Bass guitars are one of the most important instruments in a band. While guitarists usually get the fame, to have a truly successful band, you need an exceptional bassist, one who knows how to keep you dancing or jumping. Many bass players have become famous, but we will only be able to feature the 20 best bass players of all time.
The following bass players have defined what it means to play the bass guitar and many of them have played with bands that have become household names. These bassists transcend time and music style. Let’s get on to our list of the best bassists.
Flea, whose real name is Michael Peter Balzary, was inspired to play bass during the early 1980s in Los Angeles. While also an actor and musician Flea is most well-known as a bassist. He helped found Red Hot Chili Peppers and is considered to be the best rock musician ever. In the mid-eighties, Flea dived into Bootsy Collins where he invented his ‘slap’ style signature sound. As a musician, he has worked with Mick Jagger, Johnny Cash and Alanis Morisette in coming up with different collaborative projects. As an actor, he has performed in various projects such as Suburbia of 1983, Back to the Future Part II and III of 1989 and 1990 respectively. Flea has participated in several animated projects in which has transformed his career. Given his accomplishments, we have no problem giving him our label of best bass guitar player.
2. Jaco Pastorius
Jaco Pastorius is the bassist that saved the world when we suffered the loss of many bass heroes. During his time from 1975 to 1982, Jaco contributed immensely by working with Pat Metheny, Weather Report and Joni Mitchell among others. He played a critical role in funk music, bass chords, and lyrical solos among other innovative harmonics. In 1988, Jaco was inducted into Down Beat jazz hall. He became one of the most honored electric bass guitarist. In his early 70s, Jaco befriended Pat Metheny a jazz guitarist in the same faculty. Together, they recorded an album with the title Jaco. Pastorius played electric bass but he evaded the frets and some metallic sound. His charismatic, athletic and aggressive style placed him in the spotlight. He later added harmonics after learning artificial harmonics which dramatically elevated him.
3. Paul McCartney
Paul McCartney is another well-known bass player. He is a
multi-instrumentalist, songwriter and a composer. His bass lines played an integral role in The Beatles evolution from musical pioneers to pop band. He made every song unique and has inspired several producers and song writers bring a difference in the world of music. Paul observed two things as a bassist: keeping time and establishing base harmonics for every song. He used his inventive bass to add taste to his performances and can be heard right from his bass harmonics to the vocal and horn parts of his songs. One of his performances “When I’m Sixty-Four” mainly focuses on clarinets and lyrics. Whatever the song you’re playing, the techniques in McCartney playbook can help
you elevate your musical ideas.
4. Cliff Burton
At a tender age of 13, Cliff started playing bass after the death of his older brother. The contributions of Cliff Burton are undeniable. His early albums inspired several artists of metal bands. Fans like Talmud got major inspiration from Cliff’s bass parts. Some of the things he brought to Metallica include funk and prog, Bach, and David Bowie. His first band was titled EZ-Street which was named after a certain strip bar. Cliff started in a band called Trauma before joining Metallica. Before his death in 1986, Cliff brought lots of inspiration through his innovative metal music.
5. Stanley Clarke
Stanley was born in Philadelphia and is the first superstar to play the bass. In his career, he transformed the bass guitar, inspiring several to-be artists including Marcus Miller and Victor Wooten. Clarke helped a lot in popularizing jazz which was a new form of
music in rock style. This was rock music played in jazz form. The way he played electric basses helped transform several other players. His recordings added lots of touch to jazz players such as Horace Silver, Dexter Gordon and Art Blakey. He is popularly known for his fusion band ‘Return to Forever.’ In the 1970s, he released several albums under his name. ‘School Days’ was his major solo album.
6. Larry Graham
Larry is popularly known as the father of slap n’ pop technique. He is also known as the person who taught several suburban Americans how to dance. He started by playing with his mother’s group, but the group lacked a drummer. This is where he invented his new method of slapping the strings of his bass guitar with his thumbs something that produced ‘bass drum.’ He used his middle fingers to pop the strings thus giving rise to a ‘snare’ sound. As a result, his slap-n-pop technique came to life. He referred to his technique as ‘thumbpin and pluckin.’ His bass style was later used by other bassist such as Les Claypool, Bootsy Collins, Mark King, Flea and Victor Wooten among others.
7. James Jamerson
Also known as the original funk brother, James Jamerson was a member of Motown Records where he played bass on 30 tunes that all went viral on pop charts. One thing you should know about Jamerson is that he customized his approach to suit the bass style of every artist he worked with. Though he was uncredited for a long time, he contributed immensely and influenced several bass players. His style and technique relied heavily on syncopation, chromatic runs, inversions and ghost notes. German upright acoustic bass was his favorite equipment. His string-slapping technique and a fluid style has echoed and deepened the melodies of several other singers.
8. Ron Carter
Right from the late 50s, Ron Carter radically anchored the jazz scenes. He is the most recorded bassist in history having appeared in over 2,221 recording sessions. Ron is also a talented cellist and has recorded several times. Ron won a Grammy Award for being the best Jazz instrumentalist in 1993. He is best known for other performances together with Miles Davis Quintet. He recorded several albums such as Seven Steps to Heaven, Live at the Plugged Nickel and Miles Smiles. Carter innovatively came up with a rhythm that played critical role in modern jazz. He penned several bass books and even taught at New York City College.
9. John Entwistle
Before switching to bass, John was a trained pianist and French horn player. His unique style has influenced others such as Chris Squire, Billy Sheehan and Geddy Lee among others. His use of treble frequencies, tapping and strumming, splitting and bi-amping and more has made him inspire many. He is a founding member of Who and played songs such as ‘My Generation’ ‘Sparks’ ‘The Real Me’ and Dreaming from the Waist’ among others. John invented a piston-like fingering technique which became the bottom line of his fame. He played his bass guitar in like a lead instrument making it create a booming sound. The solo he played in ‘My Generation’ is the most popular in his entire rock history.
10. John Paul Jones
John Paul Jones is a multi-instrumentalist who came up with creative string arrangements that made him cross the boundaries. He is a bassist known for his English rock band titled Led Zeppelin which made him develop his solo career more. He was responsible for the classic bass lines notably the Lemon Song and Ramble On. He ranked first in the list of ‘the 20 most underrated bass guitarists.’ His appreciation for soul rhythmic grooves and funk enhanced and strengthened his affinity for bass playing. He has remained focus and unmoved always innovative in his career.
11. Les Claypool
Les Claypool is a musician, actor, singer, songwriter and author. His playing style involves electric basses where he combines tapping, flamenco-like strumming, slapping and whammy bar bends. He is a self-produced soloist from his studio. He pursued
bass playing from a tender age of 14. Together with Primus, he has got the world talking. His amplification includes Ampeg bass heads and cabinets, Gallien Krueger practice amps and Mesa Boogie bass cabinets. He is one unrelenting bassist of all times.
12. Geezer Butler
Geezer is another bassist who has played a substantial role in bass playing. Perhaps, his ability to pull off syrupy thick notes has placed him far ahead and even changed the generation of fuzz-heads. His role in the Black Sabbath made it more ferocious, thicker and even more human. Some of his major works include
the Master of Reality and Vol. 4 vividly shows how talented he is in bass playing. He is considered the best metal bassist of all times.
13. Ray Brown
Ray has played a vital role in modern jazz rhythm. He won a Grammy Award for his double bass. He has played as a soloist
and also collaborated with other jazz masters like Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, and Dizz Gillespie. Brown together with guitarist Ashby became the founders of the Oscar Peterson Trio. This was one of the famous jazz trios in the 50s. His impeccable technique, driving swing and gorgeous sound made him unique in the jazz. Throughout his career, he has maintained rigorous performance and exclusive recordings that are featured in several albums.
14. Bootsy Collins
He is considered the funkiest man on earth and his name is among the leading in the funk world. Bootsy has made bass history for up to three times: together with James Brown on ‘Super Bad’ and Soul Power, as co-creator in Mothership Connection and as a ringleader of Bootsy Rubber Band. He has worked together with other musicians such as Samuel Jackson and Snoop Dogg among others. His design made him a star in his career. His awards and achievements include the 2004 Grammy
Award for the Best Reggae Album.
15. Donald ‘Duck’ Dunn
Donald is referred to as the backbone of Memphis soul by most people. This is due to the revolution he brought in the late 60s when soulful music was done in a studio in Memphis, Tenn. With his tight and economical P-Dunn Bass lines has greatly influenced different generations of deep groovers particularly in classic soul
such as ‘In the Midnight Hour’ ‘Dock of the Bay’ and ‘Soul Man.’ He is a legendary bassist that will be remembered for his deep pocket of bass grooves most of which have been explored in interviews from his family, friends and colleagues. In fact, he has over 50 transcribed bass parts.
16. Geddy Lee
Geddy is another universally acclaimed bassist. He has garnered up several Grammy Awards following his 21 studio discs and live albums that feature his singular voice and bass tone. Geddy’s ability to play keys, trigger samples, step on those bass pedals,
produce sweet vocal sounds in unique signatures make him stand out tall. His catchy sound and mind-blowing bass lines have revolutionized his entire career. His bass closet comprises of jazz basses, Rickenbacker’s, Steinberger’s, Wals, Gibsons, Moog and Taurus pedals and much more. He released his hit solo record titled, ‘My Favorite Headache’ in 2000. His distinct skills on the bass guitar has inspired several rock music artists from around the world.
17. Jack Bruce
Jack has an exciting history in bass playing. His debut was in 1964 when he was prompted to play an electric bass and this is where he realized he had a potential in playing the instrument. He got his training from Scotland’s Royal Academy of Music. Though he trained as a cellist, he found himself a jazz musician. He played double bass and most of his contributions are seen in the British Supergroup Cream which he took part together with other guitarists such as Ginger Baker and Eric Clapton. He continued to pursue ‘the blues element’ which made him even more innovative.
18. Peter Hook
Peter is an English singer, composer, and multi-instrumentalist. He is popularly known as a co-founder and bassist in rock English bands such as New Order and Joy Division. He developed his bass style by playing with Joy Division where he used a low-sounding speaker and hence he had to play so high for him to be heard. During his early days, he used Alembic F-2B preamp. He has also written several books including ‘Unknown Pleasures,’ ‘Substance: Inside New Order,’ ‘The Hacienda: How Not to Run a Club’ and more.
19. Tina Weymouth
Tina had never touched any musical instrument until when she was introduced by her boyfriend in 1975. She is a founding member and bassist of Talking Heads new wave group. Surprisingly, her naivety and natural talent became her turning point and she later devised a new way she could approach rock and roll bass which is a combination of post-punk sparseness, funk syncopation, and her melodious instincts. Her contributions are seen in the albums such as Yes Please and Gorillaz. She has inspired many aspiring bassists.
20. Charles Mingus
Charles is another tireless composer and a serious double bassist. His compositions are drawn from the blues and black gospel. He has received several awards and honors. One of his elaborate tribute came in 1969 when Duke Ellington performed ‘The Clown.’ He has been ranked as one of the finest composers and great performers in jazz music. His performances are distinctive and melodic. In his career, he strived to come up with unique music to be played uniquely.
Bass players have contributed significantly to modern music. We have listed for you the best bassists of all time based on both their skill and contribution to the bass world. All of these bass players were highly skilled and had some sort of major influence on the evolution of the bass guitar in modern music. Are there any famous bass players that you think should be included?