisions, plus Jaguars and Mustangs too. So why, you may wonder, have we recommended a second Precision in this list? Well, here in Squier’s perennial entry-level Affinity series, the Precision model gives you the best of several worlds.
First, the PJ pickup configuration gives you an extra bridge pickup from a Jazz bass. It’s essentially two basses for the price of one in terms of your tonal options.
Second, the Affinity PJ is also available bundled with a 15-watt Rumble amp, a padded gigbag, strap, cable and subscription to Fender Play. You’ll need to loosen the purse strings a little, but it’s a great deal.
The Affinity series is aimed at beginners, of course, so expect it to be less posh than other Squiers, but it’s all you need to get started.
Deep body cutaways, ‘Coke bottle’ headstock and ‘lipstick’ single coils are part and parcel of the Longhorn’s cool retro styling, but its shape isn’t all show. Those extended horns allow unrivalled access to the 24th fret and provide balance when playing standing up.
One might think the plywood and masonite (hardwood) construction would make tonehounds sniff, but the Danelectro’s lofi build is a big part of its tone. Erring on the bright side, those lipstick pickups would be well tamed by a set of flatwound strings – certainly if you’re seeking warmer vintage tones.
Like most of the classic styled basses in this list, the Dano isn’t really about modern sounding extreme lows and highs, but it’s still a capable and fairly versatile workhorse.
Read the full Danelectro Longhorn Bass review
Probably Höfner’s best known model of all is the 500/1 Violin Bass as played by perhaps the most famous bassist of all time, Paul McCartney. The Ignition series is the company’s affordable line of instruments – and the one we’d recommend here.
Wisely, Höfner have kept close to the original template of the basses Macca would play, with a semi-hollow design, short scale length, Ignition Staple pickups and the renowned Höfner Control Panel. This gives each pickup its own volume control, on/off switch and a third knob to swap between ‘rhythm’ or ‘solo’ modes.
Tonally it tends to the warm side, but with that typical short-scale midrange thump – making this quirky and historic instrument best suited to blues or vintage-style rock.
Whilst it’s certainly a budget bass, the Ibanez SR300E hits way above its price tag. It delivers a clear, punchy tone, though the control panel allows you to dial in whatever sort of sound you need.
It can be a great rock bass, or a great country bass - metal, worship, blues - it can do it all. It probably leans more into a modern sound than it does traditional, though the ‘power switch’ allows you to switch from humbuckers to more of a single coil sound. You’ve also got an active 3-band EQ on there for those that really want to refine their tone.
For the price, these basses are well built, and offer really good playability. The neck profile is thin, which again is more in line with its modern day inspiration, plus the double cutaway allows for easy access to the highest frets. The look might not suit more old-school players, but if that doesn’t bother you, then in terms of sound, playability and reliability, the Ibanez SR300E is absolutely one of the best cheap bass guitars out there.
Best cheap bass guitars: Buying advice
Choosing the best cheap bass guitar for you
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If you’re just starting out playing the bass, then you might not want to spend too much money. Or, you might be a more experienced or pro player that wants another bass in their arsenal, without breaking the bank. Regardless of why you’re shopping for a new bass, there are always some key considerations to make before parting with your cash.
Firstly, the best cheap bass guitars will sound good. Whether you want an aggressive low end rumble, or a tight, mellow tone, the pickups in your bass will have a huge impact on the sound you get. Whilst you won’t get as much definition or clarity as you might on more expensive basses, a decent budget bass will have good quality pickups, without costing the earth. Some will have a single pickup, giving you a more limited range of sounds and others might have two pickups which is great for those wanting a little more versatility.
There are also single coil and humbucking options; both wielding different tones that suit different playing styles and types of music, though honestly, there are no hard and fast rules. Some of the best cheap bass guitars might even have an active EQ - this allows you to dial your frequencies in a little more accurately, as well as giving your signal a bit of a boost. Older, more traditional bass designs don’t tend to have this and some purists stand by this, but it’s all subjective!
A good quality budget bass will also be built to a good standard; it wants to be sturdy enough to last you for years to come and be able to withstand being taken out to gigs on a regular basis. All the choices on our list are made by well-respected, reliable brands such as Sterling (sister company to Music Man), Squier (Fender), Epiphone (Gibson), Ibanez and more.
Short scale basses can be a great option for players with a smaller handspan, and there are certainly some great cheap options here too. The scale is the total length of the string - from the nut at the top, to the bridge at the bottom. Short scale basses are usually a few inches shorter than full scale basses. The tuning is still the same, but there’s a slightly different feel and sound. Guitarists who are moving over to bass sometimes find short scale basses a little more comfortable.
How much should I spend on a cheap bass guitar?
Budget bass guitars have certainly improved over time, especially when you compare them to cheaper instruments from a few decades ago. Now, you can get a good quality bass that will be up to the job of touring, practicing and recording for under $650/£500. You can spend less too, if you’d rather, with some incredible options sitting pretty around the $370/£300 mark.
Which brands make the best cheap bass guitars?
Pretty much all of the bass world's biggest names make a cheap bass guitar or two - but some are much better than others.
The brands we'd suggest you look at most closely is Sterling by Music Man, Yamaha and Squier - all for different reasons. For sheer value for money, Sterling is doing wonders in the 'cheap bass' space, and showing budding players that they can get powerful, dynamic bass tones from a bass which is exceptionally comfortable to play and doesn't cost a fortune.
Yamaha basses might not be the most inspiring instruments in the world, but what they lack in personality, they make up for in build quality and tonal capability. There are few companies which make budget gear quite like Yamaha, and if you want something which is durable, well-made and capable of withstanding schoolyard knocks, boisterous practice sessions and gruelling gigging schedules, then Yamaha makes the bass you should buy.
If you've got a soft spot for the classics but don't want to spend big money, then Squier is going to be your new best friend. Every single Squier bass guitar is affordable enough to fit within our 'cheap' price bracket, and due to its relationship with Fender, it can recreate any of Fender's most popular bass guitars faithfully and accurately - all while keeping costs to a minimum.
It’s also easier than ever to buy a good, cheap bass without leaving the comfort of your own home. There are many great online retailers that offer a wide selection of the best cheap bass guitars. Sometimes your instrument might require a bit of a tweak once you’ve received it, to get it playing exactly how you want it, but that’s completely normal and any good retailer will offer advice on exactly what to do if you’re not sure. It’s also worth remembering that you’re always covered by a minimum of a 14 day returns policy (check with your chosen retailer for the exact policy), should you not completely love what’s been delivered.
Find out more about how we test music gear and services at MusicRadar.
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