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Best beginner bass guitars in 2021: four-string bass guitars for beginners

Included in this guide:

Person plays bass guitar live on stage
(Image credit: Getty/Aimee Giese)

Deciding to learn the bass guitar is just like starting out on any other instrument. Yeah, it can be pretty scary - the idea of learning a brand new instrument is overwhelming at times, especially as we live in a world full of ‘experts’ and influencers who never seem to play a bum note. In our experience, we’ve found that it’s all about having the right mindset and enjoying yourself - but some killer gear, like the best beginner bass guitars in this guide - definitely help that cause. 

There will probably be many features that you think you need, but it’s vital that your beginner bass plays well, sounds good and doesn’t cost the earth. It’s worth trying to find one that looks cool, too. 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. In today’s market, it’s easy to find hundreds of killer beginner basses for less (sometimes a lot less) than 400 bucks. 

Now, a quick note on this guide: We’ve only featured four-string basses on the grounds that, as a beginner, you'll be focusing solely on the fundamentals.

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

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.

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

Best beginner bass guitars: Yamaha BB234

(Image credit: Yamaha)

1. Yamaha BB234

A classy build with an awesome vintage-modern vibe

Launch price: $299/£339 | 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

Launch price: $179/£179 | 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 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.

Best beginner bass guitars: Jackson Spectra Bass JS3Q

(Image credit: Jackson)

3. Jackson Spectra Bass JS3Q

The best active bass for beginners

Launch 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 price

Launch price: $429/£399 | 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 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. 

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

Launch price: $299/£379 | 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.

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.

Best beginner bass guitars: Yamaha TRBX174EW

(Image credit: Yamaha)

6. Yamaha TRBX174EW

Exotic wood veneer, great feel, fresh price

Launch price: $249/£259 | 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

Launch price: $299/£279 | 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: Squier Mini Precision Bass

(Image credit: Squier )

8. Squier Mini Precision Bass

Itsy bitsy teeny weeny low-end funky bass machine-y

Launch price: $179/£159 | Body: Poplar | Neck: Maple | Scale: 28.6” | Fingerboard: Indian Laurel | Frets: 20 | Pickups: Split single-coil Precision | Controls: Volume, tone | Hardware: Squier tuners and bridge | Left-handed: No | Finish: Black, Dakota Red

Portable and compact
Super affordable
Iconic P-Bass look
Not as solid feeling as we’d like 

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 

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

Launch price: $269/£249 | 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.

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. 

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

Launch price: $399/£369 | 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.

Best beginner bass guitars: Buying advice

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

(Image credit: Future)

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. It's longer, wider and the frets are further apart - Guitarists who are crossing over will notice this especially.

Annoyingly, you’ll naturally get a little pain in the fingertips as you first start playing. This will pass in time, and your fingertips will harden. In the meantime, just take a break when things start to get a bit sore. Finding a beginner bass that plays well will make this bedding-in period easier - so if you’re particularly worried about your digits feeling done-for, try a few different basses out and see which one feels the most playable. 

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. It can be a bit of a stretch for some, but if you get used to a long-scale bass then you'll have a much wider range of products to choose from when you come to upgrade. 

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, and cheaper short scale basses are often aimed at this market.

If you'd prefer something in the middle, then a medium-scale bass is probably the one for you. Medium-scale basses are less common and usually come in around the 32” scale. The Ibanez Mezzo in this guide has a 32” scale and you will notice its frets are that little bit closer together, the neck a little more manageable.

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.

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.

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.