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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

(Image credit: Press material)

1. Sterling By Music Man SUB Ray5

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

Specifications
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
Reasons to buy
+Cheaper four-string version also available+Simple tone controls+Tonally versatile
Reasons to avoid
-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 full 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

Specifications
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
Reasons to buy
+Highly playable+Versatile modern tones+Cheaper four-string version available
Reasons to avoid
-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

Specifications
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
Reasons to buy
+Recently refreshed product line+Classic P Bass looks and sound+Great price
Reasons to avoid
-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

Specifications
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
Reasons to buy
+A true classic at a budget price+Robust build quality+Cool retro vibe
Reasons to avoid
-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?

Specifications
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
Reasons to buy
+Great value for money+An alternative to the usual Fender clones
Reasons to avoid
-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

Specifications
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
Reasons to buy
+Classic and desirable through body neck+Active electronics+Two affordable models on offer
Reasons to avoid
- 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

Specifications
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
Reasons to buy
+Amazing pricetag+Active EQ adds tonal versatility
Reasons to avoid
-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

Specifications
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
Reasons to buy
+Precision and Jazz Bass pickups+Also available with bundled extras+Amazing price tag
Reasons to avoid
-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

Specifications
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
Reasons to buy
+Tonal versatility+Easy top fret access
Reasons to avoid
-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?

Specifications
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
Reasons to buy
+Good warm vintage tones+It has a sound all of its own
Reasons to avoid
-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.