This guide will shed light on the intriguing instrument that is the bass guitar. And help get you up to speed about bass guitars.
To this end, our guide will help you choose the best beginner bass. We review what we think are the best eight bass guitars for learners. We consider, too, a couple of the most burning questions in 2021. Namely, how to select your first bass guitar, and which are the best for beginners.
But before looking into each bass guitar in turn, here is a quick heads up of the eight we have chosen for beginners.
Best Bass Guitars For Beginners:
- Fender Mustang PJ Bass
- Sterling Ray4 Electric Bass
- Ibanez GSR200 Electric Bass
- Yamaha TRBX304 Electric Bass
- Epiphone EB-3 SG Bass
- Squier Affinity Jazz Bass
- Yamaha TRBX174 Electric Bass
- Ibanez AEB5E Acoustic-Electric Bass
1. Fender Mustang PJ Bass
To aficionados, it will come as no surprise to see the elder statesman of bass guitars, Fender Mustang PJ Bass, up there at the top of the list. Everyone else will be familiar with the name Fender, which has been synonymous with popular music decades. It is no secret, therefore, that Fender makes world-class bass guitars.
We kick off our beginner bass recommendations with Fender as it is the epitome of the iconic bass guitar. Its tone and appearance are instantly recognizable.
What sets the Fender Mustang PJ apart is its pickups. The creamy jazz pickup from the Fender J-Bass and the split pickups on the Fender P-Bass gives this Fender bass its name.
The fretboard is constructed from rosewood and the neck from maple, making the Fender Mustang PJ a classy four-string bass. As well as good looks, it has a seriously impressive range of tone to complete the package.
Though a smidge on the pricey side, the Fender Mustang PJ bass is a class-setting bass guitar that is used globally. It has a perfect sound and is versatile enough to play virtually any music genre from jazz to rock. Despite the hefty price tag, we have voted the Fender Mustang PJ Bass the best beginner bass guitar.
It is a definite head turner and should be on any bass player’s wish list.
2. Sterling Ray4 Electric Bass
In the second spot is the Sterling Ray4, an electric bass with a respected classic bass guitar heritage. This bass is the updated offspring of the famous Stingray bass guitar, hence the Ray in the name.
Quite simply, the Ray4 is an excellent bass guitar that is acknowledged as a very comfortable bass guitar to play. Its humbucker pickup gives the Ray4 its rich and textured tone. This four-string bass features a two-band EQ, which is handy for beginner bassists to fine-tune the sound.
There’s little to dislike about the Ray4, which makes it stand out as an excellent choice as a learner’s bass guitar, apart from the price which is in Fender territory.
If you are playing rock exclusively, then this bass has the best sound for that genre.
3. Ibanez GSR200 Electric Bass
Priced at under $200, this Ibanez is an out-and-out beginner’s bass that’s incredibly popular. Don’t be fooled by the price taggery, this bass has solid electronics, is comfortable to play and produces a crisp sound. Ibanez is a well-known brand in modern rock for a good reason.
Interestingly, the Ibanez GSR200 copies the Fender’s P and J pickup arrangement. The maple-necked Ibanez GSR200 is an inexpensive beginner bass but produces a decent and very acceptable sound.
Probably the most inexpensive bass we reviewed, but don’t let the price put you off. For the cash, you get a lot of bass guitar—a great way to start your bass playing career.
4. Yamaha TRBX304 Electric Bass
Finally! A Yamaha, the world-renowned music brand that manufactures the globe’s top violins, digital pianos, bass guitars…and motorcycles.
Yamaha has produced some quality bass guitars over the years, not least the Yamaha TRBX304, a staple of many bands.
|Image credit: Yamaha|
Firstly, it features a double cutaway, which you will be thankful for when reaching for the higher notes. But what makes this Yamaha special is its twin humbucker pickups integrated into the body. This double pickup arrangement makes this beginner bass guitar versatile. Having two pickups onboard means the player can achieve the heavy bass sound that’s almost compulsory for rock music but also get the treble tone necessary for pop and funk.
Although priced in the $300 to $400 bracket and expensive for a beginner bass, the Yamaha TRBX304 is worth considering for the versatility offered by dual pickups.
The Yamaha TRBX304 is a robust selection as a beginner bass and good value for what you get. It’s a versatile four-string bass that can play multiple musical genres with ease and sounds great. As a mid to high price point bass guitar, this is the one to buy.
5. Epiphone EB-3 SG Bass
Epiphone is a brand that’s revered by the likes of Guns and Roses and AC/DC. You may not be familiar with the make, but you have undoubtedly heard or seen their guitars.
The Epiphone EB-3 SG Bass is a classic and has been the bass guitar of choice for the leading names in rock, including the late Jack Bruce of Cream.
As with the Fender, the Epiphone EB-3 SG Bass is another classic bass guitar to add to the wishlist.
It has two pickups; a standard humbucker located in the neck base, and a second humbucker on the bridge. This arrangement offers a broad spectrum of tone suitable for the blues, rock, and swing music.
On the downside, it is a little expensive for a beginner bass guitar and the lack of cutaways makes higher notes a little uncomfortable. But it should appear on your radar if you want something other than a bargain-basement buy.
It has a classic look, feel, and sound. Fans of old school rock should check it out.
6. Squier Affinity Jazz Bass
It is worth noting that Squier is an offshoot of Fender. As such, Squier bass guitars are worthy of a second look if you like the idea of a Fender-produced bass costing about $200.
Spinning off their entry-level bass guitars to a new brand name makes sense for Fender. Their class-leading bass guitars retail for up to $1000. Our top pick as the number one bass for beginners comes in at around $500, though.
The selling point of the Squier Affinity Jazz Bass is contained in its name. For a tremendous sounding jazz bass guitar for a beginner, this model has all you need.
It features dual pickups, with a nod to its Fender roots in the form of the classic Fender-type tuning pegs. The Squier Affinity Jazz Bass plays warm, rich tones that hark back to the sound of the Fender bass guitars.
If you wish to obtain the Fender guitar feel and tone without the price tag, this is the model to buy.
While top-end bass guitars may naturally outclass it, the Squier Affinity Jazz Bass was the first bass of many accomplished bass guitarists. For the reasons outlined above, it gets our vote.
7. Yamaha TRBX174 Electric Bass
The TRBX174 is a perennial in learner bass guitar class due to its affordable cost and P and J pickups. Most students will have gotten their hands on this bass at some point.
This popularity is partly due to the steep cutaway making runs up the 24-fret neck smooth and clean. If you are a learner bassist, this Yamaha bass will get you through all your music exams. It is also well known to be a durable bass guitar, another reason music teachers love this bass.
If you are scouring the market for the best learner’s bass for under $200, this one is a contender as one of the best.
While it has its detractors, the Yamaha TRBX174 Electric Bass is a great way to get the basics of bass playing right. It is for no small reason one of the most popular student bass guitars available. Sure the sound quality isn’t top-notch, and it is hampered volume-wise by the lack of an active bass pickup. But you can live with that as a novice bass player.
If you are seriously lucky, you may also find a combo deal with a bass amp, cable, and bag. We, therefore, have no hesitation in giving the Yamaha TRBX174 Electric Bass a double thumbs-up as a learner’s first bass guitar.
8. Ibanez AEB5E Acoustic-Electric Bass
We would undermine our review’s credibility if we failed to mention the Ibanez AEB5E Acoustic-Electric Bass. It is a famous acoustic bass and quite rightly deserves recognition as a beginner’s bass guitar.
Paradoxically, if you talk to professional bass players, they will all tell you the same thing. The best sounding bass through an amplifier is acoustic, as counter-intuitive as that sounds.
The acoustic bass is a great entry point for beginner bassists as they can practice without an amp. To cover all the bases, however, be sure to buy an acoustic-electric bass.
But what is the thinking behind this?
The acoustic bass scores because its hollow body means sound waves bounce a few extra times before reaching the pickup and being sent to the amplifier. The resulting sound quality is exceptional. Indeed, the tone is probably the richest bass guitar sound you will hear through a bass amp.
If you have only ever played electrics, then it is worthwhile trying out an acoustic first, if possible. They have unfamiliar thick bodies and usually have 18 frets instead of 24.
Acoustics are a great addition to any bass guitar collection. And if you’re thinking of recording, then you would be well advised to consider an acoustic. Just talk to any pro bass player, and they will admit to wanting an acoustic bass.
The real beauty of an acoustic like the Ibanez AEB5E Acoustic-Electric Bass is that you can play it anytime or anywhere without the need for amp or even electricity. And that’s bound to make you the happiest bass player around.
And that’s it; our top eight bass guitars for beginners, from $200 to a little over $500. Whether it is jazz, funk, or heavy rock, there’s a beginner bass for you in our review.
What more should you know about bass guitars as a beginner?
There is a second-hand market for bass guitars, so it is feasible to pick up a cheap bass for around $100. Whether you would want to do so is another story. That was the thinking behind our review of new entry-level bass guitars.
Here we look at some of the broader queries you may have.
What Is a Bass Guitar, and how is it different?
The primary difference is the sound, but also the playing style and the guitar’s strings and neck.
A bass guitar’s strings are the most easily discerned difference. Generally, a bass will have four or five strings, while other guitars will have six or more.
The gauge of a bass guitar’s strings is much more substantial than that of other guitars. It is these thick strings that produce the low bass notes.
The next most notable difference is the bass guitar’s neck. The neck of a bass guitar is significantly longer to accommodate the range of the thicker strings.
On inspection, you will notice that some bass guitars have no frets on the neck. This is because most non-professional bass players are playing only one note at a time. A fretless neck makes for a sweeter sound and that classic double bass sound.
A bass guitar has its own unique playing style that is different from that of regular guitars.
Most novice bass players start off using a plectrum or plucking the strings. However, as they become more accomplished, they will explore the funk style of playing bass. This involves ‘slapping’ the lower strings with their thumb and ‘popping’ the higher register strings by aggressively plucking.
Arguably the most significant difference is the sound of the bass and its overall purpose. While the guitar may produce the melodic chords, it is the bass that drives the music.
The bass is a perfect storm of rhythm, timing, and musicality. Along with the drums, the bass is the glue that keeps a band together when they are performing.
Four things to weigh up when buying your first bass
Actually, there are several considerations before selecting your first bass. As ever, the starting point is your budget, then your musical genre and sound, functionality, and style.
The most important part, for sure. It’s annoying to hear a fantastic bass, fall in love with it, only to find your wallet won’t stretch to the price tag.
As we have shown, though, in our review, there are heaps of great bass guitars at affordable prices that sound great.
Musical genre and tone
After setting the budget, you will want to narrow the search further by considering the musical style you plan to play and the sound you want.
You don’t want to buy a classic funk bass like the Fender Mustang PJ if you plan to lay down some heavy metal licks. Choosing the bass to suit your playing requirement is the crucial next step in the process. The easiest way is to look at your favorite bands and see what their bass players are wielding. Frequently, a particular genre will favor a specific bass over others. So try to spot this common theme to suit your playing style. For instance, most metal groups will insist on a five-string bass to get to the low notes.
A passive bass is excellent for novice bass players as they are low maintenance and don’t require batteries or extensive internal wiring.
Bass guitars that have active pickups, though, provide the freedom to adjust the tone and volume. While this may appear like overkill for a beginner bass guitarist, the extra functionality like overdrive and EQ can make a big difference to their playing. The electronics behind dual or triple pickups and humbuckers can help the learner bass player to perfect their tone and playing. So it is worthwhile pondering over the functionality of your first bass guitar.
Next up is the playing style. Bassists who like to use a plectrum will enjoy an Ibanez as it gives out a very clear tone. On the other hand, funk players will always go for a Fender or similar for the twangy tones you can produce.
Yet others will prefer a fretless bass guitar for its warmer and muted jazz tones. Having a fretless neck means the bass player can flow up and down the neck smoothly and cleanly.
Another vital consideration to not forget is the ‘action,’ which is the physical distance separating the neck from the strings. Greater height is brilliant for funk, but quite the opposite if you wish to speed play jazz.
Consider all of these things, and you can be sure to purchase the best beginner bass guitar to suit your needs. Your first bass is special, so make sure you remember it for all the right reasons.
By now you may have realized we haven’t talked much about five-string bass guitars. There is a good reason for that – five-string bass guitars are not beginner-friendly. More strings mean more learning and complication.
Most beginner bass players favor four strings for funk as the B string of a five stringer hampers slap-bass playing by getting in the way. Another technical reason is that beginner bass guitarists are invariably given songs with ‘drop D’ tuning, so a fifth string is redundant.
We haven’t mentioned amps much so far either. But here the rule of thumb is that bigger is better for a bass amp. Avoid separate ‘head and cab’ amps and buy a combo amp as they are plug and play amps that are ideal for the learner bass player.
Combo amps have plenty of power via three or seven-band equalizers and are simple to use. A 15W amp is sufficient for practice, but to play with others, the recommendation would be an amp somewhere around 90W to 220W. A bass amp of this wattage is ideal for practices but with the juice to compete in a band.
So only you need to do now is think over your requirements, and then zero in on a bass in our beginner bass review. Life doesn’t need to be any more complex than that when searching for the best bass guitar for beginners.