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Note: Much of the information in this article is based on reviews from the Wirecutter.
When you’re trying to pick the “best” instrument in any category, it usually comes down to a matter of personal preference. The same is true when trying to find the best bass guitar for beginners.
That said, there are a few models that consistently stand out from the rest of the pack. It’s these models that I’ll look at with you in this beginner bass review.
We’ll check out two Yamahas, an Ibanez, and a Sterling – one that you may not be familiar with.
If you don’t have time to read the review right now and just want to see the pricing and availability of these beginner bass guitars at Amazon, you can click (tap) the links in the list below.
- Yamaha TRBX174 Bass Guitar
- Yamaha TRBX304 Bass Guitar
- Ibanez GSR200 Bass Guitar
- Sterling S.U.B. Series Ray4 Bass Guitar
If you want to jump ahead to a particular section of this review, you can click (tap) a link in the box below. Otherwise, you can keep scrolling (swiping) and reading as you normally would.
The Yamaha TRBX174 Is the Most Popular Beginner Bass among Reviewers
The TRBX174 may be the most popular, but the Yamaha TRBX304 is right up there too. So let’s take a look at them side by side to highlight their differences and similarities.
|Scale Length (inches)||34||34|
|Neck||Maple & Mahogany||Maple|
|Nut Width (inches)||1.5||1.57|
|Pickups||MHB3n, MHB3b (Ceramic)||Split Coil, Single Coil|
|Controls||Master volume, Pickup balancer, Bass, Treble & Performance EQ switch||Volume, Pickup 1, Pickup 2|
|Hardware Color||Black Nickel||Chrome|
Testers at the Wirecutter note that the TRBX174 is “well-constructed, comfortable to play, and sounds great, at a price that’s affordable.” All four of those points help make it one of the best beginner bass guitars in the market today.
This is a great looking bass that, if you didn’t know any better, could fool you into thinking it costs twice as much as it does. This one costs much less than $500.
As you can see in the picture, the TRBX174 has two sets of pickups. Closer to the neck is a split-coil pair similar to what you find on a Fender Precision bass. The other set of pickups nearer the bridge is a Fender Jazz-style. So between the two, you can get all sorts of cool sounds to come from this instrument.
You get a separate volume knob for each of the pickups. If you turn the bridge pickup way down, you’ll get a “rounder” sound. If you do the reverse, the neck pickup gives you a punchier tone. So again, you can combine the two for an endless variety of sounds.
You can get the TRBX174 in black, dark blue metallic, red metallic, and old violin sunburst colors. I’m partial to the blue, as shown above, myself.
Sorry, left-handers, there is no version of the TRBX174 for you. If that’s what you need, see the note in the Ibanez section below.
The Yamaha TRBX304 Offers Onboard EQ
The other bass mentioned in the table above is the TRBX304 which has the benefit of active electronics and a 2-band EQ.
Whether you’re a beginning bassist or not, you will appreciate the thumb rest built into the body of the TRBX304.
Assuming you are a beginner, you might not fully appreciate at first that you can access the highest frets more easily on this bass than on many others. As a beginner, you’ll tend to concentrate on the lower notes, but if you keep this instrument for a while, you may find the ease of playing those higher notes to be a real plus.
The string spacing on the TRBX304 is a generous 19 millimeters. This makes learning different styles, like slap bass, much easier.
You can choose a pewter, black, white, candy apple red, or mist green color for your TRBX304. Here, I’d take the misty green one, if I had my druthers.
The Ibanez GSR200 Is Great for Playing Pop Tunes
Wirecutter testers really like the GSR200 too because it has more options than their top pick (Yamaha TRBX174) but costs about the same.
Quoting the Wirecutter (because I can’t put it any better)…
“The GSR200 has active electronics, which means that it comes with a built-in preamp that can boost, rather than just cut, the signal coming from its dual-pickup configuration. Having the ability to boost and cut frequencies means you can alter the sound to a much larger degree using the knobs on the bass, without even touching the amp.”
The downside of all this is that there are 4 knobs to control. Ibanez made the EQ knob a little smaller than the volume knob and two tone knobs, so that’s helpful. As a beginner, it’s just one more little thing to consider as you get used to your new bass guitar.
This bass has a rather shallow, or thin, neck, which beginners with smaller hands will like. It’s easier to get smaller fingers around the neck to the front side if there is less neck in the way.
Here are the other specs on the Ibanez GSR200.
- Neck type – GSR4 Maple neck
- Body – Poplar body
- Fretboard – Treated New Zealand Pine fretboard with white dot inlay
- Fret – Medium frets
- Bridge – B10 bridge
- Neck pickup – Standard P
- Bridge pickup – Standard J
- Equalizer – Phat II EQ
- Hardware color – Chrome
In you look for more reviews of the GSR200, you’ll generally will find positive reactions. There is one exception in the Amazon reviews (as of this writing). For some reason, this bass just didn’t sit well with this person who basically “trashed” it, leaving you with the thought that you should never buy this guitar.
My simple response is that I disagree. I think this is one of those cases where the reviewer either got a lemon of an instrument or was just in a really bad mood at the time of writing the review. I would not hesitate to buy this guitar, if I were in the market for one.
Ibanez makes a left-handed version of this bass for a little more. Left-handers, rejoice!
The Sterling Ray4 Imitates the Classic StingRay
The Music Man StingRay is a famous, even iconic, bass guitar. But as a beginner, you probably wouldn’t know that.
So I suggest that you first look at this brief demo, to see what you’re getting into.
The Ray4 has the same humbucker pickups and classic body shape of the original StingRay that debuted in 1976. One feature that’s not the same as the StingRay is the price of the Ray4. You’ll pay much less for the Sterling Ray4 today – quite a bit less than $500.
Here are the specs on the Ray4.
- Body Wood – Basswood
- Bridge – Fixed
- Pickguard – Black, White
- Scale Length – 34 inches
- Neck Radius – 9 ½ inches
- Frets – 21
- Neck Width – 1 ½ inches at nut
- Neck Wood – Hard Maple
- Fingerboard – Hard Maple, Jatoba
- Tuning Machines – Open Gear
- Truss Rod – Single Action
- Controls – 2-band Active Preamp
- Pickups – H – 1 Ceramic Humbucker
You can choose from a wide variety of colors for your bass: Vintage cream, fiesta red, black, walnut satin, vintage sunburst satin, ruby red burst satin, mint green, or trans blue satin.
Conclusions about Beginner Basses
I think you’ll be happy with any of these four beginner bass guitars. In fact, as a beginner, you may not at first be able to see much of a difference among them. The differences noted above may seem picky and small.
Until you have a significant amount of playing time “under your belt”, you might not even care about these differences. And at that time, you might decide to upgrade to an even better bass guitar all together.
So for now choose one, buy it, and try it out. Learn all you can on it and then either keep it or move on.