Whether you’re just starting out or looking to upgrade your bass, it can be a daunting task navigating the wide variety of affordable options available. While some might believe they need to spend over a thousand dollars for a high-quality bass, it’s possible to find a premium bass for under $500 built with quality craftsmanship.
Indeed, while some may see you get what you pay for when it comes to bass guitars, my years of experience with these models say otherwise. There are definitely great and affordable basses out there that will last you a lifetime on the stage or just jamming at home.
This list has been curated from my years of experimenting with many different affordable bass manufacturers and comparing their comfortability, tone, and aesthetics. Let’s get to it!
Schecter Stiletto Extreme-4
Founded in 1976, Schecter started as a humble company producing only replacement parts for existing guitar manufacturers such as Fender and Gibson. A few years later, they started producing their own hand-built electric guitars, bass guitars, and amplifiers.
This bass guitar is part of the widely acclaimed Schecter Stiletto series and perfectly balances premium craftsmanship and cost-effectiveness. The Stiletto Extreme 4 is one of the most impressive of the series. It delivers a deeply resonating tone while also being very comfortable and nice to look at.
The Stiletto Extreme-4 at a Glance:
- Deep Cherry Mahogany body
- Quilted maple top
- Maple neck
- Rosewood Fretboard
- Active electronics with 2 diamond humbucking pickups
- 34” scale
Overview of Features
Right out of the box you’re immediately greeted with a small, lightweight body that feels very comfortable. The whole thing sits at 34” scale length which is just an inch shy of most Fender basses. The neck is bolted on the body with six screws which will prevent it from ever being warped out of shape. The ergonomic heavy metal-design sits well on the knee when sitting down.
It has a gorgeous quilted maple top with a very warm, sustain-friendly mahogany body. The cutaway deep cherry colored body is relatively small and immediately reminds you of a Fender body. There is no pickguard and the black chrome finish is spotless and very well-done. The beautiful aesthetics are finished off with a nice cream binding on the neck and body.
The bass has perfect intonation and clean, low action. The neck has no obvious neck drop and the entire thing just feels very slim and smooth. The narrow neck, especially near the nut, lends itself well to complex chord voicings and players with smaller hands. The neck is strung with high-quality Ernie Ball Super Long strings that came in-tune and stay in tune for days even when heavily used. Going up the neck there is a two-way adjustable truss rod and a graph tech XL black tusq nut. As for hardware, the bass has a high-quality Diamond bass bridge, and in-house made Schecter tuners.
Sitting on the body are two premium diamond active pickups, an overall volume control, a 2-band EQ mix knob to set the balance between the pickups, and two-tone settings. The active pickups use a 9-V clip-in battery compartment and allow you to plug directly into a sound system without an additional pre-amp. The fast, double-octave maple neck sports 24 X-jumbo frets and a great-looking rosewood fingerboard with avalon vector inlays.
The active electronics gives the bass a full-sound with high volume output. The pickup balance control gives you a wide sound range that sounds great played either with a pick or with your fingers. Based on the design, it may look to be tailored for rock and metal players, especially with its dark aesthetics, but it will produce just about any booming, powerful sound you’re looking for with its greatly versatile, well-rounded tone. It can work well with styles like slap-bass, midrange jazz soloing, and contemporary R&B. Perhaps most impressively, players will find this bass is live stage or bedroom jamming-ready right out of the box. To hear the Stiletto Extreme-4 in action, check out this video:
- Great Deep Cherry look and perfect finish
- Great feeling maple neck with highly comfortable, ergonomic design
- Great hardware and active Schecter electronics for great control and a loud, well-rounded tone
- Set up and ready to play right out of the box. Only string changes are needed!
- Comes in a left-handed model and a 5-string model
- Highly cost-effective for the craftsmanship
- Plastic tuning pegs are not as durable
- Have to remove 4 screws to replace the battery which some customers don’t like
Squier Vintage Modified Jazz Bass
Squier is a string-instrument manufacturer that dates way back to 1890 but was acquired by Fender in 1965. In essence, it does what Epiphone does for Gibson, producing lower-priced versions of Fender guitars but skimping on none of the build quality and craftsmanship. I’ve been playing bass for decades, and it’s truly hard to tell the difference between this and an authentic Fender.
As part of the Vintage Modified Series from Squier, this bass is a time machine to the 1970s. It gives you that classic, vintage ‘70s feel and look at a great price.
Vintage Modified Jazz Bass ‘70’s at a Glance:
- Soft maple body
- Maple neck
- 20 fret Maple fingerboard
- 2 single-coil pickups
- Natural finish
- Chrome hardware
Overview of Features
It features a soft “off-set waist” maple body that is immensely comfortable to play for hours. There is a three-ply black pickguard and the whole body has a vintage gloss-tint finish. The contoured double-cutaway body comes in three colors, Natural, Olympic White, and Candy Apple red, all very attractive throwback colors to the groovy ‘70s. The guitar sits at a 34” scale length. With a total shipping weight of almost 14 pounds, you’ll probably want to get a comfortable strap if you’ll be playing standing up for hours-because you will feel it over time!
The one-piece maple neck sports black binding and block inlays on a maple fingerboard. This gives the neck that classic Fender bass look and feel. The neck has a thin “C” shape with 20 medium jumbo-sized frets that add to the comfort and playability. The fast neck has a glossy polyurethane finish that gives it a great time-honored look with none of the stickiness of lower-quality thick coatings. As for hardware, the bridge is a standard 4-saddle, and the open-gear tuners sit in-line on top of the maple headstock near a synthetic bone nut.
The two Fender-designed single-coil Jazz Bass pickups are controlled by three 3 knurled chrome control knobs. One controls the volume of the middle pickup, one the bridge pickup, and the other is a universal tone control which is commonly found on jazz basses.
This bass sounds fantastic with its passive electronics. Being all-maple, it definitely has a well-developed mid-range especially with the bridge pickup activated, but you get that well-rounded booming, powerful sound with the middle pickup. Anyone playing rhythm or funky solos in a variety of playing styles will appreciate this great-sounding bass guitar. Check out this video to get a taste of what it sounds like with the different pickups activated.
Overall, it’s really hard to believe that this bass guitar isn’t at least double its price.
- Great bang for your buck. Feels like an authentic Fender.
- All natural maple wood construction that sounds great and is built to last
- Quality chrome hardware
- Resonant tone and excellent playability
- Comes in different body colors, Natural, Candy Apple Red and Olympic White
- Slight neck-block by the chunk of wood at the heel if playing in the upper registers at the top frets
- The simplicity of passive electronics reduces the versatility a bit
- Some customers required the medium-low action to be set-up before playing.
Based in Japan, Yamaha is one of the big names in the guitar world, manufacturing high-quality electric since the 1940s. They entered the bass world in with the SB2 in 1966. Later, the TRBX series of basses was released in 2013 and made in Indonesia. It is a line of bass guitars that caters to a wide range of budgets, and the TRBX504 is an especially recommended model for beginners and advanced players alike.
The TRBX504 at a Glance:
- Sculpted solid mahogany body
- Comfortable 5-piece maple/mahogany neck
- Rosewood fingerboard
- Versatile active electronics with 2 humbucking pickups
Overview of Features
The sculpted 3D solid mahogany body is highly aesthetic and very durable. The deep cutaway not only looks great but enhances playability in the upper registers. The 34” scale body features a translucent black nickel hardware finish. Sitting on the body is a durable, high-mass die-cast chrome 4-string bridge. Once you pick it up, you immediately find that this guitar balances its weight perfectly with its high-quality build.
The neck is incredibly comfortable to play. It features a slim “D” shape, measuring under 1.5” in thickness. The 5-piece neck two small pieces of mahogany and three bigger pieces of maple. It has a smooth, polyurethane neck finish, further adding to the neck profile playability. On the neck sits a smooth, comfortable rosewood fingerboard with offset dot inlays and 24 medium frets. Going up the neck, you find a urea nut and die-cast chrome tuners.
In terms of electronics, the TRBX504 is truly flexible and versatile. It flaunts HHB5 alnico magnet pickups designed by YGD with an active/passive preamp design. It has a 2-way active/pass switch followed by 3-band EQ knobs, a balance control knob, and a volume knob. The knobs for volume and blend work in active and passive mode. In the active setting, the three knobs on the bottom adjust the boost/cut for the treble, mid, and bass. If the switch is thrown to passive mode, the treble knob functions as a passive treble roll-off. Players will appreciate this high-end EQ control to find the optimal sound for whatever playing environment they are in, whether it be live gigs or studio sessions. To top it off, the guitar features an LED on the back to indicate when the 9-V battery is running low in active mode.
The active/pass preamp design lets you dial in the optimal tone for your unique playing needs. Due to this electronic versatility, this bass offers itself to a wide variety of playing styles and genres, ranging from slap-bass jazz to heavy metal. The choosable tone profiles include slap, pick, flat, finger, and solo. In passive, you get a traditional sound, and on active, you get a punchy, aggressive, modern sound. To hear the differences between the active and passive mode, be sure to watch this video.
Overall, the TRBX504 perfectly balances tone and comfort at a fantastic price.
- Solid mahogany body and durable maple/mahogany neck
- Great tonal versatility due to high-end passive/active preamp design
- Deep, punchy tone with a clean sound
- Stable tuning that will last for days
- Comes in a wide variety of colors
- Excellent Yamaha customer service with a limited lifetime warranty
- Some players required an initial set-up
- Some customers report poor quality control
ESP LTD B-204SM FL
ESP began in Tokyo Japan in 1975, manufacturing bass and electric guitars. This bass is part of the LTD series established in 1996, which is their bargain line. While more cost-effective, it certainly doesn’t mean there isn’t quality craftsmanship involved. The ESP LTD B-2045SM is an excellent bass that sounds great and is undoubtedly made with high-quality materials.
The LTD B-204SM at a Glance:
- 34” scale, 4-string fretless bass with string-thru design
- Ash body
- Spalted Maple top
- Roasted Jatoba fretboard
- Bolt-on, 5-piece maple/jatoba neck
- Ultra-thin U-shaped neck profile
- Active electronics with versatile 3-band EQ
- Natural satin finish
Overview of Features
The double-cutaway body is made of two tonewoods, solid ash and a top of spalted maple. The spalted maple coloration and texture definitely gives this guitar a gorgeous, unique look that is sure to turn heads. Ash makes up most of the body, giving it a sturdy and weighty feel. The body has a beautifully organic natural satin finish and the whole bass sits at a 34” scale length. The bass also comes in a see-thru black satin finish.
The 5-piece neck is bolt-on and sits deep into the body. It is made of a combination of maple and Jatoba, which gives it great durability and resilience to warping. It feels very comfortable, and its extra thin U-shaped profile makes for fast action and easy fretting. 24 extra jumbo frets sit on a roasted jatoba fretboard. The bass comes in either a fretless or fretted design.
As for electronics, this bass features passive ESP Designed SB-4 humbucker pickups. On the body also sits a master volume control knob, a master tone control knob, and a three-band EQ knob for treble, bass, and mid. All of the hardware, including the durable LTD BB-604 string-thru-body designed bridge, look great as black nickel.
Overall, this bass sounds great. Ash provides a nice emphasis in the mids, while the spalted maple nice resonance toward the high tones of the guitar. Overall, it has a well-rounded tonality and is bright and punchy. The pickups give a deep bass response and a full, beefy tone with great sustain. Additionally, they create an optimal volume output with little excess noise, making this bass ideal for live performances or clean studio recordings. The 3-band active EQ electronics gives the player lots of versatility to find the right tone within the mix. To hear this bass jamming, check this video out.
This bass is great for a wide spectrum of playing styles, from jazz and modern rock to heavy metal. The fretless design is well-suited for players of funk, jazz, and fusion especially. Additionally, the string-through bridge will lend itself to virtually any playing style.
- Beautiful spalted maple top gives a unique look
- Maple/Jatoba 5-piece neck is very comfortable and sturdy
- Active equalizer gives great tone-sculpting options
- Excellent value for the price
- Comes in 4-string, 5-string, and 6-string models.
- Some customers mention having to set up the action prior to playing. Low action may cause some fret buzz.
- The nut of the guitar is molded plastic, which may be a bottlenecking factor in the bass durability
- Might be a bit heavy for some smaller-framed players, but solvable with a comfortable strap
Ibanez SR300E SR Standard
Ibanez is an excellent Japanese-based guitar brand with a strong reputation in the industry. They are known for their quality instruments across a wide range of budgets, and the SR series is no exception. The SR models are known for their slim neck profiles and lightweight bodies. They make for an excellent beginner or intermediate bass guitar purchase.
With its fast neck and superb build quality, the SR300E SR Standard is truly a steal for under $500.
SR300E at a Glance:
- Eastern Mahogany body
- 5-piece maple/walnut neck
- Jatoba fingerboard with 24-frets
- Cosmo Black hardware
- Pair of Powerspan dual-coil humbucking pickups
- Versatile 3-band EQ
- 3-way power tap switch
Overview of Features
The double-cutaway body sports a classic Ibanez style and sits very comfortably on the leg. The sleek design will appeal to players across a wide range of genres, but traditionalists may not be as swooned by the modern design.
The body is fully made of Nyatoh, sometimes referred to as Nato or Eastern Mahogany. The bolt-on 5-piece neck feels rock solid and is constructed from maple and walnut. Seated on the neck is a jatoba fretboard with 24-frets marked with classy white dot inlays. Jatoba is similar to rosewood but less expensive and slightly lighter in color when unfinished. The bass has great intonation right out of the box, thanks to the Accu-cast B120 bridge. Moreover, the Cosmo Black hardware looks fantastic.
At 34” scale length, you can expect great action with this bass and easy access to the upper frets. The bass has great intonation right out of the box, thanks to the Accu-cast B120 bridge
The playability of this bass is exceptional. The neck profile is very slim and comfortable, so smaller-handed players or anyone who wants to easily maneuver around the fretboard will definitely appreciate this feature.
The model features a pair of Powerspan dual-coil humbucker pickups with exposed pole pieces. The exposed pole feature gives a stronger, cleaner signal for that powerful, booming sound. The versatility shines through on the pickup controls. It features a boost/cut control for treble, mid, and bass. The 3-band EQ has a three-way power tap switch that further extends the electronic versatility. This allows you to split the humbucking pickups or combine them with a single-coil to find that tonal sweet spot. Finally, there is a master volume knob and a balance knob, the latter of which lets you blend the two neck and bridge pickups. You can easily access the battery in the back of the body to power the active electronics.
The bass is built with quality craftsmanship and provides a great, well-rounded tone. The electronics are definitely top-notch and deliver a powerful, full sound in a variety of ways thanks to the versatility of the controls. The 3-band EQ gives the player lots of flexibility to hone in on the perfect tone for the mix. Both live players and studio players will find that this bass can meet their needs across the full spectrum of playing styles. To hear more about its details and the variety of tones it can produce, be sure to watch this video review and demo.
- Sleek modern design with Eastern Mahogany and a perfect finish.
- Comes in a variety of colors.
- Comes in a left-handed model
- 3-band EQ and power tap switch for extreme tonal versatility
- Has a very slim and comfortable neck that is easy to play and resistant to warping
- Cosmo Black hardware looks great
- Great value for the money
- Some customers do not like the location of the output jack
Sterling by Music Man Stingray Ray4
Sterling by Music Man provides iconic guitars and basses designed by the widely esteemed Ernie Ball Music Man brand. The company adheres to strict quality standards, all instruments are carefully inspected by the team in Orange, California before shipping worldwide. The Stingray Ray4 is a more affordable version of the original Ernie Ball Music Man Stingray bass, but certainly not a cheap knock-off. The Ray4 stands out as one of their most iconic and impressive bass guitars.
The Stingray Ray4 is a 4-string electric bass sitting at a 34” scale length. The bass is equipped with a Sterling by Music Man-designed ceramic pickup and 2-band active preamp to dial in a precise tone you’re looking for.
Stingray Ray4 at a Glance:
- Basswood body with Satin finish
- 1 low noise ceramic humbucking pickup designed in-house
- On-board 9V 2-band active preamp
- Fully adjustable heavy duty bridge
- Sturdy Hard Maple neck with 21 frets
- Maple or Jatoba fretboard depending on the color
- Stable open-gear tuners
- Lightweight, at just 9 pounds.
Overview of Features
The solid body is designed to be identical to the original Music Man Stingray, but it is made of basswood rather than solid ash like the original Stingray. The classic oval teardrop pickguard and control knob layout really make you feel like you’re holding a lighter version of the real deal.
A bolt-on hard maple neck seats either a Maple or Jatoba fingerboard depending on the choice of body color. The black or white dot inlays (again, depending on the color chosen) add a nice visual appeal to the classic body design. The six-bolt design of the neck ensures durability and resistance to warping.
The sturdy, fixed bridge is fully adjustable for height and intonation. Where the neck meets the body you find the fully-adjustable truss rod. Over at the other end of the bass, die-cast chrome tuners sit in a unique “3+1” tuning arrangement that allows for straight string pull across the nut.
The sound comes from the low-noise ceramic soap bar-style humbucking pickup coupled with a 2-band EQ active preamp. There are three control knobs, master volume, bass, and treble near a front-mount input jack. The controls let you shape the tone to your desire and will suit a large variety of genres from funk and jazz to R&B, rock, and disco.
For the price of this guitar, you really can’t beat the tone. It boasts plenty of mid-range and a tight low-end, which makes it excellent for slap-bass or finger-pull playing styles. Check this out to see how the Stingray Ray4 caters to a variety of playing styles and tones.
- Distinctive, classic look with a genuine 70’s look and feel
- Comes in a variety of colors
- Built-in active 2-band EQ lets you dial in the right tone
- Great quality control, doubly inspected in the U.S.
- Great intonation, ready to play out of the box
- The comfortable neck and low action make it immensely playable
- Some customers note imperfections in the finish
- Some note an occasional string buzz that is fixed by an initial truss rod adjustment
Hofner IGNITIONSB Electric Violin Bass Guitar
This bass is truly too iconic and impressive to not include. The original German-made 500/1 violin bass was created by Walter Hofner in 1955. At the time, it appealed to players of the upright bass who didn’t want to lug around a big heavy instrument to play in beat and jazz groups. By 1963, the violin bass went through a series of refinements and iterations and was used and widely popularized by Paul McCartney. Now, for a budget-friendly sub-$500, the Ignition Vintage Violin bass from Hofner shows off the original retro looks and a great, bright tone.
The IGNITIONSB Hofner Electric Violin Bass at a Glance:
- Semi-hollow body
- Beautiful flamed maple back and sides
- Spruce top wood for that bright, punchy sound
- Comfortable solid maple neck
- Violin sunburst finish
- Rosewood fretboard
- Extremely lightweight sitting at 6.85 lb
- Hofner 500/1-style bridge, control panel, and trapeze nickel tailpiece
- Hofner staple nickel humbuckers
Overview of Features
For lovers of vintage basses, you can’t go wrong with the Hoffner Ignition Electric Violin Bass. The body shape emulates the German-made 500/1 but comes without the hefty price tag. The semi-hollow body is very light and so can be played with ease for hours. The scale length is shorter than the others in the list at a mere 30” scale.
It has a flamed maple back and sides and a spruce top which all contribute to the natural warm acoustics. The classic design that perfectly emulates the original German model really makes this bass shine. The finish on the bass is a stunning sunburst. The vintage look is completed with white bindings, a white plastic pickguard, and single nickel tuners with a pearl finish.
A rosewood bridge, nickel trapeze tailpiece, and open-gear nickel tuners complete the timeless vintage look. The nickel tuners have classy pearloid buttons which adds a nice touch to the aesthetics.
The 22-fretted neck is made of solid maple and sits a smooth rosewood fretboard. The neck profile is slim and appeals to bassists on the smaller side. The bass has great action and overall feels very sturdy and comfortable.
As for hardware, it uses two Staple Nickel humbuckers designed in-house. They offer the warm, bright tones that certainly remind you of the original Hofner. The volume of each humbucker can be controlled with its own knob. There are two switches between them to turn the pickups on or off. A third switch is labeled rhythm or lead, and when switched to lead it can easily cut through the mix with a powerful, punchy tone.
The sound nicely replicates the original Hofner 500/1. The warm, bright tones are brought out by the humbuckers and the solid spruce top wood. The semi-hollow body gives it a woody, almost acoustic sound. If you want to hear the differences between the pickups, this video is a great demonstration.
This bass can deliver a warm, mellow sound as well as punchy, thumpy sound that is characteristic of shorter scale violin electric bass guitars. You will fit in with a variety of genres, including folk, indie, jazz, Americana scenes, and more. Players of hard rock, metal, or funk may not want to go with this instrument; it does not lend itself well to slap-playing.
- Great vintage look, feel, and sound popularized by the Beatles
- Very light and short scale length is well-suited to smaller players
- Has a nice, deep thumpy sound
- Great value for the price
- Not as versatile compared to 3-EQ active basses for recording
- Not the most durable materials
- If playing in a band, it is not well-suited for rock or metal
Overall, each of these instruments brings to the table something greatly unique for an affordable price, which makes this a hard choice. If we had to choose, the Yamaha TRBX504 takes the cake as an affordable and immensely versatile instrument with many awesome features. For beginners who are still developing their sound and playing styles, you can’t go wrong with the sheer flexibility and the comfortable design, all backed by reputable Yamaha customer service.