There are tons of affordable electric basses around, some better than others. With so many choices, it can be really tough sorting the good from the bad and the ugly.
To help you choose the bass that’s right for you, we’ve checked out the best budget bass guitars available today.
In the budget tier of basses, there are clear winners and losers.
We’ve sampled and presented only the best, but even among the winners there are some that excel, like the Sterling StingRay5 or my top recommendation, the Yamaha TRBX174.
On the other end of the spectrum is the ultra-affordable Glarry Electric Bass Guitar. It’s still perfectly playable (and could probably pull you through a show in a pinch), but I would recommend most players save up for a slightly better model.
Top 5 Inexpensive Bass Guitars in 2020 – Overview
|Sterling by Music Man StingRay Ray
|Glarry Electric Bass Guitar
|Squier by Fender Bronco Bass
Glarry Electric Bass Guitar
- Top: Basswood
- Back: Basswood
- Strings: 4
- Amazingly low cost
- Includes simple accessory and tool kit
- Extended bridge for increased sustain and resonance
- Frequently ships with missing items or damage
An incredibly inexpensive bass guitar, this model from Glarry has the playability and sound you need to get started driving the beat.
Even though it’s made completely from cost-saving stock materials, the overall quality of this bass is surprisingly good.
The body and neck both are made of basswood, and the fingerboard is basically plywood.
These are qualities that might turn off more seasoned musicians, but once you give it a try I think you’ll agree the Glarry is worth its price tag.
A single P-style pickup drives your tone, making for a powerfully low voice that keeps feedback to a minimum.
Now, basses at this price point are not without their problems.
This company in particular seems to ship tons of broken basses. It’s frustrating, for sure, but you can always send back for a replacement if you get a faulty instrument.
This pack comes with a gig bag, a strap, a cable, a pick, and a set of Allen keys. Sometimes one or two of these accessories may not ship, so be sure you receive the whole package!
It would be a great project bass if you want to practice your guitar tech skills. Swap the pick up for a better grade and replace the tuning machines, and I think this would be a great budget bass for local gigs and home recording.
As long as you know what to expect at this price point, you’ll find the Glarry Electric Bass to be a top-performer in its field.
Squier by Fender Bronco Bass
- Top: Pine
- Back: Ash
- Strings: 4
- 30-inch scale length ideal for beginners
- Maple neck and single-coil pickup for rich, bright sound
- Punchy performance great for rock and funk
- Lacks low-end oomph
- 19 frets limits playing range
The Squier Bronco bass is an awesome entry-level bass with rockin’ tones and a smooth, easy playing feel.
You get the standard Fender maple neck in a 30-inch scale length that makes those long-reaching bass lines a piece of cake. We’ve got a great list of short-scale guitars too!
Like many budget basses, the Bronco is made with a poplar body. This means it’s lightweight and won’t kill your shoulders after a couple hours’ practice.
However, this low-density tonewood also detracts somewhat from your bottom end and sustain, so the Bronco’s a little limited in the tone department.
However, its single-coil pickup, which was specially designed for this model, does a good job of driving the voice with plenty of kick in the mid- and high-ranges.
It might leave you wanting for really rumbling lows, but it’s got all the kick you need to master the fundamentals of bass technique.
As a beginner bass with a single-coil alone, you probably won’t hop on any main stage with the Bronco, but it’s an awesome low-cost way to get started.
- Top: Wood
- Strings: 4
- Hybrid pickup combo for versatile, full-bodied sound
- Super short 28.6” scale length is great for small hands
- Lightweight, compact body reduces player fatigue
- Extra-short scale might not work for large players
Ibanez’s GSRM is one of the smallest basses I’ve ever seen.
Its scale length is almost 5.5 inches shorter than standard basses, so this bass feels almost more like a guitar than a 4-stringer.
If you have small hands or just prefer smaller instruments, this is a great choice for you. Not just because of the scale length, but the nut width too, which is even narrower than an electric guitar.
We’ve got you covered on acoustics and electrics for small hands too.
Your tone is delivered through both a P and a J pickup. They both have their own tone knobs, so you can blend things however you want. To learn more about the different types of bass pickups, check out this article.
This opens you up to the possibility of hard-driven mid-heavy power rock tones as well as to softer, rounder sounds for smoother styles.
So the playability of this bass’ jatoba fretboard is lightning fast, and it sounds as good as a budget bass can too.
But it doesn’t really provide that signature big bass feel. If you’re more of a traditionalist, you might want to skip this short-scale model.
If, on the other hand, you do dig the guitar-like playing feel, the Ibanez GSRM is a top-rated affordable bass with a lot going for it.
Sterling by Music Man StingRay Ray
- Top: Maple
- Back: Walnut
- Strings: 5
- Big powerful humbucker with active preamp for big thumping tones
- A low-cost 5-string option
- An iconic bass model at entry-level prices
- May ship with damage or with an unexpected finish color
Although this bass is in the higher price range of our budget options, it’s well worth every penny.
Ernie Ball’s Music Man basses were a huge hit when they hit the market back in the 70s and have seen the spotlight in stadiums around the world.
It’s no wonder, considering they were designed in large part by Leo Fender himself.
With the Sterling StingRay 5, you can experience the beefy voice and smooth playability of this famous bass line at a fraction of the cost of the original.
Outfitted with a big H1 Ceramic humbucker plus an active preamp, this bass delivers a stampede of tone the moment you plug it in.
It’s a low-end heavy rocker with a solid mid-range and smooth highs.
5 strings run the length of its comfortable 22-fret neck, giving you all the extra range that comes with an extra low B string.
Though the original StingRay is closely associated with slap-and-poppers, this is truly a versatile bass you can use in any genre.
There are a few issues resulting from quality control oversights, but none of them are really deal-breakers.
You might receive a bass with a chip or two in the finish, and some people even receive the wrong color! But, aside from that and somewhat sub-standard tuning machines, this is a bass you can feel proud to play.
- Body: Mahogany
- Neck: Maple
- Fretboard: Rosewood
- Strings: 4
- High-quality tonewood construction
- P/J pickup configuration for a wide range of tonal variation
- Full length with low action for fast playability
- Pots have problems with crackle and static when adjusted
I learned bass on an old Yamaha, so I’ve got a bit of a soft spot for the TRBX174.
This is one of the best budget basses I’ve ever seen.
It’s made of top-tier tonewoods like mahogany, maple, and rosewood, blending for a tone that is warm, rich, and ready to rock.
A Precision and Jazz pickup combo gives you access to the full range of bass tonalities.
Tuning into your perfect sound might be a bit of a challenge because there’s no blend control, but you should be able to get dialed in pretty close with the pickups’ individual volume knobs.
This is a full-length bass, complete with 24 frets, so you can shred a full 3 octaves. Low action and a fast-playing rosewood fretboard make it a dream to jam on.
Its only problem seems to be soldering or some related electrical malfunction. Basically, the knobs have a tendency to crackle when you turn them. They’re not super precise, but this an issue any skilled guitar tech can easily remedy.
As my top-rated choice for budget bass, I wouldn’t hesitate to hop on the stage or in the studio with the Yamaha TRBX174.
What Can You Expect in a Budget Bass Guitar?
When you’re looking at affordable-range instruments, there are a few limits you should expect, but nothing that would make a bass unplayable.
You won’t find top-quality pickups in budget basses. But it’s not unusual to find pretty solid mid-range pups.
You can find budget bases in most pickup configurations – precision style, jazz style, humbucker, and hybrid.
They’ll give you the tone you need to practice, but only the very best budget basses should be taken on stage.
Tonewoods in budget basses range from the ultra-affordable basswood and poplar to the higher quality woods like mahogany and maple.
Their biggest issues are in the hardware and electronics departments.
Oftentimes, affordable bass guitars are set up with low-grade tuning machines. This is a pretty easy thing to upgrade, but until you make a change like that you can find yourself turning an annoying amount.
While their pickups might deliver a pretty good sound, many affordable basses escape the eyes of quality control, shipping with loose wiring or weak soldering.
This type of problem can be a much bigger pain to repair, but most of the time you can simply ship the faulty base back for a replacement.
As long as you know what to look for in a cheap bass, you can go home with an instrument that will make you proud to play.
How to Choose the Best Budget Bass?
There are three main things to look at with budget basses:
It’s important that when you’re checking out any new instrument, you take a look at how good its overall construction is.
Check for loose pieces – this can really be anything. The neck, tuning machines, bridge, input jack, knobs, pickups.
It’s pretty standard for low-cost guitars to have tuning machines that don’t hold pitch very well.
This shouldn’t be a deal-breaker, because a lot of good basses would be ruled out otherwise. If you find a bass you love except for its tuning machines, I’d say go for it and just swap those out later.
It’s an easy fix that teaches you a useful guitar tech skill.
Basically, look the whole thing over to make sure it’s not falling apart. If you receive a new bass that has any finish damage or broken parts, definitely send it in for a refund or replacement.
No matter how low the cost of the bass, obvious damage is unacceptable.
Your choice of tone in budget basses depends a lot on the pickups you go with.
There are a few different main types of bass, each with different pickup configurations.
Two of the most popular are based on Fender’s original electrics back in the 50s.
These are Precision and Jazz pickups.
P pickups are basically split humbuckers. They look pretty non-standard unless you’re familiar with bass pickups, but they’ve been a main choice of bassists since the start.
They’ve got a ton of low-end boom and are great for non-aggressive genres.
J pickups are a lot like a standard single-coil like you’d see in any Tele, but they have 2 pole-pieces per string. This adds a lot of overtones to your signal, punching up your mids.
J’s have been used heavily in rock, funk, and more. They’re extremely versatile.
Humbuckers are humbuckers. They’re deep, full-voiced, and driving, all the while eliminating feedback. Also very versatile, humbuckers are a favorite among metal musicians.
A bass might have any of these pickups, and they can even be combined. Knowing the difference in how they sound and perform is key to choosing the best budget bass.
Once you’ve found the tone you’re after, double-check the bass to be sure it will be comfortable for you to play.
Factors that affect playability are things like neck width, fretboard radius, and scale length.
If you have small hands, short scale length basses are a great first option.
Players with fat fingers seem to like wider neck basses with flat fretboards.
There aren’t many budget basses with more than 4 strings, but a few do exist. Your chances of finding the best 5-string bass are definitely better at a higher price point.
At the end of the day, there are many basses that will be a good fit for you – especially if it’s your first.
Having some idea of the sound and style you want to play (your ideal tone and playability) and what specs contribute to these traits, will go a long way in finding the best cheap bass for you.
Is Bass Easier than Guitar?
Short answer? No.
It’s kind of a common joke that bassists are inferior to guitarists because they play with 2 fewer strings.
But anyone who’s seen the likes of a real bass master – Jaco Pastorius, Victor Wooten, Stu Hamm – knows that’s total BS.
Playing bass requires the same amount of practice and dedication as playing guitar.
It’s not exactly hard, but it ain’t easy either.
If you’re looking to play bass as an easier alternative to the guitar, it might be a good place to start just because you will be learning one note versus one chord at a time. Just make sure you know the common mistakes to avoid and practice good technique from the start.
But if you think just because it’s got 4 strings that you can master the bass and all its many techniques in a few months, you’re in for a big surprise.
Are Cheap Bass Guitars Worth It?
I’ve learned to play multiple instruments on their budget versions: bass, guitar, mandolin, ukulele, piano, and harmonica.
I think a budget bass, so long as it’s playable and properly set up, is a great way to jump into music.
You really don’t need much to get started, just an amp, a cable, and your axe.
One low-cost bass can provide years of education and entertainment, so if you think you’re ready to start a cool new hobby, these best affordable basses are a great path to take.
The Final Word
In these days when affordable-instruments are everywhere, you can learn to be the backbone of a band at a really low cost.
When you’re ready to rock and start laying down those essential grooves, these best budget bass guitars have the power your band’s beats need.
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