I'm a guitarist and bassist with over 35 years of experience as a musician.
Best Bass Guitars for Metal
The best bass guitar for heavy metal has the right tone and punch to stand out in the mix, but also the guttural growl necessary to hold down the low end. There are some really cool designs out there that look great on stage, but you know the sound is what matters most.
Sadly, in metal, some people put the bass guitar on the back burner when it comes to live sound and the recording mix. I don't know about you, but as a bassist, this has always ticked me off.
Then again, many bassists are asking for it. When your bass sound is boring and nondescript, why should the sound guy care about helping you put your best foot forward? Especially in metal, where guitars are often detuned and soak up a lot of the low-end frequencies, sludgy bass tone does not help your band or your career.
So what are we looking for in a great bass for metal? In this article, I've tracked down a bunch of basses that I believe have what it takes to help you sculpt your ultimate tone. They're made by some of the best brand names in the bass guitar world, manufacturers I've personally relied on in the past for my sound.
If I found myself in a metal band again today, these would be the basses I looked to. I've owned versions of each of them over the years, and I know I can count on them to have the sound and punch needed for heavy music.
Ibanez SR500 / SR505
Ibanez Soundgear bass guitars are legendary when it comes to metal, which you probably already know. Many musicians love their thin, fast necks, and even the 5-string models are easy to get around. The string spacing is a bit narrow compared to many basses, but I've never had any issues either playing with a pick or fingerstyle.
The Ibanez SR500 does a great job of nailing all the major points I listed above. First, it starts with a mahogany body, Jatoba/Bubinga neck, and rosewood fingerboard tonewood combination. This gives you the depth and resonance you need for the base of your sound.
Pickups are from Bartolini, one of the most respected names in the bass guitar world. The active preamp is one of the best in the business, and electronics include volume, balancer, treble. mid and bass controls as well as a 2-way mid-frequency selector switch. This gives you massive flexibility when it comes to dialing in your tone.
The SR500 also comes in a 5-string model (SR505). Additionally, it's worth noting that the Ibanez SR700 and SR800 are very similar basses. The SR700 features a maple top, where the SR800 has a poplar burl top. There is some slight impact on the high-end frequencies with brighter tonewood tops such as these, but for the most part, the difference is cosmetic.
Schecter Stiletto Studio
I feel like I say the same thing over and over again whenever I write about Schecter guitars and basses. I must have written it a dozen times, but I really feel that Schecter is among the very best values in the guitar world. They always seem to bring way more than you'd expect to an instrument in a certain price range.
What this means to you is that, if you like everything else about it, a Schecter bass may be the best bang for your buck.
Here we're talking about the Schecter Stiletto Studio, a gorgeous instrument that comes in a 4-string, 5-string, 6-string, and fretless models.
The maple/walnut neck will add some higher end to the tonal spectrum, which I suspect Schecter might have felt necessary due to the resonance and sustain of the neck-thru design.
Whatever. It's a great combination of tonewoods that gives us exactly what we want in a bass for metal.
We see a set of EMG 35HZ pickups and an active preamp with controls for volume, blend, and a 3-band EQ. This rounds out the list of criteria to put the Schecter Stiletto Studio on the list of best bass guitars for metal.
Warwick Corvette Basic RockBass Active
I've owned a pair of Warwick Corvettes in my lifetime. I won't go on about them, but they were some of the finest instruments I've ever played. When I think of gear I regret selling over the years, they are high on the list.
But they were German-made Warwicks, some of the best basses in the world, and probably not what the average metal bassist would look for when choosing an instrument.
Fortunately, a few years back Warwick released the RockBass lineup. These are affordable, quality instruments that bring many of the great attributes of a Warwick bass down to a reasonable price.
This bass offers a bit more punch and flexibility than the others above. It has an alder body and maple neck with rosewood fingerboard, a tonewood combination more indicative of Fender-type basses. Finger-style metal bassists may appreciate this more when compare to basses with darker tonewoods that might muddy up the sound in the absence of a strong pick attack.
There's a two-band active EQ along with a pair of active MEC J-bass pickups. If you're looking for a bass to cut through the mix, this baby ought to get it done. It also comes in a 5-string version, short and medium-scale versions, and models with passive electronics.
Spector Legend Series
Spector rounds out my list of my favorite bass guitar builders when it comes to metal. But, like Warwick, a top-of-the-line Spector is probably out of your price range.
However, the Spector Legend Series offers affordable options with awesome Spector looks and sound. There are a couple of models that stand out here, both available in 4 or 5 string options.
The Spector Legend Standard features a mahogany body with maple top and rosewood fingerboard. This is the warm, resonant tonewood combination I personally prefer in a bass for metal. The pickups are an SSD P and J bass combination and feature the Spector Legend Standard tone circuit and 2-band EQ.
The Spector Legend Classic has a maple top, with a maple body. This will bring a brighter sound with more clarity and may be more appealing to finger-style players. But the Classic also has a pair of SSD dual-coil humbuckers, which will result in a somewhat thicker, hotter, beefier sound. This bass incorporates Spector's patented TonePump Jr circuit with a bass/treble boost.
Both basses are beautiful, with the legendary Spector NS body shape and figured maple tops. Which should you choose? For me it isn't easy: I like the tonewood combination in the Standard and the electronics in the Classic. But something tells me this is one of those cases where you can't make a wrong decision.
What Makes a Great Metal Bass?
Each of the bass guitars in this review shares a few traits I think are important:
First, they each have active preamps, meaning you can shape your tone using a two or three-band EQ located right on the bass itself. I love the sound of a passive bass for everything from hard rock to jazz, and it's tough to beat guitars like the Fender Precision and Jazz Basses. However, when it comes to extreme metal, I feel an onboard preamp gives me the extra flexibility I need to dial in the right sound.
With detuned guitars, things can get muddy in a hurry, and if you can conjure up tones that manage to hold down the low end while remaining articulate you're doing a lot for the sound of your band.
All of these basses feature a combination of tonewoods that lend well to depth and resonance. Personally, for metal, I prefer a bass that starts with a deep, woody tonal palette.
Each of these basses is available in either a four or five-string model. For extreme metal, I'd rather a 5-string bass guitar. However, if you have no interest in tuning down more than a full step, a four-string bass does the job just fine.
Last but not least, I tried to keep my recommendations to bass guitars under $1000. Of course, you can go out and buy a gorgeous German-made Warwick that will blow these basses out of the water, but most of us don't have that kind of cash to throw around.
Choose Your Bass
Back when I played bass in metal bands I had instruments from each of the above manufacturers in my arsenal. I recommend them because, if I were looking for a bass for a metal project today, these instruments are when I would start.
Of course there are other choices out there. I really like the Fender Precision Bass for hard rock and classic metal, and you can't go wrong there. But for extreme metal my search would begin with these four basses.
It's also a great idea to learn a little about tone while you're in the process of choosing your bass. I'll never understand why some bassists (and sound techs) make do with muddy, nearly unrecognizable bass sounds when they could be sculpting tones that really add some impact to the music.
In extreme metal the bass should not be the focal point of the music. However, it is the rock on which the rest of the band's sound is built. Your sound should be deep, to the point where you feel it in your gut, but also tight and precise so notes are clear and add value to the music.
I think you can nail that sound with the basses presented in this review. So, don't let detuned guitar players and annoying sound guys push you around, and good luck choosing the best bass for metal!
Top Bass for Extreme Metal
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.