Best Cheap Bass Guitars for Beginners

I have been playing electric bass guitar for a few years now, and one of the questions I get asked the most is “What is the best cheap bass guitar for a beginner?” Well, the truth is, there really is no “best” bass for any one particular person. There are many factors that come into consideration when choosing your first bass guitar. What is important to one bass player may not be as important to another, not to mention the influence of the type of music that will be played. With that being said, the majority of entry level bass guitars are not all created equal, and some are definitely more playable than others. Hopefully I will be able to give you my perspective on what to look for when purchasing a cheap bass guitar for a beginner, and I will give you my recommendations for the best bass guitars under $500.

Best Cheap bass Guitars for Beginners
Best Cheap bass Guitars for Beginners | Source

Playability is Key

The playability factor for a beginner bass guitar is crucial. This may sound like a no-brainer, but you would be surprised at how many aspiring bassists buy the coolest looking instrument they can find at the lowest price. After playing it a few times they suddenly lose interest and never pick it up again. Why? Because the action was probably way too high, the sound was way too muddy or thin through their amplifier, the electronics were substandard, or any number of a hundred other things that can be a problem with cheap beginner bass guitars. There has to be some quality built into the instrument and it has to be relatively comfortable to play to keep most beginners interested.

It is often easy to find beginner bass guitar packages on sale that include guitar straps, cables and an amplifier, but my experience is that most of these bass package deals are poor in quality compared to stand-alone instruments, especially when it comes to the amplifiers. The only package deals I would even consider would probably be an Ibanez set, because the bass models they offer also come as stand-alone instruments and are usually decent quality for the price. But, like I said, the amplifiers are rarely ever worth anything in any of these sets.

Tips on Buying A Bass Guitar

Bass Quality

Some things you really want to look for in a cheap beginner bass guitar is the quality of the manufacturing process. The top industry manufacturers for entry level basses include Gibson, Fender, Ibanez, Dean, Schecter, Yamaha and Squier. If you pick up a bass guitar from one of these companies, you are probably going to get a decent instrument. One thing to remember is that beginner basses are mass produced to keep costs down and are going to have some imperfections as a result. Some companies do a much better job of eliminating these imperfections than others.

Beginner bass guitars should have the following characteristics to be considered a decent instrument:

  • A low action (the height of the strings from the fretboard)
  • A minor amount of fret buzz (this is usually a major problem with cheaper basses)
  • Solid heavy-duty tuning pegs
  • No crackle when rotating the volume or tone knobs
  • Sensitive pickups
  • Solid joint quality at the neck and body
  • Uniformity in the height of the frets (can be a source of fret buzz)
  • Comfortable neck (not too big or too fat)

This list is not all inclusive and the more experienced players will learn to develop their own criteria when evaluating the purchase of a new instrument.

Now I am going to give you my recommendations for what I consider the top bass guitars under $500. Some bassists may disagree with my choices, but like I stated in the beginning, it is more of an individual preference based on the factor presented above.

Ibanez SRA 500 Bass Guitar

The Ibanez SRA 500 Bass Guitar is my top choice for several reasons. This bass guitar can put out a wide variety of tones which makes it suitable for just about any type of music. The quality of this instrument is also outstanding for an instrument in this price range. The two EMG HZ pickups in this bass guitar are top notch and are a major factor in why I purchased this guitar for myself. These types of pickups are rarely found on cheaper bass guitars. These pups can pump out a thumping low end as well as a funkier slap tone with no problems. The neck is slim and easy to navigate making it really fun to play.

The SRA 500 has a beautiful quilted maple top that comes in two colors, amber and transparent green. It also has a 24-fret rosewood fingerboard. The action is the best of any sub $500 bass I have played and there has been absolutely no fret buzz. The onboard electronics are good quality and put together well. Just to let you know, when I bought this bass guitar, I was originally intending on buying a Schecter model that was about $700, but when I played this one, I was hooked and it was only $499.

Here are the Ibanez SRA 500 Specs:

  • 4 String
  • 24 fret Rosewood Fingerboard
  • 2 X EMG HZ Pickups
  • 3-band Active EQ
  • Quilted Gloss Finish
  • Mahogany Body

Squier by Fender Affinity P Bass

One of the top names in the musical instrument industry is Fender. One of the top basses made by Fender is the Precision or “P” bass. Squier is a subsidiary of Fender and is licensed to produce cheaper replicas of the Fender instruments. While they are mass produced, these Fender copies are extremely well made and worthy of the Fender brand name. One of Squier’s more popular models is the Affinity P Bass which is based on the Fender Precision model that costs hundreds of dollars more.

The Affinity P Bass is a little heavier than most cheap bass guitars, but it allows for a solid low end that is more suitable for rock or country playing styles. Just like with the more expensive version, don’t let the simplicity of this instrument fool you. The split single coil pickup is controlled by one volume control and one tone control, but is more than adequate for playing smaller venues. The body is made of agathis and coated with a nice glossy polyurethane. This Fender quality instrument can routinely be found under $200 and is a great value at that price.

Squier by Fender Affinity P Bass Specs:

  • Agathis Body with Gloss Finish
  • 20 Jumbo Frets
  • Split Single Coil Pickup
  • C –Shaped neck
  • 4 String
  • 1 Volume, 1 Tone Control

Dean EVO XM Short Scale Bass

My third pick for a best cheap bass guitar for a beginner was even a surprise to me. I chose the Dean EVO XM short-scale bass. When I first saw this bass, I was very skeptical at what type of sound it would be able to produce, but I was very pleasantly surprised. This bass has very good low end tone, but the midranges are even better! The shorter neck also makes this an ideal instrument for smaller players with smaller hands.

The solid basswood body makes this bass a little heavier but gives it great sustain. This bass has two stock soap bar humbucking pickups that don’t have the clarity of more expensive brands, but produce decent solid tones. The neck is very thin, easy to grasp and very comfortable. The action on the neck is very low, yet does not produce much fret buzz at all if set up properly. The overall quality of this Dean Bass is very impressive for the price. Brand new, the Dean EVO XM Short Scale Bass usually runs about $199, but I have seen a few deals on Ebay where they were available for just over $100. That’s an excellent deal on a beginner bass guitar to me!

Dean EVO XM Short Scale Bass Specs:

  • Solid Basswood Body with Mahogany Satin Finish
  • 20 Frets (Short Scale) 30” Neck
  • 1 Volume, 2 Tone Controls
  • Rosewood Fingerboard
  • Maple Neck
  • Dual Dean Humbucker Pickups

The Bottom Line

Yes, there are other decent cheap bass guitars for beginners out there, but I know these three basses are great quality, great sound and can be bought for a great price. If you are a beginner bass guitarist, then you should give these basses a try to see for yourself. Try out as many different basses as you can and whichever one inspires you to play, that is the one for you.

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Comments 10 comments

Steve 5 years ago

Thanks for a great article on selecting a good quality inexpensive bass guitar.

I was in the position of needing my first bass about three years ago when the bass player in our church praise band was headed off to college. Our praise leader asked me if I would consider stepping in. I choose an Ibanez RD500, which I have been very happy with.

Now, however, I am ready to move on. I will look for five strings and a bass with less noise from the active electronics when the bass-tone is cranked up.

Any recommendations for people like me?


GAbaptist profile image

GAbaptist 5 years ago from Alaska Author

Hi Steve! well you know my choices for a 4-string under $500. Are you looking to stay under $500 for a 5-string model? I know that Schecter has a few and I have always been impressed with their quality. If you are looking at something more high-end, then that opens up a vast amount of good deals. The best thing is to visit a music shop near you and get your hands on several different models and see which type is the most comfortable and best sounding to you.


Steve 5 years ago

Thanks for the reply. I am looking for a 5-string model. $500 is a good target, but if I could find a much better instrument for, say $650, I would find a way to pay that. I live where the only music store around is limited in supply. I will go look at what they have. The nearest store with a large selection is at least an hour away. So, suggestions would be appreciated!


Alex Stewart 5 years ago

This article gives an idea about what factors should be taken in to consideration before buying a good guitar. Thanks for writing.....


Christine 5 years ago

Thanks for this article! I've been looking at basses and I'm thinking of getting the SRA300. Do you have any thoughts on that model? I would get the SRA500 but it's a bit over my price range, unfortunately. Is the 500 considerably different from the 300?


GAbaptist profile image

GAbaptist 5 years ago from Alaska Author

Hi Christine, the SRA 300 is good quality for a cheaper instrument. The major difference is in the electronics. The 500 uses emg pickups and electronics and the 300 uses a generic brand, but not bad for the price.


anonymous 4 years ago

These are definitely good useful tips that new bass guitar players can consider. Being part of the music industry ourselves, we (http://www.v-picks.com) agree that there are affordable superior brands of bass guitars on the market. Comparing prices and guitar types/performance and asking for recommendations can help greatly too.


Steve S 4 years ago

Thanks for posting the article. I have been learning to play on a Squier VM Jazz bass for over a year now and it also fits the criteria. Also great advice to visit a shop that will let you try out the instruments and amps.


LC 4 years ago

Thank you for the information. It is reassuring to know I am not the only one with the same questions. Which leads me to this: what about starter sets (guitar/amp combos)? I want to get one for my nephew, but experienced player tell me to stay clear. Your thoughts?


GAbaptist profile image

GAbaptist 4 years ago from Alaska Author

Thanks for the comment LC! Most starter sets are very low budget imports that can be very difficult to play because the quality is sacrificed for mass production. Instruments that are hard to play can cause new players to lose interest and give up. Also the amps that come in starter packs are usually total crap. My advice would be to go with a lower priced brand name instrument like Ibanez, Dean, Squier, etc. You can usually find inexpensive practice amps and good used at amps at great prices at your local music stores. These amps are going to be 10 times better than anything in a starter pack. Hope this helps!

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