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Looking to get into playing the bass guitar? The obvious first thing you’ll need to do is find a worthwhile bass to play.
You’ll find that the following bass guitars are some of the best on the market without spending beyond $500. Be sure to check these out, whether you’re an absolute beginner or a guitarist transitioning to the bass.
Soon enough, you’ll be sharing in the groove and helping the planet to spin on its axis.
Squier Classic Vibe '60s Jazz Bass – Best Overall
The Fender Jazz Bass is one of the most iconic bass designs ever created. Unfortunately, these instruments are priced far beyond the range that beginners should be shopping in.
That doesn’t necessarily mean that a beginner is out of luck if they’re drawn to the Jazz Bass. The Squier Classic Vibe ‘60s Jazz Bass (see price on Sweetwater, Amazon) provides an affordable alternative solution.
While it is affordable, the Classic Vibe ‘60s Jazz Bass has the same design and aesthetic value as the original. This specific model aims to provide a playing experience more in-line with a vintage Jazz Bass.
For starters, the Classic Vibe ‘60s Jazz Bass features a Poplar body and comes in a number of colors including:
- Daphne blue
- 3-tone sunburst
Like most Fender-designed instruments, this Squier model features a Maple neck with a C-shape contour. Indian Laurel is used for the fretboard, offering 20 narrow-tall frets with Pearloid dot inlays.
Interestingly enough, if you’re so inclined, Squier offers this same model in a fretless version. The fretless version costs just a bit more but is still well within the beginner’s budget range.
For pickups, the Classic Vibe ‘60s Jazz Bass is stocked with a pair of Alnico single-coils designed by Fender. A pair of volume knobs as well as a tone knob are provided for tone control.
The hardware on the Classic Vibe ‘60s Jazz Bass includes:
- Vintage-style tuners
- Bone nut
- Vintage-style 4-saddle bridge
- Threaded steel saddles
Some measurements you might find useful for your personal fit and taste include:
- 1.5” nut width
- 34” scale length
- 9.5” fretboard radius
What’s So Great About The Squier Classic Vibe '60s Jazz Bass?
Throughout history, there have been a number of instruments that have changed the game for musicians. For bassists, it’s Fender’s Jazz Bass and Precision Bass models.
The Jazz Bass did come after the Precision Bass but is just as influential in its own regard. With that being said, you aren’t limited to playing jazz on this bass simply because of its name.
Instead, the Jazz in Jazz Bass refers to the offset style of the body when compared to the Precision Bass. These models are a little different on the tone side of things, too.
The Classic Vibe ‘60s Jazz Bass is perfect for just about any style of music, especially those with an edge. Some of the greatest bass players have opted to use a Jazz Bass, and after trying it, you’ll see why.
This version from Squier provides an opportunity for a beginner to carry on with this instrument’s legacy and tradition. Although the bass is made with cheaper labor and materials, there isn’t much to complain about here.
In fact, it seems as if Squier didn’t have to cut too many corners to provide an affordable instrument. The use of a real bone nut helps to provide evidence in this department.
As far as the instrument itself goes, every aspect of the bass has been inspired by its vintage counterpart. For most people, this won’t be an issue, but be mindful if you’re drawn to more innovative genres of music.
The Classic Vibe ‘60s Jazz Bass is a perfect beginner’s bass, providing quality at a reasonable price. A bass like this provides a fertile platform to learn the instrument.
This model is also ideal for modifications down the road, such as new pickups. However, in general, this is a very solid and well-rounded bass in all categories.
Ibanez Standard SR375E – Best Premium
Are you looking for a 5-string bass crafted for extreme playability and packed full of tasty tones? The Ibanez Standard SR375E (see price on Sweetwater, Amazon) is a bass that needs to be on your radar.
This bass is priced toward the upper regions of the beginner’s budget but is well worth its cost. It features a double-cutaway body design, which is crafted from Maple.
The bass itself only comes in one color (sapphire blue), which is finished in satin polyurethane. This results in an illustrious, yet subtle, blue burst with not too much glossy shine.
Ibanez has used a combination of Maple and Walnut (5 pieces total) to craft the Standard SR375E’s neck. This helps to provide extra durability and stability for even the lowest of tunings.
Jatoba is used for the Standard SR375E’s fretboard, which offers 24 frets with white dot inlays. Every range of the fretboard is easily accessible thanks to the bass’s distinct body design.
For hardware, the Standard SR375E has amenities such as:
- Accu-Cast B-125 bridge with individual string saddles
- Plastic nut
- Ibanez tuners
Perhaps the true star of the show with the Standard SR375E is in its pickups. A pair of PowerSpan Dual Coil humbuckers are featured here, which are actually active pickups.
Like most basses, this model features a knob for both volume and tone. Where it differs is in the fact that it has additional controls including:
- 3-band EQ
For an idea of how this bass might feel in your hands, consider the following measurements carefully:
- 1.771” nut width
- 34” scale length
- 12” fretboard radius
What’s So Great About The Ibanez Standard SR375E?
The Standard SR375E is a bass guitar that isn’t playing around with regard to what it provides its player. This is a bass that is filled with options that you frequently cannot find within this price range.
For years, Ibanez has received high acclaim for its SR series among those who require an instrument for performance. Every aspect of the Standard SR375E has been optimized to facilitate the highest level of playing possible.
One noteworthy area of the Standard SR375E has to be its neck, which is quite slim and plays fast. Musical lines that require intense dexterity with speed are going to be right at home here.
The bass’s body is crafted with comfort in mind and you’ll notice the difference right away. Each potentially-sharp point of contact has been given a comfort bevel so you won’t wake up with odd bruises.
Of course, the tonal options available on the Standard SR375E are above and beyond the standard. Flip a switch and you can operate in either single-coil or humbucker mode, with plenty of control knobs available.
While it might be an inconvenience to ensure you always have a 9V battery for the pickups, it's worth it. The Standard SR375E gives you complete control over the minutia of your tone.
Overall, the Standard SR375E is a 5-string bass crafted for performance with a superb tonal range. It’s a bit rare to find a bass that is stocked with as many features within this price range.
Perhaps the only thing wrong with it could be its lack of color options. Not everyone is a fan of a sapphire blue burst.
Ibanez TMB100 – Best Budget
This bass features a unique offset body design which has been crafted out of Poplar. A large number of color options are available for the TMB100, including:
- Mint green
- Tri-fade burst
- Mustard yellow flat
Maple has been used to craft the TMB100’s neck, which has a comfortable C-shape profile. For the fretboard, you have the option of either Jatoba or Maple, offering 20 frets with white dot inlays.
The hardware featured on the TMB100 includes:
- Plastic nut
- Chrome tuners
- B10 bridge with individual string saddles
One of the highlights of the TMB100 has to be its pickups, which include:
- Dynamix P split single-coil (neck position)
- Dynamix J single-coil (bridge position)
Ibanez has done some crafty designing with regard to its electronic controls. Each knob on the TMB100 is stacked, providing a dual feature for each.
Like most basses, the knobs will control both volume as well as tone overall. On top of that, you’ll get a 2-band EQ to help you dial in that perfect sound.
For an idea of how the bass might feel to you, here are some measurements for reference:
- 1.614” nut width
- 34” scale length
- 9.4” fretboard radius
What’s So Great About The Ibanez TMB100?
The Talman series has enjoyed a high rate of recommendation for beginner bassists looking for an instrument. This specific iteration is perhaps one of the best values on the market with regard to its offerings.
In a way, the TMB100 is the meeting ground between stylish aesthetics and a practical tone. The bass has some modern-retro stylings that help provide a vibe to your playing.
Many basses tend to replicate the sound of either the famed Fender Jazz Bass or Precision Bass. After all, those basses have some of the most iconic sounds to ever be recorded.
Rather than being styled after one, the TMB100 is influenced and inspired by both models. Each pickup is designed to replicate those classic sounds you’ve grown up listening to.
This way, you aren’t limited to one particular sound. Instead, you’re given options with the ability to blend as needed.
Overall, the word “options” has to be the TMB100’s biggest selling point. For a low price, you have a choice over things such as:
- Color of the bass itself
- Fretboard material
- Right or left-handed orientation
This could very well end up being the only bass you’ll ever need to buy. And though it’s inexpensive, don’t let that fool you in any manner.
The TMB100 is quite comfortable to play, and its neck has a satin finish for absolute smoothness during performances.
Perhaps the only thing to gripe about is that it only has 20 frets. But really, the occasions you’ll actually need those extra 2-4 frets are quite minimal to even raise a complaint.
This could definitely be an affordable (yet worthwhile) investment into your interest in playing the bass guitar.
What To Look For When Buying A Bass Guitar Under $500
If you’ve never bought or played bass before, it can be hard to know what you should look for. After all, money isn’t exactly an expendable resource for most people, and your money deserves to be well-spent.
Unfortunately, there is no hard and fast rule as to what dictates a bass guitar to be good, or not. As you can imagine, every bass player is different in regard to their playing style and the music they play.
Of course, this doesn’t make things any easier for the newcomer who is trying to figure things out. The following information will guide you through some ideas and concepts, which you can then use in your research.
This is basic information, but it will apply to any bass guitar purchase you will ever make.
Bass Type & Style
First, you will need to decide whether you want to have an electric or acoustic bass. Each is appropriate for nearly any situation, but an acoustic is nice to have for situations that require mobility.
For instance, it’s not exactly the easiest thing to play bass around a campfire with an electric bass. An acoustic will allow you to play anywhere at any time, often providing electric capabilities.
The standard, garden-variety bass is known to have only 4 strings. For many people, this is perfectly suitable.
However, bass guitars also come with a number of extra strings, including models featuring:
- 5 strings
- 6 strings
Most beginner basses will feature either 4 or 5-string models.
Pickups & Tone
The bass is the most prominent instrument in a band’s mix, so it’s vitally important to have a good tone. Pickups are going to play a large role in the sound of the bass overall.
Some basses some incredibly deep, while others exist more on the trebly mid-range side of things. Take your time to see how each bass reacts and facilitates the style(s) of music that you play.
To make sure that you’re getting your money’s worth, take some time to inspect the instrument’s build quality. Even the most reputable brands are not exempt from churning out a dud of an instrument from time to time.
In general, make sure that the bass plays well and facilitates your playing style. Take care to pay attention to the neck while ensuring that the fret ends aren’t sharp.
You’ll also need to address whether a simple setup procedure can alleviate any potential problem areas. A setup will make the bass play at optimum levels, though you’ll need to factor it into your budget.
When buying a bass, you should be shopping with your ears and hands rather than your eyes. The most alluring bass might not play as well as something that looks like your weird distant cousin.
With that being said, nobody wants to look like a fool when playing their bass. An attractive bass will keep you inspired, but keep in mind that looks aren’t everything.
Like any relationship, it’s the personality that the bass provides that should be your biggest indicator. If looks are important, at least make sure that the bass has the sound and feel that you’re looking for.
Otherwise, the bass is liable to sit in a corner, no matter how pretty it might be. And, at the end of the day, that result defeats the purpose of doing any research beforehand.
If you’re an absolute beginner and have never touched a bass before, consider spending as little as possible. You might think that you’ll have all the motivation and drive to commit yourself to the instrument.
However, the human mind is great at overestimating certain variables that are hard to measure and get taken for granted. Prove to yourself that you can stick with the instrument, and you’ll be justified in spending a little more.
Generally speaking, it doesn’t feel so great spending a sum of money on something that doesn’t get used.
It is accepted that the $500 price point is considered the high range of the beginner’s budget. However, many excellent bass guitars (especially for learning) can be found at lower prices than $500.
Saving a little extra money isn’t such a bad thing for a beginner, especially if you don’t have gear. You’ll inevitably be spending money on accessories, along with an amp if you play the electric bass.
If you really want to be as practical as possible, consider browsing the used marketplace for your bass. This will give you an even more inexpensive opportunity to get your feet wet on the instrument.
With the exception of vintage instruments, used bass guitars will sell for less money than they cost new. This means you could easily find the same exact model you’re considering for even less money.
Of course, you’ll need to be very discerning about the bass’s condition and playability. But for the most part, used instruments can be fairly new, only experiencing some light play over a few years.
Best Brands For Bass Guitars Under $500
With the number of bass guitars available, it can be difficult to distinguish what is worth your time. When in doubt, it’s always wise to check out the products of the best-known brands.
A good reputation is not easy to come by in the music industry. The following brands have proved themselves time and again, helping to set the standard for beginner-budget bass guitars.
Squier is actually a sister company to the industry giant, Fender. The company was established in an effort to squash out the market of counterfeit Fender instruments during the 1980s.
There was a time when Squier was less-than-desirable, but now its instruments are some of the most recommended. These are essentially Fender designs crafted overseas with cheaper labor and materials for a less expensive price.
Ibanez is a Japanese company that is considered one of the premier guitar and bass companies in the industry. You wouldn’t know it, but Ibanez actually got its start in the 1930s as a guitar-importing/exporting company.
Eventually, Ibanez started crafting its own instruments, and by the 1970s, word quickly spread about its craftsmanship. Today, Ibanez is openly embraced and endorsed by some of the most innovative musicians in modern music.
Best Bass Guitars For Under $500, Final Thoughts
The importance of choosing the right bass cannot be understated. If you make the wrong choice, you’re not going to be very inspired to stick with the instrument.
Be sure to be patient with the process. A little bit of trial and error is needed to learn what your specific needs are.
Eventually, through firsthand experience and a developed ear, you’ll know exactly which bass is right for you.