10 Best Bass Guitars (ON THE CHEAP!)

Published: February 6, 2015

Bass guitarists are not the most financially-stable members of bands. This is why almost all bass guitaists start with a cheap, beaten-up electric guitar from their local pawnshop. If you want something that will save money, but wow the crowd, here are my top 10 (in no particular order):

  1. Squier Bronco Bass ($150)

    The Bronco Bass is probably the most iconic starter's guitar out there. With it's signature stratocaster body, it's sure to be recognizable and invoke a pang of nostalgia for any seasoned bass guitar afficianados. Although it's company is associated with beginner products imported from China, the Bronco bass has a bright, metallic tone perfect for funk and Rhythm & Blues. There are many places to get your hands on one, but I would suggest checking local listings on online yardsales (like Craigslist, eBay), and pawshops will always be a wonderful place to find guitars you can test out.

  2. Hondo II ($20-$2000)

    I know what you're thinking, and I agree. $2000 isn't exactly cheap. This is the best option for those looking to foray into bass guitar collection, and for a good reason. These are knockoffs of famous bodies (I personally own a Hondo II 4001 Rickenbacker which I got from a relative for $20) that can usually be found at the homes of parents who are selling their kids' old stuff. These were cheap back in the day, but now, the controversy around their bodies have given them the affectionate title of "The Lawsuit Bass". I've seen special edition original Hondo II bodies being sold for over $1500 on eBay, so be vigilant, you may find something worth selling.

  3. Ibanez ArtCore Basses ($250)

    If you are looking for something that sounds amazing, looks amazing, and is a jack-of-all-trades powerhouse, look no further. The hollowbody "F" models are some of the most mellow-toned bodies money can buy, and for a good reason. You may have to dig around for a low price, but at most music outlets, you should find them on sale for $250. This is due to it's baltic birch (plywood) body, and the inexpensive parts. Once you learn a bit more about bass guitar, you will find that replacing the parts with your favorites will end up being the best option.

  4. Epiphone Thunderbird IV ($200)

    These are the heaviest f***ing things you will ever play, and they have huge frets, but the tone range on a Thunderbird is a distinct and powerful sub-bass that will get the attention of nearly anyone who knows anything about bass. The neck, made of sealed rosewood, is a beautiful way to build finger strength, as it is a strangely long fingerboard. Online, older models can be found used for $200, but their newer "Goth" lines start new at $300. Remember, as mentioned previously, there are plenty of great part replacements, my personal favorites for this being smaller frets.

  5. Rondo ($100)

    Rondo is the best bass guitar company that you've never heard of. As a chinese company, they import the cheapest specialty guitars you can find online. Personally, if I ordered from their site, I would pick one of their <$100 6-strings, mostly because I play deathcore occasionally. I found a 5-string at a pawnshop, and they are amazingly easy to refinish, allowing you to basically build a guitar design from the top up by yourself. Be warned, though, shipping is a b****.

  6. Stagg Upright ($500)

    What's the epitome of class and wealth in the bassist's eye? Why, a sleek upright bass will always do the trick. Even if you don't plan on playing Tchaikovsky, this electric upright will set you apart with it's quirky, deep tone. I love taking this thing over to a local metal jam and absolutely destroying some of the brutal songs we play while being eyeballed by confused onlookers. With an ebonized fingerboard, it's a comfortable and inexpensive way to improve your overall repetoire of music skill.

  7. Fender Sales (Variable Pricing)

    The most respected name in guitar-making is arguably Fender, and rightfully so. Not only do they make some of the oldest, pioneering basses, but they are also not completely corrupted by the need for profit. While a Fender Precision Bass can cost you up to $10,000, you can find new Fender Precision Basses (usually an ugly color or rusted parts) on sale at Guitar Center or Sam Ash Music for $1,000. Now, it is a major investment, but this is definitely the most high quality option on this list. You can't go wrong with a good Fender bass, no matter what genre you love.

  8. Customize Your Own! ($300)

    If you live in a hub of music or art, you may have a luthier nearby who could help you design and build a bass guitar matching your specifications exactly (including that sick pipe that blows fire out the back that you know you desperately want), usually for around $300. This is the most effort that you could put into this, but it will make you way more familiar with your guitar, which is always a good thing, as well as making a new contact that f***ing builds guitars. How cool is that?

  9. No-Brand Franken-tar! ($10+)

    By far the cheapest, and occasionally the most lucrative, is the frankentar. It never looks as good as a real one, but these are found in pawnshops around the world. Identified by their lack of a brand name on the headstock, these can either sound horrible or beautiful, so ALWAYS test it before you buy. The parts are usually imported and non-regulation, so part replacement is difficult and laborous. When you get the perfect Frankentar, though, it is the best thing you can have, because you can beat them up and spraypaint them, really anything you want, and not worry about the money that goes into them.

No matter what you do, remember, you get what you give, and the more risk you take, the more your potential gains are. Investing $1000 may be smart if you want a guarunteed beauty, but the occasional $20 pawnshop monster could be the perfect buy for you. Thanks for reading, and I hope this article helped you decide on your new bass!