A list of the best bass players of all time. This list includes some of the best bass guitarists from many different musical styles and eras. It includes bass pioneers, melodic masters and technical giants. Who did we choose? Who did we leave out? Read on to find out…
The bass guitar is a surprisingly versatile instrument. Not only is it an integral part of the rhythm section, but it can also provide memorable riffs, licks and solos. Bassists get the best of both worlds: they make people dance, and they can also take the limelight when they want to!
If you want to know what makes a great bassist 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.
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 your bass playing is in need of some inspiration, or you want to hear exactly what can be done on the instrument, then you’ve come to the right place.
List Of The Best Bass Guitarists
Jack Bruce is best known for being the bassist and singer in Cream, the supergroup that also featured guitarist Eric Clapton and drummer Ginger Baker. Born in Scotland in 1943, Bruce developed his inventive style playing upright jazz bass. Bruce also played with many other famous musicians and was instrumental in raising the profile of the bass guitar.
[ad name=”Google Adsense Lge Rec”]
For many metal fans, the list of best bass players begins and ends with Cliff Burton. Known for his fast fingerstyle playing, Burton played a major part in Metallica’s rise to world domination. Burton was tragically killed in a coach crash, leaving, in the opinion of some fans, a hole in Metallica’s line up that remains impossible to fill.
As the bass player in Black Sabbath, Geezer Butler is responsible for some of the most famous bass lines in rock. Known for his riffy, groove-based lines, Butler was also Black Sabbath’s lyricist. Many of rock and metals’s best bassists cite Butler as an influence.
Stanley Clarke is a jazz/fusion bassist who rose to fame during the 70’s, playing with the jazz fusion group Return To forever. He has played with many famous musicians, including Chick Corea, Stewart Copeland and Al Di Meola. Clarke has also composed many film and television scores. His website describes him as being the ‘liberator of the electric and acoustic basses’ and this is no idle boast: he showed people what could be done on the bass.
Les Claypool is the bassist and singer in US alternative rock band Primus. Claypool uses a variety of playing techniques including slapping and strumming to create his distinctive rhythmic, almost tribal, grooves. An automatic selection for a list of the best bass players, and a true innovator: Claypool’s playing is instantly recognisable.
Another bassist with an instantly recognisable sound, Steve Harris is the bassist in Iron Maiden. Harris’ famous ‘galloping’ style is an integral part of the UK metal giant’s sound, and he is also one of the groups chief songwriters. 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.
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 and lead vocalist 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 an integral part of Rush’s music. Many a stadium has trembled to his giant sound.
Paul McCartney is perhaps the most famous bass guitarist in musical history. Using his trademark left-handed Hofner violin bass, he created melodic bass lines that are both memorable and effective. McCartney lines are intricate and tuneful but never get in the way of the song; instead they form an integral part of the orchestration.
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.
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 bas players, Jaco Pastorius raised the profile of the instrument with his exciting, virtuosic lines that encompass all of the fingerboard. Pastorius is chiefly known for his work with the jazz fusion band Weather Report, and also for several other solo projects. 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 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. John Paul 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 most rock fans during his time in the David Lee Roth band. Sheehan’s awesome technique, coupled with his ability to groove, made him the perfect partner in crime for guitarist Steve Vai. Sheehan found further success with Mr Big. One of the original bass guitar shredders.
Many of the other bassists on this list would include Chris Squire as being one of their main influences. Squire founded prog rock band Yes with vocalist Jon Anderson in 1969. The band went on to become one of the biggest prog rock groups the world has ever known. Despite a confusing number of line up changes, Yes are still going strong today (but is it the same without Anderson?!?) Squire’s melodic lines, played on his trademark Rickenbacker bass, are a major part of their sound.
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.
[ad name=”Google Adsense Lge Rec”]
Best Bass Players: Conclusion
Music Is Subjective
‘Best of’ lists like these are difficult to compile. Actually, that’s an understatement: when you set out to write an article such as this you are very aware that you are venturing out into a huge minefield. Everyone has their own opinions as to what makes one musician ‘better’ than the next, and everyone has their own personal favorites.
The purpose of this list is to introduce some great bass players, and it shouldn’t be taken too seriously. Music is subjective, and there are many other bassists who could quite easily have been included.
If we have missed out a bass player who, in your opinion, should be here, then please let us know in the comments below. If you make a good argument for their inclusion then we might even add them! In any case, let us know what you think of the list and who you consider to be the best bass player of all time!