How to Choose your First Beginner Bass Guitar?

Does the idea of playing riffs like Paul McCartney or Jaco Pastorius make you shiver with anticipation? Well then, what’s stopping you? Go get it, girl! Think of this article as a dating website. A musical Tinder, if you will. Our mission is to help you find the beginner bass guitar of your dreams. 

It was in 1951 that Leo Fender first popularised the electric bass. It was a revolution for the Rock n’ Roll and Rhythm ‘n Blues movements. Since the arrival of the electric bass, we’ve seen many models in recent years, each more sophisticated than the last. In recent years, we’ve witnessed the rise of Precision Bass. It’s by far the most recorded bass ever. You’ll find it in all the classic Motown, rock and pop hits. 

While less exposed than the guitarist, the bass guitarist is the harmonic and rhythmic backbone of the group. Close your eyes for a second and listen to the intro of ‘Come Together’ by the Beatles. Hone in on the bass line and let Paul McCartney’s sweet musicality wash over you. As you can hear, a bass guitar brings depth and density to a song. 

New or second hand?

If there’s one to remember, it’s that the choice you make now will determine the course of your musical career. Starting with a poor-quality instrument may slow down your progress, or even completely put you off practising.

Finding a good quality second-hand bass is quite uncommon. Unless by some stroke of luck you do find one, it’s probably better to invest in a new model specifically made for beginners. With a new model (even an entry-level one) you shouldn’t have any nasty surprises with the condition of the fretboard or the state of the electronics. Also bear in mind that you’re just starting out so your technique will be somewhat limited. Choose a model you like, rather than being swayed by the reputation of the brand. At the end of the day, it’s not the brand that will enable you to make the fastest progress – it’s your own dedication. 

4, 5 or 6 strings?

There are several types of bass guitar; ones with 4, 5 or 6 strings, even ones without frets. 

You’ll probably already know the standard 4 string model (strung according to the following order E, A, D and G), taken from the double bass and the guitar. You may be aware that there’s also a 5-string bass guitar with an extra string B, higher than the E string. You’ll find this type of bass in rock n’ roll and metal music. If you want an even lower sound palette, you can get 6-string bass guitars, which are more rare and only really used by advanced musicians. 

To start with, we recommend you choose a four-string bass, regardless of your preferred musical genre. The fretboard will be thin and narrow enough for you to quickly familiarise yourself with the instrument

That said, bear in mind that skill and experience are the most important factors. Take the example of Jaco Pastorious – a musical prodigy, who happily played on a four-string model. 

Choosing the best beginner bass guitar to start on

• Fretboard

Choosing a beginner bass guitar guitar with the right fingerboard is an absolute must. You don’t have to look too far to find one. Choose a standard size fretboard with a distance between the nut and bridge of 86 cm – this will help you get the hang of the instrument and allow you to progress smoothly. You can also get shorter fingerboards, called ‘short scales’ or ‘piccolo’, which are suitable for younger players.

• Length of the strings

It’s best to start with the strings closest to the fretboard. Focus on the light and extra light strings, this will help facilitate your first ‘steps’ on the guitar.

IMPORTANT: the length of the strings is an important factor to consider if you decide to go for a second-hand model. On a worn bass guitar, the fretboard will often be bent slightly by the tension of the strings. To be sure the strings are at the right length, play all the strings of the first fret. If you hear a crackling sound when you rub the strings of the first or second fret, try a different guitar. Also make sure the knobs (the buttons that modulate the sound and the tone of the instrument) are working. In any case, it’s worth having a second-hand model serviced by an instrument maker before making the purchase. 

If the bass you want makes the same sound as above, run away!

Passive vs Active Base

When buying your first beginner bass guitar, you’ll have the choice between two options, a ‘passive’ or an ‘active’ bass, which refers to the electronic part of the instrument. The vibration of the strings is captured by the bass guitar’s several microphones. These microphones allow you to alter the volume and the tone produced. 

Passive bass guitar

  • The original, standard model 
  • Buttons to modify the volume and the sound 

Active bass guitar

  • has a pre-amplification (electronic circuit that allows you to cut or boost the bass, midrange or treble) powered by one or more batteries that must be recharged regularly.
  • more varied sound palette: buttons to modify low, medium and high notes and the volume


“With an active bass, you have the ability to equalize the sound and get more definition and accent. The frequency will therefore be richer. Active basses are often used by modern funk and rock bass players”.

Pedro Martinez, professional bassist and content manager at Jellynote

These are two different versions of the bass guitar, but both are perfect for beginners. Ultimately, it’s a question of taste. It’s a personal choice. We recommend you try several models to make your own opinion. Feel free to ask for help from more experienced bass players.

bassiste souriant qui lève la main

To sum up: 

  • Try to find a new model because finding a second-hand one is fairly uncommon. 
  • Choose a four-string model –  ideal for beginners.  
  • Choose a standard size neck with a length of 86 cm.
  • If you choose a second-hand model, pay attention to the lengths of the strings and have it checked by an expert if you have even the slightest doubt that anything might be wrong. 
  • Go to a shop and try out the different types of bass guitars (active or passive) to make your own opinion based on the sound you like.

Choosing your first bass will help you improve rapidly. Take the time to find a comfortable model that you like and that sounds good to you. Once you’ve bought your bass guitar, all you have to do is find the amp and get started! 

Article written by Amy Cimpaye in its original version, translated by William  –

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About author
William Ridd is a writer based in London. After a messy divorce from the clarinet, William decided that playing music wasn’t for him, but he continues to appreciate it and likes writing about it.
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