Choosing the best bass guitar for metal can be a tricky process. After all, with so many different variations within the genre, it can be difficult to home in on the perfect bass for your needs. What works for old-school thrash won’t necessarily suit downtuned progressive technical styles, and vice versa.
In this guide we’ll aim to provide some clarity over the things you should be looking for from a bass if you’re a metal player. We’ve rounded up eight great examples of bass guitars for metal, including some true legends of the genre from brands like Rickenbacker, Warwick and Ibanez, with a keen eye on finding the best value and tonality suitable for heavy styles.
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Best basses for metal: Guitar World Recommends
All of the bass guitars on this list will happily fit into a metal scenario, so choosing the overall best bass for metal is difficult. The task is made even more tricky because metal is such a broad church. One man’s grind is another man’s thrash, so to speak. That said, basses like the Ibanez SR305E are easy to recommend thanks to their simple, straightforward approach which marries great construction and build detail with a wide range of highly usable metal tones, at a price that seems very sensible.
We’re also naturally drawn to the Rickenbacker 4003, partly because it has a place at the high table of metal through its past exploits, and partly just because it looks so darn cool. Regardless of the style you play, there’s a metal bass guitar for you in this guide.
Best basses for metal: Product guide
While many of the entries in this guide are towards the upper side of the price scale, there’s still great value to be found nearer the entry/mid range. The Ibanez SR305E, for example, is a lean, stripped-down five-string bass which would be perfect for technical styles of metal. The wood grain on the weathered black finish is stunning, and gives the impression of a bass which means business.
The two active humbuckers ensure there’s enough tonally to stand out, while the traditional thin Ibanez neck means this is as playable as it is attractive. For us, this is arguably the perfect ‘next’ bass for someone early on in their metal playing career, and would make a great studio bass for guitarists to have on hand as well.
Not everyone who plays in a metal band wants their bass to look like something from a horror movie. The Warwick Rockbass Corvette might look, if we’re being brutally honest, quite plain but when you get to actually playing it, you’ll be left in no doubt that this is a perfect bass for metal. The alder body keeps things lightweight enough to be comfortable, yet combined with the active humbuckers, the Corvette packs a serious punch.
While the German-made Warwick models can cost thousands, these Chinese-made models still maintain that incredible build quality and attention to detail yet can be picked up for a much less wallet-straining amount. Highly recommended.
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Schecter is a brand with huge appeal to metal musicians, thanks to it finding that perfect balance between edgy aesthetics, great tones and extremely reasonable prices across the range. The Schecter Stiletto Stealth, which comes in four and five string versions, features a lightweight basswood body with a neat satin finish which looks and feels superb.
Tonally there’s scope for versatility thanks to the combination of an active humbucker and split single coil, while the onboard EQ controls will ensure your sound cuts through in a full band environment.
If there’s one thing Ibanez can claim, it’s that it knows how to make instruments designed for metal music. The Ibanez BTB745 is a curious looking bass, all extended horns and different tonewoods, with an attractive maple and walnut neck-thru design which will ensure killer sustain and rigidity.
The two Bartolini active humbuckers ensure the BTB745 can dish out some serious weight with its tone, and there are some nice small touches like the locking input jack connector. Overall, this is a big, bold bass which we can see being popular with technical metal bands and artists on account of its tonal versatility and glorious neck.
One from leftfield, perhaps, but the Rickenbacker 4003 is definitely worth your attention as a bass for metal. After all, if it’s good enough for Lemmy, it’s surely good enough for you. Essentially what you get is a maple body with maple neck-thru construction, which gives it bags of natural sustain while the two single coil pickups and tone-shaping features give it plenty in the way of versatility.
Realistically, with its single coil pickups and slightly shorter scale length, you’re not going to see too many users dropping the tuning past C and getting great results but for stoner, sludge and other slower styles – with a fuzz pedal in the chain - there’s a lot to love here.
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We’re big fans of the LTD bass range here at Guitar World, and for extreme metal there are few models as well-equipped as the LTD F-1004. You can see just from looking at it that this is a bass designed specifically for providing the thundering low-end backdrop which these extreme styles require.
The mahogany body ensures this is a bass with physical heft, although the flame maple top adds a touch of class onto an otherwise fearsome-looking instrument. Special mention to the Fishman Fluence humbuckers, which do a superb job of giving the bass a character of its own and ensuring it’ll sit just perfectly against the inevitable barrage of blastbeats.
Metal isn’t a new thing. Far from it. In the 1970s and 80s there were bands doing things to heavy music that, at the time, seemed unfathomable. One of the leading guitar brands of the era was Charvel, which recently underwent a revival and brought with it a sweet collection of vintage metal themed guitars and basses. The Charvel Pro-Mod San Dimas is a great example of this, and we can see it providing the hefty backbone of many a galloping riff.
The two rather garish coloor options give you a hint of the players who’d look to a Charvel; this is a bass designed to stand out, so you’ll need a touch of flamboyance in your repertoire. Special mention to the caramelized maple neck and fingerboard too, which make a nice change from the usual maple and rosewood offerings.
When you’re looking at mid-range, mid-priced guitars, you’re looking for a touch of versatility. Decent build and great tones are useful, of course, but around this price bracket you tend to find guitars and basses which will cover a lot of ground. The ESP LTD B204 fits the bill perfectly here. While it is, clearly, geared towards metal thanks to its active humbuckers and lithe, playable neck, this is also a bass which can capably step into other genres when required.
Judged purely on its metal credentials, the B-204 is a superb bass, especially for the money. We’d have liked LTD to offer something a bit more eye-catching from its finishes, but overall, there’s a lot to like here.
Best basses for metal: Buying advice
Regardless which genre or style of music you play, bass and drums provide the backbone upon which everything else is built, and metal is no different. Often, however, bass players in metal bands face the tricky situation of fighting over the low-end frequencies. For many - arguably most - bands in this world, the style dictates guitars being downtuned ever further which can make it easy for the guttural heft of a bass to get lost among the noise. It makes sense, therefore, to arm yourself with a bass guitar which can stand out.
Most of the best basses for metal we’ve chosen feature on-board electronics which help boost your tone before it reaches the amplifier, thanks to extra EQ controls on the bass itself. Active pickups work by including a pre-amp, powered by a 9v battery, which gives you much more tonal flexibility, both when playing at higher volumes and at lower tunings. And, speaking of downtuning, we’ve also included a couple of models which offer five strings instead of the usual four. This extra lower string means you can comfortably reach those lower tunings without sacrificing string tension, making the bass relatively easier to play.
With some styles of metal requiring almost superhuman levels of dexterity and precision from the player, we’ve opted for comfort and ergonomics. While bass guitars are inherently large and sometimes cumbersome, the metal basses we’ve chosen favor comfort and give the player a platform for speed. Much as certain guitar brands are famed for their lithe, playable necks, so too the bass equivalents feature certain characteristics designed to support certain playing styles.