Best Beginner Bass Guitars (2020) – Budget / Starter Basses

Updated on by Gavin Whitner | Please note that there may be affiliate links on this page.

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

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.

The bass 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 won’t be well-suited for anything other than practicing and band rehearsals. It doesn’t transition well. 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.

  • Well-defined tone
  • One-piece maple neck for added rigidity
  • 3-way pickup switch
  • Die-cast tuning machines
  • Limited tone adjustments

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.

That said, looks can be deceiving. For as great as the GSR-200SM bass looks, it is a beginner to intermediate bass guitar at best. It features a combination of the maple neck and jatoba fingerboard and shows signs of impressive durability.

However, 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 so much more value.

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 not having them 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.

  • Great sustain
  • Impressive color palette
  • Slim neck profile for extra playing speed
  • Master tone and Phat II EQ controls
  • The bass lacks some clarity at high volume levels

Another interesting choice for all you bass newbies out there is the Schecter Stiletto Extreme-4. This bass guitar can be found in the right and in left-handed variants, which means that it easily appeals to a wider audience.

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 for dear life.

One of the best things about it is not the instrument design or a unique component but the lifetime guarantee. It makes this a one-time investment that can help you and your kids learn bass the right way, early on.

The tuners come in a 2+2 configuration. It can be helpful at times, and the reliability of the Shecter 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, for the money, you’re getting a transitional instrument, and this is always a big plus in my book.

Of course, the Extreme-4 is not perfect, though it comes quite close in this price range. There is a small concern with the design. The way the body is cut doesn’t allow you do dig as deep and as comfortably as with other modern bass guitars.

The shorter top cutaway does compensate a bit, but I do think that this bass is not as comfortable to play while resting it on your legs, as opposed to using a strap. And, given the weight, using a strap is not ideal for kids.

  • Superior tuning retention
  • Powerful and clear active pickups
  • 24 accessible frets
  • Lifetime warranty
  • Not the best suited for very young 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.

I like the color variety of the Ray4 lineup but perhaps not as much as the availability of the left-handed model. Manufacturers often overlook left-handed players when designing entry-level basses and guitars. So, if you’re a leftie, the Ray4 may be a no-brainer.

The bass also features a two-band active preamp. That means that you have access to treble and bass control, along with volume. When it comes to the pickup, and yes, there’s only one, the model used is the classic Sterling ceramic pickup.

It has more than a decent output and good dynamics, though it might lack versatility in terms of genres you can play. You may need to adjust the intonation of the bass to get a fuller sound, but that’s not exactly the first thing on anyone’s mind when they’re just picking up a bass for the first time.

One of the features I’m most 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, given the length of the bass.

  • Very comfortable
  • Available in left-handed variant
  • 3+1 tuning keys
  • 2-band EQ
  • Some players might not like the vintage design

Whether you want to play it or decorate your studio with it, 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 you know your bass models, this one looks like a premium bass even from up close.

The bass has a five-piece laminated maple and jatoba neck with the classic U profile for impressive playability and decent longevity. The neck 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. That’s because it’s unlikely that beginners will have the hardware to power up the active pickups and get the most out of them.

The bass also comes with the ABQ-3, which is a three-band EQ. It opens up plenty of possibilities when it comes to creating a unique signature tone. I am also impressed by the availability of the B-204SM in various color options.

Although designed as a beginner-friendly bass guitar, the same model is available in both fretted and fretless versions and is also present in the five-strings and six-strings departments. In a way, this is even better.

Because, after you’re done learning and familiarizing yourself with the B-204SM, you can make the switch to professional playing without having to change brands and models. You can opt for the single string upgrade or discard the traditional frets. That will help you take your sound and technique to the next level.

  • Premium grainy finish
  • High-end ESP SB-4 pickups
  • 3-band EQ
  • Very wide note and tonal range
  • Big and heavy

The Yamaha TRBX504 TBL is a four-string bass guitar that’s available in a variety of colors. It boasts a sleek finish and a very well-designed cutout that will allow access to the highest frets.

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? It’s because you don’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. The switchable active/passive pickups give it good clarity and plenty of volume when needed.

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. Need something for every genre? The TRBX504 TBL can accommodate that wish.

Another nice touch is the battery LED indicator. That ensures that you won’t run into an embarrassing moment during your first jam session, band interview, or during your lessons.

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 learning the basics and feeling out the instrument, I suggest sticking to the four-string model for a while.

  • Three-band EQ
  • Active/passive pickups
  • Solid mahogany body
  • Great color variety
  • Slightly heavy and long for younger players

The Ibanez Talman TMB-100 is a wide bass guitar, designed with beginners and amateurs in mind. Although value priced, 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. On the one hand, the short-scale bass design with a 20-fret fretboard does sound great for beginners. It’s even kid-friendly, in my opinion, which is always something to look for in beginner bass guitars.

In a way, I still think that the short scale helps compensate for the somewhat uninspired body design. 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.

Last but not least, along with the single volume control knob, the Talman TMB-100 also features a front-loading cable jack. That’s not something I’m thrilled about as it can be a bit hard to accommodate to.

  • Short scale bass
  • Excellent lower cutout design
  • Well-calibrated string action
  • Great tuning and intonation retention
  • Front-loading cable jack

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.

Tone Adjustments

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.

Gavin Whitner

About Gavin Whitner

A guitar player, songwriter, composer, and also the lead editor of MusicOomph, Gavin is one of the four musician friends behind this site. Outside of music, he's an avid sports fan and hardly misses anything from football (soccer) to F1.

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