Whether you’re a bassist yourself or just someone who loves rock & roll, you might be curious about some of the legendary basses that have shaped rock music. We’ve put together a list of some of the top bass guitars loved by rock & roll legends.
Fender Jazz Bass — John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin
Even the most casual music fan has heard of Led Zeppelin. But before the band as we know it was formed, bassist John Paul Jones was working as a renowned session bassist. Jimmy Page, the lead guitarist for Led Zeppelin, was also known for his work as a session musician before rocketing to fame with the band.
In both his session work and much of his touring with Led Zeppelin, John Paul Jones primarily uses a 1962 Fender Jazz Bass with a sunburst finish. While you might not immediately associate the jazz bass with rock & roll, this versatile tone machine has been used by rock, jazz, and funk players. Today, you can find a version of the Jazz Bass for just about every budget, and Fender’s budget line, Squier, offers several lower-priced options. If you want to hear one of the legends who helped popularize this famous bass, this video lets you hear John Paul Jones play a bass solo live.
Fender Precision Bass — James Jamerson’s Motown Recordings
The Fender Precision Bass was the first-ever electric bass to hit the market, and it
revolutionized rock music. Before the P-bass, bassists needed to play the upright bass, a large instrument that was tough to transport and even tougher to amplify effectively. As the rock genre grew, it became difficult for bassists to compete with the sound of amplified electric guitars. The P-bass changed all that.
One of the most famous early adopters of the Precision Bass was James Jamerson, who used a Precision Bass on most Motown recordings. The sound of the P-bass soon became essential to rock music, and other manufacturers often imitate it. If you want to check out Jamerson’s “Motown Sound,” check out this isolated bass track from Motown’s “What’s Going On.”
Like the Fender Jazz Bass, the Precision Bass is one of the most enduring bass models on the market today. Both Fender and Squier offer practically endless P-bass models, and there’s something for every genre and budget.
Gibson EB-3 — Jack Bruce
The Gibson EB-3, while it was used by some players in the heyday of rock & roll, never quite reached the status of the Jazz Bass and Precision Bass. This is likely due to its pickup design — the EB-3 had a large neck humbucker that seemed to send every rock-era bass amp into instant overdrive. The bridge pickup was a smaller mini humbucker that sounded a little cleaner, but it still produced a sound that was nothing like the tone of the upright bass, a Precision Bass, or a Jazz Bass. And with a body shaped like the Gibson SG, this bass had a look that was especially suitable for the rock & roll era.
The EB-3’s sound certainly wasn’t for everyone, but it was just the right sound for Jack Bruce, the bassist for Cream who later went solo. Bruce stated that he was looking for something that didn’t sound like a Fender. You can hear Bruce’s EB-3 in action in this track from his solo album, Songs for a Tailor.
The Gibson EB-3 is now discontinued, but the company sells an SG Bass that is somewhat similar. However, Epiphone, which is Gibson’s budget brand, sells an EB-3 bass that’s a bit like the original Gibson models. You can hear an Epiphone EB-3 demo here.
Rickenbacker 4001S — Paul McCartney
Beatles fans probably remember Paul McCartney playing a Hofner violin bass, but he also played the distinctive-looking Rickenbacker 4001S. The 4001S (where the “S” stands for “special” was meant to be a streamlined model of the Rickenbacker 4001. It came with one of Rickenbacker’s signature “toaster” pickups in the neck position and unique horseshoe bridge pickup.
Fender may well have introduced the first electric basses used for rock & roll, but thanks in part to McCartney’s use of the 4001S, Rickenbacker soon earned a place in the hearts and hands of bassists across the world. You can hear Paul playing his Rickenbacker on this video of “Not Such a Bad Boy.” While the 4001 and 4001S are no longer made, the newer 4003 was designed to replace these models and can still be bought new today.
Guild Starfire — Jack Casady of Jefferson Airplane
The 60s were a time where music was changing, and many new bass styles emerged, and Jack Casady of Jefferson Airplane was one of the era’s most inventive players. Bass might be a backbeat for some bands, but Casady’s playing style was crucial to the Jefferson Airplane sound that fans came to love.
Fittingly, this renegade player also played an unusual bass. Casady primarily played a Guild Starfire, a semi-hollow design. He first discovered the Starfire in the late 1960s. After tweaking the electronics, the Starfire became Casady’s primary road guitar. While Guild may not enjoy quite the bass acclaim of Fender and Gibson, the Starfire bass nonetheless helped shape the sound of Jefferson Airplane. It inspired bassists to experiment with hollow and semi-hollow instruments.
Interestingly, Casady also sometimes played a Guild V bass, a unique bass shaped like the Gibson Flying V, but he’s best known for touring with the semi-hollow Starfire. Check out Jack’s playing on this Jefferson Airplane track, called “Let Me In.”
If you’re looking to purchase your first bass or add another to your collection, we hope this roundup of top bass guitars loved by rock & roll legends will help you choose which one is right for you. Let us know if we left anything out in the comments, and please don’t forget to share if you found the list helpful!