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10 best bass guitars 2021: top 4-string and 5-string bass guitars for beginners to pros

10 best bass guitars 2021: top 4-string and 5-string bass guitars for beginners to pros
(Image credit: Fender, Yamaha, Epiphone, Ibanez )

Bass players have it pretty sweet right now, with more high-quality offerings than ever before - making it the perfect time to pick up one of the best bass guitars. Whether you're seeking a thunderous five-string to bring the doom, a killer four-string you can slap around, or an understated classic, you'll be spoiled for choice.  

The abundance of epic bass guitars does make it somewhat harder, though. So just how do you choose the right one for you? Well, luckily, we've done the hard work for you. We've searched high and low for the best bass guitars out there; some will be cheap, and some will be pricey, but we've made sure to include basses for all budgets and playing styles. We've included basses from the likes of Fender, Music Man, Yamaha, and others, each offering excellent playability and great value within their price range.

We've included some expert buying advice at the end of this guide, so click the 'buying advice' tab above to go there. If you'd rather get straight to the products, keep scrolling.

We've listed the best bass guitars in price order to make it a bit easier to find the right one for your budget. Of course, our price comparison widgets will display the best prices you'll find online, too. So without further ado, let's dive in! 

Best bass guitars: Our top picks

The next generation of Fender’s American-built Precision, the Fender American Ultra Precision Bass, is frankly stunning. With an Ultra Noiseless Vintage Jazz Bass single-coil in the bridge and its split-coil counterpart in the middle, the American Ultra P-Bass is one hugely versatile instrument. The new Modern D profile feels pretty incredible, complementing a newly contoured body for a truly unforgettable playing experience.

At a lower end of the scale, Yamaha has really nailed the ability to make super-playable instruments at accessible prices - specifically the BB435 5-string. The build is solid, you can get all kinds of tones out of the ever-reliable P/J pickup combo, and the six-bolt miter neck joint does a pretty good job of imitating a neck-through too.

Best bass guitars: Full round-up & reviews

Best bass guitars: Squier Classic Vibe '60s Jazz Bass

(Image credit: Squier)

1. Squier Classic Vibe '60s Jazz Bass

The best bass guitar on a budget

Price: $429/£333 | Body: Poplar | Neck: Maple, bolt-on | Scale: 34” | Fingerboard: Indian Laurel | Frets: 21, narrow tall | Pickups: 2x Fender Designed Alnico single-coil pickups (bridge, middle) | Controls: 2x volume, master tone | Hardware: 4-saddle Vintage-style with Threaded steel saddles | Left-handed: No | Finish: 3-Tone Sunburst, Daphne Blue, Black

It looks very cool
It sounds very cool
It is so much fun to play
The price is ridiculously low
A couple of niggles with the finish

Say you were blindfolded and thrown into the bass section of your local music store and asked to retrieve the first bass you found, chances are you will return with something inspired by the Jazz Bass. 

Since it was first introduced – disingenuously billed as the “two-pickup Precision” – in 1960, the Jazz Bass has inspired countless imitators, and has consistently been tweaked and revised by Fender through the ages. There’s a reason for this; the design looks cool and it works. The Classic Vibe Jazz Bass is based on those original ‘60s models, and Fender’s entry-level brand Squier will give you a supremely comfortable ride and some uncannily vintage tones and plenty of change from 500 bucks.

It’s a great deal. The tones are on-the-money as far as the Jazz Bass goes – thumping, in your face, but elastic and alive – and the controls that offer a wide sweep of tones.

Read the full Squier Classic Vibe '60s Jazz Bass review

Best bass guitars: Yamaha BB435 Bass Guitar

(Image credit: Yamaha)

2. Yamaha BB435 Bass Guitar

The workhorse passive 5-string that’s impossible to beat

Price: $549/£518 | Body: Alder | Neck: 3-play Maple/mahogany/maple, bolt-on | Scale: 34” | Fingerboard: Rosewood or Maple | Frets: 21, medium | Pickups: 2x (YGD V5 in P/J configuration | Controls: 2x volume, master tone | Hardware: Vintage Plus Light steel-saddled bridge | Left-handed: No | Finish: Teal Blue, Black, Tobacco Brown Sunburst

This is a great-looking bass
You’ve got some excellent P/J tones on tap
Outstanding sustain and solid on that lower fifth
Unbeatable value
You prefer an active bass

The BB435 nails that vintage-modern vibe, and like all great instruments it has a timeless quality, capable of holding its own in any company. Now, Yamaha does a very neat line in pro basses – the BBP35 is an exceptional top-line version of the BB435 that we’d recommend in a heartbeat – but this is an exceptionally priced instrument.

The BB435 is an absolute hoot to play, lively, dynamic, and it has a fuss-free control system where a master tone serves both pickups and you can adjust the balance via independent volume controls. There are certainly more detailed onboard EQ shaping options on a bass guitar, but few as simple or elegant.

The BB435 would make a superlative choice for any player looking for their first five-string. The low B string is tight. The build is exceptional throughout – this is a bolt-on but the six-bolt miter neck joint is so strong you might swear it’s a string-through. This allied to the clever 45-degree string-through bridge helps set the BB435 apart.

Best bass guitars: Epiphone Thunderbird Vintage Pro

(Image credit: Epiphone)

3. Epiphone Thunderbird Vintage Pro

The ‘Bird with the long neck

Price: $699/£454 | Body: Mahogany wings | Neck: 7-ply mahogany/walnut through body | Scale: 34” | Fingerboard: Rosewood | Frets: 20, medium small | Pickups: 2x Epiphone ProBucker Bass #760 Humbucker | Controls: Neck Volume, Bridge Volume, Master Tone, 3-way pickup selector | Hardware: 1960s TB-Bass Tune-o-matic with Claw tailpiece | Left-handed: Mo | Finish: Alpine White, Tobacco Sunburst, Ebony

The iconic looks
Awesome rock tones
This is another well-put together Epiphone
It can be a little unwieldy
Not the most versatile bass in the Thunderdome

Some bassists just can’t get on with the Thunderbird. There is a lot of shape going on. Some say it can be a little imbalanced, prone to neck tilt. But if you love it, you love it; and there’s really nothing quite like it, with its dual-humbuckers providing all kinds of thumping low-end radness and the mahogany winged, neck-through body rounding it all out.

And, furthermore, it’s very cool, played by the likes of Kim Gordon, Krist Novoselic, and John Entwistle. This Epiphone reproduction of the Gibson ‘Bird ($2,299) hits all the right notes, stylistically and tonally. 

There’s a pair of Epiphone ProBucker Bass #760 Humbuckers to bring the thunder, a good and clubby ‘60s style neck profile, and the ‘reverse’ body shape is there to be swung around. It’s probably not a slap bass (though we’d say you can play anything on anything; it’s always the chops that count), but for rock and roll, blues, punk, filling the pocket full of eighth notes with a little overdrive, there’s nothing better.

Best bass guitars: G&L Tribute L-2000

(Image credit: G&L)

4. G&L Tribute L-2000

The not-so-slight return of an early ‘80s favorite

Price: $699/£622 | Body: Swamp ash | Neck: Maple, bolt-on | Scale: 34” | Fingerboard: Maple or rosewood | Frets: 21, medium jumbo | Pickups: 2x G&L MFD Humbuckers | Controls: 1 x master volume, 2-band EQ, series/parallel switch, 3-way toggle preamp mode, 3-way toggle pickup switch | Hardware: Leo Fender-Designed G&L Saddle-Lock bridge | Left-handed: Yes | Finish: Natural, 3-Tone Sunburst, Olympic White, Clear Orange, Redburst

Clean, understated design
Solid build
Wide range of tones
This price is crazy value
Switching takes some getting used to

As the name suggests, the Tribute L-2000 is a replica of its Leo Fender-designed namesake that debuted in 1980. What blew minds then and still does is the switching system. There’s a trio of knobs, a trio of toggle switches, and a cornucopia of tone options to be had here – toggle between active and passive modes, between neck, middle or both humbuckers, and series/parallel mode. This jemmies open the sonic possibilities even before you get to the two-band EQ.

If the switching and EQ controls seem a little esoteric at first – and you’ll have a fun time finding the sweet spot – the performance of this modestly priced four-string puts it firmly in the workhorse category. 

The hardware won’t let you down. The Saddle-Lock bridge is a Leo design, neat, sturdy, and a solid platform. The tuners are open-backed, old-school. But it’s the pickups and electronics that people will ask you about after the show. Those US-made G&L MFD humbuckers are overwound with a ceramic core and they’re powerful. And they’ve got individually adjustable pole pieces, just in case the switches and EQ didn’t present enough choice.

Best bass guitars: Schecter Stiletto Studio 6

(Image credit: Schecter)

5. Schecter Stiletto Studio 6

The best mid-priced six-string on the market

Price: $899/£949 | Body: Mahogany with bubinga top | Neck: Multi-laminate maple and walnut, neck-thru build | Scale: 35” | Fingerboard: Rosewood | Frets: 24, extra jumbo | Pickups: 2x EMG 45 Hz humbuckers | Controls: Active 3-band EQ, blend, master volume | Hardware: Schecter Diamond Custom bridge, Grover tuners | Left-handed: No | Finish: Honey Satin, Satin See-Thru Black

Solid hardware
Excellent pickups and preamp
The value is unbeatable
Six strings are not your thing
Umm… that’s it

The Stiletto Studio 6 challenges the notion that the six-string bass can feel a little intimidating, that it’s perhaps a niche instrument, with an exclusive price tag to boot. Sure, a nut width of 54mm might bring tears to an avowed four-stringer’s eyes, but the neck’s thin C profile is shallow enough to ease you in and help adjust to all that extra fretboard territory.

What will you use it for? Well the six-string format makes possible all kinds of progressive and outré jazz-funk styles, and the EMG 45Hz humbucker pairing and comprehensive 3-band EQ let you dial in pretty much whatever you want. Scoop the mids for some effervescent slap, or boost them and the treble for some really up-front, bass-as-a-lead instrument tones.

The extra jumbo frets reward a light touch and the neck-through build, which sees the neck dissolve into the body, leaves a heel that offers zero resistance to your reaching the summit of that fretboard. The build quality is what we would expect from a South Korean Schecter, i.e. tip-top, and it ain’t light but the balance feels pretty much bang on.

Best bass guitars: Fender JMJ Road Worn Mustang

(Image credit: Fender)

6. Fender JMJ Road Worn Mustang

The most super-cool retro short-scale you can buy

Price: $999/£1,263 | Body: Alder | Neck: Maple, bolt-on | Scale: 30” | Fingerboard: Rosewood | Frets: 19 | Pickups: Seymour Duncan Custom split-coil | Controls: Volume, tone | Hardware: 4-saddle, strings-through-body Mustang bridge | Left-handed: No | Finish: Black, Faded Daphne Blue

Hell’s bells! This is a cool bass
It has one pickup but it’s a doozy
Very playable and deceptively powerful
It’s already relic’d so no worries gigging this
Short-scale isn’t for everyone

We never had the Fender Mustang down as a do-it-all bass but it’s telling that Justin Meldal-Johnsen swears by his ’67 Mustang as his number one bass. Meldal-Johnsen is a renowned session player who has played with Nine Inch Nails, Garbage and Beck – and there is not really a Venn Diagram you can draw with much overlap between those.

So what makes the Mustang so special? Well the 30” scale makes for one incredibly accessible little bass. It might feel a little short to some, but if you have recently moved onto bass from guitar this will feel incredible.

And it sounds great, too. There is just volume and tone, but there is plenty of range on that tone pot, and the custom-wound Seymour Duncan split-coil is an excellent all-rounder, putting a little teeth and hair onto the Mustang’s tone, a vintage passive voice that holds its own in a band setting. The thumb rest will come in handy too for those who do their picking up by the neck. It’s almost like having a neck pickup…

Best bass guitars: Ibanez SR2405W

(Image credit: Ibanez)

7. Ibanez SR2405W 5-String Bass Guitar

A state-of-the-art five-string of supreme quality

Price: $1,599/£1,341 | Body: African mahogany core, panga panga and figured maple top | Neck: Panga panga/purpleheart 5-piece laminate | Scale: 34” | Fingerboard: Panga Panga | Frets: 24 | Pickups: 2x Aguilar Super Double Single-Coils | Controls: Volume, pickup pan, bass, middle, treble/passive tone control, three-way mid-frequency switch (250Hz, 450Hz, 700Hz), active/passive selector switch | Hardware: Ibanez MR5S Mono-rail bridge, Gotoh machine heads, gold | Left-handed: Yes | Finish: Caribbean Green, Brown Topaz Burst

The exceptional build
A lot of bass at a fair price
Slightly neck heavy
The finish is a little too fancy for some?

As you might expect from the SR Premium line, the SR2405W is a meticulous bass that feels stage-ready out of the box, and it is well-tooled to make full use of your stage and studio time.

First off, it is so playable, with a whip-quick neck that’s a joy to breeze along – its profile offers ample compensation for the nut width (45mm) to accommodate that fifth string. This is a smart choice for the gigging bassist and especially for those whose style is that bit more effervescent. The slap players will find a lot of funk-ready tones here, with the 3-band EQ and pickup pan offering a panoramic vista of Planet Tone.

Okay, so the SR2405W is a bass you’d think twice about playing down the local dive bar for it has a finish that deserves a cordon sanitaire and 24/7 security to protect against dings and theft. When the inevitable ding comes it will be painful. But just plug it in and play again; that’ll bring the smile back to your face. And the price? Well, it ain’t nothin’ but Ibanez has stacked the features high on this.

Best bass guitars: Fender American Ultra Precision Bass Guitar

(Image credit: Fender)

8. Fender American Ultra Precision Bass Guitar

The modernised flagship P remains the best bass guitar

Price: $1,899/£2,099 | Body: Alder (ash on Plasma Red Burst and Aged Natural models) | Neck: Maple, bolt-on | Scale: 34” | Fingerboard: Rosewood | Frets: 21, medium jumbo | Pickups: Ultra Noiseless Vintage Jazz Bass (bridge), Ultra Noiseless Vintage Precision Bass (middle) | Controls: Master Volume, Pan Pot (Pickup Selector), Treble Boost/Cut, Midrange Boost/Cut, Bass Boost/Cut, Passive Tone, Active/Passive Mini Toggle | Hardware: 4-saddle HiMass bridge, Fender"F" Light-Weight Vintage-Paddle Keys with Tapered Shafts | Left-handed: No | Finish: Aged Natural, Mocha Burst, Arctic Pearl, Ultraburst

Versatile performance
Great neck and playability
Quality hardware
It is expensive
Some prefer the older stuff

The American Ultra Series’s approach presents a more evolutionary than revolutionary approach to modernising Fender’s top-line US-built instruments, and we think they found the sweet spot. Take this Precision Bass. It is unmistakably a P-Bass; the classic silhouette is present and correct. You’ve got a choice of an alder body or ash, retro pick-guards in three-ply mint green or 4-ply tortoiseshell.

But with a new Modern D neck profile, the 10-14” compound radius fingerboard, HiMass bridge, lightweight tuners and a newly designed preamp, it’s an altogether more contemporary proposition. 

The American Ultra body is also more heavily contoured across the back, with a newly sculpted heel allowing a free pass to the upper frets. The Ultra Noiseless pickups are an excellent pairing also, with the punchier Vintage Jazz single-coil in the bridge position offering a nice counterpoint to the rounded warmth of that middle position split-coil.

It ain’t cheap but the smart new finishes, the player-friendly amendments (improvements?) to an all-time classic and the tones are worth it.

Read the full Fender American Ultra Precision Bass review

Best bass guitars: Ernie Ball Music Man StingRay Special 4 HH

(Image credit: Ernie Ball Music Man)

9. Ernie Ball Music Man StingRay Special 4 HH

Because no ‘best bass guitar’ round-up is complete without a StingRay

Price: $2,199/£2,199 | Body: Ash | Neck: Roast maple, bolt-on | Scale: 34” | Fingerboard: Roast maple, ebony or Rosewood | Frets: 22, stainless steel | Pickups: 2x Neodymium humbuckers | Controls: Active 3-band EQ, master volume, 5-way pickup selector | Hardware: Vintage Music Man top loaded chrome plated, steel bridge plate with vintage nickel plated steel saddles, Custom lightweight tuners with tapered string posts | Left-handed: Yes | Finish: Charging Green

It’s a serious, pro-quality bass
The StingRay is a tone machine
Lightweight, well-balanced
If you can’t justify the price tag

Since its introduction in 1976, the Music Man StingRay has come to define the company’s bass-making. It is the most-recognisable model – well, the Bongo might be more of a head-turner, but this is the one that made it famous.

As with all of the designs that Leo Fender had a hand in, there is an understated brilliance and a sense of practicality – and it’s a bolt-on construction, too. Hey, when you get it right first time, why change? Now, the StingRay does not come cheap but that outlay goes into the fine details; the stainless steel frets, the compensated nut, the finish, the wood choice, and the pickups and electronics.

Here you can pretty much do anything. You’ve got a pair of redesigned humbuckers, an 18-volt preamp and 3-band EQ for some of the fattest bass tones you could imagine, or some of the sharpest, or with a midrange upper-cut that could draw blood. The StingRay welcomes all styles. Its neck is on the fat side but make no mistake, this plays perfectly.

Best bass guitars: Warwick German Pro Series Thumb BO 5-String Bass Guitar

(Image credit: Warwick)

10. Warwick German Pro Series Thumb BO 5-String Bass Guitar

A pro-quality five-string bass guitar and a modern classic

Price: $2,830/£1,499 | Body: Ovangkol | Neck: Ovangkol, bolt-on | Scale: 34” | Fingerboard: Wenge | Frets: 24, jumbo | Pickups: 2 Active MEC J-Style | Controls: Master volume, balance, 2-band EQ | Hardware: 2-piece, chrome, | Left-handed: Yes | Finish: Burgundy Red, Natural Satin

Flawless build – and from a sustainable tonewood
Active MEC J-style pickups and electronics are excellent
Articulate low B string
Very playable
Still seen as the funk/metal choice by purists?

People often talk about the Warwick growl and, really, it is officially a thing and a joy to behold. There’s an upfront, pugnacious quality to the active MEC J-Style pickups that, should you turn it up loud enough, will deliver all the thunder you need for rock settings.

But the Thumb is a triumph of modern bass design that plays the percentages. Some might decry the 2-band EQ – many players want explicit control over the mids and that’s cool – but if you think of the balance control between both pickups as an auxiliary mids control you will find all the control you need. There is also a push-pull on the volume control to bypass the active electronics for another range of passive tones. Very cool.

The build is exceptional, as you’d expect from Warwick’s Teambuilt Pro Series, and the balance between the long-scale neck and compact, ergonomic body is really a kind of magic. 

Oh, and the body and neck is ovangkol – a sustainable tonewood introduced by Taylor that sounds somewhere between rosewood and koa – and the BO of the name stands for bolt-on. So yeah, there really is no need to keep your distance.

Best bass guitars: Buying advice

Close-up of bass guitar strings and pickups

(Image credit: Future)

Deciding which is the best bass guitar for you can be confusing. There are so many different factors to consider. You need to think about short-scale or long-scale, active or passive, and then how many strings you are likely to use - four, five, or maybe even six! Below we’re going to break down exactly what you need to know. Let’s start with the electronics.  

Passive vs active bass guitar

Put simply, passive basses have no onboard preamp and so their output is generated 100 percent by their pickups - think about a vintage-style Fender P-Bass/ Jazz Bass. 

The active bass has an onboard preamp, typically powered by a 9V or 18V battery. This preamp boosts the pickup’s signal and the bass’s EQ can be used to cut or boost frequencies. The controls on a passive bass can only attenuate the master tone and volume of the instrument, whereas on an active bass you can have a little more control over your tones with a 2- or 3-band EQ.

There are other differences, too. The onboard preamp of active basses can compress your tone slightly - great for more aggressive styles of music such as metal, or hard rock - whereas those dynamics remain up for grabs on a passive bass. 

As to which is better, there is no real right or wrong answer, although people will argue that point. Whatever sounds best to you is best, and that’s the end of it - and we'll have no arguing, thanks.

More than a feeling?

Indeed, what feels like the best bass guitar for you is what’s best, too. How comfortable a bass feels, can be down to its scale length. Short-scale basses can be more approachable, especially from guitarists - or even just smaller people - who want to try their hand at something new.

There is a shorter space between frets as the neck is – by definition – shorter, meaning you don’t have to overstretch to reach the low frets. There are some studio cracks – such as Justin Meldal-Johnsen whose Mustang we’ve listed in our guide – who prefer the tone, which, courtesy of the shorter string length is darker, and with a bass guitar that means more low-end. That can make all the difference in the mix. 

If you don’t feel you need the shorter scale, then look at the standard 34” as this is widely accepted as the industry standard. Perhaps you like to tune lower, or just want more tension on the strings, then it’s worth checking out the Schecter Stilletto 6, which comes in slightly longer at 35”.

Best bass guitars: tonewoods

When it comes to which wood your new bass is made of, there are so many different options available to you. Bass manufacturers have been some of the early adopters of alternative tonewoods to the ash/alder/mahogany paradigm. Obviously, these standard wood types are popular for a reason, but the more exotic choices such as ovangkol, bubinga, and panga panga each offer their own frequency response and tonal characters. So it’s worth trying a few out to see what is right for you. 

So which of these basses should you buy? Well, the only person able to answer that question is you. When you pick up a bass for the first time, it will speak to you. It should make you want to play constantly, and never put it down - that’s when you know you’ve found the best bass guitar for you.  

Jonathan Horsley has been writing about guitars since 2005 and is a regular contributor to Guitar World, Total Guitar and MusicRadar.