14 Best Bass Guitars Overall (our top picks)
QUICK HIT: Rounding up bass guitars from Fender, Epiphone and other manufacturers, all under a $1000 retail price tag. Sometimes we link to products from companies we partner with. However, this does not impact our evaluations or recommendation process. All opinions are our own.
The highest-value bass guitars are not always the most expensive. While it’s true they might have the most money put into them, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re exactly what you need. And that’s what people often find scary about buying a guitar.
It feels like you might be paying for features or quality that you won’t really use. If you can afford a $2500 bass guitar, that’s awesome and I envy you.
But, for most of us, we need a guitar that’s both affordable and valuable to us, in our specific situations.
In this list, I’ve pulled together 14 bass guitars that are both inexpensive (less than $1000) and ideal for some of the most common musical scenarios. By focusing on these guitars, I’ll cover basses that are ideal for all skill levels, from beginners right up to the semi-pro gigging and recording artist.
By focusing on the highest value, this list will help you avoid paying for features or “bells and whistles” that you don’t really need.
Best Bass Guitars: A Couple Favorites
Epiphone Thunderbird Classic Bass
Fender Deluxe Active Precision Bass
The sole focus of this article is to give you a direction to go in so you know you’re not wasting your money.
All these basses we’ve had some level of first of second-hand experience with, so we can vouch for their value and relevancy on a personal level.
Let’s get start with a classic from Fender.
1. Fender Standard Jazz Bass Guitar
The standard jazz bass from Fender was introduced in 1960 and is still one of the best-selling bass guitars in existence.
It’s an all-of-the-above type of instrument, having made its way into literally every style of music. The Standard Jazz bass is also fairly agnostic when it comes to skill level, sitting at a retail price that’s manageable for most budgets, while also having enough value and quality to work in a professional setting.
It can be both the first and only bass you buy.
Features and specifics
The three knobs are made up of two volume (one for each pickup) and one tone that controls the tone of both. This is a common configuration for the electronics in a Fender bass.
A thin, C-shaped Maple neck plays and feels fast, making even the higher frets easy to access and control.
You can choose from either a Maple or Rosewood fretboard.
There’s a fairly robust color selection as well:
You could probably fill a book with the professionals that have used a Fender Jazz bass like this one.
So it’s a solid go-to for modern and vintage-minded bassists alike, regardless of scenario.
Studio work, recording, live gigging and just about any kind of music you can think of will fit the bill. It also pairs really well with a simple bass compressor.
You simply can’t go wrong.
- Alder Body
- Maple Neck
- Standard Single Coil Jazz Pickups
- Dual Volume Knobs (one per pickup)
2. Squier Vintage Modified ’70s Jazz Bass
To the naked eye, the Squier version of Fender’s Jazz bass is almost impossible to distinguish from its Fender counterpart, aside from the Squier script on the headstock and some different color choices.
So the style and feel is all going to be pretty much the same.
More importantly, both guitars, particularly the Squier version, bring you a lot of value for what you pay.
Here’s a look at both the Fender and Squier ’70s Jazz basses:
The Squier version…
The Fender version…
Side by side, they look virtually identical.
So, what can the Squier bass actually offer?
Here are some of its highlight features:
Block inlays and black binding on the neck really add to the ’70s vibe of the bass, and complete the look of the guitar.
The body is made of a soft Maple, which gets you away from the density and punch of harder Maple tonewoods, leaving you with a much smoother, bass-friendly tone.
The neck and fretboard are also Maple, with a slim C-profile design that feels thin and plays fast, with room to accommodate smaller hands and fingers.
The Jazz pickups are a Fender stock job, though they do put out a warm tone that sounds great out of the box without any tinkering or tricky volume adjustments.
Comparing to the Fender Jazz bass
The first difference you’ll notice between the two guitars is that the Fender version uses an Alder tonewood, while the Squier is a soft Maple.
Alder has a lot of vintage appeal to the Fender enthusiast, since Leo Fender used the wood almost exclusively during the ’50s and ’60s. Moreover, it’s a popular tonewood choice for bass guitars in general, regardless of brand, since the resonance is strong with a lot of thick low end.
However, the Maple in the Squier is not what I would consider a steep downgrade.
It still sounds really nice and isn’t low-quality. The Gibson Les Paul’s made in the 1950s had a carved Maple top, and are still some of the most sought-after guitars in existence.
In other words, Maple is not necessarily a “cheap” ingredient.
The second significant difference is in the hardware used at the bridge and for the tuners.
Fender’s Jazz bass gets the American Vintage bridge treatment, along with Fender brand ’70s vintage-style tuners.
On the Squier, both those parts are stock.
But again, like the difference between Maple and Alder tonewood, these features aren’t deal breakers one way or the other.
Here’s a more detailed look at some of the differences in features:
Squier Jazz Bass
Fender Jazz Bass
And that’s not to say that it wouldn’t be nice to have the improvements that come with the Fender Jazz bass, because it’s certainly the better product if you have no budget to worry about.
But, from a value perspective, the Squier version gives you a lot of guitar, and a lot of the same guitar as Fender, for a lot less money.
Affordability has always been Squier’s primary attraction, as almost all of their guitars are priced in the sub-$400 range. The ’70s Jazz bass is actually closer to that mark than most, hanging around $350 retail these days.
At that price, it’s a great option for beginner bass players, and can even hold its own as a primary or backup gigging bass.
For home jamming and the basics, it’s one of the best bargains available.
- Soft Maple Body
- Maple Neck
- C-Shaped Fretboard Design
- Fender-designed pickups
3. Schecter Stiletto Extreme Bass
Like the Squier Jazz bass, the Stiletto Extreme from Schecter uses Maple for a lot of the guitar, including a quilted Maple top (where “quilted” means a softer grain) and a solid Maple neck.
The body of the guitar is a more dense type of Mahogany.
The Maple/Mahogany combination gives it a tone profile that’s similar to the high end Squier basses with a smoother profile and plenty of sustain.
Specter’s offering is, however, more modernized in appearance and can fit in well with the nu-Metal bass crowd.
Tone and features
Schecter’s Diamond bass pickups are smoother and deeper, providing a more modern feel and “boom” on the low end, which you’ll feel more than you’ll hear. This gives it a deep resonance when combined with the smooth response of the Maple and Mahogany.
A blend knob and two-band EQ does give you the ability to dial in a more clear and crisp tone, if you prefer.
But it’s certainly a modern outfit, good for metal and hard rock, and more in line with the Ibanez 5-string vibe than the Fender ’70s vibe. If you’re looking for a good string compliment, checkout our roundup of bass strings for rock.
At the price, which is usually under $450 retail, it’s an ideal beginner bass that’s going to get you mileage well-beyond the early years.
- Maple & Mahogany Tonewood Combination
- Schecter Diamond Pickups
- Ernie Ball Strings
4. Epiphone Thunderbird Classic Bass
Epiphone’s version of Gibson’s beloved Thunderbird design is an extremely accurate replica and even includes a set of the Gibson TB Plus humbuckers.
In the spirit of full disclosure, the Gibson version of this bass still costs about $2000 more than the Epiphone version, so there are certainly cost-cutting measures that have been taken by Epiphone.
However, the number of features that both guitars share is still remarkable.
There just isn’t a lot of substantive differences between the two.
Here are some highlight features that I noticed are shared on both product pages:
- Mahogany/Walnut neck design
- Gibson-made pickups
- Mahogany body
- Three-point bridge design
Gibson uses more name-brand hardware like Grover Tuners and a Babicz Full Contact bridge. They also add two extra tone switches beneath the guitar’s volume and tone knobs.
So there are, of course, differences between the two.
Gibson isn’t charging $2500 for no reason.
The Epiphone Investment
However, there are enough similarities that I would have to say Epiphone is easily the better value purchase, especially for beginners or semi-professional musicians who don’t want to drop $2500 on a bass.
If you can spend that kind of money, it’s not as though the Gibson Thunderbird is a bad guitar.
However, for those who need to compromise and get something in a much lower price range, the Epiphone Thunderbird is a wonderful compromise that doesn’t feel like a compromise at all.
It sounds incredibly good, with a rich and thick EQ and plenty of sustain, just like you would expect from far more expensive basses.
So don’t assume it’s a cheap-out version of what Gibson offers.
The Epiphone Thunderbird is entirely capable as its own guitar.
The only issue I noticed was a slight hum when plugging it into certain mediums.
Most bass amps were fine, though on certain recording gear (USB interfaces) it had a slight hum. This was, however, easily rectified by a Boss noise suppressor.
I found this Amazon reviewer who had a similar experience:
So I might caution those who have a noisy rig to begin with. However, that’s the only issue I can think of with this bass.
Even then, grab a noise gate of some kind and you should be good to go.
With no existing noise issues, I doubt the Epiphone Thunderbird will have any problems with hum.
I recommend it for any and all styles, skill levels and playing situations, bar none.
- Gibson Pickups
- Mahogany & Walnut Neck
- Light Mahogany Body
5. Fender Special Edition Deluxe Ash Jazz Bass
As we start to break away from the Squier options, the real-deal Fender guitars can still be had for a very reasonable price tag.
And while it’s not the $350 we might be hoping to see, there are still a lot of great Fender basses that are less than $1000.
The Special Edition Deluxe Ash Jazz model, is one my favorites among them.
Features and Tone
The Deluxe’s most noticeable feature is the natural finish from the Ash tonewood that show’s through the finish perfectly. Combined with the darker pickguard and Rosewood fretboard, this guitar looks absolutely beautiful.
The Ash tonewood, aside from having a strong and full-bodied tone that’s friendly to bass guitars, was a staple of Fender instruments in the early ’50s and is often used in some of the company’s more pristine and higher-end models today.
It’s a more dense wood type, which will give you a lot more sustain, particularly on the higher frets.
So in any style of music, this thing sounds excellent.
What’s the appropriate skill level?
As it retails just under $1000, the Special Edition Deluxe hovers around a happy medium between the high-end professional basses and the beginner-friendly options.
In that regard, it’s one of the few that can be appropriate for the complete beginner but might also show up in the hands of established pros.
It’s just an incredibly versatile option that can work for almost any skill level.
If it’s for a beginner, I’d be careful to avoid spending the extra money unless you’re certain they’re “into” the instrument and will stick with it, simply because this is the type of bass that you could keep forever and wouldn’t turn in for a nicer guitar.
For those who aren’t sure, the Squier options might be a better fit until you know there’s a commitment that would warrant a $1000ish purchase.
- Ash Body
- Natural Finish
- Fender Jazz Pickups
- Rosewood Fretboard
6. Squier Vintage Modified Jaguar Bass Guitar
Think of this as a more affordable version of the Troy Sanders signature model.
The body of the guitar uses an Agathis tonewood, which is a typical ingredient in budget guitars. However, the SS Jaguar does give you a familiar Maple C-shaped neck and Rosewood fretboard.
Once again you’ll have the single coil and split-single coil pickup design, which are of the Stock Squier variety.
So while there are some cost-cutting measures, the real attraction of this guitar is the price point.
In most cases, it’ll retail under $200.
Used options can drop even lower, around $150 if you check often eno ugh.
I’d recommend this one exclusively for beginners, kids and music students, since the price tag is just a little below my comfort zone. At the same time, it sounds great and plays well, especially if you’re a fan of the typical Fender neck design.
Note too that this is one of the most popular bass guitars Squier sells, as evidenced by the wealth of positive Amazon reviews.
I like it as a safe and reputable beginner bass guitar.
- Maple Neck
- Precision and Jazz Pickup Combo
- Dual Volume Controls
7. Fender Deluxe Active Precision Bass
There are some significant differences between the Deluxe P-Bass and Standard P-Bass from Fender:
Chief among them are a three-band EQ, allowing you to switch between Precision and Jazz pickups, and combination of the P-bass body with a Jazz neck.
It’s essentially a detailed hybrid of the two guitars.
The EQ is supported by active electronics with an onboard preamp, allowing you to be as subtle or intense as you want.
In terms of tone versatility, this is one of the best Fender basses available.
The Alder body, once again, gives you the Fender tonewood of choice, along with a Maple neck and Rosewood fretboard.
It’s a familiar, though reliable combination that bass luthiers love to fall back on.
Like the Special Edition Ash Jazz model, lows are thick and full with a lot of sustain and a rumbling quality on the lower frets.
This further emphasizes its ability to handle all variances of styles and musical genres.
The Ideal Player
For those who like to tinker, perhaps in the role of a session or studio bass player, this is a nearly perfect fit.
Where most basses are just a matter of turning them on and taking what comes, this one lets you dial in all kinds of different tones and sounds from the guitar itself.
In all musical scenarios, this is going to be extremely helpful.
Intermediate players and more advanced professionals can all benefit from this guitar.
On a more subtle note, the gold vinyl pickguard gives this model a significant aesthetic boost.
It’s easily one of my favorite basses on this list.
- Alder Body
- Maple Neck Combo
- Jazz and P-Bass Pickup Combo
- P-Bass Body and Jazz Neck Combo
- Three-Band Active EQ System and Onboard Preamp
8. Fender Standard Precision Bass
Fender’s go-to is the Standard Precision or “P-bass” for short.
You’ll notice the split-single coil pickup design which is one of the most widely-used and familiar bass pickup configurations in existence, good for any and all musical styles.
The neck is the familiar Maple make, with a C-shaped design that plays fast and feels comfy to hold onto.
Like the other Fender basses I’ve highlighted, you’ll get the Alder body as well.
This is the bass guitar that you simply can’t go wrong with, because there’s just nothing that it doesn’t work well for, either in terms of skill level or style.
Whether you’re buying for a beginner or you’re a seasoned professional that needs a reliable gigging or recording bass, the P-bass is an always-safe choice for any and all musical situations.
- Alder Body
- Maple Neck
- Traditional P-Bass Pickup Configuration
The Second Tier (honorable mentions)
All of the bass guitars in the second tier will meet at least two of the following three criteria:
- Popular and Well-Known Brands/Models
- Below-Retail Pricing (while considering used prices)
- Meeting a Reasonable Standard of Quality (considering features, construction, sound quality, etc.)
Like the above list, I’ll cover features and overall value points, providing you with a clean interface for easy product comparison between each bass guitar.
The suggestions made in this list are based on informed and educated speculation, as well as a certain level of personal experience, though less than the ones I listed in the first 11 entries.
So it is by no means exclusive or comprehensive.
These are just some additional recommendations, and some further direction for you to go in if you didn’t find something you liked in the first tier.
9. Fender Geddy Lee Signature Jazz Bass
You’ll notice that the primary distinction between the Jazz Bass and P-Bass is seen in the different pickups.
The jazz configuration sports two American Vintage single-coil pickups, while also adding a volume knob for the second pickup.
This particular model is an exact tonal replica of Geddy Lee’s signature Jazz Bass.
Rush fans, take note.
- Two Single-Coil American Vintage Pickups
- Volume Knob for Both Pickups
- Maple Neck
10. Ibanez SR505BM Soundgear 5-String Bass Guitar
The Soundgear bass series from Ibanez is a popular and widely-liked bass guitar line.
It’s also designed and marketed for more recent generations, particularly for fans of the rock genres that became popular in the late ’90s and 2000s.
In other words, it’s a more modern bass guitar design.
Amazon is a great place to buy one because of the typically lower used prices they make available to you.
- Two Bartolini MK1–5 Pickups
- Mahogany Body
- Three-Band EQ
11. Yamaha TRBX Bass Series
The average Yamaha bass guitars give you some excellent mid-range options if you want quality but don’t want to spend too much money.
The TRBX series is comparable to the Ibanez Soundgear lineup.
Note that the 504 and 505 are meant to denote four and five-string bass models, respectively.
- Solid Mahogany
- YGD Designed H5 Pickups
- Three-Band EQ
- Active-Passive Switch
12. ESP LTD B Series B-205 Five-String Bass
ESP makes some fantastic-looking bass guitars, with a lot of modern features and aesthetic appeal.
This model features a three-band EQ, string-thru body design and passive ESP-designed pickups.
Once again, they’re comparable to the Ibanez Soundgear line and even to some of the Yahama bass guitar models. So think modern rock and metal as opposed to lighter or classic-rock genres.
- Ash Body & Maple Top
- String-Thru Body Bridge
- Active & Three-Band EQ
13. Epiphone EB-0 Bass
Stylistically, this guitar can be an awkward fit for some people.
But if you happen to like the look and the classic SG-style body, the Epiphone EB-0 bass is a time-tested go-to.
Now for that price, there are no bells and whistles (no three-band EQ, fancy inalys, etc.). But the tone and the body of the guitar are decent for what you pay, making this a popular choice amongst those shopping with a strict budget.
- Mahogany Body
- Single SideWinder Bass Pickup
14. Schecter Stiletto Custom-5 Electric Bass
The offset inlays and gold hardware give the Schecter Stiletto Custom 5 basses a lot of visual appeal. This one is also fitted with EMG pickups, which is a real bonus considering the guitar retails fairly low.
Good luck finding anything sharper in this price range.
Note that the price on the Schecter website is over $600. Amazon really comes through on this one.
- S-Tek Bridge
- Gold Hardware
- EMG HZ Pickups
The Value Threshold
I’ve come to believe that when buying guitars (bass or otherwise) the $500 to $1000 range is a pretty good target.
Going much higher usually means you’re spending more than you need to, at least for the casual or semi-professional musician.
So if you want to spend more and that works for you, go for it. I’m not saying it’s a waste of money.
On the other hand, if you want to buy a bit cheaper, but you’re not sure which basses are going to give you the best value, this list is a great list to start with.
What else should I look for in a bass?
Getting good value is often what people don’t trust themselves with.
Buying a bass guitar is a big investment, so most of the time people worry about the return, whether or not they’re making a “wise purchase” or ending up with a lemon.
Getting the best bass guitars for what you’re paying is essential when you’re pricing anything over the $300.
But, what else should you look for?
You know you want value, but once you have a direction to go in, what should you focus on?
It’s alright to just look for something you like or that looks appealing to you.
Style matters, because you’re going to have to play the guitar and look at it all the time, so you want to be happy with the shape, color and other aesthetic attributes.
Simplicity or Versatility?
Do you want a plug in and play type of bass, or something that’s really going to allow you to customize your sound?
Some players want a simpler solution, perhaps just a volume and tone knob, and one pickup.
Others like to have additional EQ options and more opportunities to customize their sound.
Your own preferences in this area are worth considering when making your purchase.
Your Playing Levels
Whether you’re just looking to pick up the bass for your own enjoyment or you’re trying to open at jazz festivals for Marcus Miller, your own playing ability should have an impact on what bass you buy.
If you’re a casual musician, that doesn’t mean you can’t get something of good quality, but it might have an impact on how much quality you afford yourself.
It also has practical implications for where and when you’ll use the guitar — whether you’ll use it to record, play live gigs or just jam with your buddies — which matters when you’re making such a big purchase.
The point is to find something that suits you and that fits with your own goals and stylistic leanings.
So yes, try and target good quality and value, but once you find out where quality and value are, use what you like to narrow down your choices and find the ideal bass.
What other bass guitar belong on this list?
What bass do you own that’s under $1000 but plays like it cost three grand?
We want to hear about it.