A list of the best bass players of all time. The list below contains some of the best bassists from many different musical styles and eras. It includes bass guitar pioneers, melodic masters and technical giants. Who did we choose? Read on to find out…
Who Are The Best Bassists Of All Time?
The bass guitar is a versatile instrument, being integral to a band’s rhythm section, yet also able to produce memorable riffs, licks and solos.
That said, bass players (with a few notable exceptions) tend to stay out of the limelight, providing the backbone of the music while leaving the flashy stuff to their band-mates.
Nevertheless, there is plenty of scope for a bassist to shine, and the bass players in the list below have all helped to raise the profile of the bass guitar.
The bass is used in virtually all genres of popular music, and to reflect this fact the list below contains funk, pop, metal, rock and roll and jazz bassists.
The bass players included here have been selected according to a mix of criteria. Technical ability is, of course, hugely important. However, musicality and innovation have also been taken into consideration; some of the best bassists are pioneers as well as being great technical players.
If you want to know what makes a great bass player then check out any of the musicians on this list: they are among the best there is at their craft. All have helped to raise the profile of the bass guitar and have stretched the boundaries of what can be achieved on the instrument.
Who is your favourite bass player? Are there any great bassists we’ve missed out? Let us know in the comments section!
Best Bass Players
- Jack Bruce
- Cliff Burton
- Geezer Butler
- Stanley Clarke
- Les Claypool
- Bootsy Collins
- John Deacon
- Donald “Duck” Dunn
- John Entwistle
- Larry Graham
- Charlie Haden
- Steve Harris
- James Jamerson
- Carol Kaye
- Mark King
- Geddy Lee
- Tony Levin
- Charles Mingus
- Paul McCartney
- Marcus Miller
- John Myung
- Jaco Pastorius
- John Paul Jones
- Billy Sheehan
- Chris Squire
- Doug Wimbish
- Victor Wooten
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Jack Bruce is best known as the bassist and lead vocalist of Cream, the British blues-rock supergroup comprising Bruce, guitarist Eric Clapton and drummer Ginger Baker. The band’s main songwriter, Bruce is responsible for penning tracks such as “Sunshine of Your Love” and “White Room”.
Born in Scotland in 1943, Bruce developed his inventive style playing upright jazz bass. His bass playing style was loud and aggressive, defining the busier role the bass guitar played in a typical power trio from the Seventies onward, and laying the foundation for hard rock and metal bass playing.
The bass guitar Bruce is most associated with is Gibson’s EB-3, which has a characteristic “growling” tone, the perfect complement to Eric Clapton’s loud, melodic guitar playing.
Although Metallica recorded only three albums with Cliff Burton, he remains arguably the greatest metal bass player of all time.
Tragically, Burton was killed in a coach crash in Sweden while touring the band’s seminal 1986 album, Master of Puppets.
Although Metallica endured without him, his legacy and influence are indelible in the fabric of the band, and indeed in heavy music overall.
Burton’s playing was characterized by an aggressive, pushy style influenced by Lemmy, Geddy Lee, and Thin Lizzy’s Phil Lynott. His signature tracks include “Pulling Teeth”, “Master of Puppets”, and the chromatic intro to “For Whom the Bell Tolls”.
Cliff Burton’s main bass during his time in Metallica was an Aria Pro II, although he also used a Rickenbacker 4001.
Geezer Butler is the influential bass player (and main lyricist) of heavy metal icons Black Sabbath. Himself influenced by the Beatles and Jack Bruce, Butler’s best-known work includes “NIB”, “War Pigs”, and “Children of the Grave”.
Butler’s playing style fused aggressive, dark tones with palpable melodic ideas, often using a wah pedal and tuning his bass to C# to provide the sonic backdrop to Sabbath’s apocalyptic soundscape.
Geezer Butler has used many basses over the years, including Fender’s Precision bass, the Ampeg Dan Armstrong Plexiglass bass, and various John Birch JB1 models. He currently endorses Lakland basses and uses his own signature model.
Stanley Clarke is a jazz fusion bassist best known for his work with Chick Corea’s Return to Forever and in film composition. He has also worked with Stewart Copland and Al Di Meola.
Clarke brought “lead” style bass playing to the fore in jazz fusion music, and led his own band, the Stanley Clarke Band, to massive commercial and critical success.
Stanley Clarke has a distinctive “biting” tone when playing his lead lines. This comes from his unusual right-hand technique. He often rests his right forearm above and almost parallel to the strings, hooking his wrist downward at a right angle, and hooking his fingers partially underneath the strings. This causes the strings to “snap” against the frets when he plays with power, which produces a biting, percussive tone. He will often use downward thrusts of his entire right hand in a variation of the slapping and pop bass technique, and will frequently strike multiple strings at once instead of the usual one.
Les Claypool is the bassist and singer in US alternative funk-rock band Primus. This highly-inventive bass player uses a variety of playing techniques, including slapping and strumming, to create his distinctive rhythmic, almost tribal, grooves.
As well as experimenting with unusual bass techniques, Claypool is also known for his use of unusual instruments, including six-string basses and basses fitted with a tremolo bar.
An automatic selection for a list of the best bass players, and a true innovator: Claypool’s playing is instantly recognizable.
Bootsy Collins is a funk bass player best known for his work with James Brown and later, Parliament-Funkadelic. His powerful, driving bass lines and often tongue-in-cheek vocal style made him an icon in the genre.
Some of his most well-known work includes James Brown’s “Get Up (I Feel Like Being a) Sex Machine”, Funkadelic’s One Nation Under a Groove, and Parliament’s “Give Up the Funk”.
Collins often played a modified Fender P-bass, but is probably more famous for his Warwick star-shaped bass that was built specifically for him. With James Brown, Collins also played a Fender Jazz bass.
Davie504 is the YouTube pseudonym of Italian-born bass player, Davide Biale. Davie504’s dead-pan delivery and irreverent videos have garnered his channel many millions of views.
On his channel you’ll see Davie504 explore bass playing from all around the world, take on challenges such as playing a bass with no strings, hiring bass teachers and pretending to be a beginner, and playing a bass with 36 strings.
The channel is highly addictive; chances are, if you watch one Davie504 video you’ll end up watching several more, and probably lol’ing more than a few times.
With over twelve million subscribers, it’s unlikely that any other bass player has done as much as Davie504 to raise the profile of the bass guitar for the next generation.
Queen’s bass player John Deacon often conceded the limelight to frontman extraordinaire Freddie Mercury. Ignoring Deacon’s accomplishments as a player and writer, however, would be a fool’s errand for any aspiring bassist. Deacon wrote some of Queen’s greatest tracks, and his catchy, distinctive bass playing can be heard on “Under Pressure”, “Another One Bites the Dust”, and “You’re My Best Friend”.
Deacon was a fan of Deep Purple, whose elaborate, highly technical music was a huge influence on his playing in Queen. The Queen bass man’s other influences include the hard rock stylings of John Entwistle, to the slick, disco-styled lines of Chic and Michael Jackson.
Deacon used a Rickenbacker 4001 early on, but for most of his time with Queen played a Fender Precision bass.
Donald “Duck” Dunn
Donald “Duck” Dunn’s soulful, powerfully rhythmic bass playing provided the backdrop to some of the most iconic soul records of all time. The works of Booker T. & The M.G.’s, Otis Redding, Sam & Dave, and Elvis Presley would not have been the same without Dunn’s contribution.
Dunn’s bass lines offered a distinctive musicality because he learned to play bass by playing along to his favorite records, filling in musical space that wasn’t on the recording.
Accordingly, his playing allowed records to move and breathe. This is most noticeable on his work with Elvis Presley and, later, Stax Records. The driving bassline in “Hold On, I’m Comin’” is a prime example of this.
“Duck” Dunn played a Fender Precision Bass, strung with thick flatwound strings that facilitated his agile, highly mobile bass lines. In the 80s, Dunn played Peavey basses, and eventually, in the final years of his life, switched to Lakland basses.
The Who’s John Entwistle used his powerful, propulsive bass playing to help catapult the Who from London R’n’B darlings to full arena-rock stars.
Nicknamed “Thunderfingers”, Entwistle used pentatonic scales and a high-treble sound to fill out the Who’s sonic cacophony. His best-known bass lines can be heard in all their bouncing glory on “Won’t Get Fooled Again” and “My Generation”.
Entwistle is cited as a major influence by many of the world’s greatest bass players. His iconic bass solo on “My Generation” was played on a Fender Jazz bass, although he also played Alembic basses and Gibson Thunderbirds.
With Pete Townshend, Entwistle was directly responsible for the development of the high-octane Marshall Super Lead amplifier series. He also played a role in developing Rotosound’s flatwound strings
The Red Hot Chili Peppers’ bass player Flea is, along with singer Anthony Kiedis, the American funk-rock band’s longest-serving member.
The Australian-born bassist’s playing melds elements of funk (particularly slap bass) with punk and hard rock, and continues to define the Chili Peppers’ sound to this day. His aggressive, propulsive playing can be heard on tracks such as “Higher Ground” and “Give it Away”.
The Chili Peppers’ bass man is also capable of more subdued, spacious, melodic playing, as can be heard on tracks like “Snow” and “Under the Bridge”.
Flea has used various bass guitars over his multi-decade career, including a Fender Precision Bass (of which he has a signature model), a Musicman Stingray, and his own brand of Fleabass.
Larry Graham’s funk bass playing can be heard on his work with Sly and the Family Stone and Graham Central Station. He invented the slapping technique on bass, which radically reinvented contemporary approaches to the instrument, and is cited as a major influence across funk and funk-related genres of music.
Graham’s biggest hit was “One in a Million You”. Graham used a Warwick signature bass as well as the Vox Sidewinder bass.
Charlie Haden was a major innovator when it came to the harmonic element of jazz bass playing. He would often improvise bass harmonies in response to Ornette Coleman’s melodies, using his double bass to fill out the sound of his musical ensembles.
Haden’s playing was lyrical, warm, and subtle. He often used slight vibrato to add depth and dimension to his double bass playing, and favored a three-quarter sized double bass made by Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume.
Steve Harris is the bassist and founder member of English heavy metal band Iron Maiden. Harris’s famous ‘galloping’ style is an integral part of the band’s sound, and the bassist is also one of the band’s principal songwriters.
Iron Maiden were formed in East London in 1975, releasing their first studio album, Iron Maiden, five years later, after a number of line-up changes. The band’s popularity quickly grew, and Iron Maiden went on to become one of the world’s biggest metal bands.
Harris plays fingerstyle, and during gigs is often seen standing with one foot on a monitor, fingers flying madly as he wields his bass at the crowd.
James Jamerson played on virtually every Motown hit throughout the 1960s and 1970s. He relied heavily on chromatic runs, ghost notes, and inversions, often using open strings in his playing, a departure from the typical repetitive root-fifth playing that was popular in radio-ready music at the time.
Jamerson’s virtuosic playing style was complemented by an early switch to electric bass from the upright bass. He primarily used the Fender Precision Bass, but was also known to play the Fender Bass V.
To call Carol Kaye one of the most prolific musicians in history might be an understatement. The American session musician might be the most recorded bass player in popular music, with her playing adorning over ten thousand recordings across her fifty-year career.
Kaye was a member of “The Wrecking Crew”, a group of L.A.-based session musicians, who played on hundreds of hit records in the 60’s and 70’s.
Kaye contributed bass parts to records as diverse as Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Were Made for Walkin’”; the Beach Boys’ landmark record Pet Sounds, and Glen Campbell’s “Wichita Lineman”.
Kaye mostly played a Fender Precision Bass, using a plectrum, and would put a piece of felt between the strings behind the bridge on her bass. This, she claimed, reduced unwanted overtones and undertones.
Slap bass legend Mark King grew up on the Isle of Wight and moved to London with the aim of being a professional drummer. Instead, he became one of the world’s greatest bass players, but his earlier ambition may explain his highly rhythmic slap bass style.
Mark King rose to fame in the eighties as bassist and vocalist of Level 42. King’s advanced playing was a huge influence on a whole generation of bassists. If you want to hear what slap bass playing is all about, then check out any of Level 42’s early albums.
Rock god Geddy Lee is the bassist, lead vocalist and keyboard player in the Canadian prog rock band Rush.
In a three piece, the bass guitar naturally has more prominence, and Lee’s powerful, melodic bass lines are (almost) as integral to Rush’s sound as his high-pitched vocals.
Along with Neil Peart’s powerhouse drumming and Alex Lifeson’s inventive guitar lines, Lee’s bass and vocals have contributed to some of rock’s best-known songs, including “Tom Sawyer” and “The Spirit of Radio”.
Although Rush’s line-up stayed the same since the second of its nineteen studio albums, the band’s style has gone through a number of changes, ranging from blues-metal, progressive rock and stadium rock.
American bassist Tony Levin is well-known among rock fans for his work with King Crimson, Peter Gabriel, Liquid Tension Experiment and his own band, Stick Men. As a session bassist, Levin has also recorded and toured with a vast array of other artists.
As well as playing a standard bass guitar, Levin also uses the Chapman Stick and upright bass. He is also known for his “funk fingers” playing style, which involves taping drumsticks to the fingers in order to strike the strings. This produces a percussive effect similar to slap bass.
Bassist Charles Mingus is considered to be one of the greatest jazz musicians and composers. Mingus collaborated with the likes of Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, and Herbie Hancock.
Mingus’ playing showcased the bounce of hard bop, and his compositions drew from classical as well as African-American music.
Mingus’ best-known album is Mingus Ah Um, a recording considered by many to be one of the finest jazz albums ever made.
Paul McCartney, as bassist, singer and one of the main song-writers in the Beatles, is perhaps the most famous bass player in musical history.
Using his trademark left-handed Hofner violin bass, McCartney created melodic bass lines that are both memorable and effective.
McCartney’s bass lines are intricate and tuneful, yet never get in the way of the song; instead, they form an integral part of the orchestration. This is perhaps a result of the long-term collaboration between the Beatles and record producer / arranger extraordinaire, George Martin.
A multi-instrumentalist, McCartney also plays piano and guitar; the guitar solo on the Harrison song “Taxman” was actually played by McCartney.
Marcus Miller is a jazz bassist who has played with many of the greats, including Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock and George Benson.
As a session musician, Miller has played on over 500 recordings. He also plays with his own band and has written several film scores.
Miller played a Fender Jazz Bass for much of his career, and the company produced both four and five-string signature models for the bassist. Today, Miller plays signature models produced by Sire Guitars.
You would expect the bassist in one of the world’s biggest prog metal groups to know his chops, and John Myung does not disappoint. He is usually found near to or at the top of any ‘best bass guitarist’ poll and listening to virtually any Dream Theatre track will explain why.
Able to play fast, complex riffs seemingly with ease, Myung has inspired many of today’s young bass players to take up the instrument.
One of the all-time great bass players, Jaco Pastorius raised the profile of the instrument with his exciting, virtuosic lines.
Pastorius is chiefly known for his work with the jazz fusion band Weather Report, which he joined in the mid-seventies. He also recorded albums with Herbie Hancock, Pat Metheny and Joni Mitchell, as well as several solo albums.
Pastorius mainly played Fender jazz basses, and is associated in particular with a jazz bass he Christened the “Bass of Doom”, the frets of which he removed. Fender produces a fretless jazz bass signature model based on this guitar.
Sadly, like so many other great musicians, Pastorius had more than his share of personal demons, and died prematurely aged only 35.
John Paul Jones
There aren’t many rock musicians who haven’t, in some way, been influenced by Led Zeppelin.
As bassist and co-songwriter in the legendary English rock group, John Paul Jones’ music has been enjoyed by millions of fans all around the world.
Jones learned his craft as a session musician before forming Led Zeppelin with Jimmy Page, Robert Plant and John Bonham. Jones’ main influence was Motown, and this is often apparent in his riffy, bluesy grooves.
Billy Sheehan’s bass playing came to the attention of many rock fans during his time in the David Lee Roth band. The American bassist’s awesome technique, coupled with his ability to groove, made him a perfect choice to play alongside guitarist Steve Vai in the larger-than-life frontman’s band.
Sheehan found further success with Mr. Big and today plays with The Winery Dogs. One of the original bass guitar shredders, Sheehan is responsible for raising the profile of the bass guitar.
Many of the other bassists on this list would credit Chris Squire as being one of their main influences. The bass player’s melodic lines often took center-stage in the songs of progressive rock band Yes, of which Squire was a founder member.
Squire formed Yes with vocalist Jon Anderson in 1969. The band went on to become one of the biggest and most influential progressive rock groups the world has ever known. Songs such as “Roundabout”, “Heart of the Sunrise” and “The Fish (Schindleria Praematurus)” showcase different aspects of Squire’s inventive playing.
Squire’s melodic lines, played on his trademark Rickenbacker 4001 bass, are a major part of Yes’s sound.
Doug Wimbish is best known as the bass player for virtuosic funk-rock band Living Colour. He has also played with Sugarhill Gang, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, The Rolling Stones, Mick Jagger, Depeche Mode, James Brown, Annie Lennox, and Barrington Levy.
Wimbish’s playing is diverse and virtuosic, capable of addressing the aggressive funk-rock of Living Colour as well the more subdued blues of the Rolling Stones’ later work. Wimbish primarily uses Ibanez and Spector bass guitars.
Victor Wooten is a highly skilled bass player and composer. Best known for his work in Bela Fleck And The Flecktones, he has also released solo work.
Wooten appeared in Rolling Stone Magazine’s ‘Top Ten Bassists Of All Time’, and has also written a popular book, ‘The Music Lesson: A Spiritual Search for Growth Through Music’, which was included in Guitar Command’s Inspiring Books For Guitarists list.