As what can only be described as the craziest year in living memory comes to a welcome close, we’ve rolled around to our yearly Gear Of The Year round-up, featuring our recommendations for the best new gear released in the last 12 months.
Despite the current pandemic’s grip on the planet, there has been a considerable amount of new gear launched this year, some of which we first encountered at Winter NAMM back in January.
With finances becoming increasingly stretched for everyone, value for money has become even more important and here at Bass Player, value is very much a primary consideration when we’re reviewing gear and equipment. Extra costs to the player in the form of cool paint jobs or irrelevant amounts of bling don’t cut the mustard if the basic performance of an instrument isn’t really up to scratch.
In this round-up, all of the gear and equipment we’ve honored is very much on point, with the player benefiting from improved production methods and technological advances.
We’ve categorized the fretted bass guitars, the most populous area of the market, into four price bands for convenience, meaning that the winner in each band is rated fairly against similarly-priced instruments. Items in positions two to five are not rated in a position format so an item rated second isn’t necessarily any better than an item rated fifth.
Please note that pricing may now differ compared to when we reviewed a piece of equipment, and even since this feature was compiled, especially with ever-changing exchange rates.
We would like to offer our sincerest thanks to the relevant manufacturers, distributors and retailers for their help and co-operation over the past 12 months when it comes to keeping us equipped with their splendid instruments, amplification and effects. We really do appreciate your efforts!
Best fretted bass less than £500
- Winner: Sterling By Music Man Ray 4HH – Another outstanding example from Music Man with impressive build quality, exceptional bass tones and a cast-iron performance.
- Yamaha TRBX 20411 – Consistent build quality, matched with incredible playability and comfort for the price.
- Squier Paranormal Jazz – Retro styling and vintage looks, all wrapped up in an affordable package. What's not to like?
- Jackson JS3 Spectra – For those about to rock, check out this 24-fret, three-band EQ, pocket-friendly bass. How did they do it for the price?
- G&L Tribute SB-2 – All the hallmarks of the full-price US instruments, in an equally playable yet affordable package. Feel the quality, hear the tone.
Best fretted bass £500-£1,000
- Winner: Nordstrand Acinonyx – A wide array of tones, easily selectable with push-button switches, short-scale playability and quality hardware. A steal at the price.
- Warwick RB Corvette Basic 4 – The German legends go back to basics and create a fine nod to the ever-popular Corvette blueprint. The sound of wood... and no mistake.
- Ashdown Low Rider – In conjunction with Dan Lakin, those fine chaps at Ashdown pull this gem from their design table. A winning debut.
- Gibson LP Junior Tribute – Based on the EB0, this vintage-inspired bass has all the fat-bodied tones you would expect of a Gibson bass. Plectrum at the ready.
- Ibanez Headless EHB1000 – Eagerly anticipated – and they delivered the goods. Headless instruments have seen a renaissance in recent years, and these basses from Ibanez continue to fan the flames.
Best fretted bass £1,000 - £2,500
- Winner: Fender American Ultra Precision – The Ultra series is a home run in anyone's book – a return to form with some of the best basses in this format for some time.
- Manson JPJ Signature E-Bass – The Zeppelin legend's latest squeeze, and it's a cracker, with looks, tones and playability.
- Lakland Skyline 44-64 Custom G2 – Sultry looks, classic tones from the P/J pickup format and the usual Lakland quality control.
- Sandberg California II TM4 Nighthawk – Sandberg continue to produce some of the most playable basses available and the Nighthawk is no exception to that tradition.
- ESP E-II BTL-5 – It's no surprise that ESP continue to produce such high-quality basses, but this Black Burst beauty caught out eyes and ears.
Best fretted bass over $2,500
- Winner: Sadowsky MetroLine Vintage J 4-21 – The new MetroLine basses from Warwick are proving very popular, with the hallmarks you would expect of a Sadowsky in a more affordable package.
- Anaconda Hydra – The Hydra has an incredible tonal pallette to play with. Highly recommended.
- Rickenbacker 4003 Satin Autumnglo Ltd Edition – The perennial classic remains ever-popular and continues to draw in fans the world over.
- Mayones Jabba PJ4 Hadrien Feraud Signature – Hadrien Feraud is a force of nature and his signature bass from Mayones delivers the goods on all fronts.
- MTD USA 535-24 Andrew Gouche Signature – Mr Gouche's signature MTD is as impressive as his own soulful grooves. It may not be cheap, but it's certainly inspiring.
Best fretless bass
- Winner: Ibanez Gary Willis GWB205-TQF-5 – The fretless wizard has a new signature model, with more 'waaah' than you can wave a stick at.
- Music Man BFR5 – A sunburst Stingray is a thing of beauty... and a five-string fretless just adds to the magical recipe.
- Cort Artisan B4 MHPZ – A pocket-friendly semi-acoustic offering from Cort, with a very pleasing fretless performance.
- Fender Tony Franklin Precision – With specially voiced pickups and a drop-D extender, this signature model is to be commended.
- Furch B61-4 CM – With improved low-end response courtesy of the soundhole placement, this semi-acoustic fretless has a rich, woody tone.
Best acoustic bass
- Winner: Martin BC-16E – This acoustic bass delivers superlative acoustic tones. A worthy investment.
- Ovation Applause Elite Exotic – A cost-conscious offering from Ovation that takes all their experience of acoustic basses and gives the player a bass worthy of the name at an affordable price.
- Yamaha Silent Bass SLB300 – An alternative to transporting a full-sized acoustic bass. The tonal quality is mighty impressive.
- Taylor GS Mini-E – This Hawaiian koa, 23.5” scale bass from Taylor drew us in with its warm tones, comfortable playability and excellent finishing.
- Dean EAB – If finances are tight, this acoustic bass from Dean will allow you to dip your toe in the acoustic sea.
Best amp head
- Winner: EBS 802 – EBS don't launch many products, but when they do, you take notice. This amp hits the bullseye, with bags of tonal flexibility and performance and a hefty 750 watts to play with.
- Ampeg SVT 50th Heritage – The SVT legacy is unbeatable – and this 50th anniversary unit will take your breath away.
- Blackstar Unity U700 Elite – Blackstar's latest all-purpose bass amp is a highly impressive performer, with plenty of power, features and tone-shaping capabilities. Well worth investigating.
- Hartke LX8500 – Great for home practicing and recording, and perfect for the majority of gigging scenarios.
- Darkglass Alpha Omega 900 LTD – Darkglass impress us again with this limited-edition amp that delivers on every level.
- Winner: Bergantino NXT212 – This Neo cabinet will save your back and deliver the goods with this 2x12 format. Warm, rounded tones with a crisp delivery, expertly designed with a powerful performance.
- Stonefield Mini Plus – The Mini Plus cab from Stonefield is built to last, with a very impressive performance and easily trasportable.
- GR Bass AT212 Slim – Slim and lightweight, this cab is impressive from top to bottom. Its articulate and powerful delivery will impress you.
- Ashdown ABM-210H-PRO-NEO – Portable due to the Blue Line Neo custom drivers and new poplar ply enclosure, and with a three-way high frequency control, this is a solid performer.
- Epifani DIST2 2x10 – Powerful, portable, eye-catching – a fine bass cab indeed.
- Winner: Peavey MAX300 – The MAX300 is everything you could want in a combo and its performance is as impressive as its price tag.
- Phil Jones Bass BG-110 Bass Cub II – Fully featured, fabulously portable and a solid bass performance.
- Ampeg BA-210 v2 – You'll be wondering how they managed to cram so much tone into such a small enclosure.
- Genzler 350 MG12T-V – Yes, we know it looks like a head plus cab, but Genzler describe it as a combo – and it impressed us with its sensible layout, rock-solid delivery and articulate detail.
- GR Bass AT Cube 800 – Pricey – but audition it for yourself and marvel at the tonal quality.
Best FX pedal
- Winner: Tech 21 NYC Steve Harris Signature Sansamp – 'Arry’s signature Sansamp had us ‘running to the hills’, it’s so good. And for this price you won’t need to take your daughter to the slaughter, either.
- Aguilar DB925 – We loved the DB925 – its tonal performance was mightily impressive.
- Darkglass Microtubes X Ultra – Despite the hefty price tag, the features, tonal performance and all-round lusciousness blew us off our feet.
- Orange Bass Butler – The Orange tone is not for shrinking violets, and now you can pack that tone everywhere you go with the Bass Butler preamp pedal
- Source Audio EQ2 – Trust Source Audio to come up with a programmable EQ pedal that makes us drool. Its sonic performance and ease of use will impress you.