Buying Your First Bass
If you want more detail and pictures, I have more detailed articles on my other site studybass.com – bass buying guide. Also, if you are just starting out on bass and you are needing lessons or extra study material, check out and bookmark StudyBass for bass lessons online there are a lot of useful learning resources.
This site’s original article on buying a bass is still worth reading and follows…
The First Thing About Buying Your First Bass
Most importantly I would advise you not to spend too much money on your first bass. Choosing the right bass won’t be easy until after you’ve been playing for a while. Once you have a good year of lessons behind you, you can make wiser choices with your money.
Bass is a large instrument. It can be played with any size hands, but for most everyone it will require some stretching in the beginning that you are not used to. With practice your fingers will learn to stretch.
Neck Shape and Size
For beginners, it is a little easier starting on a bass with a thinner neck. For instance, Ibanez basses are known for their thin, “fast” necks. Some basses can feel like a small tree in your hands. If you have large hands you might appreciate a thicker neck.
Scale refers to the distance from the nut to the bridge. The longer the scale, the further apart the frets are. That means your fingers need to stretch more.
Shorter scale basses seems like a good idea that you won’t have to stretch so far, but longer strings tend to have a better bass tone. I tell students to think of a grand piano. The piano’s bass strings are long for their optimal tone. Pianos don’t have to consider hand size, only tone. Longer sounds deeper and fuller.
Tone is a huge subject. Every step between the player’s hands and your ears affects tone: fingers, fingernails, picks, strings, pickups, woods, bridge, nut, effects pedals, amps, and speakers. On recordings there may be a million dollars of equipment through which the tone has been sent! So, keep that in mind when you try to emulate your favorite player.
The pickups play a large role in the sound of the bass. For a wider range of tone, get a bass that has two sets of pickups. There are 2 common pickup styles — P-pickups and J-pickups. They are named after Fender’s Precision bass (P) and Jazz bass (J) original pickup designs.
The P-pickups look like two offset rectangles – one under two of the strings, and another under the other two strings. The Fender Precision bass was the first highly popular electric bass design. You can recognize its classic tone in old Motown recordings and thousands of classics from the 60s. It is still one of the most popular bass sounds and designs today. It is a favorite of recording engineers–it sounds great and they know exactly what to do with it.
The J-pickups look like a long, thin rectangle. Jazz basses aren’t necessarily meant for playing jazz. You’ll hear them in every style. A Jazz bass has a bit more variety in its tone due to the pickup design and having two pickups in different locations. Being able to blend the two different pickups helps give you a wide range of tones.
Many modern designs include a P pickup and a J pickup in what is called a P-J setup. This design gives you a lot of tonal variety.
4-String or 5-String?
For a long time 4-string basses were your only option. Now there are 5- and 6-string basses. The difference is a 5-string bass usually has an extra lower string. This allows you to play 5 lower notes than a 4-string bass in standard tuning. This is pretty low!
For most styles of music you don’t need these lower notes. A 4-string bass can be tuned lower to get at least two of those lower notes. So you only really gain three extra notes on a 5-string.
I will point out that decades of incredible music (hundreds of years on acoustic double bass) were made on 4-strings in standard tuning. More notes won’t make you a better or worse player. It’s what you do with the notes you have.
I think it is easier to start on 4-string. Some of the technique is easier in the beginning and changing over later is not too hard. Also, cheaper 5-string basses rarely sound very good. It’s a good idea to get a longer 35-inch scale for a 5-string to get a better tone out of the low B string. Lastly, you need a pretty good amp to drive the lower notes of a 5-string.
Some things which might influence your 4 or 5 decision:
If you already have a favorite bass player and hope to play many of their basslines, go with what they play most often. Though not impossible, it can be hard to adapt some 5-string basslines to a 4-string.
5-String Styles and Genres
Some styles won’t sound authentic without a 5-string.
A lot of Modern Metal styles use 5-string basses. Sometimes, however, players will use very heavy strings and tune a 4-string to much lower notes.
Gospel and Praise & Worship frequently use 5-string basses. You need to shake the rafters and get people on their feet! Those low notes can help.
Rock bass can be quite mixed. 5-strings began arriving in the 1980s. Rock after that is still mostly 4-string.
Funk bass is also mixed. Many funk bass players play both depending on the song or gig. A lot of slap players like a 4-string for the wider spacing of the strings and less muting to deal with.
Country bass is also mixed. Classic country – 4-string. Modern country is a mix of both.
Jazz is also quite mixed. Classic jazz was mostly on a 4-string double bass which adapts fine to 4- or 5-string basses. A lot of jazz fusion will use 5- and 6-string basses.
Final Thought on 4-String vs 5-String
Either way you go you win because you are playing bass! If you are unsure, go with a 4-string for now and you can make a better decision later after you’ve been playing for a while.
Suggested First Basses
Here are my current beginner bass suggestions:
G&L Tribute Basses
G&L was Leo Fender’s last company. Everything he learned about making instruments went into these designs. You can hardly go wrong with any of the G&L models.
G&L basses can be pricey, but you get a lot of quality for your money. They have a budget line called Tribute. The Tribute basses are basically the same designs with some cost-saving measures (made abroad, cheaper materials, etc.). Still, they are very high quality compared to similarly priced basses.
Look at these G&L/Tribute models:
- Tribute L-2000 (Highly versatile bass)
- Tribute JB-2 (Jazz bass)
- Tribute LB-100 (Precision bass)
- Tribute SB-2 (A D-J style bass)
Ibanez basses are very beginner-friendly. They are physically easy to play, sound great, consistent in quality and affordable.
Look at the following models:
- Ibanez SR300 (Models may have extra letters at the end for features and colors.)
- Ibanez SR400
- Ibanez TMB100
Ibanez offers a lot of short scale basses, but I suggest avoiding them as I mentioned above.
Yamaha started as an organ maker in 1887. They’ve been making musical instruments for a long time. Next time you look at the Yamaha logo, notice it is an arrangment of 3 tuning forks.
They make some really good and affordable basses, too. Check out these models:
- Yamaha TRBX304
- Yamaha BB234
Second and More Expensive Basses
Basses can get quite expensive, and the prices seem to keep going up. It’s hard to suggest anything because it comes down to your personal preferences.
Some basses I suggest you include in your search:
- G&L L-2000 or L-2500. Their whole catalog, really.
- Sadowsky basses
- Fender Geddy Lee Jazz Bass and other American-made Fenders
- Lakland Precision or Jazz basses
- Ernie Ball Music Man StingRay