Best Bass Guitars – Buyer’s Guide

Best Bass GuitarsThough often one of the more unheralded members of a band, anyone dancing in the club knows how important bass is to the feeling groove of the music. Of course, there are so many different types of music out there, it can be a bit difficult figuring out which is the best bass guitar for you. To help you make this decision, we have put together a list of the 5 best bass guitars and provided a thorough buyer’s guide. From an all-around perspective, we think that the Yamaha TRBX Series offers the best value, but it is not the best beginner or professional bass guitar. Of course, you have to keep reading to find out if those are better options.

Best Electric and Acoustic Bass Guitars of 2019

Product TypeNumber of StringsMaterialsColorsDimensions 
Yamaha TRBX174 (Editor's Choice)Yamaha TRBX Electric Bass GuitarBass guitar for beginners and professionals4 or 5Mahogany body and sonokeling fretboardVarietyVarietyCheck Price
Ibanez GSR200Ibanez GSR200 Bass GuitarBass guitar under 3004Spalted maple top and mahogany bodyBrown or Mahogany40 x 3 x 12 inCheck Price
Fender Player JaguarFender Player Series BassBass guitar under 10004 or 6Alder body with gloss finishVarietyVarietyCheck Price
Ibanez Acoustic Bass GuitarIbanez PCBE12MH OPN Acoustic Bass GuitarAcoustic/Electric bass guitar4Mahogany body and rosewood fretboardMahogany40 x 5 x 12 inCheck Price
Kala Wanderer U-BassKala Wanderer U-BassAcoustic/Electric short scale travel guitar4Mahogany body and walnut fingerboardMahogany8 x 12 x 35 inCheck Price

 

1. Yamaha TRBX174 – Top Rated Budget Option

Though Yamaha may seem to make a little bit of everything under the sun, they are undoubtedly one of the more trusted names in the musical instrument market and has been so for decades. That said, since they do not specialize in music instruments specifically, they generally do not produce the best-performing product of most categories. That said, they do compensate by charging a little bit less than the top-tier manufacturers as well. When you take into account that you are still getting top-tier quality, the slight price drop pushes this model up our list a bit and is why we awarded it our Editor’s Choice best all-around bass guitar.

A Good Build

While the TRBX does not technically fit into the neat categories of bass type, it is definitely more of a jazz bass than it is precision bass, in terms of design. The body features a high-mass bridge to help center its gravity just a tad towards the neck while the tapered mahogany neck provides exact control. The lower resonance mahogany neck is paired with a maple and alder body to help balance between the lows and highs. The only real gripe about the build quality is that the neck is bolted on, but this is fairly common even amongst the higher-end bass guitars.

Amazing Sound Control

One thing that the Yamaha TRBX Series does which few others do is provide the player a choice in terms of how to sculpt their sound with the bass guitar alone. Basically, this is one of the few bass guitar lineups we found which allows you to choose whether you want the guitar’s electronics to operate using an active or passive mode. While we feel that active electronics are superior for a variety of reasons, many people still prefer the sound of passive electronics, and this gives them a choice. The TRBX Series also features humbucker pickups which are great for giving the bass a rich, heavy sound and cutting out the noise.

PROS:
  • Comes in 4 or 5 strings
  • Neck made of mahogany
  • Includes humbucker pickups
  • Uses active/passive electronics
  • Has a high-mass bridge
  • Body made of alder/maple
CONS:
  • A more expensive bass guitar
  • The neck is bolted on

 

2. Ibanez GSR200 – Beginner’s Electric Guitar under 300

If you are looking for a bass guitar suitable for a beginner, then the Ibanez GSR200 has pretty much everything that you need. Since beginners do not always know whether or not they will stick with their new hobby or for how long, it is a good idea to hedge your bets a bit and get a more reasonably priced model to start with. However, beginner music instruments are a bit unique in that they must still provide a fairly good quality, so the beginner can learn properly. While this bass guitar may not have many extra features or offer uncommon conveniences, it does not have glaring faults either.

One to Grow On

While this may be a negative for many since most beginner bassists are younger, but the Ibanez is not only full-size but a bit larger than average. For instance, this is one of a couple of bass guitars we reviewed that is not moving towards the ever more popular 25 ½” scale length ‘mini bass.’ On top of that, the GSR200 also features the largest fretboard at a 12” radius which will make it a bit more difficult to reach around the neck. On the other hand, the flatter neck does make it easier to fret the strings which is often difficult for beginners, even if they have previously played a standard guitar.

Highs and Lows

When gauging the sound of the Ibanez, you should expect the noisier sound you get from passive electronics. While normally this would mean that you do not have to worry about a power source for the preamp, the GSR200 comes with a bass boost feature that requires one. To make matters worse, the passive electronics run through the bass boost circuit necessitating the use of the battery pack even when you are not using the bass boost. Still, the build quality is fairly good with a body made of mahogany for a dominant rich sound that is slightly lightened with the maple neck.

PROS:
  • A less expensive bass guitar
  • Body made of mahogany
  • Neck made of maple
  • Has a 22 fret neck
  • Has a 12” radius fingerboard
  • Has an active bass boost
CONS:
  • Has passive electronics
  • Requires a battery

 

3. Fender Player Jaguar – Starter Kit under 1000

When it comes to guitars, whether standard or bass, there are few if any, names in the world which carry more weight and prestige than Fender. As the company single-handedly responsible for many of the modern-day guitar manufacturing conventions, the company shows up in a big way on our list with the Player Series. While not Fender’s flagship bass guitar, the Player Series offers enough options and configurations that it has something for everyone and is easily our best professional bass guitar. In fact, this lineup would easily be in the running for our Editor’s Choice, but it is slightly more expensive than its comparable competition.

Options Galore

By far the best thing about the Fender Player Series is that it provides arrangements and setups able to suit virtually anyone’s needs. For instance, beginners and pop music players can get a 4 string bass while the jazz musicians and technical bassists can get a 6 string model. In fact, there are a total of 9 different models within the Player Series that includes nearly every major arrangement used today. The only real downside of the Player Series is that there is no model in the lineup that offers active electronics. As such, the already inflated price will be increased further with the need for a noise gate in your chain.

A Nice Build

The Player Series is primarily about offering two primary builds: the professional build and the popular build. The professional build can be distinguished by its longer scale length of 34” compared to the popular build’s 25 ½” scale length. It is also worth noting that the popular build refers to pop music and is not a statement on how people feel about it. Both builds make use of alder at the body and maple at the neck which provides a nice clear tone and a brighter sound. Depending on the model you choose, the Player Series offers virtually any pickup arrangement, including numerous multiple pickup arrangements on a single bass guitar.

PROS:
  • Comes in 4 of 6 strings
  • Comes in 9 different models
  • Multiple pickup arrangements
  • Body made of Alder
  • Neck made of Maple
  • Has a 22 fret neck
CONS:
  • The most expensive bass guitar reviewed
  • Has passive electronics

 

4. Ibanez Acoustic Bass Guitar – Best Hybrid Bass Guitar

Though Fender may get all of the fanfare due to their innovations on the entire electric guitar market in the 1960s, Ibanez has been here chugging along the whole time. For over a century Ibanez has been producing high-quality guitars at incredibly reasonable prices with some of the biggest names in music sporting their products. That said, this particular model takes a completely different direction as we find this to be the best hybrid bass guitar that we reviewed. That said, while this is technically a hybrid bass guitar, but it functions much better acoustically.

Acoustic by Necessity

While the first couple of products on our list are highly competitive and top-tier, this particular Ibanez is definitely a bit of a step-down. That said, most acoustic or hybrid bass guitars are less expensive and less impressive than their electric counterparts. Still, this Ibanez, in particular, is noted for having an inconsistent electric tone that is difficult to pin down and, thus, tune. That said, the body is made of rosewood and mahogany, so you still get an incredibly rich, deep acoustic sound. The maple neck brings a touch of lightness to the tone that is felt more strongly when used as an electric, further making the tuning more difficult.

Nuts and Bolts

One thing that is pretty solid with the Ibanez acoustic bass guitar is the components used which are surprisingly good at the price point. For instance, this is one of the least expensive bass guitars with an active pickup electronics that we found. On top of that, the chrome die-cast tuners are at the least durable if not terribly accurate. That said, it seems that one of the bigger problems is caused by the excess noise produced which can be fixed by getting a humbucker pickup. Though, it may be a bit more difficult to find an under saddle humbucker like the single-post that the Ibanez uses.

PROS:
  • A less expensive bass guitar
  • Is an acoustic guitar
  • Body made of rosewood/mahogany
  • Neck made of maple
  • Has an under saddle pickup
  • Has chrome die-cast tuners
CONS:
  • Includes poor strings
  • Not the most precise tuning

 

5. Kala Wanderer U-Bass – Short Scale Guitar for Travel

Kala is definitely not the brand you expect to see on a list of the best bass guitars considering it actually specializes in the more whimsical and tropical instrument, the ukulele. However, that initial specialization allowed Kala to recognize something many acoustic bass guitars forgot: the sound of an acoustic instrument is meant to be the sound of the instrument. As such, Kala decided to scrap the contemporary style of generating a bass guitar signal and instead went back to older technology. Thankfully, this was wildly successful and makes it a pretty easy choice naming this our best acoustic bass guitar. Like with most other acoustic bass guitars, this model is technically a hybrid but was clearly designed for acoustic use.

Can You Feel It

When trying to produce a high-quality acoustic tone with a hollow body instrument, the materials are by far the most important part. In this instance, the Kala makes no mistake and uses mahogany for both the bass guitar’s body and its neck. This allows the acoustic tone to still have a deep, rich sound that can be felt. That said, it is the use of piezoelectric electronics that really sets the tone of the Kala a step above the rest. By employing a piezoelectric pickup electronics, the Kala’s tone is quite literally that of the vibrating string and guitar. It sounds more natural and acoustic because it quite literally is a more natural and acoustic way of generating the signal.

A Bit Particular

While the Kala is easily able to produce the best acoustic tone from a bass guitar we heard, it does so by using a completely different method than most electric guitars sold today. As such, this means that there will parts and components which are technically non-standard and may throw some players off. For instance, even though the mini bass, and its 25 ½” scale, may be all the rage due to its convenience, chances are even those fans are not prepared for the just over 20” scale length of the Kala. On top of that, as the truest acoustic bass guitar on our list, it also requires nylon bass strings rather than metal ones.

PROS:
  • The least expensive bass guitar reviewed
  • Is a hybrid electric/acoustic guitar
  • Body made of mahogany
  • Neck made of mahogany
  • Uses Piezo electronics
  • Has custom die-cast tuners
CONS:
  • Has an incredibly short scale
  • Requires nylon strings

 

Buyer’s Guide

Type

Electric

Though it is technically one of the more modern types of bass guitar, the electric bass is by far the most common bass guitar played today. This is mostly due to the fact that a traditional acoustic bass guitar is incredibly large and a modern acoustic bass guitar cannot generate the volume most players prefer, especially those in a band with a drummer. The downside to an electric bass is that you require an external power source as well as an amplifier to play it. Aside from the fact that this can often significantly increase the overall cost of your instrument, it also limits where you can play your bass guitar as locations without electricity are not really an option.

Acoustic

There are, broadly speaking, two subtypes of acoustic bass, but only one type of an acoustic bass guitar. Though the upright bass is a stringed instrument, it should not be confused with a “guitar,” as they produce two completely different effects. While both are low-toned, the upright produces a deeper, richer sound and is significantly more expensive than an acoustic bass guitar. The materials used are far more important for the quality of sound in an acoustic bass guitar than they are for an electric. That said, acoustic bass guitars are more specialized in their use and have a smaller market which depresses their price making them cheaper than most other types on average.

Hybrid

This is the most recent development in the bass guitar type category and is pretty much what it sounds like: a combination of the two main types of bass guitar. It is worth noting that what you get in versatility, you give up in overall sound quality because few musicians of any skill will say that a hybrid bass guitar sounds as good at either modality than the specialized bass guitar made for it. However, for a musician who plays a wide variety of genres in just as wide a variety of settings will appreciate the ability to move quickly from one to the other without having to purchase and transport multiple instruments. That said, hybrid bass guitars, while providing the most versatility, also have many of the weaknesses of either type.

Materials

Any reputable bass guitar will be made of wood throughout the body, neck, and top, but the specific type of wood used will affect the type of tone generated. This is based on how the tone vibrates throughout the bass guitar’s body and runs the gamut from favoring the lower tones to favoring the brighter ones. That said, most beginning bassists cannot really tell the difference between the sound of different woods, though more experienced players often can.

Mahogany

This is by far one of the most popular types of wood used for bass guitars due to the fact that the medium density enables this wood to naturally accentuate the lower registers. For the overwhelming majority of bass guitar players and genres of music, this is the preferred sound.

Bass Guitar - Mahogany

 

Maple

Maple is pretty much the opposite of mahogany in terms of how it affects the tonal quality, producing instead a brighter sound that favors the higher registers. This type of sound is an excellent option for technical bass guitarists who are far more likely to use the higher octaves than a bassist playing pop music.

Maple Bass Guitar

 

Alder

Alder is another type of wood that produces a brighter sounding tone, but it is not used as much for the body with bass guitars. Instead, alder is far more common to be used along the neck due to how well the wood resonates and transfers the tone.

Bass Guitar - Alder

 

Strings

  • 4 – This is the standard configuration for a bass guitar, regardless of its type, and is easily the overwhelming majority of bass guitars used, professionally and by amateurs. There are many incredibly accomplished bassists who rarely ever pick up a bass guitar with more than 4 strings. Considering that the bass guitar is primarily a rhythm instrument, a smaller range was not, and still is not, considered a hindrance. This arrangement has a low E and a high G and is appropriate for all but the deepest or the most technical styles of music.
  • 5 – This was once a bass guitar played almost exclusively by jazz musicians but was considered unpopular by most other mainstream genres of music when first developed because the 4 string bass guitar offered much of what the 5th string provided by down tuning. However, like rock music, in particular, began to develop heavier and heavier subgenres, the 5 string bass guitar has once again become more popular. This arrangement is generally not any more expensive than a 4 string, but it will require a more skilled musician to properly play without ignoring a string in the beginning.
  • 6 – The standard guitar has 6 strings, but the 6 string bass guitar is actually a fairly recent development. Following the wholesale failure of the 5 string bass guitar when first released, some jazz musicians appreciated the extended range but wanted more. In 1975 the first 6 string bass guitar was released and would eventually evolve into the current design used today. Though made for and played by jazz musicians, the 6 string bass guitar is a popular choice for any highly technical genre where the bass will solo. The 6 string bass guitar differs from the 5 string bass guitar by offering an octave lower as well as an octave higher than the standard 4 string bass guitar.

Design

Precision

The precision bass guitar is technically a Fender design, but it has endured and remained one of the most common and popular designs used by most bass guitar manufacturers. This design is noted for a center of gravity weighted towards the body and a neck that remains the same width throughout the shaft. This design allows the musician to basically “set it and forget it” when it comes to the functional movements of playing but can make it more difficult to play more technical pieces. The precision bass also uses a split 4-pole single coil pickup, though it is worth noting that this makes the bass sound ‘punchier’.

Jazz

The jazz bass guitar is another design based on an early Fender bass guitar that has simply become an industry standard. The jazz bass guitar differs from the precision bass guitar by centering its gravity more weighted towards the neck for easier control of the body. On top of that, the jazz bass guitar also features a tapered neck which starts thicker near the body and thins out towards the head. This allows the musician to have better control over the strings and neck as they play. The jazz bass guitar also differs from the precision by using dual 8-pole humbuckers as opposed to the split pickups which provides the jazz bass guitar a richer sound rather than a punchy one.

Hollowbody

This design is exclusively reserved for acoustic and hybrid bass guitars which generate their sound through resonance rather than amplification. That said, strictly acoustic bass guitars are becoming more and more uncommon due to the fact that their sound is difficult to hear in even a small accompaniment. If drums even exist within 15’ of an acoustic bass guitar, you can no longer hear the stringed instrument. That said, there are some acoustic bass guitars which include small piezoelectric pickups to naturally amplify the resonance and increase its volume without an electric amplifier.

Pickups (Electronics)

Passive

While there technically are two types of electronics, active and passive, you will definitely want to look for active electronics over passive ones. Passive electronics basically use powerful magnets to pick up the signal generated by the strings. This allows for a number of problems but the two most common and impactful are an increase in noise and a condition called string pull. Because the magnets have to be so powerful, there really is no way around these issues outside of using an EQ to turn down the octaves you are not using.

Active

Active pickups are unquestionably better than passive pickups in virtually every way except for the fact that they require an active power source, generally a battery. For one, active pickups use significantly weaker magnets and then boost the signal once it is received. This allows the electronics to provide a much better and clearer tone than passive electronics. That said, old habits die hard, and a fair number of players still prefer passive electronics, likely because it is the sound they are used to. Still, active electronics allow for a much more precise signal than passive electronics and is ideal for highly technical players.

Pickups (Type)

Single-Bolt

The pickup is essentially the part of the bass guitar that transmits the signal from the string to the guitar’s electronics. The first, and most basic, type of pickup is the single-bolt, though unlike with the pickup’s electronics, there is not a clear winner. In this instance, it is due to the fact that the single-bolt pickup provides a clearer tone which is often vital for highly technical music. However, single-bolt pickups are also known for producing far more noise than the more advanced Humbucker. This means that you will need a noise gate somewhere along your chain to reduce this effect.

Humbucker

The humbucker pickup is fairly similar to the single-bolt in terms of its mechanism and construction. Basically, a humbucker pickup contains dual-bolts which each generate an opposing signal. This allows the humbucker to cancel out the noise while still keeping the original signal intact. On top of that, this also generates a much thicker sounding tone, though this is often not considered ideal for highly technical music. On the other hand, the various pop music genres often use distorted bass, and the humbucker is an ideal pickup for this sound.

Conclusion

While the best bass guitar will be determined by your skill level, your style or styles of music, and your budget, we think that the Yamaha TRBX Series offers nearly as good of a performance as our best professional bass guitar but remains consistently less expensive than that option. With models in both the popular 4 and 5 string arrangements as well as a high-mass bridge and humbucker pickups, the Yamaha is ideal for popular music. Even better, this is one of the only bass guitars we saw that provided both passive and active electronics depending on which you prefer or what you are playing.

Of course, if you are just starting out, the Ibanez GSR200 is still a solid option at one of the lowest prices that we saw. The only real downside is that it uses passive electronics, but this is often just as much a matter of preference as anything else. The mahogany body with a 12” fretboard still produces an amazingly rich, deep sound while the maple neck features 22 frets. Tack on the active bass boost function and this bass guitar will grow with beginner players as they improve and start playing live.

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