The uniquely warm and powerful tone of metal bass guitar is one of the most distinctive bass sounds across all musical genres. When it’s locked in tightly with the kick and snare, the combination sounds incredible.
Indeed, it’s a challenge to get that elusive tone with just any bass guitar. Below you will find some of the best suited basses for metal, and what makes them a great fit stylistically.
The Best Basses for Metal
Table of Contents
- The Best Basses for Metal
- What Makes a Great Metal Bass Guitar?
The Ernie Ball Music Man Stingray 5 is an up-to-date version of the model which has been popular among bassists since the 1970s. Used mainly by those in punk, indie or metal bands, the Stingray 5 produces a clean, powerful tone.
One characteristic which makes this bass ideal for playing metal is its durability. The frets are made from stainless steel so it can handle even the most aggressive styles of playing.
Ernie Bass redesigned the pickups on the Stingray 5 to give it more range and power. Now kitted out with fat-sounding humbuckers, this 5 string bass sound warm and full-bodied.
Another selling point is the premium maple neck which is comfortable and easy to play. The fingerboard is also made from smooth roasted maple, so you’ll have no issues sliding up and down the octaves.
The back of the neck is finished with a mixture of specially chosen wax and gunstock oil, further adding to this bass guitar’s playability. There’s also a 3-band EQ and an 18-volt preamp built into the Stingray 5.
Fender’s Precision bass is one of my personal favorite bass guitars to ever be made. The signature model of Iron Maiden bassist Steve Harris has been specifically tailored for metal playing.
If you’re a fan of Metallica’s music, you’ll love this unique P-bass. It is designed exactly like Harris’ worn out, regal-gloss finished bass guitar even with his preferred West Ham United crest embedded on the body.
The clunky metal bass tone is provided by a single Seymour Duncan SPB-4 signature pickup. The hot coil wind mechanics provides power in abundance with slight boosts to the mid-tones and a responsive, tight high-end.
When playing metal styled bass, you want a combination of crisp, articulate strumming and long sustained resonance. Thanks to the hi-mass bridge installed on Fender’s Steve Harris Precision Bass, you have access to both of these styles.
The two-piece body is unique in appearance. With a gloss white finish and a pinstriped outer-edge, this bass is instantly eye-catching. The body is crafted from durable maple, which produces the articulate, galloping sound that Metallica’s basslines are filled with.
I’m a big fan of ESP bass guitars due to their reliable tone and instantly recognizable aesthetics. The B-205SM is a high quality 5-string offering which is very fairly priced.
This bass has a solid bolt-on five-piece neck made from maple, so you can be sure that it will hold tuning efficiently. The thin U-profile body shape combined with a smooth rosewood fingerboard makes the B-205SM easy to play for long periods without hand fatigue setting in.
The top is made from beautiful satin-finished spalted maple, which produces a warm and precise tone when installed on the ash body. The overall combination of distinctive tonewoods gives you focused low-end and powerful mids.
In terms of electronics, ESP have utilized SB-5 humbucker pickups on both the neck and bridge to control the overall output and ensure that there’s no unwanted noise coming out of your amp on stage.
The pickups are complemented by a useful 3-band active EQ so you can quickly reduce or boost the presence of certain frequency bands in while playing your metal basslines. The overall tone is clean when amplified and accurate when plugged into a DI for recording.
ESP are well known for their metal style bass guitars, so you can rest assured that the LTG B-205SM will have no problems producing the classic tones associated with this style of playing.
This list of the best bass guitars for metal wouldn’t be complete without an entry from Ibanez. Well respected in the word of metal, Ibanez are known for their clean, tight sounding bass guitars.
The EHB1005 is a next-generation bass guitar which features a modern-looking American basswood body and a smooth and fast 5-piece roasted maple/walnut neck which has been reinforced with graphite.
If you’re a technical metal bassist who plays fast, complex riffs then you’ll love the exceptionally smooth roasted birdseye maple fingerboard. To solidify the tone, Ibanez have installed a pair of Bartolini BH2 pickups, renowned for their beefy, dual-coil output.
Squier guitars and basses have come on in leaps and bounds over the past decade, and the Contemporary Active Jazz HH is arguably one of their best offerings yet. A revamp of the iconic J Bass for modern metal players, this 4-string is highly playable.
The neck profile is C-shaped for maximum comfort, and allows you to get up into the higher octaves with ease. The 12 inch fretboard radius makes for quick transitions between notes, and the bridge was specifically made to produce ample resonance.
As a metal bassist, you’ve probably experienced that unfortunate moment where aggressive playing causes your string to snap on stage or during a tasty jam in the practice room. Thankfully, the Active Jazz Bass HH is easy to re-string due to its modern redesigned bridge.
The bulk of this Squier 4-string’s tone comes from the SQR ceramic humbucker pickups which produce a range of solid low-end, clear and articulate highs and an overall high output.
The Legend 5 Classic by Spector is a beautiful 5-string bass guitar with all of the attributes needed for solid metal playing. The small and slender body is made from a combination of lightweight ash and figured maple, creating a smooth and smart look.
The 5-bolt neck is composed from three pieces of hard maple and reinforced with a heavy duty truss rod for maximum tuning stability and precise intonation. The classy pau ferro fingerboard is dotted with inlays, adding a nice touch to the appearance.
Although the Spector Legend 5 looks like a Jazz bass, it produces all of the tones you need for a metal rhythm section. With a pair of custom-wound Bartolini humbuckers powered by an active preamp, there’s no shortage of tonal possibilities.
Schecter’s solidbody Stiletto Stealth 5 string is a highly playable bass guitar which sounds great in a metal band. The basswood body is surprisingly lightweight, and the maple neck plays fast and smooth, making this bass very enjoyable to play.
The Diamond Bass pickups which the Stealth 5 comes with produce a variety of tones, from thin and tinny to warm and full-bodied, and you can make adjustments using the tonal controls on the bottom of the body.
One of the main contributors to the Stiletto Stealth 5-string’s sound is the combination of premium tonewoods it is made of. Schecter didn’t want to make this bass overly heavy, so they used basswood for the body and neck. In all honestly, this is a rare choice but it really works with the design of the Stiletto Stealth 5.
Alternatively, the neck is made from smooth maple so even the most complex of metal basslines won’t be too strenuous on your hands and fingers. The combination of basswood and maple gives this 5 string a punchy output which has plenty of low-end rumble.
If you need to create a specific tone for a metal bass line, you can use to 2-band EQ to boost the snappy highs or thicken the low-end. Finally, the 17:1 ratio tuning machines will ensure that your intonation is reliable.
Finally, we have the Thunderbird Vintage PRO by Epiphone. The first thing that struck me about this bass guitar was its unusual body shape. Staying true to the original 60s Thunderbird bass, Epiphone have brought that classic design into the modern era.
Installed in the bass are two of Epiphone’s very own ProBucker 760TM humbucker pickups, which pay tribute to the original Gibson Thunderbird pickups. These produce a vintage, warm tone which lends itself very well to metal.
With this bass, you also get a volume knob which is allocated to each individual pickup, so you can blend the tones produced by the pair as you wish. The master tone control then allows you to take some of the top end out and add smoothness the overall tone.
Constructed with a 7-piece mahogany and walnut neck, the Thunderbird Vintage Pro is solid and sturdy. The tune-o-matic bridge has a claw shaped tailpiece which further adds to the retro feel.
What Makes a Great Metal Bass Guitar?
There’s no denying that metal bassists are among the most versatile and diverse musicians in rock music. The complexity of the riffs they play and the array of tones that they produce is a huge reason why this genre is still so popular decades after it emerged.
Let’s take a look at the some of the unique features to look out for when choosing the best metal bass for you, and why they are necessary for this style of playing.
Most standard bass guitars for pop, rock or jazz use a single pickup. However, metal basses often have both a neck and bridge pickup and as a result, produce a beefier, well rounded tone.
The majority of metal bassists utilize the bridge pickup for its fullness, but having a neck pickup available is a great tool for complex riffs or soloing.
When it comes to creating the perfect metal bass tone, the most important aspect is the pickups that are installed on the instrument. Passive pickups are commonly used for their thick, punchy tone.
Maximum output is a desirable quality of bass pickups for metal. They need to provide an extended frequency range, to ensure that the low end is substantial, but they also must highlight the melodic mid-range and treble frequencies.
Easy Upper Fret Access
An underrated quality of metal bass guitar is the access they provide to the upper frets. Metal is a highly technical genre, which involves the use of the full fretboard to create immersive, captivating basslines.
A cutaway body design is preferable, as this will allow you to quickly transition into the higher notes on the bass guitar, without being impeded by the shape of the body.
Onboard Tone Controls
Metal bassists make full use of the onboard tone pots to create the clunky, powerful tone which defines the style. Some bass guitars offer several tone controls, which increases your options when shaping the sound of the instrument.
The tone controls that are included on a bass usually correlate to the pickup formation. You can use them to increase the prominence of the neck or bridge pickups, which makes your tone more versatile for creating metal bass riffs.
Playing bass in the style of metal usually inspires musicians to use an extensive range of pedals. The variations from verse to chorus and breakdown sections are signature components of the metal style.
That’s why it’s so important to choose a bass guitar that is compatible with classic metal effects, such as distortion, compression, and modulation.
Number of Strings
Another important decision you need to make when choosing a bass for metal is the number of strings you’ll need. Six-string basses are quite common in metal, simply because they increase the number of notes which can be accessed.
Whereas a four-string bass is commonly tuned to E-A-D-G like the first four strings on a guitar, a six-string bass is tuned to B-E-A-D-G-C.
This means that you gain a lower B, allowing you to play deeper notes, and also an additional higher C, which increases the treble range of the instrument.
A large number of metal bass guitars have distinctive body shapes which are instantly recognizable. The jagged edges represent the sharp sound of metal, and the body is commonly made from lightweight tonewood to make it as mobile as possible on stage.
Quality metal bass guitars are hard to come by, but the eight options featured on this list are all of a high standard. Due to occasional aggressive nature of metal bass, I think the most important quality to look for is playing comfort.
Tonal output can be enhanced with the use of compression or other FX pedals, but you need to ensure that the bass won’t cause you any unnecessary fatigue when you’re playing for long periods. Thankfully, all of listed options combine comfort and tone.