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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
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Why trust BestReviews?
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
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We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

38 Models Considered
7 Hours Researched
1 Experts Interviewed
425 Consumers Consulted
Zero products received from manufacturers.

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

Buying guide for best electric bass guitars

Last Updated July 2020

If melody is the heart of music, rhythm is the skeleton upon which everything is built. Rhythm gives a song purpose, momentum, and drive, and the electric bass guitar provides much of the foundation for that essential beat. Basses not only fill out the low end of the tonal spectrum, they help link the guitars, pianos, vocals, and other melodic elements to the drums, creating a full, complete sound.

The electric bass guitar is an incredibly rewarding instrument to play, but it can be daunting to get started due to the overwhelming number of choices. What style should you buy: the iconic P Bass or something rare and distinct? How many strings? What type of wood is best? What effects should you choose? We’re here to break it all down for you, so whether you’re buying your first bass or looking for an upgrade, you can make a smart buying decision.

Standard tuning for a four-string bass is E-A-D-G, starting from the lowest (thickest) string and moving up. Five-strings generally add an extra low string, so the tuning is B-E-A-D-G. For a six-string, add both an extra low string and an extra high string (compared to a four-string), with the tuning being B-E-A-D-G-C.

Electric bass styles

There are dozens of unique bass designs available, each with its own advantages, disadvantages, and aesthetic appeal. Here are some common styles you’ll see while shopping.

P Bass: Also known as the Precision Bass, the iconic Fender P Bass was released in 1951 as the first electric bass on the market. It’s commonly available with a booming split-coil pickup and thick neck, and it’s comfortable to hold and play. While Fender pioneered this design, countless other manufacturers sell basses in this style.

J Bass: The Fender Jazz Bass (J Bass for short) looks similar to the P Bass at first glance. However, the different pickguard shape, dual pickups, and slimmer neck distinguish the two. On the whole, J Basses are more versatile than P Basses, with slimmer necks for easier chord play. 

SG: This striking model from Gibson takes its cues from the SG electric guitar, with a lovely retro look and devilish “horns” accentuating the body. These typically have a warmer, duller sound than the Fender alternatives, but they are extremely light and easy to play due to the body shape.

Thunderbird: Another classic from Gibson, the Thunderbird is notable for its wide body and dual humbucking pickups. These elements combine for a bright, powerful, and punchy sound, but potential buyers should be aware that these basses are quite neck-heavy.

Flying V: Whether you’re playing bass or strumming a six-string guitar, the Flying V design is destined to make a visual statement right off the bat. The shape facilitates easy access to high notes, but the design has ergonomic drawbacks if you play sitting down. It just looks so cool!

Violin: Made by popular by Paul McCartney, violin basses produce a muted, natural tone that fits in well with other instruments. They’re often short scale, meaning they’re light, ergonomic, and easy to transport.

EXPERT TIP

Don’t be afraid to experiment. A grasp of the basics is always healthy, but you don’t want strict rules and guidelines to stifle your self expression. Sometimes in music, breaking the rules is where the magic happens.


Staff  | BestReviews

Key considerations

Tonewood type

There are several elements that determine the overall tone of an electric bass; the material it’s made from is paramount. Specifically, the tonewood that makes up the body plays a huge role in the guitar’s warmth, sustain, playability, and look.

Basswood: This is one of the most common materials in bass guitars, as it’s relatively inexpensive and ubiquitous. It produces very little sustain, making it preferred by players in fast, complex genres.

Mahogany: This wood boasts a softer, warmer timbre with a focus on low tones and low mid-tones. It has impressive sustain, but it is rather heavy.

Maple: Like mahogany, maple is a heavy wood that creates a lovely sustain, but the tone is crisp and clear compared to the buttery mahogany. It’s great for cutting through the mix and standing out.

Ash: A beautiful wood with a unique grain, ash is commonly coated with a transparent finish to show off its gorgeous lines. Tonally, it creates decent sustain and overall balance, with a dash of bright harmonic overtones to add depth. Ash is similar to alder in terms of musical properties.

Pickup type

The next important consideration is the type of electronics your bass uses, as the pickup style can dramatically shape the voice of your playing.

Single-coil: An extremely common pickup type in both basses and guitars, single-coils have a tight, bright tone that turns aggressive when distortion is added. Basses often have two single-coil pickups on the body, one near the bridge and one near the neck, to extend the player’s choices. Notably, they can be a bit noisy.

Split-coil: Found on almost every P Bass, split-coils illicit a full, bouncy, boomy tone with copious low-end and mid-range flair. They fall a bit short in the top end, but they produce less hum at high volumes.

Humbucker: The go-to choice for high-output players, humbucker pickups essentially put two single-coils next to each other. The design cuts back on excess noise, as the name implies, but the primary benefit is high levels of gain and punch.

Neck type

The style of the neck on your bass plays a surprisingly vital role in the instrument’s playability and resonant qualities. There are three styles of construction: bolt-on, neck-through, and set.

Bolt-on: As you may have guessed, bolt-on necks are separate pieces that are literally bolted onto the guitar body. This is a common layout, as it’s cheaper to manufacture and permits easy replacement if your current one gets damaged.

Neck-through: This design features a neck that essentially spans the entire bass body. It is constructed by gluing several pieces of wood together. Neck-through basses are expensive, but they offer unmatched sustain because there is no joint between the neck and body to stifle vibration.

Set: Set necks are rather similar to bolt-on necks, but they use a mortise or dovetail joint instead of a metal bolt. In terms of sustain, set neck basses sit between bolt-on and neck-through designs.

DID YOU KNOW?

The term “walking bass” refers to a style of playing where the bass line remains in perpetual motion. This is opposed to reiterating one root note under the guitar chords and letting it ring out. With this technique, the notes “walk” their way from one position to another, bridging the gap between a song’s main chords.

Features

Fretless necks

Advanced players may consider electric bass guitars with fretless necks. These instruments are more difficult to play than fretted models due to the lack of neck markers, but they offer huge upsides. Their ability to slide smoothly from one note to another is unparalleled, they have lovely sustain, and they offer countless opportunities for experimentation. If you have sharp ears, as well as a healthy understanding of note position, a fretless bass may be for you.

Hollow body designs

Hollow body or semi-acoustic electric basses bridge the gap between unamplified acoustic models and traditional electrics. While the majority of the sound still comes from amplification, the hollow resonance chamber adds some acoustic playing possibilities, a rich, warm tone, and less weight overall. Notably, these basses can produce higher feedback levels when plugged.

Electric bass guitar prices

Inexpensive: The entry-level for electric basses start around $100 and top out around $500. For the money, you’ll find basic basswood basses with four strings and simple electronics. While these can sound great and pack a punch, the clarity is a bit lacking, and you’ll experience more noise at higher volumes. You can find beginner packs in this price range that include the bass, strings, a soft gig bag, and a strap.

Mid-range: For about $500, expect basses with four and five strings, higher-quality wood, and better pickups with more precision. Ornate finishes and designs are common at this level, allowing you to add a bit of flair to your setup.

Expensive: Approaching and exceeding $1,000, you’ll find even more five-string and six-string basses, the best wood available, crystal-clear pickups, and neck-through designs with maximum sustain. There may even be vintage reissues at this price point, bringing the classics back to modern-day.

EXPERT TIP

Store your bass in a solid case to shield it from damage. Avoid keeping it in a spot with rapid temperature fluctuations or humidity, as these atmospheric changes can wreak havoc on the wood and metal components of the guitar.


Staff  | BestReviews

Tips

  • When playing music loudly, ear protection is a must to avoid tinnitus. This ringing in the ears is nearly impossible to remove once it sets in, but thankfully, you can take preventative measures. High-fidelity musician earplugs are strongly recommended to cut down on decibel levels without sacrificing clarity.
  • Starter kits are fantastic investments for new players. They typically include a bass, small amp, instrument cable, set of strings, and sometimes a tuner. Guitar starter kits with similar components are also available.
  • With an electric bass, you don’t need to change your strings as often as you do with a six-string guitar. Their thickness provides extra durability, and some players actually prefer the muted tone of older strings. Also keep in mind that bass strings are pricier than guitar strings.

Other products we considered

There are countless quality basses on the market, narrowing down to a handful was as difficult as a Les Claypool solo. One axe we want to highlight is the Ibanez Talman TMB100. It features a classy Jazzmaster-style body with a wide maple neck, dynamic pickups, and a crazy color selection including mint green and tri fade burst.

Another is this five-string beauty from Ibanez. The extra string affords you a huge extension to your tonal range, but since this model is actually a short 28.6” scale, you don’t suffer a size and weight penalty.

While electric bass guitars are technically string instruments, many musicians consider them a part of the rhythm section. This is partly due to their percussive nature, but they also help link the guitar, piano, and vocals with the drum section for a complete sound.

FAQ

Q. What’s the difference between picking, plucking, and slapping?
A.
There are dozens of ways to play an electric bass, but the most common are picking, plucking, and slapping. Picking, as the name implies, involves using a heavy-gauge plastic pick to play individual notes or even strum chords. Plucking does not involve a pick.

Instead, you rest your wrist on top of the instrument’s body, draping your hand over the strings. Then, you use your index, middle, ring, and pink fingers to pluck each note. Finally, slapping involves a completely different technique. Hold your dominant hand in a loose “thumbs up” fist position, and rotate your wrist as if you were opening a door. You strike the strings with the side of your thumb while doing this, creating a percussive, powerful, and funky sound. 
 

Q. What should I look for in an electric bass amp?
A.
If you’re just starting off with electric bass, we recommend starting with a small amp and upgrading later. Not only are they lighter than big stacks, small amps represent less financial investment as you develop your tastes and preferences. Something in the 10- to 25-watt range is plenty powerful and will only cost $100 to $200. Consider models with onboard effects and multi-band equalizers, as well, to dial in the perfect tone or even to emulate your favorite players.
 

Q. What type of effects should I buy for my bass?
A.
Bass guitars typically use fewer effects than electric six-strings, as the natural bass tone fits snugly with the instrument’s rhythmic role. That said, common effects include overdrive/distortion, compressors, reverb, and chorus. These can add huge amounts of punch, clarity, and atmosphere to your sound.

If you’re interested in fleshing out your setup further, reflect on the type of music you want to make. If you’re into heavy rock or metal, definitely look at overdrive/distortion pedals as well as compressors. If you play indie rock or jazz, use reverb and chorus for a clean, airy tone. If you’re in a funk group, an envelope filter is almost a must. If you want to go even further, add a multi-effects pedal station and delve deep into the waters of experimentation.

Other Products We Considered
The BestReviews editorial team researches hundreds of products based on consumer reviews, brand quality, and value. We then choose a shorter list for in-depth research and testing before finalizing our top picks. These are the products we considered that ultimately didn't make our top 5.
The team that worked on this review
  • Andrew
    Andrew
    Writer
  • Ciera
    Ciera
    Digital Content Producer
  • Lauren
    Lauren
    Writer
  • Melinda
    Melinda
    Web Producer
  • Melissa
    Melissa
    Senior Editor

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