If you’ve ever just browsed bass guitars, you’ve probably had a scare or two. Not only are they big and intimidating instruments, but they’re not exactly cheap either. But what if I told you that you could get one of the best beginner bass guitars under $500?
Would this tempt you into wanting to learn this fascinating instrument? It’s much easier than others, and it can be a very rewarding journey. Even better, not all beginner bass guitars will limit you in terms of sound, tonal range, and live playing.
7 Best Beginner Bass Guitars Under $500
Table of Contents
- 7 Best Beginner Bass Guitars Under $500
- Beginner Bass Guitars vs Professional Bass Guitars
- 4-String vs 5-String Basses
- How Many Frets Should You Aim For?
- Should You Only Look for Lightweight Basses?
- Tone Adjustments
Modeled after the comfortable Precision Bass body, the Squier Affinity Series PJ bass guitar is a beginner-friendly instrument with a soothing tone and individual pickup controls.
The bass comes with a split single-coil Precision Bass pickup. It’s a passive pickup with plenty of power and a good amount of clarity. It offers a crystal clear tone, whether you prefer the pick or play with fingers. Also, it does a good job of capturing the pops from slapping.
The bridge pickup is a single-coil Fender Jazz Bass pickup. Again, a passive pickup that shows impressive dynamics for a beginner-level instrument.
All in all, this is a well-rounded bass, though unsurprising given that ultimately it's Fender who oversee the making. I like the overall smooth polish, rounded edges, and, most importantly, the low string action. It’s not too low to cause string buzzing on the lower frets, but it’s low enough to be more forgiving on untrained fingers.
I found the instrument to be fairly light, and beginners will certainly appreciate this. I used a X-Clef bass strap, which is fairly comfortable. Coupled with the light weight, the bass was very comfortable to carry using that strap for a 2-hour long practice session.
It comes with a one-year warranty. I wish it could’ve been a more significant warranty deal, seeing as the bass is very unlikely to underperform during its first year in use.
Similar to other beginner models, this one is more limited in terms of tone adjustments. Because of this, it's primarily well-suited for practicing and band rehearsals. But, the playability of the 20-fret fretboard and the forgiving nature of the medium-sized frets still makes it a great choice for first-time users.
The Ibanez GSR-200SM looks like a four-string bass you’d expect to see during a Metallica live concert. It’s got the looks to hold its own against some of the flashiest and classiest bass guitars on the market.
It's extremely lightweight compared to more premium SR series guitars from Ibanez and most of the Fenders, so it's easier to hold and play for longer periods while standing up. It helps a lot with portability as well, which is an important factor for gigging musicians.
It features a combination of the maple neck and jatoba fingerboard and shows signs of impressive durability. The fretboard has only 22 frets. That’s great and even more than you might need as a beginner. But for seasoned pros, the extra 23rd and 24th frets offer more versatility.
I like that there’s some wiggle room when it comes to tone adjustments. The GSR-200SM comes with one tone control knob as well as a Phat II EQ control knob. Granted, these make global adjustments, but it’s still better than nothing at all.
Individual volume controls are also available for the bridge and neck pickups. One of the trademark features of the four-stringed Ibanez GIO basses is perhaps the B10 bridge. It gives the GSR-200SM remarkable sustain for a value-priced bass guitar.
This might be the easiest to play bass for beginners, owing to its extremely fast and comfortable fingerboard. It looks the part too, especially due to the maple top. The vector inlays complement the gorgeous rosewood fretboard well.
Equipped with Schecter’s Diamond active pickups and a Diamond bass bridge, the Extreme-4 is a budget-friendly powerhouse. It has more volume than any beginner might need and is more than capable of delivering a sharp, snappy tone when you’re slapping it.
I've found the sound to be quite deep and full, perfect for pulling off some powerful bass grooves. It has a single knob for controlling for both the pickups, but I've found it adequate for tone shaping purposes.
The tuners come in a 2+2 configuration. It can be helpful at times, and the reliability of the Schecter tuners is a known fact. I also like that the bass features 24 frets. Though it can be intimidating at first, I like it because as a a beginner you’re getting a future-proof instrument, and this is always a big plus in my book.
It's very lightweight, like many other basses featured in this article. So, carrying it around or playing it for a long time using a strap shouldn't be a too much of an issue. Many similar-priced basses have neck dive issues, but this one fortunately doesn't.
Of course, the Extreme-4 is not perfect, though it comes quite close in this price range. You might find the action a bit too low out of the box, but this might actually be a good thing for beginners.
The Sterling StingRay bass guitars are iconic not just in terms of sound but also in terms of design. Although the SingRay Ray4 is a value class bass, intended for beginners and intermediate players, it’s still one of the best in this price range.
The basswood body is pretty standard on budget basses and electric guitars, but the maple neck felt quite comfortable to hold, and the maple fretboard was very smooth.
Manufacturers often overlook left-handed players when designing entry-level basses and guitars. But that's not the case with this bass. So, if you’re a leftie, the Ray4 may be a no brainer.
The bass also features a two-band active preamp and comes with a single Sterling ceramic humbucker pickup at the bridge. I was pretty impressed with the output, which was loud and noise-free for the most part. To be honest, even intermediate and more advanced players may mistake this bass for a much more premium one, thanks to the fantastic tone overall.
It came well set up out of the factory, which was a surprise. I didn't have to adjust the action, pickups or anything else. I later dug deeper to find out that all MusicMan Sterling basses get shipped only after going through a thorough professional setup.
One of the features I’m pleased to see is the 3+1 tuning key system. It makes it a bit more intuitive for new players, and it’s also more comfortable to use compared to inline-4, given the length of the bass.
The ESP LTD B-204SM is a gorgeous instrument. The spalted maple top has a natural satin finish and amazing shade visual effects and grain pattern. Unless someone knows bass models very well, this one will look like a premium bass even up close.
The bass has a five-piece laminated maple neck with the classic U profile for impressive playability and decent longevity. The jatoba fretboard also has a super smooth finish, making the B-204 one of the easiest four-stringers to play.
I like the use of passive ESP SB-4 pickups, as it's more suited for beginners and still offers a fairly good output. The bass also comes with the ABQ-3, which is a three-band EQ. It opens up plenty of possibilities when it comes to sculpting a signature tone.
The tuning retention of this bass is very impressive. Although I didn't play it rigorously everyday, but after tuning it initially after it had arrived, it was in perfect playing condition for 2 whole weeks!
Also, the same model is available in both fretted and fretless versions and in 5 and even 6 string variants.
One major disadvantages of this bass is its weight. It's on the heavier side, so this makes it a bit difficult to recommend to absolute beginners. With that said, if it's not a big issue to you, this ESP is a solid bass guitar for the money that would serve you for a long time without you needing to upgrade to a pricier one.
The Yamaha TRBX504 TBL boasts a sleek finish and a very well-designed cutout that allows easy access to the highest frets. Something you'd need more and more as you progress as a bass player.
You may feel a bit intimidated at first, seeing as this is a 24-fret bass guitar. However, due to how well it sounds, I find it to be one of the best options for beginners. Why? Because you won't have to shelf it after you’ve learned to play it.
It’s a bass guitar that transitions well into intermediate and even advanced playing. The solid mahogany body gives the bass longevity and a very smooth feel. I found the tuning stability second to only the ESP LTD B-204.
I also like that the control layout features a three-band EQ, along with master volume and pickup balance knobs. They will give you a lot of versatility and will open up plenty of tone customization options. If you tinker with the tone knobs, you can unlock a massive range of tones. I specifically like how punchy the mids are!
Another nice touch is the battery LED indicator for the active mode operation. That ensures that you won’t run into an embarrassing moment during your first jam session, band interview, or during your lessons. Even if your battery does run out during a song, you can quickly switch to the passive mode and keep playing. This isn't a standard feature for basses of its price point.
Also cool is the fact that you can find the same design in the TRBX505 TBL bass, which is the five-string option. However, for beginners, I suggest sticking to the four-string model.
My unit came almost in perfect playable condition. I just had to tune it and it was ready to rock. However, according to several reviews on the web, this wasn't the case for many others. They mostly found that intonation was way off, and thus required adjustments.
This is why a professional setup is super valuable. The fact that mine was ready out of the box could very well be due to the setup done by Sweetwater before shipping the bass out.
There was another minor issue that I faced. In the active mode, when the treble was set to very high, a very slight hiss could be heard. This wasn't the case in the passive mode. If you plan to rely on the active mode and play a lot in a high-treble setting, this is something to keep in mind, although I wouldn't consider this as a dealbreaker.
The Ibanez Talman TMB-100 is a versatile bass guitar, designed with beginners and intermediate bass players in mind. Although priced competitively, it does sound pretty good and looks very nice, given its classic design.
That said, it’s exactly the body that gives me mixed feelings about the TMB-100. The short-scale design with a 20-fret fretboard is suitable for beginners or people with smaller hands. It’s even perfect for older kids.
Besides, the bottom cutout offers unrestricted access up to the 20th fret. And, the extra bit of width in the fretboard also helps secure a better grip and apply more force onto the strings.
One thing I don’t really like is how the 2+2 tuning key system has been arranged. The high E string’s tuning key is just so much farther out than the others.
It features a single volume control knob and a front-loading cable jack. So, when it comes to tonal customization, this isn't going to offer you a world of possibilities.
With that said, the bass plays super easy, and I like the output of the pickups. They're versatile enough to handle anything from heavy rock to R&B. The pickups are also suprisingly clean for single coil pickups, and I couldn't hear any noticeable hum.
I played this side-by-side with a classic Fender P Bass, and found the tones of this one to be a bit more inclined towards the modern twangy sound, whereas the Fender produced a bit heavier sound. But then again, if you're looking for the most thumping lows, a budget bass like this is unlikely to offer that.
With that said, the mids were punchy enough and the highs could cut through the mix. The bass also responded well to slapping, so it shouldn't be an issue for slap and pop players.
Beginner Bass Guitars vs Professional Bass Guitars
More often than not, the main noticeable difference is in regards to pricing. Notice the proposed budget for this article. Search all you want under $500, but I’ll tell you right now that you won’t find a bass that will help you get a professional-level recording or help you cut through the mix when playing in a large venue or out in the open.
A lot of it has to do with the pickups. As you may have noticed, some value-priced bass guitars can have the exact dimensions and design features as the flagship models from the same manufacturer. But the difference will often be in the pickups and electronics.
Whether you’re getting active or passive pickups, the difference in clarity will often be worth the extra $500 or $1,000. That said, here’s one thing that I like about medium to high-end beginner bass guitars.
Once you get yourself a longlasting and very comfortable model, nothing is stopping you from keeping using it after you put in some replacement pickups for extra oomph, clarity, detail, and note definition.
Finally, many budget basses are made in China, Indonesia, and Vietnam. To cut costs, some manufacturers also opt for cheaper woods, which can further diminish the sound. Some manufacturers also have hit-and-miss quality control in facilities where they make beginner instruments.
4-String vs 5-String Basses
Why not just get a five-string bass guitar right away? It’s not like guitarists aren’t learning on six strings from the start. Well, as tempting as that may be, the bass is a very important instrument in any band and any genre.
Since most music is for four-string bass guitars, you shouldn’t skip ahead and first learn the fundamentals with a good old four-stringer. Guitarists don’t start learning on the seven-string guitar either, so why would you burden yourself with an extra string?
Dealing with fewer strings is much easier. Also, chord ad scale shapes are somewhat simpler. Another point in favor of the four-stringers is that their necks are narrower, meaning the beginners will have less trouble wrapping their fretting hands around them.
How Many Frets Should You Aim For?
That depends on several things. The number of acceptable frets on a beginner bass guitar depends on how big you are, how much you plan on using that bass, and how quick you are at picking things up, such as music theory and finger dexterity.
More frets give you a wider note range. Not as much as in the case of guitars because they have more strings, but it’s noticeable enough once you start playing some advanced sheet music or complex riffs.
That said, I recommend 20 frets if you don’t have a lot of music inclination, as well as for kids. Because kids are smaller and the bass is a long instrument, a shorter scale and fewer frets offer a more approachable learning curve.
Twenty-two frets are also an option. But again, more suitable for adults. I would also recommend not going for full 24 frets if you’re a beginner and want to keep things simple.
However, 24 frets are the real deal. I recommend choosing such a model if you’re going for something slightly pricier that you know will also transition well into recordings and stage play. You won’t have to use all frets while learning the basics (when even an affordable acoustic bass would suffice), but it will be nice to have them once you’re ready to advance and certainly cheaper to have them from the start.
Should You Only Look for Lightweight Basses?
I’m not a big proponent of flimsy, lightweight instruments, even if they’re just for one or two years of use, tops. A bass guitar will always be thicker and heavier than a guitar. It’s how things are, and the extra weight is often a hallmark of a good instrument.
If you pick up a bass guitar that’s lighter than your midrange electric guitar, then you can expect some serious problems. It might be poorly made, or it might have weak sound.
I prefer heavy basses, at least for beginner adults, since there’s always the option of sitting down. It goes the same with kids. If you want your kid to start young, then you want to ease him into using a strap.
But this is where things get tricky. Apart from being bulky and heavy, bass guitars don’t always have the most accommodating design for resting the body against your legs. That’s why it’s important to look at the cutouts, how rounded the edges are, and how narrow the curves are.
Every tiny advantage you can find to help you accommodate the extra weight is going to be very important. If you’re not comfortable playing your bass, you’ll lose the motivation to practice and improve.
When you’re just starting, you’ll probably do some cold practice runs for a couple of days or even a few weeks. It’s only natural. During that period, it will be important to get a feel for the bass, familiarize yourself with the strings, the note positions on the fretboard, and other things.
But, there will come a time when you’ll want to play the bass through the amplifier. Without playing the bass through the amp, you won’t be able to tell if you’re getting perfect contact and if your playing technique’s on point.
So, how much should you care about tone adjustments? I think this comes down to personal preference. If your technique is poor, customizing the tone won’t help you sound better. But, if you can play a few songs correctly, but your bass doesn’t offer enough oomph, then you might be disappointed.
I think that having one tone control or a two-band EQ is more than enough. For practicing at home, with a tutor, or even jamming with a friend or two, that’s enough. Especially if the pickups are good.
If you plan on using your beginner bass for more advanced stuff, then a three-band EQ may be mandatory, as well as having both a bridge and neck pickup.
It’s Never Too Late to Learn to Play Bass
The great thing about playing the bass is that you’re allowed some mistakes from time to time since you’re rarely the center of attention. It’s also great because the instrument is pretty much complete with just four strings, so there’s a lot less to learn and explore on the fretboard than with the electric guitar.
As you can see, bass guitars are a bit pricier than guitars, even when shopping in the student section. But, all the basses listed in this article are a bit beyond entry-level status if you ask me in terms of feel, playability, and sound.