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Like their guitar counterparts, Bass guitars come in numerous styles and price ranges. With a near-endless number of options, many buyers can become overwhelmed at where to begin looking for a bass to purchase.
With hundreds of options to choose from, now is one of the best times in the history of bass guitars to be a musician. However, despite so many choices, and perhaps because of so many choices, choosing the right bass guitar can be difficult, even daunting.
One of the biggest factors in determining which bass is right for you is, of course, financial. With prices ranging from the low hundreds to $10,000 and beyond, choosing the right bass guitar for you is not an easy task.
What you are willing to spend is an important first question to ask yourself. However, you should also be prepared to be content with the overall quality of the bass you purchase based on how much you spend, as there are differences, often significant, as you move up in price.
So, what are the significant differences between cheap and expensive basses, and how do you decide which option you should go for?
There are several differences between cheap and expensive bass guitars that contribute to their overall price. Factors such as how old the bass is, what brand it is, the type of wood that was used, whether it contains premium parts, hardware, and electronics, as well as where and how the bass is created.
In this article, I will discuss these factors in detail as well as some of the different pros and cons of both cheap and expensive bass guitars that will help you make a more informed decision on which to purchase.
What Is The Difference Between A Cheap and Expensive Bass Guitar?
There is a considerable difference in quality between cheap and expensive bass guitars. That said, cheap, entry-level basses are much better quality than thirty-plus years ago.
With increased manufacturing practices and quality electronics being produced at lower costs, now is an excellent time to be a bass player.
What makes a bass guitar cheap or expensive comes down to many factors, all of which should be considered when determining which you are going to buy. Let’s dive into these factors to help you better determine if the price tag is worth it.
Age alone will not necessarily influence the price or quality of a bass guitar, but it certainly can and often does if the situation is right. While vintage basses are not as big of a market as vintage electric guitars are, many still draw a significant price tag.
One of the premier vintage gear dealers in the United States, Norman’s Rare Guitars in California, typically has a few vintage basses for sale at any given time. While best known for vintage and rare electric guitars, Norman’s does have some hard-to-find basses. As I write this, there is a 1966 Fender Jazz bass listed for $15,500.
A well-taken care of bass guitar can last for decades and, if treated correctly, will often increase in value and even in the sound and tone qualities it produces.
Now, whether or not a vintage bass sounds better than a modern bass is very subjective. However, there are typically distinct differences in sounds. The video below compares a 1966 and 2015 Fender Precision Bass, in which there is a difference in sound.
Another factor with old and vintage basses is the overall feel of the bass, particularly the feel of the neck. Over time, finishes will wear down due to the constant contact with the oils and sweat of our hands. This process can often make the bass much more comfortable to play.
Comfort is an essential factor when choosing which bass to purchase. In fact, I know many players of both basses and guitars that almost exclusively base their purchase on how it feels when they play rather than what it looks like, how old it is, or what brand it is (as long as it is within their budget, of course).
Another reason that older guitars tend to be more expensive is that wood typically sounds better as it ages because the wood dries out, which, according to Takunori Noguchi and colleagues, results in more sustain and a resonant tone. This is true across almost any instrument that uses wood as the primary building material.
Lastly, age by itself will not typically run the price up on a bass. Other factors, such as the context of the bass (who played it or owned it) and the brand of the vintage bass, play significant roles in whether a vintage bass will be expensive.
Brands that have stood the test of time and are steeped in music lore will often sell for a higher price. You can expect the price to soar when combined with age and/or if someone famous had once played or owned the bass.
Like guitars, iconic brands that have been around for decades, such as Gibson, Fender, and Gretsch, will typically be more expensive. That being said, each of these (and the other) brands either have less expensive models or a line of products (Epiphone for Gibson, Squier for Fender) to meet the demands of those will lower budgets, like me.
Below I will run through a short list of different brand pricing examples. This is by no means an exhaustive list; in fact, this is only scratching the surface of the number of different brands of basses.
Currently, on Sweetwater, all of the Gibson basses are over $1,800. Fender’s selections currently range in price from around $850 up to over $5,000 for the custom shop models, while Gretsch has some available for as low as $300. However, it should be noted that Gibson doesn’t have nearly as big of a selection as Fender and many other companies do.
In the Epiphone line of basses, you can find models ranging in price from $290 up to $750, and for the Squiers, between $200 and $500.
Out of some of the more modern-style basses, Jackson’s prices range from $200 to right at $1,000. You can find Ibanez basses between $200 and $2,400 and Schecter models between $550 and $1,500.
One of the coolest bass brands on the market, Spector, ranges in price from around $400 to over $7,500. This video below gives you a great history of Spector basses and the chance to listen to what some of the models sound like.
A quick note about the pricing above, this reflects the pricing in February 2023, and I am only considering 4-string models.
As can be seen from the examples above, there is a wide range of pricing available on basses, which is likely making you wonder, is there really that much difference between a cheap and expensive bass in terms of sound, or are we really just playing for the brand name?
Check out this video below of a Fender Custom Shop vs. Squier Classic Vibe and see if you can hear a difference.
3. Wood Used
The article I wrote comparing cheap versus expensive guitars takes a deep dive into the wood differences. If you want to learn a lot about the different woods, I encourage you to read that article.
You have likely seen a cheaply made kid’s guitar or random guitar in a pawnshop and thought the really good and expensive wood is reserved for top-of-the-line products. It turns out that is not necessarily true.
As I explained in my article on cheap and expensive guitars, the wood used for the expensive and cheap basses is very similar, but of course, there will be some differences.
For comparison, let’s look at the two most expensive, one expensive, two medium-range, and two of the cheapest basses currently listed on Sweetwater and see what they are made of.
First up is the Warwick Masterbuilt Infinity, coming in at $8,765. It features an Ovangkol hollow body with an AAAA Flamed Maple top, a 3-piece maple neck, and a Rosewood fretboard. The four A designation means it is of incredibly high quality.
Next is the Fodera Monarch select bass, listed at $7,550 and featuring an Alder body with a flamed maple top, a 3-piece hard rock maple neck, and a pau ferro fretboard.
For the expensive but not outrageously expensive selection, we have the Fender American Ultra Jazz Bass, listed at $2,250, which features an Alder body, maple neck, and maple fretboard.
For our middle-of-the-road selection, we have a $750 Jackson X Series Concert Bass with a poplar body, maple neck, and laurel fretboard. The second selection is a Yamaha TRBX504 with a mahogany body, a 5-piece maple/mahogany neck, and a rosewood fretboard. The Yamaha comes in at $520.
The first of the cheaper options is the $200 Ibanez GIO GSR100EX. This bass features a poplar body, bolt-on maple neck, and jatoba fretboard. Next is the $200 Jackson Spectra JS2, which has a poplar body, a 1-piece maple neck, and a laurel fretboard.
4. Manufacturing Location and Methods
The physical location of where a bass is being made does not matter nearly as much as the method by which it is being produced. Cheaper basses are going to be built using a mass production, assembly line-based operation.
This is a cost-effective way for companies to produce large amounts of products. The good news is that manufacturing practices have continued to improve, so most mid and low-range basses still sound fantastic.
Most companies that produce basses will have some sort of custom shop where each instrument is still crafted by hand. Many smaller companies and independent luthiers also operate this way, which is a significant reason why these basses will be much more expensive.
Below is a cool video that takes you through the Fodera bass shop, which shows you the intricate process of creating a custom bass.
The hardware, such as the bridges and tuners, will typically differ on cheap versus expensive basses. In general, if you spend upwards of $1,000 on a bass, you can be pretty confident that you will also receive quality hardware.
On the flip side, one of the reasons that basses can be mass-produced at lower prices is due to the cheaper parts (along with labor) that go into them. You will also likely run into lower-quality string issues on cheaper basses.
Bridges can range in price from around twenty bucks to a few hundred dollars, depending on the style you are looking for, and a set of high-quality tuners will cost around the $150 range.
Both bridges and tuners can significantly impact the overall quality of your bass guitar, especially regarding tuning stability, so these aren’t components that you should ignore. Quality hardware can go a long way in turning a mediocre instrument into a very good instrument.
6. Pickups & Electronics
The electronics, wiring, and pickups are other elements that often separate cheap and expensive basses. In fact, many of the high-end pickups will cost more than the cheap range basses themselves!
For example, a set of Fishman Fluence 4-string bass pickups will cost you about $300, well over the price of the lower-end basses I used as an example above.
Cheaper basses often come with lower-quality pickups, and there will be a greater risk of electronic issues and faulty wiring.
Do pickups really make a difference? The short answer is yes. I couldn’t find a video specifically looking at cheap versus expensive bass pickups, but this video will still give you a good idea of the differences.
Which Bass Is Best For You?
This is a difficult question, and the answer will be different for each of you.
Are you a hobby bassist or looking to purchase your first bass? If so, an entry to mid-level cheaper bass is likely better than spending upwards of $1,000 on a premium bass. Of course, that doesn’t mean that you can’t spend lots of money on a bass in this situation. If you can afford it and want to buy an expensive bass, go for it!
Expensive basses will likely last longer and sound better than a cheap bass, so if you are a musician creating and recording your own music or playing live shows, investing in a high-quality, more expensive bass is probably a good idea.
Still unsure which option is best for you? Let’s dive into some of the pros and cons of expensive and cheap basses to help you make a better decision on which to purchase.
Are Expensive Bass Guitars Worth it?
Are expensive basses worth investing in? Check out some of the pros and cons below to help you decide.
Expensive Pro#1: Top Of The Line Quality Craftsmanship
Spending more money on a higher quality, more expensive bass typically means the overall quality will be much higher. This is especially true if we are talking about custom shop basses, as the attention to detail at this level is exceptional.
If you are someone who doesn’t worry about what brand is on your headstock, spending some extra money and buying from a smaller boutique will also typically result in very high-quality craftsmanship and attention to detail. Plus, you will likely end up with a completely one-of-a-kind bass guitar.
Expensive Pro #2: The Best Electronics, Hardware, and Features
As I stated above, more expensive basses will generally come with the very best electronics, pickups, hardware, and additional features available on the market.
A faulty wiring job or terrible-sounding pickups will cost you more money and time by having to replace them than just buying a more expensive bass in the first place. While this certainly will not happen in every cheap bass, it will be more likely to happen.
Expensive Con#1: Is The Extra Expense Really Worth It?
This is an entirely subjective question that only you can answer for yourself. Importantly, we must ask ourselves why we want to spend thousands of dollars when a few hundred would likely get us a quality bass.
Sure, there will often be a difference in tone, playability, and overall quality and durability of more expensive basses, but how much more of a difference? Are those differences worth extra hundreds or thousands of dollars?
Again, only you can answer this for yourself.
Expensive Con #2: Even Expensive Basses Can Have Flaws
Regardless of how much you spend, there will inevitably be production flaws on some of the basses being produced. While the likelihood of this happening is certainly lower than in cheaper basses and can and does happen.
So, if you are purchasing an expensive bass, just be aware that it is possible for you to receive a less-than-perfect bass despite the higher costs.
Are Cheap Bass Guitars Worth It?
Again, this is for you to decide. My two current basses are on this end of the price scale, and they both serve me perfectly for my home recording needs. I have never had an issue with tonal quality, and I didn’t break the bank by purchasing them.
Cheap Pro #1: Most Cheap Basses Are Still Good Instruments
Like I said in the manufacturing section above, for the most part, cheap and medium-range bass guitars are of excellent overall quality these days.
I have a 2020 Yamaha TRBX174EW that I picked up for less than $250, and it plays fantastically! Further, I have never had a single issue with intonation or any of the electronics.
As the video explains, cheap guitars can still be a great investment!
Cheap Pro #2: Easy to Upgrade
Cheap basses are very easy to upgrade. You can buy a cheap bass, spend a few hundred dollars on quality hardware and pickups, and end up with a bass that plays way above its original value.
Another perk is that upgrading your bass can be a fun experience, whether you take it to a luthier or upgrade your bass yourself. If you’re not sure where to start this video can be helpful!
Cheap Pro #3: Saved Money Can Be Used To Buy Additional Accessories
The money you save by not buying an expensive bass can also be used to purchase additional accessories you might not otherwise have been able to afford, such as a better amplifier, pedals, cases, and other miscellaneous gear.
A good-quality amplifier can make a cheap bass sound a lot better!
Plus, who doesn’t love more gear?
Cheap Con #1: Quality Control Issues
Buying a cheap bass does not guarantee quality control issues, but it makes it more likely. If the top-of-the-line basses can still end up having quality control issues from time to time, then there will undoubtedly be these issues in the cheaper models that are often mass-produced assembly line style.
Cheap Con #2: Low-Quality Electronics, Hardware, and Features
Lastly, if you are looking to save money by purchasing a cheap bass, you need to be aware that there is a chance that the electronics, hardware, and other features will be of lower quality. However, remember that upgrading a cheap bass is a relatively simple process so this con can be easily overcome.
There you have it! You now have a much better understanding of some of the differences between cheap and expensive basses as well as some of the pros and cons of each.
I hope you found this article worth your time, and best of luck on your hunt for the perfect bass!
Hi everyone! I have been involved with music most of my life, beginning in grade school with the trumpet. I am a largely self-taught multi-instrumentalist (drums, guitar, bass, and starting the piano and violin). I currently play drums in two bands and write and produce many genres of music in my home recording studio. I am also an avid guitar and drum collector.