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Best bass guitars 2021: top long and short-scale bass options for beginners to pros

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Best bass guitars 2021: top long and short-scale bass options for beginners to pros
(Image credit: Future)

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.

Are you looking for a great deal on the best bass guitars this Black Friday? Check out our Black Friday guitar deals page for the latest news, and the best deals around.

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)

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
Reasons to buy
+It looks very cool+It sounds very cool+It is so much fun to play+The price is ridiculously low
Reasons to avoid
-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
Reasons to buy
+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
Reasons to avoid
-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
Reasons to buy
+The iconic looks+Awesome rock tones+This is another well-put together Epiphone
Reasons to avoid
-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
Reasons to buy
+Clean, understated design+Solid build+Wide range of tones+This price is crazy value
Reasons to avoid
-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
Reasons to buy
+Solid hardware+Excellent pickups and preamp+The value is unbeatable
Reasons to avoid
-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
Reasons to buy
+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
Reasons to avoid
-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
Reasons to buy
+The exceptional build+A lot of bass at a fair price+Super-playable
Reasons to avoid
-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)

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
Reasons to buy
+Versatile performance+Great neck and playability+Quality hardware
Reasons to avoid
-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
Reasons to buy
+It’s a serious, pro-quality bass+The StingRay is a tone machine+Lightweight, well-balanced
Reasons to avoid
-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
Reasons to buy
+Flawless build – and from a sustainable tonewood+Active MEC J-style pickups and electronics are excellent+Articulate low B string+Very playable
Reasons to avoid
-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)

How to find the best bass guitar for you 

Knowing where to start when finding the best bass guitar for you can be a pretty daunting task. There are many factors to consider, especially if you’re looking for a beginner bass guitar to start your bass playing journey on. Here are some of the most important things you’ll need to decide on, before you go looking for your brand new bass guitar.

Long scale vs short scale bass guitars

You'll first need to decide whether you want a long or short scale bass guitar. The scale - or scale length - of an instrument is the distance between the bridge and the nut, and we use it to measure the total playable length of the instrument.

A long scale bass has a scale length of 34", and the long scale bass is considered to be the industry standard. As a result, you'll have more options when it comes to purchasing a bass. Those used to playing smaller instruments, or just smaller people in general, may prefer a short scale alternative, however. 

A short scale bass will usually have a scale length of 30", meaning the neck is shorter and the frets are closer together - making the instrument generally easier to play. This also means that the string tension is lower, which aids playability too - but means that the tone is generally warmer and more 'bassy'. The versatility of your short scale bass will take a hit because of this too. 

That being said, first and foremost it's really important to find a bass that feels comfortable and fun to play. Make sure it's the bass you never want to put down - as there's no point worrying about the future prospects of your bass playing if you don't like playing it in the first place!

Best bass guitars: Close up of light blue Fender Mustang, with black split mustang pickup and jazz bass pickup

(Image credit: Future)

Passive vs active bass guitars

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.

Four-string vs five-string vs six-string

For a lot of people - especially new bassists - four strings is enough. For honing your chops, and getting used to the larger size of the bass guitar, the standard four-stringed approach is what we'd suggest you go for. 

Four-string basses are happily capable of any style of music, from jazz to thrash metal - but if you'd like to branch out into the world of extended range, then five and six-string basses are definitely worth your time.

A five-string bass will afford you an extra low string. In standard tuning, this is a low B, and will allow you to explore a deeper, darker tonality. The five-string bass is still fairly mainstream and found in many styles of music, as it's capable of everything a four string can do, and then some. The downsides of the five-string are that the fretboard must be wider to accommodate the extra string, and that a 5-string set of bass strings can be pretty expensive - so if you find skinny necks super comfortable, or have smaller hands, then we'd recommend sticking with a four-stringed companion.

If five strings aren't enough, then six-string basses, in standard tuning, will provide one extra low string and one high string, in the form of a low B and high C. Compared to a four or five string bass, the available selection of six-strings is much less - and is generally focused in the high-end category. The necks are wide, and can be a little unwieldy for some, but the tonal range is hard to beat.

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

Jonathan Horsley has been writing about guitars since 2005, playing them since 1990, and regularly contributes to MusicRadar, Total Guitar and Guitar World. He uses Jazz III nylon picks, 10s during the week, 9s at the weekend, and shamefully still struggles with rhythm figure one of Van Halen’s Panama.