Best Bass Under $500: Top 5 Bass Guitars for the Money
Top Bass Guitars
If you need a bass but you only have $500 to spend it ought to make you happy to know that some of the best bass guitar builders in the world offer instruments that will easily fit into your budget. These are quality basses, certainly good enough for intermediate players, but with sound and specs that will satisfy veteran bassists.
As a musician, it’s far too easy to get mixed up in the idea that you need expensive gear to sound good. Sure, there are some amazing instruments out there that cost an arm and a leg, and most of them are well worth it.
High-end bass guitars from brands like Fender, Spector, Lakland and Warwick are some of the best in the world, are definitely worth their asking prices. But some of us just aren’t in the position to drop that kind of cash. Thankfully, we have other options.
In this article I’ve sorted out five of the top bass guitars for less than five-hundred bucks. I think every one of them will get the job done, and they’ll each help you to sound incredible while staying under budget.
Whether you’re looking for your first real bass to join a band, or just want to add to your collection, these bass guitars are worth a look.
On to the gear!
Ibanez makes great bass gear, period. Their Soundgear lineup has been among the best choices for metal, rock and jazz for twenty-five years. When I started playing bass almost two decades ago my first bass was the Ibanez SR400. Back then it offered amazing tone, flexibility and play, and while the bass has changed quite a bit, those attributes remain.
To be clear, this is not a beginner’s bass. I’d been playing guitar for ten years when I took up the bass, and I knew what I wanted. The SR400 delivered big time, so much so that when I wanted a 5-string I went out and got another Ibanez.
These days, some of the details are different but this is still the same great bass I remember. Today’s SR400 features a mahogany body with quilted maple top. Mahogany is a rich, warm tonewood that will really bring out the low end, and the maple top looks gorgeous.
There’s a 5-piece rosewood/maple neck with 24-fret rosewood fretboard. Ibanez necks are always thin and fast, even on their bass guitars. The three-band active EQ allows for flexible shaping of the sounds coming from the Ibanez pickups.
Note: The SR400 is also available in a 5-string model. (SR405).
What I Like: This is just a great bass for the money, and Ibanez’s in-house hardware and electronics like their CAP EXF-N2 pickups and Accucast B-300 bridge are hard to beat on a bass in this price range.
What I Don’t Like: While I love the quilted top, it sure would be nice to see this bass offered in solid colors again!
Ibanez Soundgear and Metal
ESP LTD B-4E
You might think of expensive custom guitars in the hands of famous musicians when you think of ESP. Well, if you’re my age you might, anyway. Back in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s it seemed like everybody worth mentioning was playing an ESP guitar. Over the past few decades ESP has branched out with their ESP LTD brand, and brought some really outstanding instruments to intermediate players.
ESP LTD has a reputation as a guitar company that caters to the metal and hard rock crowd, but they do other things too. Take the B-4E for example. This is a beautiful bass, and while you can certainly use it for metal if you want, it has the looks and vibe to stand out in any genre.
The ESP LTD B-4E features neck-thru-body construction, with a mahogany body and 5-piece maple/mahogany neck providing some tonal depth and articulation. Then they layer on an ebony top and 24-fret ebony fretboard to bring some spank and punch to the sound. Nice! For the electronics, you’ve got an active 3-band EQ with volume and balance control. The bridge and pickups are both ESP designs.
Note: This bass is also available as the B-5E, a 5-string version. Also check out the ESP LTD D-series and B-204SM.
What I Like: I’m pretty impressed with the construction and choice of tonewoods in a guitar at this price point. This, plus the beautiful finish, is what put the ESP-LTD in the running for best bass under $500.
What I Don’t Like: Not much, but I suspect a pickup upgrade would make this bass even sweeter.
Schecter Stiletto Custom 4
I can never say enough good things about Schecter. Every Schecter bass or guitar I’ve ever owned or played was a great instrument. I’ve said it before, but I truly believe Schecters are the best bargains out there in the guitar world. The Schecter Stilletto bass lives up to that hype. I was lucky enough to have one of these babies in my possession for a while, and it was an amazing bass.
However, I have to admit I’m cheating a little here. One of the main goals of my articles is to help musicians find good gear for reasonable prices.
If you find a good deal your might be able to grab the Schecter Stiletto Custom 4 bass for around $500, but it usually goes for a couple bucks over that. It’s worth it, but if you simply can’t swing it check out the Stiletto Extreme instead.
The Stiletto Custom 4 features a mahogany body with a maple/walnut top and a maple/walnut flame top with a 24-fret rosewood fretboard. The pickups are EMG-35HZs, controlled by a 2-band EQ plus volume and blend knobs.
Note: The Stiletto Custom is available as a 5-string and 6-string bass too!
What I Like: The EMG pickups are solid on a guitar at this price point, but that’s what Schecter does. I also love the look of the natural-finished version of this bass. Very nice.
What I Don’t Like: Three-band EQ would have been nice, but that’s just my personal preference.
Washburn Taurus T24
Surprised to see Washburn here? You shouldn’t be. This is company that used to have a much higher profile for sure, but they are still turning out great gear, especially in the bass guitar department. The Taurus T24 is a pretty good example of this, and I’m not the only one who thinks so either. According to Washburn's website, this bass won an Editor’s Choice Award for outstanding construction from Bass Player Magazine. That alone makes it a solid choice for best bass under $500.
Like the ESP LTD above, this is a bass that looks great thanks to some smart build techniques. It has neck-thru-body construction with a mahogany body and mahogany/maple neck, with a 24-fret rosewood fingerboard.
A pair of custom J-style pickups with passive electronics will set this bass apart from some of the other basses listed above. If you like the modern style and construction but prefer the sound of a passive bass, this is a great option.
Note: The Taurus T25 is the 5-string version of this bass.
What I Like: Beautiful looks and solid build quality.
What I Don’t Like: I’m on the fence about passive electronics here, but people seem to really like the sound of this bass.
Fender Blacktop Precision Bass
You didn’t think I’d get through any best-bass list without mentioning Fender, did you? Unfortunately, the days when you could land a Standard MIM Jazz or Precision Bass for under $500 appear to be gone. But the Blacktop Precision Bass will come in under your budget, and offers some interesting upgrades to the standard Precision Bass motif.
The first thing you are going to notice is the big, beefy Blacktop humbuckers. These pickups are more aggressive and higher output than what you’d normally see on any P-bass. Sound is controlled by a Jazz-bass style setup of two volume and one passive tone knobs. The body is alder, and the neck is maple with a 20-fret rosewood fingerboard.
What we have here is a jacked-up Precision Bass. If you love the P-bass but want more power, consider this bad boy.
Note: There is also a Jazz Bass version of the Blacktop Bass.
What I Like: The pickups just look and sound mean.
What I Don’t Like: What’s with the plastic knobs? I’d be swapping those out for chrome knurled knobs.
Choosing Your Bass
As you can see, you have some powerful options if you are a bassist on a budget. You how do you decide? Fortunately for me that’s your problem! But it’s a good problem to have, and I can tell you what I’d choose.
If I were playing in a metal band I’d look at the Ibanez or the ESP LTD. Both have thin, fast necks and very flexible tone shaping. I’d also think about the Fender, if I wanted a passive bass.
For jazz or smooth, mellow rock tones I’d be leaning toward the Washburn. I like the passive electronics with that choice of tonewoods.
For a hard-driving rock bass the Fender Backtop would be tough to pass up. I love Precision Basses and those humbuckers are just nasty.
The award for best overall bass, and best bass for the money, goes to the Schecter. From rock to jazz to metal, if I needed a high-quality instrument to get it all done this would be my choice. The Ibanez would be a runner-up.
But that’s just my opinion. I’ve shown you the best bass guitars for under $500. What will you decide?