Yamaha TRBX304 4-String Bass
Squier Affinity PJ Bass Pack
Squier by Fender Bronco Bass Guitar
Table of Contents
Let’s face it. Bass guitar is an awesome instrument to start on. It’s also fun to learn as you focus on producing epic grooves one note at a time.
Choosing the best bass guitar to get started on is a little tricky. There are loads of options and weird terminology which can be confusing at first.
Control Knobs for Volume, Pickup Selection and Tone.
Active EQ Bass Guitars may have more control knobs for different features.1 of 6
Bridge or Tailpiece
Bass strings are connected to the bridge directly, or through the body. The strings are raised above the fretboard on top of saddles.
The saddles can be adjusted up or down to raise the height of the strings, also known as raising the ‘action’2 of 6
The pickups convert the strings vibration into a signal, which can be amplified through a bass speaker
Neck and Fretboard
The fretboard is the string facing side which is played with your fingers made from a variety of materials
The nut holds the strings above the fretboard, similar to the saddles on the bridge
The Tuning Pegs
The strings are attached and are tightened or loosened to change the tuning
In this roundup review, I’ve put together a list of the 10 best beginner bass guitars and some key points to help you get started.
Top 10 beginner bass Guitars:
Yamaha TRBX304 Bass Guitar
The Yamaha TRBX300 series offers a lot of high end design which you’d only expect to see on more expensive models.
One of my favorites has to be the EQ presets, just flip a switch and you’re good to go on slap, finger, pick, etc
It’s also really well made, the neck is super thin and easy for fretting which helps when you’re just getting started.
As far as affordability, this is the most expensive model reviewed in this roundup but it’s not far off on price.
The sheer number of features is just too good to ignore.
Squier by Fender Affinity Series PJ Bass Guitar
The Affinity series is a cheaper starter bass guitar, but the design is nearly identical to the more expensive classic Fender precision jazz models.
That’s what makes the Fender range so impressive, there is not a huge difference in sound or playability, and it’s super affordable.
As with all Fender models, you can expect a decent build and a comfortable body and neck to play on.
Overall, considering the low cost, this is one of the coolest basses in the beginner category.
Squier by Fender Bronco Bass Guitar
The Bronco is an inexpensive short scale bass guitar with a 30” neck and 19 frets.
The size profile is designed to be comfortable, especially for younger bassists and those with smaller hands.
Equally, guitarists who occasionally play bass would feel right at home with a scale length similar to electric guitar.
The setup includes a single coil pickup and basic control knobs which adjust volume and tone. The maple neck and fretboard also provides brightness to the overall sound.
Ibanez GSR200SM Bass Guitar
Ibanez is another recognizable brand delivering decent beginner bass guitars.
The body includes a beautiful paint job which, let’s be honest, makes you want to play it more often!
The neck is a full scale length of 34” and is slightly thicker than what you may find on other models, but nothing to crazy or difficult to get used to.
The positive of having standard sized pickups is the option to upgrade later. Overall, a decent starter bass guitar, solidly built with the looks to match.
Sterling by Music Man S.U.B StingRay
Musicman Bass Guitars are top of my list with iconic looks and sound. The Sterling includes a single ceramic humbucking pickup and pre-amp dishing out some serious bottom end growl.
The original Ernie Ball Music Man is a lot more expensive. But, the Sterling versions are really close in terms of build and tone, and at a tiny fraction of the cost.
Overall, considering the classic and slightly vintage sound which Music Man bass guitars are known for, any bass guitarist would be happy to have one of these hanging on their wall.
Squier by Fender Affinity Jazz Bass Guitar
One of the most popular starter bass guitars, especially if you want that ‘classic’ vintage funk tone.
The simplicity of two passive single-coil jazz pickups means no fiddling with an over-abundance of EQ knobs to get the perfect tone.
As the body and neck are solid, changing out the J Bass pickups for something better at a later stage is also a great option.
Over the years, Fender have improved a lot from the original models, it’s no wonder there are so many positive reviews across the web.
Ibanez GSR205SM 5-String Bass Guitar
GSR200 bass guitars are one of the highest selling series across the world, and for good reason.
Ibanez make some of the cheapest beginner bass guitars available, and are well crafted for the most part. While a lot of beginners prefer to start on a 4 string, some types of music feature that iconic 5 string deep tone.
Even though the PJ pickups are passive, the EQ adds some extra low end through the bass boost EQ.
Ibanez are known for producing stunning designs even at the entry level bass guitar range. Even though it’s not perfect, a few upgrades down the line could make this a serious performer.
Squier Affinity PJ Bass Starter Kit
To get the most from a small budget, getting a bass guitar starter kit is a pretty good option.
The Affinity precision PJ bass guitar is solidly built, and the Fender rumble 15 bass amp is perfect for solo practice.
The starter kit also includes cables, guitar bag and a bass guitar strap. Although the amp only has an 8” speaker, it packs enough power for one-on-one practice.
In terms of overall value, going down the route of a bass guitar starter kit is a great option. The whole kit will last a long time if well maintained. Even if you upgrade some parts later, having a small practice amp around the house is handy.
Ibanez PCBE12 Acoustic-Electric
While most beginners start on an electric bass guitar, there are also some inexpensive options for acoustic guitars if you fancy a bit of couch or garden jamming.
For live performance, using a decent microphone in combination with the built-in AEQ-2T pre-amp pickup is a good way to go.
The PCBE12 also includes an onboard tuner for making adjustments on the fly.
Overall, considering the high cost of most acoustic models, this is a good acoustic bass guitar for beginners wanting to explore acoustic styles of music.
Ibanez GSR200BL Left Handed Bass Guitar
The GSR200 BL Ibanez bass is purpose built for left-handed players. While more exotic tonewood models are quite heavy, this model is lightweight and easy to carry around.
As with similar Ibanez bass guitars mentioned in this roundup, this model also includes the similar passive PJ pickups and ‘bass boost’ EQ.
The neck is a full scale (34”) model with 22 frets. Overall, for an inexpensive 4 string electric bass, the GSR200 line up certainly does a great job.
The question is, what music do you love?
Looking to become a slap bass ninja? Or are you into punching out some rock and metal?
There are different types of bass guitars suited to every flavor of music. The choice is personal but ultimately should give you the most freedom to explore.
Jazz Bass Guitar
The term ‘jazz bass’ (or J Bass) is a little confusing as it actually describes the layout of the two pickups (one close to the neck and one close to the bridge).
Jazz bass guitars are found in almost every style of music, not just jazz. The pickups create a classic vintage sound compared to other types of basses with different layouts.
If you’re into slap and funk for example, Jazz bass guitars produce classic tones. Mix in an active EQ and your slap tone goes from old school to punchy and modern.
Precision Bass Guitar
The precision bass (or ‘P’ bass) includes a single pickup found in the middle of the body, giving a really awesome growl.
One negative for those who want to master all round technique, getting a clear slap sound can be difficult for beginners. The neck on some models can be thicker than a Jazz bass guitar, which can make it harder to get used to.
That said, there is no denying the epic tone that a P bass produces, especially if you want a low end punch for more rock oriented music.
Precision Jazz Bass Guitars
Precision Jazz (PJ) bass guitars include the single pickup used in a P bass, and one of the J bass pickups to brighten the tone.
The sound profile is more of a P Bass sound with a small amount of J bass tone, which is a great option if you’re after a model that provides a taste of both worlds.
Generally, a majority of pickups are ‘single coil’ models, which have a bright and snappy sound. The only negative is they also capture more static noise at high volumes. A humbucker pickup suppresses noise and provides a big, warm tone without too much brightness.
Going for a beginner bass guitar with a humbucker pickup is a great option for those looking to get some serious growl tones.
Choose the style for you
It boils down to preference and your favorite music, there are no right or wrong answers when it comes to choosing a bass guitar pickup design.
I personally started on a Fender Jazz Bass and love it to this day. If you end up going for a completely different variant, you’ll no doubt enjoy the learning experience just as much.
What else should you look for in a bass guitar?
Of course, knowing which configuration to go for is important. But beyond the design, what else should you look for when choosing an entry level bass guitar?
Decide Your Budget
If you’re in the market for an inexpensive bass guitar, there are a few models out there that are both affordable and downright awesome to play.
Where possible, try to aim as high as you can within your budget. Most cheap bass guitars are much better than they used to be, the body and neck composition on all models reviewed in this roundup are well manufactured.
I still have my first bass guitar which I started on several years ago, it practically looks brand new and sounds just as good as they day I bought it.
The good news is you don’t have to spend a lot of money, and whatever you choose will have upgrade options in future.
So even if you don’t get the most expensive pickups, or a super duper EQ, you can always add some funky upgrades later on and customize your bass guitar into something which is completely different.
4 String vs 5 string basses
5 string bass guitars have the added benefit of the lower ‘B’ which suits some styles of music better, like metal and jazz. Music styles which feature ‘synth’ bass lines are also easier by playing with a lower 5th string, so it’s definitely a great option.
Most 4 string basses tend to have wider string spacing which makes learning funk and slap a bit easier. Learning to mute strings with your picking hand is also easier with less strings. But, whether you start on a 4 string or a 5 string, you’ll get the hang of it with enough practice.
The learning process is pretty much the same. It feels like your fretting hand is an alien trying to wrangle metal rods, and your plucking hand…
Don’t get me started.
If you’re worried about being limited by tone, don’t be. Have you seen Victor Wooten play? Doesn’t seem like he needs any more strings.
Active vs passive
Active pickups are battery powered which amplify the signal coming from your strings.
This especially suits music styles which need more power and emphasis. Funk and Slap have more depth and pop, metal and rock music also get more of an aggressive sound.
The only negative is you’ll need to change batteries every few months. We all have smart phones and we charge those every 5 minutes, so not a big deal.
The downside is active bass guitars are more expensive. I’ve included a few active EQ models in this round up (the TRBX304 with and Active 2-Band EQ at the top of the list for example) which are still affordable.
Passive pickups by comparison are simple. No fiddling with batteries, simply plug in and rock on. The signal sent from the bass guitar is quite a lot softer, which needs more signal boosting on the amp directly. The more you boost the signal, the more hum/noise you’re likely to get.
Top tip! If you decide on a bass guitar that has an Active EQ, make sure you disconnect after practice or during breaks to save the battery from draining too quickly.
The good news is, there are no right or wrong answers. It’s all down to personal choice and how much you want to experiment as a beginner.
Some of the most famous bass players in the world play passive bass guitars. Just take a look at the ridiculous tone Flea gets from his Jazz Bass, it’s all thanks to his fingers and slap technique (and maybe a few great bass effect pedals!)
Should I get a fretless bass?
Bass guitars have metal frets installed on the neck as standard to even out the notes played with your fingers (keeping you in tune). There are also models which don’t include the metal strips i.e. fretless.
Fretless models are challenging to master and come with quite a high price point. It’s similar to learning how to play a violin or double bass, you’d have to learn how the notes are supposed to sound, and develop your ear for music.
If you’re a complete beginner, I’d suggest going for a standard bass guitar and adding a fretless bass guitar to your collection later down the line. The fretless learning curve is shorter once you have learned a bunch of scales and intervals to perfection.
Long Scale vs Short Scale
Long scale bass necks are 34” which is the most common size used by a majority of bass players today.
Short scale bass guitars have a scale length of around +-30”, more to the size of a standard guitar. The advantage of a shorter neck means there is a bass guitar option for all ages.
Younger beginner bass players would find a short scale bass guitar much easier to start off with.
You also find different models have between 19 to 24 frets. There are no real advantages to having any more or less frets when choosing a beginner bass guitar, most of the action takes place on the other end of the neck.
I’ve only owned 20 fret bass guitars and I’ve grown quite comfortable pulling off solos, I don’t yet feel restricted but I imagine I’d find having a few extra frets more fun in the future. The option is entirely personal.
Whether you prefer a long scale or short bass guitar to start with, you’ll find it gets easier with practice no matter which way you go.
If you are a guitar player looking to get a beginner bass guitar to jam on, going for a shorter length will make the transition pretty much seamless.
Acoustic vs electric bass guitar
I wouldn’t say many beginner bass players start on acoustic guitars, but having one around the house is quite a lot of fun.
I’m a big couch potato, having an acoustic bass guitar to fiddle on while catching up on Netflix is a great way to get some practice in (while annoying the girlfriend).
If you have a little spare cash burning a hole in your pocket, buying a cheap acoustic list wouldn’t be a bad idea.
But, it’s a personal choice. An acoustic and electric bass guitar both work for practice and both have their place in musicality.
Wood and Hardware Types
The list of woods used in bass guitars can be overwhelming. Truthfully, it doesn’t matter all that much. What matters more is easy playability, how good it feels in your hands.
Most beginner basses come with a maple neck, the TRBX304 for example has a composite neck made of 5 layers sandwiched together which makes for a strong build.
The material used on the fret board is often rosewood, maple or similar. Generally, maple necks and frets make for a brighter tone, but a lot of what you hear also depends on the choice of bass strings.
A lot of basses come with a mahogany body, but similar woods are used too. The whole combination is there to help transfer the strings vibrations into a good sounding tone.
Hardware describes the metallic components like tuner pegs and bridge. All modern beginner basses have well built designs which are fully adjustable and made to last.
Overall, choosing a bass guitar which is solid is more important than being too picky about the woods being used. If it’s easy to play and strongly built, you’ll get a lot of awesome years from your new shiny bass.
If you’re looking for a well built beginner bass guitar, our top pick in this roundup is the Yamaha TRBX304. It has all the features a new bassist could need.
The body shape is really slick, the built-in EQ expands the range of tone available to include all styles of music from slap to metal and everything in between.
Another real positive are the humbucker pickups which produce a clean, noiseless signal even at high volumes.
When compared to the Ibanez and Fender models, Yamaha’s features are hard to beat.
I’d love to hear your thoughts. What is your favorite beginner bass guitar? Have you found any others worthy of consideration?
Let me know in the comments below!