The Best Bass Guitar

ESP LTD B Series B-205 Five-String Bass Guitar

Our Top Pick for 2016: ESP LTD B Series B-205 Five-String Bass Guitar
Read our full review.

See it on Amazon for $499.00*
*Price typically updated every 24 hours. Current price may be different.
Too expensive? See our budget pick.

The thrumming tonality that can emanate from a well-tuned, rhythmic bass is one of the most recognizable and smooth-sounding musical experiences that are available in any genre of music. Suffice to say, without the sound of a good bass, many of the most iconic songs in the world would lose their unique specialness. Imagine Queen and David Bowie’s “Under Pressure” without the thrumming bass line that was provided by legendary bassist John Deacon; it wouldn’t quite sound right would it? If you are looking to purchase a new bass, getting started with the buying process can be tough since there’s so many unique and different sounding instruments on the market. We’ve buckled down and done some research and identified three of the best bass guitars that are available today as well as established an excellently sounding bass that doesn’t cost a whole lot of dough. Sit down and have a read of our best of bass buying guide.

Table of contents

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Agathis Body
Ash Body
GIO Series
Maple C Shape Neck
Spalted Maple Top
Medium Frets
Standard 4-saddle
String-Thru-Body Bridge
Dynamic P Neck Pickup
Master Tone And 2 Volume Controls
LTD Tuners
Spalted Maple Top
20 Medium Jumbo Frets
24 Extra Jumbo Frets
B10 Bridge

*Price at time of publishing and may not reflect current pricing.

#1 Gold pick (Winner): ESP LTD B Series B-205 Five-String Bass Guitar

ESP LTD B Series B-205 Five-String Bass Guitar Gold Pick

View it on Amazon for $499.00*
*Price typically updated every 24 hours. Current price may be different.

2016-gold-winnerOur Gold Pick is produced by legendary guitar studio ESP and manufactured under their LTD line of guitars. Established in 1996 as a line of instruments that are more affordable than the typical ESP offerings, LTD has come to be one of the more trusted brand names of electric instruments crafters. The only five string bass on our list, the B Series B-205, incorporates unique aesthetics, great sound options, and an affordable price point into a great instrument package that is beloved by both critics and consumers alike.

To start, when looking at this five string bass, you can’t help but notice the amazingly natural and varied top. Comprised of spalted maple, no two instruments of this type will be identical due to the whorls and lines that are inherent in the material that it’s comprised of. If you look closely, you’ll notice natural circles of varying hues that appear throughout the top’s surface material. This top makes the electric guitar look as if it was cut fresh from log and sent to immediate production.

This electric five string bass is also very thick in construction. LTD utilized ash for the body of the guitar and cut it very thick to add heft and a powerful-looking profile. Ash as a wood for these types of instruments is incredibly strong and dependable; as a result, this instrument is designed for the road and will get you through hundreds, if not thousands of gigs. You’ll notice that the wood in this guitar’s construction is cut in a semi-rounded shape along the edges. This actually adds to the solid bodied construction and makes the guitar look more stoic in design.

Another facet of this electric instrument that lends to its powerful design is its bolt-on construction. The whole guitar utilizes six bolts to adjoin the individual components that you can actually see when looking at the rear of the instrument. The ash that comprises the sides and back of the instruments body is a much less detail-rich type of wood, and you can certainly tell that it’s durable and solid. When you look at the base of the rear of the guitar, you will also notice that this guitar uses a string through the body style of stringing.

Another striking facet of this guitar is its five piece maple rosewood neck. LTD constructed this feature using three pieces of maple and two thin pieces of rosewood. The rosewood serves as a striping for the maple and the visual effect is very aesthetically pleasing. The two types of wood feel almost like one piece, and you won’t have to worry about noticing too much of a tactile difference on your fretting palm when playing this electric bass.

The top of the neck is fronted in a rosewood fingerboard that is long and has 24 jumbo frets for a larger range of sound and comfortable fretting. Each major fret features a pearloid colored dot that shines in great contrast to the darker wood tones of the rosewood. The twelfth fret features the B-2055 model number in black on pearloid rectangle setting. As a five string bass guitar, you’ll certainly notice that this guitar’s neck and fretboard are a little wider than the standard four string, but LTD definitely gave this guitar as thin a neck as possible under this particular string count. If you’re looking for a more svelte form factor, LTD also has a fretless version of this guitar.

The headstock on this instrument looks great under any playing situation. Comprised of the same spalted maple that acts as the top of this instrument, the headstock is also uniquely shaped as well as intricately patterned. Its angles are sharp and are set on rounded sides that make the headstock appear tapered and regal looking. The tuning pegs are comprised of black nickel and are fanned in shape; of these pegs, three are positioned along the left side and two on the right. Each of these tuners are of an ESP style; ensuring a classic, reliable tuning experience. Positioned near the crest of this headstock, you’ll find the LTD logo.

As a Gold Pick, this electric bass guitar fits the bill of a winner. On Amazon, you will find this unique looking five string has an overall positive review rating of 82 percent. Most reviewers love the design but feel that there is a little bit of a buzz when playing some notes. Here is one of the five star testimonials from the site: “I’ve owned two ESP B-205 models, one black that I bought used and this natural satin finish. The natural satin look is my favorite by far. The bass may need a little bit of set up out of the box to keep the lower frets from buzzing. Comes stung will good strings. But this thing is a beast. It’s well made and heavy. It can definitely wear out your shoulder during a long live set. Just make sure to get a decently padded strap and you will get used to it. I’ve played this model with a metal band, a rock band and a jazz band. It’s suitable to any style.”

#2 Silver pick (Runner-up): Squier by Fender Vintage SS Modified Special Jaguar Bass

Squier by Fender Vintage SS Modified Special Jaguar Bass

View it on Amazon for $199.99*
*Price typically updated every 24 hours. Current price may be different.

2016-silver-winnerOur Silver Pick comes straight from iconic guitar and guitar accessory manufacturing company Fender. Ever since the 1950s, Fender has been providing excellent electric guitars, including the famous and industry leading Stratocaster and Squier lines of instruments. Having such a storied history, the company continues to manufacture quality guitars and accessories that professionals and neophytes employ for producing great-sounding music.

In this model of bass, the SS stands for short scale. Though often considered a beginner’s guitar type, many professional bassists consider short scale to be a great fit for any musician, especially as its tone differentiates from full sized basses. This type of bass is great for young beginners or even adults with smaller statures as it features a 30” scale rather than the standard 34” of bass scale length that many musicians have come to love on their basses; as a result, short scale basses like this one are easier to play as you don’t have to do as much hand stretching across the frets.

This instrument, the latest in the Squier series of basses, incorporates classic design into a new generation of instruments. From an aesthetic point of view, this is a beautiful instrument that utilizes the sportiness of a cherry red coloration as well as a well-cut construction to turn heads whenever you play a meaty bass solo. This lustrous red color is perfect for jazz or rock and Fender was sure to accentuate the traditional Squier shape with this guitar. The pick guard is also pleasantly unique as it suddenly changes from a black construction to a metallic face at the area where the tone and volume dials are located.

This electric bass is comprised of agathis, a wood that has great strength-to-weight ratio that resists rot. There are three control dials on the face of this instrument; two for volume and one for the master tone. These control dials are indented for your thumb and are very easy to adjust when you need a more varied sound out of your bass. This bass features two standard Squier pickups; one is a Jazz bass style and the other a Precision bass style.

The neck of this instrument is comprised of maple with a rosewood stripe down the middle. It features a C-shaped design and is smooth to grasp while playing. The fingerboard is composed of this same type of rosewood and features 20 medium jumbo frets. The fret markers are of the standard dot type and are made of plastic; the side inlays are comprised of this same plastic and are also colored similarly.

One of the most noteworthy features of this bass is the attention that Fender clearly paid to the design of the headstock. Firstly, it’s colored in a very similar way to the black pick guard, and it also features a very reflective finish that looks very sleek. It has the unique, rounded-tipped design that is part of Fender’s tradition and is of a four in-line style of construction. The tuner pegs are also very noteworthy as they have a club shape to them and are constructed of nickel plated chrome.

This is a very well-received bass. Of the 213 reviews on Amazon, 95 percent were of a positive, four star or better rating. Many expressed that while they had experienced trepidation about the short scale nature of the instrument, this concern was dispelled by the bass’s actual performance. Here is one such review: “There are some bassists who will hear the words Squier, and the words short-scale and be put off. This little bass dispels concerns about sound and quality right out of the box. The fret work is good. Some of the fret cuts seem a little deep, but the set and finish of the frets is fine.”

#3 Bronze pick (3rd place): Ibanez GSR200BWNF 4-String Bass Guitar

Ibanez GSR200BWNF 4-String Bass Guitar

View it on Amazon for $199.99*
*Price typically updated every 24 hours. Current price may be different.

2016-bronze-awardOur Bronze Pick comes from Japanese guitar producer Ibanez. Ibanez, which was once known as the Hoshino Gakki Company began its guitar crafting history by importing Salvador Ibanez guitars from Spain in 1929. Branching into their own Spanish inspired instruments in the 1930s, Ibanez would eventually become famous for creating electric guitars and basses that have been played by some of the most influential musicians in modern history. The GSR200BWNF is the latest in a prestigious line of Ibanez basses that have revolutionized the music industry with their robust sound-sets.

This is a gorgeous guitar for almost any style of band or individual bassist. It is crafted of a mahogany body that sports a natural looking walnut finish. This rustic looking walnut stain is perfect for a more relaxed alternative band or one that plays southern rock. The hardware on this bass is also tinted a deep black that looks great as a contrast to the wooden body of the instrument. The pickups that this instrument uses are; a B10 bridge neck pickup, a Dynamix P neck pickup, and a Dynamix J neck pickup.

The four dials that are situated on the body of this instrument are black like the other hardware. Each dial features a machined quality to it with groves and raised surfaces that make each a tactile pleasure to adjust. The first three of the individual dials help to adjust volume, tone, and treble. The fourth dial has a very unique, great-sounding function. It’s called the fat bass dial and it directly adds a bass boost to your amplified sound. This feature is perfect for when you want to really add on the bass to your musical recordings. Each of these dials is easy to rotate, and since the black metal is very lustrous under many light conditions, each dial looks very cool to just look at.

The neck of this bass features a 22 fret fingerboard that’s made of rosewood and has medium-sized frets. This bass utilizes a dot inlay system to denote the major frets and the neck and string system really looks premium, especially considering the lower price point. The back of the neck is comprised of a particularly bright looking maple, so if you want a darker neck then you might want to consider a different guitar.

A sizeable portion of this guitar’s beautiful design culminates in the amazing headstock. The strings taper inwards above the fingerboard and wrap around the tuning pegs in a very cool-looking way. This somewhat angular stringing shape really helps the whole guitar look pointed at the end despite the rounded headstock top. The headstock itself utilizes a 2+2 design and is painted a shiny black and is framed by black metallic tuning pegs. The pegs themselves are triangular with rounded leading edges that are designed for easy tuning.

This is another really well reviewed bass guitar. 92 percent of the Amazon reviewers thought that this bass deserved at least four stars. Of this 92 percent, 70 percent thought it was a five star worthy product. One such testimonial explains why the guitar is such a great value: “The sound is great right out of the box. Action on the strings were also great. Poppy strings, active pickups and over all great “hum” when the strings ring out. Also, the finish is unlike the other basses I looked at in this price range.”

#4 Budget pick (Best cheap): Dean E09M Edge Mahogany Electric Bass Guitar

Dean E09M Edge Mahogany Electric Bass Guitar

View it on Amazon for $121.13*
*Price typically updated every 24 hours. Current price may be different.

2016-cheap-budget-pickYou don’t have to sacrifice sound for price if you’re looking to find a great, cost-effective bass guitar. While there are many amazing sounding, premium bass guitars on the market today, you can a truly great sound on a bass designed for those who are ballin’ on a budget. Our budget-conscious pick, the Dean E09M Edge, has some of the great rumbling sounds of our other picks, at a much lower price tag.

The first thing that you might notice about this bass is that it really accentuates the wood accents in its design. The chief material utilized in the construction of this instruments body is basswood, a material that has been used in the construction of electric bass guitars for decades because of its reliability and durability. This is definitely a bass with a minimalist design; there is no pick guard, no highly lustrous varnish; just the great-looking basswood.

The wooden body of this guitar utilizes three pieces of hardware that are black colored on its body; a dean “soapbar” style pickup that works passively, the two control dials; one for volume and the other for treble, and finally, the bridge. The color differential between the body of the guitar and its hardware really makes this guitar jump out aesthetically.

The neck of this bass is comprised of a smoothly curved maple and features a rosewood fretboard that has abalone dot inlays. There are 22 frets on this model and the entire neck is 34” in length. The neck culminates in a black colored 2+2 headstock that features die-cast tuners that feature a cool styling that makes them look like they are positioned haphazardly.

For a budget pick, this guitar has some great reviews from the Amazon community. The reviewers there have granted it an overall positivity rating of 81 percent. Most agree that this is the perfect instrument for a bass guitar neohphyte and that its construction, weight, and design make it a top tier instrument. Here is a five star review from the site: “I’ve been learning to play bass with this model for about a year and a half, and I enjoy it thoroughly. It’s lighter than some instruments, but still has enough mass that it has a good tone. The neck is maybe not as slender as some fancier, faster basses, but it’s still quite comfortable. It stays in tune well, and I’ve never had any troubles with the knobs or electronics.”


Pre-purchase considerations

Four or More Strings?

Bass guitars come in several varieties that use an increasing number of strings that start with the standard four string variety and scale up to basses that even feature a total of six strings. For the most part though, you can expect to find four and five strings at your local guitar shop. While four is a great place to start in your bass journey, five string instruments grant you a wider variety of tones to generate. Do you feel comfortable enough with four strings that you can start to experiment with a five or six string setup? Does the sound you’re looking for require one octave deeper in tonality? If so, then you might want to try a five string, as these have an extra low B string at the top. If you are selecting a six string bass you gain an extra high C string underneath your G string that will let you achieve a brighter tone. When selecting your next bass, be sure to have an accurate gauge on your skill level and tone requirements.

Size of the Bass

You’ll find that the size of a bass and the length of its neck can really affect the way that you play your bass. As a general rule, basses are larger than their standard electric cousins and have frets that are much larger. If you’re a smaller person, consider getting a bass that is comfortable to play and tune. It simply won’t do for you to have difficulty tuning your G string because your arm is too short to fully reach it. Also, make sure that your bass isn’t too heavy to be played comfortably while standing. If you play a lot of gigs with an instrument that is super heavy to heft, you can actually cause yourself back and posture problems in the future.

Headstock Type

The headstock types on a bass guitar can vary greatly. For the most part, these differentiating types are for a purely aesthetic purpose, but some headstocks can make tuning your guitar nominally easier. Types of common bass headstocks can vary based on string count, manufacturer, or even guitarist preferences. Some common headstock names are the 2+2 style, four in-line types of headstock, and for a five string, the 3+2 type. Make sure that, when selecting a new guitar, the headstock fits your own personal style and musical needs.

Bass Tonality

Every instrument sounds different. When you’re looking for a unique sound that is perfect for your needs, it’s wise to shop around because basses certainly vary from model to model when it comes to sound. Some might sound pitchier and others might have a totally different sound experience when hitting higher notes as opposed to lower ones. Before you make a final purchase of a new bass online, check out videos of the bass and see if the sound that it produces matches the music that you want to create with the instrument. Also, to ensure that you have a fuller range of sound, consider the tone options of a bass with more strings.

Add-ins and Extra Features

From time to time, guitar manufacturers will sweeten the deal on an electric bass by throwing in additional items with your purchase. These can be very useful to neophyte bassists. These types of add-ins can include but are not limited to:

  • A free bass amplifier with your purchase
  • A free tuner
  • A bass educational CD/DVD
  • Additional Strings
  • A guitar bag or case
  • Extra picks
  • Input cables

These types of add-ins are very useful, especially if this is the first step on your bass journey because they add some starter level features to your bass experience. For a non-beginner, these can be a bit superfluous as pro players tend to have better than stock amplifiers, a healthy pick collection (if they don’t finger), all of the strings they need, and clip-on or by ear tuners. When selecting a new electric bass, take into account the add-ins in the package you’re looking at and make a decision based on what you need to get started with your new instrument.

Number of Frets

As with standard electric and acoustic guitars, bass strings can vary from instrument to instrument. If you find yourself needing to go higher in tonality, then a bass with a greater number than 20 frets might be good option for you. One caveat: a larger amount of frets will also mean that your neck can be much longer depending on the bass’s construction, so if you’re looking for a higher toned experience, consider more strings so that you can hit that high C without having to find a guitar that’s neck is overlong and unwieldy.

Overall Design and Materials

Basses can be made of a myriad of materials. Some are comprised of alder, while others are constructed of aluminum, or even steel. The type of materials used will also affect the overall construction; metal basses can maintain bass integrity even when sporting a thinner design, whereas wooden basses should be sturdy so as not to cause buckling and splintering. Wooden basses on the other hand can display cool looking lacquers or no-two-are-alike wood tones. Composition will certainly affect the look and feel of your new bass guitar, so certainly do a few trial runs and play throughs before you lock in a specific instrument. As a rule, metal is lighter to heft but wood lends a solid feeling that some bass guitarists find preferable.

Conclusion (Wrapping it up)

Strumming along to a great track and providing a great counterpoint for a lead guitarists music is one of the prime reasons that bass guitarists enjoy playing their instruments so much. The bass is soulful, smooth, and creates an unforgettably iconic sound. You have a large amount of choice when it comes to this beautiful instrument, so when looking for one take your time. We’ve provided some great models of bass in this write up, so if you need one that will be reliable, sounds great, and is perfect for a beginner, look no further than any of the instruments that we’ve written about here. As you enter the bass world, enjoy it, because you’re in for a blast.

Discussion and comments

We want to know what you think. Do you own any of the products we discussed? Which did you buy and how did it work out for you?

Do you know of an even better product?

Comment below and help your fellow consumers make the right choice. Over to you!

Resources

  1. ESP B 205 Fretless, Chorder.com
  2. JacoNOT (forum member), 5-string Fretless REVIEW: LTD B-205sm-FL, $399, Talk Bass, Mar 7, 2012
  3. jarpathos (forum member), LTD B-205SMFL Review
  4. AllenMusicShop, LTD B205 SM Bass Review w/ Corey Evitts covering Hysteria, Youtube, Sep 11, 2012
  5. Squier Vintage Modified Jaguar Bass Special SS Guitar Review, Menga.net, 2014
  6. Phil O’Keefe, EXPERT REVIEW: SQUIER VINTAGE MODIFIED JAGUAR® BASS SPECIAL SS (SHORT SCALE), Harmony Central, June 27, 2011
  7. Ibanez GSR200BWNF 4-String Bass Guitar, Metal Music Gear HQ
  8. Dawsons Music, Ibanez GSR200 Bass Review, Youtube, May 15, 2014
  9. Top 10 Best Bass Guitars in 2015 Reviews, AMA Top 10

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