Did you recently see someone slaying on a 4-string and realize that this is what you’ve been needing in your life? Perhaps you’ve been playing for a while and you’re ready to upgrade your gear to something more gig-ready. Regardless of your level of experience, this article will highlight the best bass guitars for budget, as well as what to look for (and what to avoid) when you’re shopping around.
Things to know before you start your search
Now before we get ahead of ourselves and delve into which bass is the best fit for you, it is best to know what sound you are looking for. The sound (often referred to as tone) that your bass will produce is affected by a few key components in its construction. We’ll go over some of the most commonly found bass models and hardware here first:
What are pickups?
The pickups are the electronics in your bass that will translate the vibrations produced by your strings into a sound that can be amplified through your speakers. Every type of pickup has its own tonal qualities, allowing you to dial in on the sound you are looking to create. Two of the most common pickups in electric basses are single-coil pickups and dual-coil pickups (also known as humbuckers). While you can use any style of pickup you’d like with any bass guitar, each pickup type has its respective place in certain models of basses.
What is the “model” of the bass?
The term ‘model’ is used to describe the universal look and sound of certain basses. Each respective model often uses the same type of pickup, has the same body shape and (arguably) the same range of sound. For the beginners, learning about these common models will save you a lot of time in research later on down the line, and simplify your shopping experience overall.
Precision, or P-Bass
Created by Leo Fender, the Precision Bass was the first commercially produced model of the electric bass. To this day, the P-Bass is still the best-selling and most commonly replicated electric bass guitar on the market. Due to its popularity and worldwide replication, you can find a P Bass to fit any budget. Precision basses typically come equipped with dual-humbucker pickups. The P Bass can be a great starter, as the controls are simple: one knob for volume, one knob for attenuating high-end.
Jazz, or J Bass
Created almost a decade after the P Bass, the Jazz Bass model is a close second in terms of popularity. J Basses most often come equipped with two single-coil pickups. The placement of these single-coil pickups, along with dedicated volume knobs for each, allows you to fine-tune your sound more than the standard volume and tone knob found on the P Bass.
What is the difference between acoustic and electric?
An electric bass requires an amplifier to produce a suitable volume, and is the most common form of the bass guitar. An acoustic bass can fit well in softer music and offer a unique sound compared to a typical electric model. Most acoustic bass models are actually acoustic-electric, allowing you to play both with and without an amplifier.
Active or passive?
The last thing to keep in mind while you’re shopping for your new bass is whether you’re looking for an active or passive bass. A passive bass can be much more accessible for a beginner, as you are transferring the raw sound of your bass directly into your preamp of choice. Active basses, however, contain a battery-powered onboard preamp that allows you to contour the EQ of your instrument. This preamp functions much like a typical stereo system in controlling certain frequencies. Therefore, active basses offer you more versatility, but require a fair amount of knowledge to dial in the tone you’re seeking.
Now that you’re a certified bass aficionado, let’s see what bass will give you the best bang for your buck while still providing you with the look and sound you want. And so without further ado, here are the best basses for any budget:
Best basses under $100
Glarry GPrecision & GJazz
When I found this brand, I was truly blown away. It’s worth noting that bass guitars can’t usually be found in this price range, especially bass guitars of this caliber. The reviews really speak for themselves, as both models hold strong above four stars. At an unprecedented price of $69.99, Glarry offers you both precision and jazz models in a variety of colors. This gives you the ability to choose what best fits your taste without having to worry about paying extra.
Both models are made solely of basswood with a top layer of rosewood on the fretboard. Although basswood is one of the cheapest options available for tonewood, it certainly beats plastic, which is usually what you will find for under $100. Besides, the rosewood fretboard adds a layer of depth typically unknown to basswood basses, providing an overall smooth tone. Both basses are passive, making them very accessible for beginners. What’s more, they’re shipping it to you free of charge with a ¼” cable included!
- You really can’t beat this price on a budget bass guitar
- Three-piece basswood body
- Jazz and precision models to suit your taste
- Wide variety of colors
- Simple features and controls, great for beginners
- Free shipping, includes cable
- Plastic nut – these degrade easily and may need to be adjusted from factory settings
- Pickups do not produce considerable output in their standard placement
- Very light body makes the neck a bit imbalanced (nothing a wider strap can’t fix)
If you’re still not sure about which model is best for you, here’s a demonstration of each:
Just for the sake of having options, if nothing else, the GoPlus Precision Bass can also be a great way for you to get started as a bassist without a big initial investment. Although it does not possess the quality of the Glarry instruments, this may be a great package for you starters out there, as it comes equipped with a strap, a cable, and a gig bag – all for just under $90 with free shipping through Amazon.
Of course, there are reasons for a bass with so many included accessories having such a low price. This really comes to light in the construction of the neck. Many consumers have reported that the frets stick out over the edges of the fretboard (this is most likely due to the changes in climate between manufacturing and arriving to you), as well as bowing issues with the truss rod. That does not necessarily mean this is a poor quality bass, just keep in mind that you may want to have your local guitar technician perform a setup on the bass to achieve maximum playability and longevity of the instrument.
Is it worth your money?
The body is made from paulownia which is a light wood and great on your back, but can sound very hollow without the right EQ setup to support it. The rosewood fretboard provides a surprisingly soft touch to the overall sound of the bass. Of course, the electronics are about what you would expect in an instrument of this price. They look good and play well, but they do not produce a substantial output, and may not be the proper fit for large performance settings. All in all, you’re getting what you pay for with this bass. If you’re just starting out, this may be a great option for you as it comes with everything you need besides an amp!
- Low price, great for starting out
- Includes strap, gig bag, and instrument cable
- Paulownia body offers a unique tone and a comfortable, low weight
- Neck may warp during shipping causing sharp fret ends
- Truss rod can be very tight causing high action on the strings
- Pickups are too quiet for large gigs
Best basses under $300
Coming in at just under $200, the Ibanez Talman gives you a vintage look and sound without the vintage price tag. Originally manufactured as a guitar, Ibanez crafted this bass to carry the signature Talman sound over into the low-end world. The Talman features a unique offset body which lends to its unique appearance. The body is crafted from poplar, which gives it all the warmth of the revered alder with an added mid-punch to it. The hard maple neck and fretboard further this punch to give you a piercing sound to stand out in any mix.
What is really special about this bass is its pickup configuration. It features both a single-coil bridge pickup as well as a split-coil neck pickup which is very hard to find in this price range. This means you get all the versatility of a PJ bass without having to pay the price for a typical PJ bass. Whether you’re looking for the pick-friendly tone known to split-coil pickups, or the articulate cleanliness of the bridge pickup, this bass gives you both – and everything in between, thanks to its stacked tonepot and volume controls and 2-band EQ.
Before you pass this bass by simply because of its low price tag, it should be said that it does not suffer from the same issues as most cheaper models of popular bass guitars. This is shown by its sturdy weight, perfectly machined frets, and solid 40mm nut. This means this bass is gig-ready fresh out of the box without any adjustments. That is, of course, unless you’d like to replace the strings with your personal favorite set.
- PJ pickup configuration grants full control over your tone
- Poplar body with a maple neck provide a real punch
- Solid look and construction make this bass seem way out of its price range
- Stacked knobs give you control over your whole tone with a 2-band EQ, as well as your standard volume and tone controls
- The pickups can cause unwanted noise if the single-coil bridge pickup is cranked up
Coming in at just under $300, the Sterling Ray4 really delivers. This bass is Sterling’s rendition of the tried and true StingRay 4 made by Music Man, and without a trained ear, you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. A ceramic humbucker provides this bass with a gerthy, substantial output directly from the string – but they didn’t stop there. They took the capability up another notch by equipping it with a 9v preamp and an added EQ knob, allowing you to pronounce the low-end, or cut through with the highs before the signal even reaches your amp.
In addition to being available in multiple colors, you can also choose between a jatoba or maple fretboard. Jatoba will generate a full, warm tone while the maple will give your high-end much more pop. Heading down the body, you’ll find a very sturdy bridge not typically found on P or J basses. This will provide you with excellent sustain and minimal buzzing or overtones from the strings.
- Active 9v preamp with EQ control
- High output ceramic humbucker
- Available with a maple or jatoba fretboard to suit your style
- Comes in a variety of colors
- Fast neck that stays thin up to the nut
- Since it is still a cheaper model, there may be some factory defects (poorly machined frets, intonation set too high, etc.)
Also right at the precipice of the $300 threshold, this bass is well worth the price. Due to both its price and playability, this is an excellent way to test the waters of the 5-string world. While a lot of 5-string basses tend to have wider necks, this one won’t slow you down a bit thanks to its narrow construction. To make the neck even faster, they laid the fretboard in jatoba, giving it a slickness your fingers will really appreciate. Underneath the fretboard, the bass sports a hard maple neck which blends beautifully with the spalted maple top.
The body is made of solid mahogany, a tonewood that will give you a very full sound thanks to its accentuation in mid-frequencies. Not only is this bass loaded with an active preamp circuit, they also equipped it with a Phat II Bass Boost EQ which will give your low-end a lot more weight in the mix when you need it. Aside from the killer electronics, one can’t help but compliment the sleek look of the all black hardware against the sunburst finish. All around great bass, and a very affordable, studio ready 5-string.
- Surprisingly thin, fast maple neck with jatoba fretboard
- Solid mahogany body
- Active preamp circuit with bass-boost
- Two single-coil pickups allow you to blend in the perfect sound.
- Bass boost feature can cause unwanted noise when only using one pickup
- The tuning heads tend to have issues keeping strings in tune for long periods of time
Best basses under $500
What isn’t to love about this bass? Chances are that if you’ve done research on basses or watched any live videos of basses, you’ve come across an LTD model bass. The reason you can find these just about everywhere is simply due to their versatility. I mean, where else can you find the preferred bass of a jazz player and metalhead in one place?
If you’ve ever wanted to play a fretless bass, but don’t have the confidence or know enough about fret spacing to play one, ESP made the perfect bass for you. Since it has the fret markings on the fretboard, this bass can grant you the flawless tone of a fretless bass without having to know every nuance and placement of the fretboard!
The ash body of this bass alone makes it stand out in a crowd, from an aesthetic and auditory standpoint. The warmth of the ash is complimented by a fast U-shaped maple and jatoba neck, giving you the ability to shred with ease. If that still wasn’t enough for you, ESP also completed the construction with a spalted maple top which brings the sustain and resonance of this bass up to a whole new level.
Still not sold?
If you’re still on the fence about this one, you need look no further than the electronics of this beast. It comes stock with ESP’s highly esteemed proprietary pickups, giving it an unmatched passive output. From the pickups, you can tailor your sound with an onboard 3-band EQ and two volume knobs for each respective pickup. The 3-band EQ on this bass gives you all of the tone-crafting headroom you could ever want before the signal even touches your cable.
AT a price point of just under $500, you’re gonna have a hard time finding a fretless bass of this quality. EVen just from a cosmetic standpoint, you can’t argue the natural grain look of the body and the slick black nickel hardware to compliment it. If fretless bass playing is something you’ve been wanting to try, do it right and get the LTD B-204SM. This will ensure you’re happy with your purchase and you won’t have to worry about trading up for better gear later on.
- Ash body and spalted maple top combine for an unrivaled clear, warm tone
- 3-band EQ and individual volume control allow maximum versatility.
- Fret markings for seamless fretless playing (even for beginners)
- Extra thin U-shaped neck makes shredding on any area of the neck a breeze
- Consumers have reported that a setup will most likely be needed upon purchase to correct intonation issues
Don’t let the price deceive you. With this bass going for just under $350, Squier took no shortcuts making this replica of the classic Jazz Bass. From the very construction of the wood, you get a full, balanced tone with plenty of punch. This is thanks to the fact that the body, neck, fretboard, and headstock are all made of solid maple. What makes this even better is that the body is made of a soft maple. The softer maple body lends warmth and depth to the otherwise punchy wood. And who doesn’t love those classic black block inlays along the fretboard?
Digging into the hardware of this beast, it comes stock with a synthetic bone nut. The synthetic bone will hold strong against your strings’ bassy vibrations, giving you excellent sustain. The bone nut is supplemented by an adjustable saddle bridge, so you won’t have to worry about open-note buzzing. Taking a look at the pickups, they used Fender-approved single-coil pickups for a clean, powerful sound. They also placed the bridge pickup closer to the bridge. This placement takes that characteristic growl of the J Bass and gives it even more shine. If you’re looking for an affordable Jazz Bass with professional features, this is the one for you!
- Consistent maple construction
- Synthetic bone nut
- Specially placed bridge pickup for an incomparable J Bass tone
- Slim C-shaped neck provides easy, precise playability
- Truss rod may need to be readjusted frequently
- Soft maple body can dent easily
No bass buying guide would be complete without an Epiphone, and this is no exception! Epiphone is the daughter company of Gibson, and if you’ve heard anyone talking about their Gibson instrument, you know they paid a good chunk of money for it. With this bass, Epiphone brings you the same cosmetics and dynamics of the classic Thunderbird model by Gibson at a much more affordable price.
This killer bass comes standard with a three-piece alder body, which is uncommon for an instrument of this price. The alder grants the Thunderbird a very warm, full tone from the body alone. The body is then complimented by a beautiful dark rosewood fretboard which further deepens its unique sound. Behind the fretboard lies a solid maple neck. Although this combination of woods produces an wonderfully complex sound, the difference in weights unfortunately causes the neck to be a bit heavy and cause imbalance.
Despite its small issue with weight, the Epiphone Thunderbird IV offers you professional quality at the modest price of $399, and that is certainly worth noting. If you’re looking for your chance to play the same bass as so many rock and metal greats, this is bass is your best option in terms of quality and affordability.
- Alder body provides a smooth, full tone
- Low price for a quality instrument; both cosmetically and structurally
- Jazz Bass style knobs – one volume for each pickup and one tonepot – allow you to get a variety of sounds with just a flick of the wrist
- Maple neck can feel very heavy and cause imbalance (this just takes some getting used to)
- If the pickups are set too low, the sound can come through as flat
Best basses under $1,000
Earning its place as one of the best basses under $1,000, we have the Schecter Research Stiletto 5-string. From a technical standpoint, this bass was really crafted with durability in mind. A neck-thru-body design means that the neck of this bass is not bolted on, but runs the entire length of the body. This design provides this bass with excellent sustain and a strong defense against truss rod malfunction.
Even the hardware on this thing is exclusive. Just take a look at the Diamond Custom bridge which offers both string-thru-body and top-load functionality to fit your preference. This bass also features Grover tuning heads, and if you’re not familiar with these, just look up the price of a set and you’ll be glad it’s pre-installed on the bass. Arguably, the most important piece of hardware on this instrument is its Graph-Tech XL TUSQ nut. This nut will save you a headache down the line, as it will keep your bass in tune and rattle-free for years.
That’s cool, but what’s it made of?
I’m glad you asked! One of the many things that makes this bass so special is the selection of tonewoods used in its construction. The core of the body, as well as the neck, is comprised of a multi-laminate of mahogany, walnut, maple, and bubinga. The tonal qualities of these woods all amalgamate into a rich, harmonious sound that truly needs to be heard to be understood, as words just don’t do it justice (I’ve attached a demo of this bass for that reason). The neck is then topped by a rosewood fretboard which lends not only to the dark look of this bass, but also contributes its own qualities to the overall sound of the bass.
Set inside of this wondrous combination of wood, you’ve got two EMG HZ noiseless pickups to really get the most of your tone. What makes this pickups even better is the active 3-band EQ on this bass which will allow you to dial in any tone you’d like – even in the middle of a set.
On top of getting your signature sound out of the bass, Schecter also allows you to get the look you want as well with two distinct models (and that’s not including their limited runs!) to choose from. The Satin Honey model features a red wash over a beautiful grain design, embroidered elegantly in gold hardware. The Satin See-Thru Black model offers a more classic metal look with all black hardware and a dark wash over the wood grain. At just under $900, take home a Schecter Stiletto 5-string today and be the talk of your band.
- Multi-laminate construction offers unique sound from the combination of woods
- 35″ 24-fret neck with Neck-thru design for added durability
- Graph Tech TUSQ XL nut and Diamond Custom bridge for guaranteed longevity and sustain
- 3-band active EQ for increased tonal versatility
- Thin U-shaped neck makes the neck very easy to play, especially for a 5-string
- None! Seriously, no complaints or shortcomings on this bass. You get what you pay for!
Coming in at an incredibly reasonable price, we’ve got the Kingman SCE. This is the only acoustic bass that made it on our list, and there’s a reason for that. Although it is not the cheapest acoustic model around, spending the extra dollar in quality will save you from trading up your gear later on. For those of you who are accustomed to the feel of an electric bass, this acoustic will be the perfect crossover. This is due to the manageable size of the body (anyone who has played another acoustic bass knows how bulky they can be) and the fast C-shaped neck beloved by fans of the J Bass. The neck is also complimented by a very practical cutaway that makes playing on the upper-region of the neck a breeze.
One of the many things that makes this bass so special is its ability to stand out both with and without amplification. The rugged mahogany body blends beautifully with the rosewood fretboard, which is backed by a hard maple maple neck, offering a warm layer on top of the otherwise mid-heavy tone of mahogany. This holds true down to the very bridge, which Fender thoughtfully made out of rosewood and compensated with a bone saddle. The precision manufacturing of the bridge makes for a noticeable attenuation in overtones, allowing you to get the best of your tone.
And that’s without any amplification…
Once you plug this bass in, you open up a whole new range of options. Where many acoustic basses have an overbearing high end with a transparent tone, the Kingman knows nothing of the sort, thanks its active see. The Presys Kingman preamp features an onboard tuner, 3-band EQ, and ‘phase’ option to control unwanted feedback. If you’ve been considering stepping into the acoustic side of the bass world, make the right decision and go with the Kingman.
- Compact body not typically found on acoustic bass guitars
- 3-band EQ gives you full control of your tone
- Bone saddle provides additional sustain and eliminates unwanted overtones
- Deep cutaway for easy access to upper-neck
- Plastic bridge pins tend to degrade over time
After careful comparison and deliberation, the Special Edition Deluxe PJ Bass comes in hands-down as the best electric bass guitar for under $1,000. There are so many things that they did right with this monster of a bass, it’s hard to know where to begin. For starters, they took the best aspects of their two most popular electric basses and fused them in perfect harmony. This means you get that classic P Bass body with the fast playability of the J Bass C-shaped neck – all in one!
Being a higher-end model, the body of this bass is crafted out of alder, a beautifully complex and soft-sounding tonewood. Alder also happens to be a fairly light wood, making this bass great for long gigs where you’ll be performing while standing. The wood in the body alone gives this bass a sound so rich, you wouldn’t even consider a lower-end replica of this bass. The warmth and subtlety of the alder is complimented in this case by a hard maple neck, providing the pop you need to still be heard over those loud guitarists.
But don’t get me started on the electronics…
Of course, Fender didn’t just meld the best aspects of the body and neck; they had to go all-out with the electronics as well. In the middle of the body, there are twin split-coil noiseless humbuckers to give you the cleanest low-end possible with minimal feedback. Near the bridge lies a single-coil pickup which gives you the nasally grit only a J Bass could give you. One great thing about this single-coil bridge pickup, though, is that it does not suffer from feedback like most J Basses. Even with the volume maxed on the bridge, you’ll get a completely noise-free experience.
Dedicated volume knobs for each pickup give you the ability to change your sound from bass-heavy motown thump, to bright slap funk tone, and everything in between without ever having to put down your bass. This can be extremely useful in both live and studio settings when recording a variety of material, or giving each song its own dose of added flavor. It’s nearly impossible to put a lid on the tonal capabilities of this bass, as you can have both pickups all the way up, one down and one up, and everything in between, and you wouldn’t run across the same sound twice. This especially makes this such a choice bass because it can find its place in any musical setting. The possibilities end when your imagination does.
- Slim, fast C-shaped J Bass neck provides excellent playability
- Single-coil noiseless bridge pickup (a true rarity)
- Split-coil humbucker neck pickups
- Alder body grants an inimitable warmth to the tone
- Lightweight for long sessions or gigs
- The neck is not rounded at the edges of the fretboard, and may take some getting used to
- The frets may sometimes stick out beyond fretboard (mainly caused by humidity/climate)
So… What do I do now?
Now if you looked as every bass and its respective qualities and you’re still not sure, here are a few things to consider:
What genre will you be playing?
Although almost any bass can fit into the musical environment of your choice, each model will have certain attributes and qualities that will benefit specific sounds. For example: if you are going to be playing metal or heavy rock, you may want a bass with split-coil neck pickups for a beefy, pick-friendly tone. If you’re playing jazz or funk, then you will probably want a bass with single-coil pickups to get a tight slap or finger-style tone.
In what setting will you be using your bass?
If you’re simply going to be practicing at home and refining your skills, then you shouldn’t need to go beyond the $300 price range. Of course, if there are certain features you’d like to try out, then you can shop accordingly. If you will be using your bass in a band or for playing gigs, you’re going to want a bass that can keep up (be heard) in the mix and withstand wear and tear from transportation. If this applies to you, then you’ll want to shop for a bass with solid pickups, rugged construction, and possibly even active electronics to give you that extra boost.
Ask yourself “what do I need?”
Before you actually go out and spend the money on your new instrument, be honest with yourself and think about the aspects you really need out of your bass. It may be that you don’t need the biggest, fanciest bass just for refining your skills at home while you’re getting ready to start a band. Perhaps you’ve been in the business for a while, and instead of just buying another decent bass every so often, you invest a little more in the instrument that you know will last you for years to come.
There you have it, the best basses for your budget and your musical needs. I hope that you found the perfect fit for you in the price range you’re seeking. As I stated previously; sometimes the best option is to stop and take a personal inventory of your current and future needs before spending the money on your new bass. But even after all of that, if you’re still not sure after reading this article, check out our other reviews on bass guitars here.