Bass on a budget
In the immortal words of Public Enemy, “bass, how low can you go?”. Well, to answer the very pertinent question of Messrs. D and Flav., generally most basses go to a low E, with 5-string basses reaching to a low B.
But is that really what they were asking? In fact, we think they were questioning how low one can go price-wise whilst still procuring quality bass gear, so that’s the question we’ll answer in this post…
Cheap Bass Guitars
If you have a search around online, you’ll discover that there are some really cheap bass guitars out there, and if you don’t mind tearing your fingers to shreds on the frets, regularly going out of tune, and watching your instrument fall apart within weeks, these could be an ideal solution. However, at Kenny’s Music, we prefer to maintain the structural integrity of our fingers, play the correct notes, and invest in gear that will last, so we don’t like to sell that stuff.
When it comes to the lower end of the price scale bass guitar-wise, our top picks are Squier, Yamaha and Cort. You will know Squier as Fender’s budget range, and Yamaha because they make boats. Cort are a little less well known, but they are in fact one of the largest guitar producers in the world as they make instruments for many other brands (including Ibanez and the aforementioned Squier, amongst others).
Here’s a quick breakdown of our top budget bass guitars from these guys:
Squier Affinity Jazz Bass
Fender are playing a dangerous game at the moment; the quality of their budget instruments is getting to a level where they’re genuinely starting to compete with their higher end instruments. The Squier Affinity Jazz Bass is one such example. Styled like Fender’s legendary Jazz Bass, the Affinity version offers great playability and a crisp and punchy tone, ideal for everything from rock to reggae (don’t be put off by the “Jazz” word, you can use this bass for all sorts of music!).
We love Yamaha, we really do, but we wish they’d come up with slightly more romantic sounding names than “TRBX174”; it could just as easily be a killer robot sent from the distant future as an elegant and easy-playing bass guitar. Anyway, the TRBX174 is the bottom end of Yamaha’s TRBX range, but this is bass, so that’s exactly what we’re after: bottom end (sorry). The TRBX174 looks great, is comfortable to play, and is built like the proverbial brick house.
Cort Action Bass
Now that’s a much better name – “Action Bass”. This is the sort of bass that will vault over a wall to catch some baddies before driving off into the distance in a cool car. Well, it won’t actually do that, but what it will do is offer extreme playability and versatility. The versatility comes from the various sorts of pickups on-board, meaning you can change your tone from hard rock to smooth jazz with the flick of a switch and the wink of an eye*.
*Eye wink not required
Cheap Bass Amps
Okay, you’ve bought your bass guitar, you’ve combed your hair, and you’re ready to rumble. The stage lights come up and you hit that first low E, awaiting the visceral response of the crowd to your subsonic frequencies. But wait! Bass guitars are no good without a bass amp; you can barely hear them. So below we’ve listed some of our top cheap bass amp picks:
Fender Rumble 15
Bass amps of yesteryear used to pretty much be designed to give you long-term back problems. No longer! Advances in technology mean you can get some proper bassy wobble out of an amp weighing little more than seven bags of sugar. Sweet. The build quality of the Rumble 15 is what you’d expect from Fender: ergonomic knobs and a sturdy cabinet. At 15 watts, it’s ideal for use at home and even features a headphone output if the neighbours tire of your rendition of Under Pressure.
Laney RB1 Kickback
Kicking out the same wattage as the Rumble 15, the Laney RB1 Kickback is designed to be – yep – kicked back, with a slanted cabinet meaning you can position the amp to fire those frequencies straight into your earholes. It also has both headphone out and auxiliary in, so you can play along to music from your favourite music-playing device.
Ampeg are one of the Daddies of the bass world, with their iconic Fridge a mainstay on stages the world over. But one fridge is probably quite enough for any home, so they also make the BA108, a compact, sweet-sounding 20 watt bass amp that benefits from Ampeg’s deep knowledge of deep sounds.
So you’ve got your bass guitar and your bass amp, and it’s all been so cheap that you still have a massive wodge of cash in your back pocket. What else do you need?
All of our bass guitars come with strings attached (in the best possible way) but it’s always good to have some spares. The Rotosound Swing Bass range are easy on the pocket and sound great.
Those strings aren’t going to wind themselves. Invest in a Planet Waves Bass String Winder to save time and sanity when replacing strings.
Whatever the quality of your instrument, it’ll go out of tune now and then as a result of atmospheric changes and annoying friends twiddling your knobs. The Snark Bass Tuner will help you get back to the right pitch in record time.
If you’re an absolute beginner, it would be worth investing in the Absolute Beginners Bass Book, which covers everything from setting up your bass to developing your style to responding to rude bassist jokes (okay, I made up the last one).
Bass effects pedals
The Xvive Bass Compressor is a dynamics pedal that will squeeze your sound, making it more rounded and generally pleasing to the ear. The Boss ODB3 is a bass overdrive pedal that will make your sound more angry and less pleasing to the ear, but in a good way (if you like that kind of thing).
Out and about? Make sure to get a Cheap Bass Gig Bag to protect your instrument.
So that’s it: to answer Public Enemy’s question – how low can you go? For between £200 to £300, you can get everything you need to start playing bass on a budget.