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Best cheap bass guitars 2021: top budget basses for every style of player

Best cheap bass guitars: top budget basses for every style of player
(Image credit: Press material)

These days the market is flooded with cheap bass guitars. And when we say cheap, we mean cheap and good! Great news for the compulsive bass buyer’s bank account, but all that choice does make selecting the best cheap bass guitar for you a little bit trickier.

That’s where we come in. Here we’re looking at some of the best cheap bass guitars currently available for around £500/$620 and under. Every bass here is worth your money; you’ll just need to choose the features that are most important to you. And we’ve got you covered there too – we’ll help you make your choices with our essential buying info. Let’s get started!

What is the best cheap bass guitar right now?

We can’t recommend the five-string Sterling By Music Man SUB Ray5 enough. From the pioneering disco grooves of Bernard Edwards, Flea’s funk-metal and classic pounding hard rock from AC/DC’s Cliff Williams, there’s no shortage of bassists who’ve pinned their flags to the Stingray mast. 

It’s a bass with broad appeal, not too contemporary for those of a classic/vintage bent, yet still very much a modern player’s instrument. If you’re after a great budget options, the Sterling is the best cheap bass guitar around.

The Yamaha TRBX 305 does a similar job, albeit, in our opinion, in a slightly less aesthetically desirable package. Don’t fancy a five-string? Both instruments are available as fours. You’ll save a bit more cash too!

How to buy the best cheap bass guitar for you

Choosing a bass at this price is no different to the more expensive kind – you just need to identify the features that are most important to your playing style. Thankfully, there’s a raft of high quality and fully-featured instruments available, and you’ll only have to compromise on the more esoteric materials and hardware.

A few of the basses in our list include active EQ. Powered by one (or sometimes two) 9v batteries, these circuits give your signal a hefty boot up the backside. In need of super-bright highs for slap? Or ultra-low-end punch for modern pop or down-tuned metal? Go active! It really is an affordable option.

If you’re into blues, classic rock or generally more vintage sounds, a passive bass may be a better choice. Some say passive instruments have more character, but it’s a can of worms we won’t open here!

Staying on the vintage theme, you may like to consider a short-scale bass. In general, what they can lack in low end they make up for with a characterful punch in the lower mids. Again, it depends what music you’re into.

Finally, there are considerations for more technically adept players, too. Top fret access may be vital if you regularly venture up to the dusty end, but so also is the fretboard radius. A flatter (higher radius) ’board generally makes speedy licks a bit easier.

The best cheap bass guitars you can buy

Best cheap bass guitars: Sterling By Music Man SUB Ray5

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1. Sterling By Music Man SUB Ray5

Could this be the best cheap bass guitar on the market?

Price: $485/£399/€441 | Pickups: H-1 ceramic humbucker | Controls: Two-band active EQ/volume | Bridge: Five-saddle fixed bridge | Body: Basswood | Neck: Six-bolt hard maple/Maple or jatoba fretboard | Radius: 305mm | Scale length: 864mm | Frets: 22 medium

Cheaper four-string version also available
Simple tone controls
Tonally versatile
Midrange EQ control would be nice

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 Sterling By Music Man SUB Ray5 review

Best cheap bass guitars: Yamaha TRBX 305

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2. Yamaha TRBX 305

A five-string for bassists demanding performance on a budget

Price: $413/£340/€375 | Pickups: YGD designed M3 ceramic humbuckers | Controls: Two-band active EQ/volume/balance/five-way preset EQ switch | Bridge: High-mass die-cast nickel | Body: Solid mahogany | Neck: Five-piece bolt-on maple/mahogany laminate | Radius: 600mm | Scale length: 864mm | Frets: 24 medium

Highly playable
Versatile modern tones
Cheaper four-string version available
Sounds a little clinical

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 Yamaha TRBX 305 review

Best cheap bass guitars: Squier Classic Vibe ’60s Precision Bass

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3. Squier Classic Vibe ’60s Precision Bass

The best cheap P Bass for those looking for a vintage vibe

Price: $349/£287/€317 | Pickups: Fender-designed alnico split-coil | Controls: Volume/tone | Bridge: Four-saddle vintage style | Body: Poplar | Neck: Maple/Indian laurel fretboard | Radius: 241mm | Scale length: 864mm | Frets: 20

Recently refreshed product line
Classic P Bass looks and sound
Great price
Only two finishes available

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.

Best cheap bass guitars: Epiphone EB-3

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4. Epiphone EB-3

A steal for hard rocking bassists

Price: $399/£329/€362 | Pickups: Sidewinder humbucker (neck)/NYT mini humbucker (bridge) | Controls: two volume/two tone/three-way rotary selector | Bridge: Nickel stoptail | Body: Mahogany | Neck: Mahogany SlimTaper ‘D’ set neck/Rosewood fretboard | Scale length: 864mm | Frets: 22

A true classic at a budget price
Robust build quality
Cool retro vibe
Separate volume knobs render the selector redundant

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 Epiphone EB-3 review

Best cheap bass guitars: Gretsch G2220 Junior Jet Bass II

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5. Gretsch G2220 Junior Jet Bass II

What’s not to like with Gretsch’s great value short scale bass?

Price: $299/£312/€329 | Pickups: Gretsch Mini Humbuckers | Controls: Volume/tone/three-way toggle | Bridge: Gretsch standard four-saddle die-cast chrome | Body: Basswood | Neck: Bolt-on maple/Black walnut fretboard | Radius: 305mm | Scale length: 770mm (short scale) | Frets: 20 medium jumbo

Great value for money
An alternative to the usual Fender clones
Limited tonal palette
A set neck would be more ‘Gretsch’

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 Gretsch G2220 Junior Jet Bass II review

Best cheap bass guitars: Epiphone Thunderbird Pro-IV

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6. Epiphone Thunderbird Pro-IV

Another Gibson-designed classic rock bass gets the Epiphone budget treatment

Price: $599/£493/€544 | Pickups: Epiphone T-PRO bass humbuckers | Controls: Two-band active EQ/volume/balance | Bridge: Fully adjustable flush mount | Body: Mahogany (wings) | Neck: Through-neck SlimTaper seven-piece alternating walnut & maple/Rosewood fretboard | Radius: 304.8mm | Scale length: 864mm | Frets: 20 medium-jumbo

Classic and desirable through body neck
Active electronics
Two affordable models on offer
 Limited top fret access

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, or, for a bit more cash, the Pro-IV. 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-IV. 

You get active EQ too – making for a more versatile instrument that’ll tackle vintage and modern tones alike. Coupled with Epiphone’s great build quality the Pro-IV is a stylish and reliable bass.

Best cheap bass guitars: Ibanez Talman TMB100

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7. Ibanez Talman TMB100

Retro looks, a decent spec and a seriously low price

Price: $218/£179/€198 | Pickups: DXJ Bridge/DXP Neck | Controls: Ibanez Custom Electronics two-band active EQ/Balance/Volume | Bridge: Ibanez B10 | Body: Poplar | Neck: Maple/Jatoba fretboard | Radius: 240mm | Scale length: 864mm | Frets: 20 medium

Amazing pricetag
Active EQ adds tonal versatility
Feels a little plain
Not much else at this price

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 Ibanez Talman TMB100 review

Best cheap bass guitars: Squier Affinity Series Precision Bass PJ

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8. Squier Affinity Series Precision Bass PJ

One of the best cheap bass guitars on the market, the PJ is ideal for beginners

Price: $199/£164/€181 | Pickups: Standard Jazz Bass single coil/Standard Precision Bass split-coil | Controls: Volume/volume/tone | Bridge: Four-saddle standard style | Body: Alder | Neck: Maple/Indian laurel fretboard | Radius: 241mm | Scale length: 864mm | Frets: 20

Precision and Jazz Bass pickups
Also available with bundled extras
Amazing price tag
Aimed at beginners

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.

Best cheap bass guitars: Danelectro Longhorn Bass

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9. Danelectro Longhorn Bass

Danelectro’s classic styled, versatile and affordable bass guitar

Price: $607/£499/€551 | Pickups: Souped Up Lipstick single coils | Controls: Stacked volume/stacked tone | Bridge: Traditional bridge with rosewood saddle | Body: Plywood frame and centre block with masonite top and back | Neck: Bolt-on maple/Pau Ferro fretboard | Radius: 355mm | Scale length: 755mm (short scale) | Frets: 24 medium jumbo

Tonal versatility
Easy top fret access
Stacked knobs can stick together
Traditional bridge is tricky to intonate

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 Danelectro Longhorn Bass review

Best cheap bass guitars: Höfner Ignition Violin Bass

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10. Höfner Ignition Violin Bass

Surely the best cheap bass guitar for Beatles fans?

Price: $349/£289/€317 | Pickups: Höfner Ignition Staple Nickel | Controls: Höfner control panel with switchable pickups and solo/rhythm switch | Bridge: Höfner tailpiece with fretted rosewood bridge | Body: Spruce top/Flamed maple back and sides | Neck: Maple/Rosewood fretboard | Scale length: 762mm (short scale) | Frets: 22

Good warm vintage tones
It has a sound all of its own
Quirky styling may not suit some
Not especially versatile

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.