Like any other instrument, buying a bass guitar is more than a bit overwhelming. It’s hard for a beginner to know just what a good bass guitar is supposed to sound like. Another common stumbling block for the aspiring musician on a budget is choosing a guitar that won’t hinder their experience learning, but will also be cheap enough for them to justify the cost of the instrument. Thankfully, this article should set you on the path to having all the information that you need in order to make an informed decision as to the best bass guitar for your needs.
Bass Guitar Terminology
So thankfully, there isn’t too much terminology to go over for the bass guitar. An electric bass is actually a pretty rugged instrument all things considered, with few parts that really need to be explained in depth.
Active Pickups: An active pickup is a pickup that is powered by an external power source, generally a standard 9-volt battery. An active pickup will have a substantially higher output, and a crisper more “snappy” tone. This type of pickup is more suited towards heavier genres, like Thrash or Punk.
Passive Pickups: A passive pickup is the industry standard, and is used for almost every genre. It does not require an external power source.
Humbucker Pickups: A humbucker pickup is two single coil pickups wired together, which cancels out 60-cycle interference. It “bucks the hum”.
Single Coil Pickups: A single coil pickup only uses one magnet. It generally has a bit thinner tone than a humbucker, but it’s equally as capable of delivering a smooth bass tone as a humbucker.
Finding The Right Bass For You
The hard part about recommending any instrument to somebody is that it’s hard to really gauge what they’ll need in the long term. A well set up Asian import is always a great option for a beginner musician, but they’ll outgrow it very quickly. An expensive American made instrument might serve a dedicated musician well, but if you’re more of the weekend warrior type it can be really hard to justify the cost. But here’s what I would recommend. Get a bass guitar that inspires you to play when you look at it, and take it to a luthier to get it set up appropriately.
Aside from that, it doesn’t really matter what you buy when you get started. I would cautiously recommend that you try to find a bass with a humbucker in it because it will offer more flexibility. There’s nothing wrong with single coil bass guitar pickups, but they don’t handle higher levels of gain well. A humbucker is also equally as capable of delivering a suitable clean tone as a single coil.
As far as five or six string bass guitars go, I would recommend starting on a four string model. The reason for that is that you can hit every note you need to on a four string bass, and as a beginner the extra flexibility of a five or six string bass has a real potential to breed laziness. However, once you get better and you decide to invest in a higher quality instrument, there’s nothing wrong with playing a bass that has more than four strings.
Also, don’t bother with an acoustic bass unless you really need one. If Doc Watson’s bass guitarist can use an electric instrument for a bluegrass band, odds are you can get away with it also. An acoustic bass doesn’t really offer much of a benefit to your tone or your band, and it’s nowhere near as flexible as an electric bass.
As far as electric guitars and bass guitars go, I find that the $400 to $600 range will get you a gig worthy instrument out of the box. If you plan on getting a bass that can follow you from the stage to the studio, expect to spend around $1000. That’s about where professional quality bass guitars start. If you don’t plan on gigging in the foreseeable future and are a beginner, just about any bass guitar in the $200 to $300 range will serve you just fine provided it’s set up well.
Top 5 Bass Guitars
Squier Jazz Bass Vintage Modified 70's
The subsidiary of the venerable Fender line of guitars, Squier has become one of the few budget brands that are synonymous with quality. The brand has a huge lineup of guitars and bass instruments, many of which are incredibly highly regarded for their tone and playability when compared to their cost.
Something that many people don’t know about the company is that Squier was actually a unique entity before it was purchased by Fender, who purchased the company in 1975. The brand actually stretches back to 1890. In its heyday Squier produced strings for the violin, banjo, and the guitar. These strings were actually among the most popular in the country for a period of time, being prized by both beginners and advanced musicians alike due to their affordability.
Fender actually acquired Squier to launch a line of strings, but before they did so they decided that it would be a better strategy to market their strings under their own name. So instead, Squier became the budget arm of Fender so that the company could compete with the budget made Asian instruments that were their main competition in foreign markets during the era.
Like many of Squier’s products, the Squier Vintage Modified Jazz Bass offers a great value to musicians looking for a budget instrument. To learn more about this bass guitar, as well as how it stacks up against the competition, check out the specifications below.
The most important thing to remember about this bass guitar is that contrary to what its price would have you believe it’s really not a low-quality instrument. Like many Squiers the Jazz bass made need a bit of a tune-up before it’s gig ready, but following that it’ll be just as capable as any MIM Fender. For example, even though this is a budget guitar it features a rosewood fingerboard as a basswood body. Both of these woods are found on instruments that cost thousands of dollars, and while the Squier Vintage Modified Jazz Bass obviously isn’t going to compare to a high-end instrument it’s not made from inferior materials. The neck of this bass guitar is made from maple.
The only real downside to this guitar is that it has a synthetic bone nut as opposed to a genuine or TUSQ nut. Apart from that, the hardware will perform as well as any guitar in this price tier.
When it comes to electric guitars, what you’re really paying for in a more expensive instrument is quality of craftsmanship and quality control. So ideally, not that there aren’t companies who don’t screw this up, a more expensive instrument should come well set up and feature durable hardware that is well attached to the body. By all accounts, the Vintage Modified Series really doesn’t let anyone down in this aspect. There’s a higher chance that it’s going to need a good set-up once you buy it, but unlike other instruments in this price range it’s not a guarantee.
As far as sound is concerned, the Squier Vintage Modified Jazz Bass is representative of the sound generally associated with the Jazz bass. It has a bit of a tighter sound than the equivalent level Precision bass. The only real concern is that some may find that when compared to more expensive instruments the sound of the Vintage Modified Jazz Bass may seem a bit anemic, but to be fair this is an issue that can quickly be solved by an aftermarket pickup.
The entire Vintage Modified line has been very well received, and the Jazz Bass isn’t the exception to this trend. Every model in the series has been cited as having a great quality to price ratio, and as of writing there aren’t any widespread reports of quality control or structural stability issues with the line.
The Squier Vintage Modified Jazz Bass is a solid investment for musicians looking for a solid entry-level bass guitar.
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Ibanez actually started life as the Hoshino Gakki Company, established in 1908. It was a division of the Hoshino Shoten brand, which was a Japanese bookstore chain. The genesis of what we now know as Ibanez is when the Hoshino Gakki Company purchased the Salvador Ibanez line of guitars. They had been importing the brand for some time, and adopted the name when they decided to start designing instruments of their own.
Ibanez as we know them today came to fruition in the late 1950s, where instead of marketing acoustic guitars they began to build their own radically designed electric instruments. Contrary to what many may believe, Ibanez actually designed instruments of their own prior to the time they started copying Fender designs. Their guitars which took “inspiration” from Fender outsold their proprietary designs, so until they were forced to cease production due to legal threats they focused more so on copying other manufacturers.
While Ibanez does have a history of copying other manufacturers’ designs, they have just as strong of a track record of producing their own great instruments. No exception to this trend, the Ibanez GSR200 offers a pretty solid value to musicians looking for an entry-level bass.
The first thing to know about this bass is that while the pickups are passive, the instrument does feature an active bass boost. Essentially, the purpose of this bass boost is to increase the representation of low-end frequencies. It’s a really good fit for situations where a stronger sound is required, so even though Ibanez may have a reputation of producing budget instruments don’t dismiss the GSR200 out of hand.
The GSR200 also features a rosewood fingerboard, which while this doesn’t add much to the sound it is a nice inclusion. It helps to add a bit of reassurance to a purchase when an instrument is made out of higher quality materials, because it shows that the brand is making an effort to present a good value to customers. Just as importantly, the GSR200 also features a neck and body that are made from really serviceable woods; maple and mahogany respectively.
The Ibanez GSR200 has a really respectable sound when you consider the price point that it occupies. The passive pickups included on the model offer a really warm and round tone, and while they aren’t going to knock anyone’s socks off they retain a musicality that many instruments in this price range lack. The inclusion of the active bass boost is also a valuable feature, giving musicians a really powerful tool to shape their tone.
Also, the GSR200 does manage to maintain a high degree of clarity. This is pretty surprising for the price, because it manages to have a solid low-end without ever sounding muddy. Of course, this is also going to depend on the other gear you utilize in conjunction with the GSR200. Though with that in mind there’s nothing about this bass that suggests it would perform reasonably well in the hands of a beginner or hobbyist musician.
With a level of build quality and a tone that was really pleasant for the price this instrument sells for, its a good fit for beginners due to its size being a bit smaller than other basses in this price tier. The Ibanez GSR200 is a reasonably priced bass guitar that has a lot to offer a beginning musician.
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Hofner Ignition SB Electric Violin Bass Guitar
From Hamburg to Liverpool, this classic violin shaped bass guitar inspired millions of musicians when it was played by Paul McCartney of the Beatles. And for the first time, a high-quality reproduction of this famous bass guitar is finally affordable for the average musician. The violin shaped bass was a defining part of the Beatles’ aesthetic, and as such gained a permanent spot in the mind of the general public. This, when coupled with the brand’s harmonicas, has helped to shape an enduring legacy.
A perfect example of the legacy Hohner has established, the Ignition violin shaped bass guitar is still a widely sold instrument. To learn more about how the modern incarnation of this classic instrument compares to its more modern peers, check out the specifications below.
The key thing to note about this bass is, when compared to its competitors, it’s a made more like that original examples. It uses the same wood (maple), has the trademark thin neck, and a tighter string spacing. Just as importantly, this type of bass actually as a hollow sound chamber inside of the body. If this bass were a solid instrument it’d be pretty heavy, so by having the hollow chamber it does a lot to cut down on the overall weight. It does also lend the bass a bit of a woodier tone, but not to the point where you’re going to hear a drastic difference when compared to your standard electric bass.
An interesting feature about this bass is that it has an actual flamed maple (laminate of course) top, as opposed to a photo flame. This really isn’t a huge difference, but it does look marginally different than the cheaper photo flame. Basically, photo flame is essentially a sticker that replicates the appearance of a flamed maple veneer. This helps to cut down on weight.
As previously stated, the Hofner Ignition bass has a slightly woody tone when compared to a standard electric bass. What we mean by this is that in addition to having the tonality of an electric instrument there’s also an overtone of the response you’d get from an acoustic guitar. This means it’s not an ideal choice for heavier genres—though if you’re a dedicated metal head you’re probably not going to want this bass in the first place—but it will have a great response for genres like jazz. And of course it’s also going to do a good job of recreating the tone of classic Beatles’ songs.
The Hofner Ignition bass guitar is a great fit for the musician looking for a lightweight instrument that won’t break the bank. It offers a relatively unique tone, and judging by the overall user consensus it seems to generally be built to a great level of quality for the price. porting Hofner Staple humbuckers, a full set of traditional 500/1 tone controls, as well as flame maple back and sides, this retro looking guitar is a great fit for the bassist looking to recapture some vintage mojo.
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Epiphone Thunderbird IV
In its modern incarnation, Epiphone is a brand that’s beloved by hobbyists and professionals alike due to its ability to consistently produce quality products at a price that’s easily affordable. The brand used to have a reputation of producing beginners’ instruments exclusively, but in recent years they’ve began to get the respect they deserve.
As a whole, the quality of foreign made instruments has been increasing exponentially every year. The days of buying a guitar online and not being able to tune it—or being unable to cope with its mile-high action—are long past. Musicians of today have access to cheap instruments of a quality that musician’s in decades past would kill for. And while this trend has been the result of a massive effort on the part of a variety of different manufacturers, Epiphone is definitely deserving of some of the credit.
With that in mind, the Epiphone Thunderbird-IV Bass Guitar is another Epiphone produced instrument that offers a lot of bass guitarists on a budget. To learn more about the product, as well as how it stacks up against the competition, check out the specifications below.
The first thing to know about this bass is that Thunderbirds are notorious for their weight. This is not an instrument that small-framed musicians would find easy to maneuver. That’s not to say that they wouldn’t be able to make it work, but they would likely be better off with an instrument that’s a bit lighter.
Another thing to know about this bass is that it does feature a bolt-on neck. This really isn’t a bad thing, it just means that you’re not going to have as much sustain as you would with a set-neck instrument. While sustain is prized by a lot of musicians, there are actually situations where it can cause the mix to become muddy and give your bass lines a lack of articulation.
Just as importantly, the Thunderbird is pretty well-outfitted in regard to its hardware. It features two passive humbucking bass pickups with independent volume controls and a master tone knob. The tuners are of a 17:1 gear ratio, so tuning the instrument is going to be less of a hassle than it would be if it came with poorer quality tuners. It’s also made from alder, which likely contributes to the weight of the instrument.
The Thunderbird-IV can best be described as a warm yet articulate bass. It straddles the line between breadth of tone and clarity, which makes it a good fit for a wide variety of different genres. We would hesitantly say that it probably leans more towards blues and rock, though depending on your rig and technique it can pull off just about anything.
To some, it can be a bit awkward to play. These basses have a tendency to be poorly balanced, so it’s common for the neck to swoop down when you’re not holding it. This isn’t really a huge deal, but it can impact you in certain situations. This is also an issue that can be remedied by holding the bass at a higher angle and/or using a wider strap. So while it may be an inconvenience, there are easily available solutions. The weight is also commonly cited as a con, though that’s a pretty subjective complaint. Overall, this will vary based on your size (ergonomics are somewhat subjective), but something we should mention.
The Epiphone Thunderbird IV is a good bargain if you’re willing to play a bass that’s on the heavier side. It does have a tendency to feel a bit awkward, but at the same time it really does have a pretty unique aesthetic that is undeniably cool and timeless.
Squier Vintage Modified Precision Bass
The Fender Precision Bass is a model that stretches all the way back to 1950. The design was created, like the vast majority of Fender products, by Leo Fender. The design was inspired by the impracticality of the double bass, which is physically cumbersome and at times difficult to transport. Even worse, double basses were becoming more and more inaudible as amplification became more widely adopted by working musicians.
While the electric bass didn’t have the warm acoustic properties of the double bass, it did offer musicians a more cutting and focused sound. As it became more dominant it went on to define the bass tone of modern music, becoming a focal point of early rock and roll in addition to a huge variety of other early blues-based genres of music.
Squier produced instruments are among some of the best bang for your buck guitars currently available. As implied by the name, the Squier Vintage Modified Precision Bass is loosely inspired by vintage instruments. The key word here is loosely, as in all reality it’s a very modern feeling instrument. The only real vintage inclusion are the tuners, which are open gear, and the vintage style bridge and saddles.
The Precision Bass, as opposed to the Jazz Bass which occupies the same price tier, has a maple fretboard and a maple body. The inclusion of the maple body is a bit of a unique choice for a Precision Bass, but it doesn’t impact the bass negatively in any way. It may be a tad heavier than a bass made from a lighter wood, but not to the point where it would make a dramatic difference to the majority of musicians.
Like other basses in this style, the control scheme for the Squier Precision Bass doesn’t feature a pickup selector switch. Rather, it has two volume controls and a master tone knob. Like the rest of the hardware included on the Squier Vintage Modified Precision Bass the knobs are of a quality that’s surprising for the price. The knobs have a smooth range of motion, and they offer a more gradual change in tone and volume than many controls on instruments for this price range.
It’s hard to speak in depth as to the tone of this bass guitar because the sound of the Precision Bass is a definitive example of what a bass guitar is supposed to sound like. The Squier Vintage Modified Precision Bass offers a smooth and silky response, and for a bass guitar in this price range it’s a surprisingly dynamic and versatile instrument. It’s one of the few bass guitars in this price range that are built to a level of quality that facilitates subtlety. It’s sensitive to the attack of the musician playing it, and it’s controls are flexible enough to allow musicians to dial in their ideal tone.
Like other instrument in the Squier line-up, the Squier Vintage Modified Precision Bass is a great value for any musician looking for an inexpensive bass. Like other instrument in the series it seems to be more reliable than other budget instruments.