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10 best beginner bass guitars 2020: our pick of the best four-string bass guitars for beginners

10 best beginner bass guitars 2020: our pick of the best four-string bass guitars for beginners
(Image credit: Yamaha/Squier/Ibanez/Jackson)

Starting out on the bass guitar is like starting out on any other instrument. It is a little intimidating at first, sometimes frustrating – heck, your fingertips get sore – but it is always worth the effort. Having the right gear is the first part of the battle, and there are many qualities to consider when searching for the best beginner bass guitar for you. 

There might be many features that you think you need. But it’s vital that your beginner bass is affordable, playable and sounds good. Oh, and let’s find one that looks cool, too. 

In today’s market, that’s easy. There are 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 it.Here we have 10 of the best beginner bass guitars. 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.

But these basses are not just for beginners. You could be working to a tight budget, or maybe you’re a guitarist looking for a bass to track backing parts and expand your string game. Whatever. These are all great value, great fun basses.

Here we have 10 of the best beginner bass guitars. 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.

But these basses are not just for beginners. You could be working to a tight budget, or maybe you’re a guitarist looking for a bass to track backing parts and expand your string game. Whatever. These are all great value, great fun basses.

With Black Friday on the horizon, it could be worth holding off on picking up a new beginner bass until the Black Friday guitar deals start emerging. We'll be reporting on the best offers right through to Black Friday itself.

Top picks

What is the best beginner bass guitar?

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.

Buying advice

Best beginner bass guitars: the essentials

The biggest challenge when taking up the bass is getting acclimatized to the fingerboard geography. There’s a lot of neck. 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. 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.

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 9V or 18V battery, and these boost the bass’s signal and will have a 2- or 3-band EQ to cut or boost 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, and a beginner bass such as Jackson’s most-excellent Spectra, which has a push-pull feature on the volume control to engage or bypass the onboard preamp.

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 without necessarily a pronounced tonal bias.

Which is best? Well, here’s a coda to the top of the article: whichever feels and sounds the best to you. That’s all that matters. We’d happily take any of the following, but let’s start with the Yamaha BB234, the first among equals…

Top 10 beginner basses

The best beginner bass guitars available today

Best beginner bass guitars: Yamaha BB234

(Image credit: Yamaha)

1. Yamaha BB234

A classy build with an awesome vintage-modern vibe

Price: $299/ £314 | Body: Alder | Neck: Maple, bolt-on | Scale: 34” | Fingerboard: Rosewood | Frets: 21, medium | Pickups: Custom V3 single-coil (bridge), Custom V3 split-coil (middle) | Controls: 2x Volume, tone | Hardware: Vintage-style bridge, lightweight open-gear tuners, chrome | Left-handed: Yes | Finish: Vintage White, Black, Teal Blue, Natural Satin, Raspberry Red

A really classy looking bass
Yamaha delivers a corker at a good price
P/J pickup configuration offers wide range of tones
A blend control knob would be nice
Some players prefer an active bass

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.

Best beginner bass guitars: Ibanez GSRM20 Mikro

(Image credit: Ibanez)

2. Ibanez GSRM20 Mikro

The best short-scale bass for small fingers

Price: $179/£159 | Body: Agathis | Neck: Maple, bolt-on | Scale: 28.6” | Fingerboard: Jatoba | Frets: 20 | Pickups: PSNDP split-coil (middle), PSNDJ bridge | Controls: 2x Volume, tone | Hardware: Ibanez B-10 bridge, chrome | Left-handed: Yes | Finish: Starlight Blue, Black, Pearl White, Orange Metallic, Brown Sunburst (w/Rosewood fingerboard), Transparent Red Rosewood, Weathered Black Rosewood, Metallic Purple, Root Beer Metallic

Ideal for young bassists
The price is a giveaway
Small bass, big tones
Lots of finish options
Some players prefer a longer scale

If you are looking for an entry-level bass for kids to get started on, this has got to be it. 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.

Best beginner bass guitars: Jackson Spectra Bass JS3Q

(Image credit: Jackson)

3. Jackson Spectra Bass JS3Q

The best active bass for beginners

Price: $349/£309 | Body: Poplar with quilt maple veneer | Neck: Maple, bolt-on | Scale: 34” | Fingerboard: Laurel | Frets: 24, jumbo | Pickups: 2x Jackson medium-output mini-humbuckers (bridge and middle) | Controls: Active 3-band EQ, volume (push/pull active/passive) pickup selector | Hardware: HiMass bridge, die-cast tuners, Chrome | Left-handed: No | Finish: Dark Sunburst, Amber Blue Burst

A really fun and stable bass to play
An affordable active option
It has 3-band EQ and active/passive push/pull
Solid build with excellent hardware
Quilt maple is a nice touch
Not much

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.

Best beginner bass guitars: Squier Classic Vibe ‘60s Jazz Bass

(Image credit: Squier)

4. Squier Classic Vibe ‘60s Jazz Bass

The vintage ‘60s J-Bass with friendly 2020 price

Price: $399/£319 | Body: Alder | Neck: Maple, bolt-on | Scale: 34” | Fingerboard: Indian laurel | Frets: 20, narrow tall | Pickups: Fender Designed Alnico single-coil (bridge), Fender Designed Alnico split-coil (middle) | Controls: 2x Volume, tone | Hardware: 4-Saddle Vintage Style with threaded steel saddles, vintage-style open-gear tuners, chrome | Left-handed: Yes | Finish: Daphne Blue, Black, 3-Color Sunburst

A great representation of vintage Jazz Bass tones
Value for money
Lovely slim C neck profile makes it very playable
Good range of tones
A couple of niggles with the finish
No left-handed options

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 in the bridge position and warm, rounded thump in the neck, and there are plenty of 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 neck lacquer that makes it look as though it is just off a hundred-show run at a smokey dive bar. 

Best beginner bass guitars: Sterling by Music Man SUB StingRay Ray4

(Image credit: Sterling by Music Man)

5. Sterling by Music Man SUB StingRay Ray4

An affordable take on a modern classic

Price: $299/£349 | Body: Basswood | Neck: Maple, bolt-on | Scale: 34” | Fingerboard: Maple | Frets: 21, medium | Pickups: 1x H - 1 Ceramic Humbucker (bridge) | Controls: Volume, Hi and Low Cut/Boost | Hardware: 4-saddle adjustable bridge, open-back tuners, Chrome | Left-handed: No | Finish: Mint Green, Black, Vintage Sunburst Satin

It’s super-playable
It looks the real deal
Excellent range of tones
Long-scale format might be cumbersome for younger players

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.

Now, obviously, to achieve this there is some downsizing, perhaps most notably in the electrics. 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 this hardly invalidates the Ray 4’s status as one of the best budget bass guitars on the bass market.

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 grown-up bass.

Best beginner bass guitars: Yamaha TRBX174EW

(Image credit: Yamaha)

6. Yamaha TRBX174EW

Exotic wood veneer, great feel, fresh price

Price: $224/£262 | Body: Mahogany with mango veneer | Neck: Maple, bolt-on | Scale: 34” | Fingerboard: Sonokeling | Frets: 24 | Pickups: Yamaha single-coil (bridge), Yamaha split-coil (middle) | Controls: 2x Volume, tone | Hardware: Vintage-style bridge, chrome | Left-handed: No | Finish: Translucent Natural, Root Beer, Tobacco Brown Sunburst, Black

A well-balanced and super-playable entry-level bass
Excellent neck profile
Another solid value option from Yamaha
No good reasons, but a few dollars more could get you active electronics

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.

Best beginner bass guitars: Ibanez Mezzo SRMD200

(Image credit: Ibanez)

7. Ibanez Mezzo SRMD200

Compact powerhouse with active pickups and modern P-Bass vibe

Price: $299/£239 | Body: Poplar | Neck: Maple, bolt-on | Scale: 32” | Fingerboard: Maple | Frets: 22, medium | Pickups: Dynamix J Style single-coil (bridge), Dynamix P Style split single-coil (middle) | Controls: master volume, balance, 2-band Active EQ | Hardware: Ibanez B-10 bridge, Ibanez covered tuners, chrome | Left-handed: No | Finish: Aqua Green, Vintage White, Black Flat, Sapphire Blue Metallic, Roadster Orange Metallic, Candy Apple Matte, Sea Foam Pearl Green

A well-balanced and playable bass
Superb value
Great choice of finishes
No passive mode

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. 

Best beginner bass guitars: Gretsch G2220 Electromatic Junior Jet Bass II

(Image credit: Gretsch)

8. Gretsch G2220 Electromatic Junior Jet Bass II

The best retro-rocking short-scale bass guitar for beginners

Price: $299/£319 | Body: Basswood | Neck: Maple, bolt-on | Scale: 30.3” | Fingerboard: Walnut | Frets: 20, medium-jumbo | Pickups: 2x Gretsch mini-humbuckers (bridge and middle) | Controls: volume, tone, 3-way pickup selector | Hardware: 4-Saddle adjustable bridge, die-cast tuners, Chrome | Left-handed: No | Finish: Tobacco Sunburst, Torino Green, Walnut Stain

It looks very cool
Short-scale makes it extremely approachable
Great low-end thump
It doesn’t have the widest range of tones

The Junior Jet Bass II is an exceptional option for beginners. It might be an entry-level Gretsch but it is one of the brand’s strengths that it can sustain that old-school rock ’n’ roll vibe across its stable and across all price points. Perhaps it’s something to do with the “G Arrow” tone and volume controls.

The only singlecut here, the Junior Jet Bass II has a basswood body, bolt-on maple neck and walnut fingerboard, and two mini-humbuckers in the bridge and middle positions. It is a passive bass but there’s a real exuberance to the tone that will flatter fingerstyle and flat-pickers alike.

The bridge pickup has a forthright presence to it, while the neck is not short on detail either. You could have a lot of fun running this through a Big Muff and pumping out eighth notes all night. Or rolling back the tone for busy jazz lines. Or, well, just having fun with this, period.

Best beginner bass guitars: Epiphone EB-0

(Image credit: Epiphone)

9. Epiphone EB-0

Siri, find me an old-school thunder merchant for under 300 bucks

Price: $269/£209 | Body: Mahogany | Neck: Mahogany, bolt-on | Scale: 30.5” | Fingerboard: Rosewood | Frets: 22, medium | Pickups: 1x Sidewinder humbucker (neck) | Controls: volume, tone | Hardware: Chrome | Left-handed: No | Finish: Cherry, Ebony

Short-scale and simple setup is ideal for beginners
There’s no denying it is one seriously cool bass
Thick low end tones
Might be too minimalist for some players

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.

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. Tone-wise, it’s all width and big on bottom. Crank it up, stick on an overdrive, and it’ll cause structural damage to your practice spot.

This, of course, is a good thing, and is by design. You don’t have 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. Lovely stuff.

Best beginner bass guitars: Spector Performer 4

(Image credit: Spector)

10. Spector Performer 4

A sleek, beginner-friendly four-string from the high-end masters

Price: $399/£347 | Body: Nato | Neck: Maple, bolt-on | Scale: 34” | Fingerboard: Amara ebony | Frets: 24, medium-jumbo | Pickups: Spector J style Single-coil (bridge), Spector P Style Split Single-coil (middle) | Controls: 2x volume, 2x tone | Hardware: Spector Standard bridge, JinHo JB150 tuners, black | Left-handed: No | Finish: Metallic Red, Solid White Gloss, Metallic Blue, Solid Black Gloss

The neck profile is excellent
Nice fingerboard feel
Well-balanced in weight and in tones
No active pickups
Limited finish options

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.