Starting out on the bass guitar is like starting out on any other instrument. The idea of learning a brand new instrument can be a little daunting, sure, but having the right mindset - and some killer gear, like the best beginner bass guitars in this guide - is a big part of the battle. There are many different qualities to consider when looking for your first bass guitar.
There might be many features that you think you need, but it’s vital that your beginner bass is affordable, playable and sounds good. It’s worth finding one that looks cool, too. Any new instrument can be a little intimidating at first, sometimes frustrating – heck, your fingertips get sore – but it is always worth the effort.
In today’s market, it’s easy to find hundreds of basses that tick those boxes, retailing for less than 400 bucks. The goal is to find a bass that inspires you and keeps you playing. That golden rule of gear acquisition never changes: always get the instrument that makes you want to play.
Now, a quick note on the text: we have restricted our list to four-string basses on the grounds that, as a beginner, you'll be focusing on the fundamentals.
These basses are not just for beginners though. These are all great value, fun bass guitars. If you’re working to a tight budget or need a bass to track backings, or just want to expand your arsenal, then any of the basses on this list will see you right.
If you’d like to read more expert buying advice, click the ‘buying advice’ button above. If you’d rather get straight to the products, keep scrolling.
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Best beginner bass guitars: Guitar World's choice
We love the Yamaha BB234. It’s classic Yamaha, affordable, features a cool design with excellent playability and quality tone. The P/J-style pickup configuration offers many flavors of low-end from a fuss-free passive setup of two independent volume controls and tone. For beginners, it’s a no-brainer, but players of all levels would enjoy it.
There are arguably better basses in the beginner bracket than the Ibanez GSRM20 Mikro, but none that are so well-suited to children, and none come in as cheap as this. The Mikro has a compact, lightweight build and a short 28.6” scale that makes it less intimidating for young players. The neck profile is just right and there are some deep tones on offer.
Best beginner bass guitars: Product guide
The BB234 does for basses what the Pacifica 112 does for the beginner electric guitar: it is living proof that Yamaha knows exactly how to make a formidable instrument of real substance for younger players and those on a budget.
A most inviting bass with a vintage-modern body shape and design, the BB234 has an exceptional build, with a warm and rich low-end that’s got a surprising amount of tones given the fuss-free control setup. This will cover most styles; ideal for when you’re still trying to work out what sort of player you are.
There’s no blend control or pickup selector, but playing around with the individual pickup volumes allows you to set the mix how you like it, with the tone knob on hand for fine-tuning.
If you are looking for an entry-level bass for kids to get started on, this is a definite contender. First off, it’s exceptional value, so in the worst-case scenario of them losing interest in the instrument it is not the biggest loss. Second, well, courtesy of its short scale – which is generously short of 30” – and slim neck profile, the chances of that worst-case scenario are minimal.
That said, we’re pretty sure bassists at all levels and all ages would have big fun on the Mikro. Its pokey scale lends itself to a nice rounded thump, but play around with the pickups and work the EQ on your amp and you can accommodate most styles.
There are heaps of cool finishes available. The setup is excellent, and the B-10 bridge a simple, solid design that allows easy adjustments to intonation.
The Spectra Bass series shows the other side to Jackson, decommissioning the sharp edges with a sumptuously contoured, offset double-cutaway body and elongated upper horn.
Now, you might say this is not the most original design – it calls to mind basses such as Ibanez’s SR300E – but the contouring is quite different and it makes for a perfectly balanced and eminently playable bass. There’s a full two-octave fretboard and a neck that makes easy lifting of busy basslines.
You will find a wide range of tones here, with thick and warm low-end and that elastic bounce in the upper mids and baritone twang with the treble dialled in. The string-through-body HiMass bridge makes for a super-stable bass, and we love that there is push/pull for active or passive performance, meaning a drained battery come showtime is not the disaster it could be.
This is the best vintage-inspired bass guitar for beginners, just beating the Classic Vibe ‘60s Precision Bass to the punch. You wouldn’t go wrong with the P-Bass but the Jazz Bass’s dual pickup configuration lends it that extra bit of range.
Of course, tone is a matter of taste, but there’s no arguments about the Classic Vibe’s credentials here. The Fender-designed Alnico pickups nail those early Jazz tones. Think that mid-range chewiness and bright pop from the bridge pickup and warm, rounded thump from the neck as well as plenty more tones in-between.
All in, the Classic Vibe Jazz Bass is excellent value. Setting aside the odd niggle with the finish, this is an excellent build, right down to the period-inspired logo on the headstock and the tinted neck lacquer that makes it look as though it is just off a hundred-show run at a smokey dive bar.
The SUB, or “Sports Utility Bass,” Ray4 is the sort of instrument that makes you do a double take when you see the price tag. It looks like a StingRay, it feels like a Music Man StingRay, and yet it comes in at the 300-buck mark.
You can still tease all kinds of inspiring tones out of this, from the electric bounce of funk to more bruising low-end thunder for rock’n’roll, or simply roll back on that treble for woody jazz. The StingRay neck profile offers a taste of its top-dollar sibling’s feel, and, likewise, the fully adjustable bridge gives you a similar amount of control over string height and intonation. Altogether it feels like a pretty grown-up bass.
Perhaps most notably in the electrics, there has been some downsizing. Where the flagship Music Man StingRay 4 models have an active 18V pickup and preamp with 3-band EQ, the Ray4 has got the 9V active pickup and preamp combo with simplified 2-band hi and low cut/boost controls. But really, that's a miniscule price to pay if it means this bass comes to you for a tenth of the price of a full-fat USA model. There's no denying that the Ray4 is one of the best budget bass guitars on the market today.
Yamaha’s TRBX series has a similar body shape to the Jackson Spectra and Ibanez Soundgear basses, but here there’s a clever twist on the recipe by using a mango veneer on top of a solid mahogany body.
Mango? Yes, why not, and bass guitar design has always been one for using the so-called exotic tonewoods in pursuit of fresh adventures in low-end tone. Here, it is difficult to say how much the veneer contributes to the tone, but it gives this entry-level bass a pseudo-boutique vibe that’s surely a permission slip for working on your jazz-fusion chops.
And that’s what the TRB series is ideal for; honing your craft, making full use of the two-octave fingerboard, zipping up and down that svelte neck. Roll back the tone to dig into that rich mahogany warmth for some truly viscous low end or jack it up for punchy, articulate tones.
The Mezzo positions itself somewhere between the long-scale 34” basses and the short-scale basses of 30” and under. Is it a happy medium? It’s hard to argue it isn’t. The body shape is nicely contoured and fits snug against the body, and the 32” scale makes it feel a little more grown-up than the Mikro.
As a down-sized addition to Ibanez’s superlative Soundgear lineup, you can consider playability a given. The Mezzo’s neck is shorter than its Soundgear siblings but has the same width and profile, and it will flatter those of us working our way toward busy, show-stopping basslines.
The tone shoots for a classic active P-Bass voice, with the single-coil/split-coil configuration well exploited by the active 2-Band EQ and balance control. Whether you are a slap-happy funkster, a burgeoning jazz-fusion futurist, or simply a rocker holding it down in the pocket, the Mezzo has you covered.
For some, a full-scale bass guitar can be more terrifying than inspiring. Shrinking one of the world’s favorite bass guitars means that those with small hands, or kids that are trying to get into the world of bass have a manageable and fun entry point. That’s exactly what we have here in the mini Precision bass.
A contoured body and 28.6” scale neck, paired with a split single-coil Precision pickup gives you comfort and playability, as well as a decent amount of tonal heft. This depth of tone, although not as impressive as a full-size Precision, offers an instantly recognizable low-end growl that will keep you playing.
There are inevitably some small issues when you make a bass guitar so affordable. The hardware does feel a little insubstantial, and the tuners are pretty lightweight - which could make them more prone to issues as they wear over time. As a beginner-friendly bass for less than $190 though, you'd be taking little bit of rough, with a whole lot of smooooooth.
Read our full Squier Mini Precision Bass review
A big ol’ plank of mahogany with a big ol’ humbucker in the neck position. What else do you need? The genius of the EB-0 lies in its simplicity. One passive pickup, volume, tone; your fingers do the rest.
This, of course, is a good thing, and is by design. Tone-wise, it’s big, fat and punchy - crank it up, stick on an overdrive, and take cover, because you'll be causing some pretty substantial structural damage. Although there's not a lot of range here, and it can sound dark to some ears, but there’s enough attack when playing with a pick and if you dial up the high-end on your amp you can get some deadly mid-range clank.
The short 30.5” scale is brilliant for beginners. The slim D profile neck has a gentle taper to it and fills the palm without feeling too clubby.
Spector’s entry-level Performer series might not have the active electronics, the grained maple top or the pickups of its high-end models but it has the body shape, that sense of balance and proportion, and a playability that makes it a serious option at this price.
There is a passive P+J pickup configuration, with each pickup’s independent volume and tone controls allowing you to dial in your own blend of both. There’s a lot of musical tones to be had, and a lot of styles you can cover with this.
Slap players should surely find the funk. Rockers will find the thunder. And everyone should find that nato body nicely contoured. But the big selling point is its three-piece neck, which is stable, zippy and comfortable enough to support you through some epic jams.
Best beginner bass guitars: Buying advice
The biggest challenge when taking up the bass is getting acclimatized to the fingerboard geography. There’s a whole lot of neck on a bass guitar - Guitarists who are crossing over will notice this especially.
Also, this being a stringed instrument, there will naturally be a little pain in the fingertips as you first start playing. This will pass in time. Your fingertips will harden. In the interim, just take a break when you feel pain. But finding a beginner bass that plays well will make this bedding in period easier. So what makes for a playable bass?
Scale length: to go short or long?
The scale length of a stringed instrument is the distance between the nut and the bridge. For bass guitars, the industry standard long-scale bass is 34”. This is considerably longer than a guitar, but it helps the bass maintain string tension and keep the tone and feel while playing in lower frequencies.
This scale length isn’t uncomfortable necessarily, and nor does it diminish playability, but novice bassists and especially young bassists whose hands have a bit of growing in them yet might find a shorter-scale bass more comfortable.
Medium-scale basses are less common and might come in around the 32” scale. The Ibanez Mezzo we list below has a 32” scale and you will notice its frets are that little bit closer together, the neck a little more manageable.
Short scale basses typically have a scale length around 30”, or even shorter in the case of the Ibanez Mikro or Squier Mini Precision Bass. Sometimes these are preferred for their more rounded low-end, which can really work well when playing with other instruments. But they are definitely a great option to consider for younger players.
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Active or passive basses?
Passive basses generate 100 percent of their sound through their pickups. Active basses will have an onboard preamp, typically powered by either one or two 9V batteries. These boost the bass’s signal, and will likely have a 2 or 3-band EQ to cut or boost certain frequencies.
Neither is better, per se. Some will argue that the passive bass is more dynamic, bringing out the nuances in your playing, and that you need never worry about a battery draining mid-performance.
Advocates for the active basses might counter this by citing the hum-cancelling and tone-shaping properties of the onboard preamp. Many like that the active signal is a little more compressed, evening out your playing.
While it can be difficult to find an active bass for under 400 dollars we have a few active options here, such as Jackson’s most-excellent Spectra, which has a push-pull feature on the volume control to engage or bypass the onboard preamp.
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Other things to consider when choosing the best beginner bass guitar for you include tonewoods. Mahogany-bodied basses such as Epiphone’s EB-0 will typically have a warmer tone, maybe a little softer ‘round the edges than, say, alder or ash.
Just as mahogany evokes Gibson, Alder-bodied instruments always call to mind Fender guitars, with full-bodied clarity and solid low-end, while basswood offers a typically well-balanced tone with a decent bit of weight to the low-end.
Other tonewoods you might encounter here include poplar, which is largely balanced, but doesn’t have a particular tonal bias. This ‘blank canvas’ approach might excite some, but it’s not the be-all and end-all.
Which is best? Whichever feels and sounds the best to you. That’s all that matters.