Best Bass Under $300: Top 5 Budget Bass Guitars
Top Bass Guitars
Finding the right bass guitar is hard enough, but when your budget is $300 or less it might seem like the best instruments are out of your price range. While it is true that many outstanding mid-level bass guitars will be beyond your reach, you’ll find there are some real gems out there that you can grab for less than three Benjamins. If you know where to look, that is.
This article can help! I’ve whittled the choices down to my five favorite bass guitars for under $300. They’re solid instruments made by some of the top bass guitar builders in the world. These bass guitars are perfect for serious beginners, bassists looking to upgrade from a starter instrument, or veteran bassists who want to expand their collections without dropping a lot of cash.
When it comes to musical instruments it is as true as with anything else: The lower you go in cost the more you have to worry about quality. That means it is so important to choose wisely when you are in the market for a budget bass.
While that should make you think twice about some of the bargain-basement brands out there, when we're talking about companies like Ibanez, Fender, Jackson, Epiphone and Music Man you can rest easy knowing their reputations for excellence extend to their mid-level gear.
That’s why they made my list, and I wouldn’t recommend them if I didn’t think you could trust their stuff!
So let’s look at some bass guitars!
I’ve always been a huge fan of Ibanez bass guitars, and their Soundgear line in particular. My first real bass was an Ibanez SR400, which is a notch or two above the SR250, but very similar in appearance and function.
Ibanez SR bass guitars are known for being light and easy to play, with fast, thin necks. They are also very flexible, thanks to the 3-band tone-shaping circuitry. The SR250 makes use of the Ibanez EQB-IIID equalizer, which consists of a volume knob, a boost/cut control for each of treble, mid and bass, and a balancer knob for blending the pair of Ibanez CAP-EXF N2 pickups.
This is an active bass, meaning the circuitry described above requires a battery to operate. Active bass guitars are very adaptable when it comes to tone, and the Ibanez SR series especially so. You can go from a punchy pick-attack rock sound to a smooth finger-style jazz sound with a few knob twists, and you never need to touch your amp.
The SR250 tonewood profile features a basswood body, three-piece maple neck and 24-fret rosewood fingerboard.
Note: This bass is also available as a 5-string model in the SR255, and as a 6-string as the SR256.
Squier Vintage Modified Jazz Bass ‘70s
The Squier Vintage Modified Series has really surprised a lot of musicians in recent years, even some of us who have been around the block a time or two. There are several Jazz basses in the Vintage Modified lineup, but the best is the ‘70s model.
Of course, I may be a little biased. I happen to have one of these guys in my guitar collection, and I love it. Even after 20+ years of playing bass I find it impressive, and with a price tag under $300 it costs way less than it should.
You already may know that Squier is a Fender brand, and this Vintage Modified bass is actually intended to replicate a Fender Jazz from the 1970s. That accounts for the cool block inlays in the fingerboard and the retro looks.
The Vintage Modified Jazz Bass ‘70s features a soft maple body, maple neck and maple finger board. If you know anything about tonewoods you might be thinking all that maple will make it sound a little brittle, but that’s not the case at all. The tone is textured, punchy and, with some proper knob twiddling on the amp side, you’ll have no trouble finding the low end you need.
Like the classic Fender Jazz Bass, this Squier version features passive electronics, so you don’t have to worry about a battery. But what does that mean for your sound?
As with all good Jazz basses, the Squier VM ‘70s is capable of some pretty impressive tones, available by blending different combinations of the two pickup volume knobs, and tone control.
Check out all of basses in the Squier Vintage Modified lineup before making your choice, but you can’t go wrong with the ‘70s model.
Epiphone Thunderbird IV
The next bass on my list certainly stands out from the rest! The Epiphone Thunderbird is modeled after the classic Gibson Thunderbird and shares many of the same attributes. Epiphone builds their gear based on Gibson specs, so you know you can expect the best.
The Thunderbird is an interesting bass in that it has the edge to get the job done in hard rock or metal, but it is also classy enough to use in any genre. With its reverse body and sunburst finish it has the looks to stand apart from just about every other bass in the world, but of course what really matters is sound.
According to Epiphone’s website, the Epiphone Thunderbird features a mahogany body with a hardrock maple bolt-on neck and rosewood fingerboard. The pickups are Epiphone’s Thunderbird Bass Plus Humbuckers, and controls are set up J-Bass style with a volume knob for each pickup and a single tone knob.
Thunderbird tone is growly and warm and perfect for rock music. The electronics are passive, but the humbuckers and mahogany body bring a slightly more aggressive vibe than the typical Jazz-bass sound. Still, roll the controls in the right direction and this bass will do jazz, blues, country or just about anything else you ask it.
Note: The Epiphone Thunderbird is also available in a Goth version with a black-on-black finish, and a Pro version with active electronics, neck-through construction and other upgraded appointments.
More on the Epiphone Thunderbird IV
Sterling by Music Man S.U.B. Ray 4
The Music Man StingRay is a legendary bass known for its fat, growly tone and unique design. Of course you’re never going to find a StingRay for under your $300 budget, but you can grab one like it. The Music Man Sterling S.U.B. Ray 4 is an affordable version of the StingRay with many of the same distinctive features as the monster bass it was modeled after.
Many bassists love the StingRay sound, made possible by a huge bridge-position humbucker. The SUB Ray 4 has the same design, with a high-output humbucker and a two-band active EQ. Other features include a hardwood body, maple neck with a slick satin finish and controls for volume, bass and treble. The bass also has the looks of a StingRay, with the classic body shape and 3+1 headstock design.
Bassists in all genres value the StingRay for its unique tone, and the SUB Ray4 is a great way to grab that sound in a very affordable package. The single pickup is surprisingly versatile. If you want to take a step away from the standard two-pickup bass design and forge your own path, this is a bass to consider.
Note: The Sterling S.U.B Ray is also available as a 5-string version in the Ray5.
Jackson JS2 Concert Bass
The Jackson Concert Bass is a classic, and if you’re into metal you’ve no doubt seen it around. Jackson is the premier name in metal guitars, and the Concert Bass is their epic entry into the bass world. Like much of Jackson’s lineup, this design is available in models ranging from beginner’s instruments to custom-shop gear for pros.
The JS Series is Jackson’s attempt at bringing their legendary guitars into a price range just about anyone can afford, and that the JS2 Concert Bass will get you that Jackson vibe while keeping you under your $300 budget. It’s a Jackson through and through, right down to the shark-fin fretboard inlays.
Features include an Indian Cedro Body, maple neck and rosewood fingerboard. Pickups are a pair of Jackson high-output bass humbuckers and the hardware includes a Jackson high-mass bridge for great tone and sustain.
If you know you are going to primarily subject your bass to hard rock and heavy metal this is an instrument to consider. There is good reason so many guitarists and bassists in the metal genre have chosen Jackson over the years.
Also note that this bass is available as a four and five string with active electronics in the slightly pricier JS3.
Dave Ellefson from Megadeth Talks About Jackson JS Basses
Which Budget Bass?
So which bass should you choose for your style and needs? Each instrument presented in this article has its own set of attributes that are more or less suited to different goals. You can find some similar basses that wouldn’t be bad choices either, but these 5 bass guitars I feel are tops in their respective niches.
If you want a bass for rock, jazz or funk you might look to the Squier by Fender Vintage Modified Jazz Bass. It has classic Fender J-Bass features and it is a tremendous value.
The Ibanez SR250 is a quality instrument and probably the most flexible of the lot. If you play metal or jazz you’ll love the tone-shaping options and thin neck, but this bass can find a home in any genre.
The Sterling S.U.B. Ray4 brings that snarling StingRay humbucker power down to a price anyone can afford. It’s a powerful rock bass with a unique look and sound.
The Thunderbird IV is a Gibson classic in an Epiphone package. It’s a hard-driving rock bass with the tone for any genre where you want to make a statement.
Finally, the Jackson Concert Bass is a metalhead’s dream. The brand name Jackson has become synonymous with metal and the JS2 Concert Bass carries on the tradition.
No matter which you choose you won’t be disappionted, so figure out which one calls to you and go for it! Good luck with your new bass!