The music world has been blessed with many great bassists over the years. From rock and roll to rhythm and blues, bass players are an essential part of any great band. And with the variety of world class talent to choose from over the years, it can make choosing the very best bassists of all time a tough call for even the most knowledgeable music lovers.
We sometimes think of bassists as obscure jazz musicians or overlooked members of a band compared to enigmatic lead singers like Robert Plant or amazing guitar soloists like Jimi Hendrix. However, they’re essential to any successful band, providing a unique rhythm and groove for each and every song.
That being said, bass players are the unsung heroes of a band, wielding immense influence over the overall sound and feel of the music. While often overlooked in the spotlight, their contribution is vital in providing a strong foundation and driving the rhythmic pulse of the music. The bass guitar’s deep, resonant tones create a sonic bedrock, harmonically connecting the rhythm and melody sections. With their intricate basslines and impeccable timing, bass players give the music depth, groove, and a sense of cohesion. They are the bridge between the drummer and the rest of the band, allowing the guitarists and vocalists to explore and express themselves freely. Without the steady and melodic guidance of a talented bass player, a band’s sound would lack the richness and soul that defines great music.
Since so many talented bassists have emerged over the years, it’s not easy to land on which ones are the ultimate legends in music history. That’s why StudyFinds went to 10 expert websites to draft this list of the best bassists of all time. Don’t see your favorite? Let us know in the comments below.
The List: Best Bassists of All Time, According to Experts
1. John Entwistle
Known as “The Ox” and “Thunderfingers,” this Englishman is widely considered one of the best bassists of all time. As the legendary bassist of The Who, he had a fantastic career that spanned more than 40 years.
He tops Rolling Stone’ list of best bassists of all time: “Entwistle was trained on the piano and French horn before switching to the bass. He played it like a lead instrument, creating a powerful, booming sound that often overshadowed Pete Townshend’s guitar playing. His solo on ‘My Generation’ is probably the most famous bass solo in rock history.”
He also tops Yardbarker’s list. “When it comes to playing the bass, Entwistle takes the crown because he could do just about anything with the instrument. The Who’s sound had a wide and expansive range and seemed to change — often for the better — with the times. Entwistle was more than able to keep up and excel. His high-treble, high-volume sound was synonymous with the band’s success.”
“The quintessential ‘quiet one,’ John Entwistle could also be the noisiest one when the time was right,” says Return of Rock. “The Who’s ‘My Generation’ was one of those times. How many 60s bands had an iconic bass solo in the middle of their defining song?”
2. Geddy Lee
This Canadian musician rose to fame as the lead vocalist and bassist/keyboardist for the rock band Rush. He has been named as a major influence and inspiration for countless bassists and singers ever since.
“While best known for his signature countertenor vocals, Lee always mastered the strings on his bass and continues to do so in life after Rush,” writes Yardbarker. “He was exceptional in incorporating high treble to counter Alex Lifeson’s guitar, making a more fluid unity between the two instruments.”
“Any mid-to-late Rush track evinces how Geddy Lee could do fiendish complexity while still rocking hard enough to drive a power trio,” states uDiscover Music. “Instrumental tracks like ‘YYZ’ and ‘La Villa Strangiato’ tend to have Lee’s greatest licks, but don’t forget that he was usually doing all this while playing keyboard parts with his feet.”
LedgerNote calls him a “musical genius.” Why? “He’s stacked up 7 Grammy nominations and over 40 million records sold thanks to this incredible talent. His bass playing style includes treating it as a lead instrument during which he rails on the strings extremely hard and focuses on the high treble.”
3. James Jamerson
Though he died in relative obscurity, this bassist is now well known for his talents and ability to cater his playing style to match that of the artists he worked with. You’ll hear some of his most famous bass lines on hits like “Bernadette,” “I’m Wondering,” and “What’s Going On.”
“The most important and influential bass guitarist in the 66-year history of the Fender Precision he played, South Carolina-born, Detroit-raised James Jamerson wrote the bible on bass line construction and development, feel, syncopation, tone, touch, and phrasing, while raising the artistry of improvised bass playing in popular music to zenith levels,” writes Guitar World.
“Maybe the most criminally unrecognized bassist of all time, James Jamerson was more a soul man than a rock star, but his foundational contributions to the Motown sound as the captain of the label’s in-house studio band (popularly known as the Funk Brothers) redefined both the radio charts and popular music itself—the so-called ‘Sound of Young America,’” states Paste Magazine. “Though often unobtrusive, he held down the bottom end on songs that depended so insistently on relentless rhythm and a smooth groove.”
4. Jaco Pastorius
This bassist is known for his unique sound that blended big band, jazz, Motown, and Latin sounds. During his short life — he died tragically at 35 — He collaborated with other great musicians like Joni Mitchell and Pat Metheny.
— Luiz Santos Official (@LuizSantosMusic) May 14, 2023
“Jaco Pastorius is a name well-known amongst bassist circles,” notes LedgerNote. “Musicians consider Pastorius’ stamina and expressiveness a gold standard to meet, especially when it comes to playing fretless bass and steadily thumping out 16th notes. He was the embodiment of the concept of ‘effortless mastery’ using techniques like artificial harmonics and the movable anchor.”
“It’s arguable that the greatest bass player who has ever lived was the late Jaco Pastorius, whose breathtaking technique, coupled with searing innovation, inexhaustible creativity and a charismatic personality, has made him a bass legend like none other before or since,” writes MusicRadar. “His ascent was swift and prolific.”
“Jaco Pastorius used every minute of the short time he had to expand the technical and dramatic possibilities of the bass, giving his various clients … more than they bargained for,” gushes uDiscover Music. “Despite his overlooked status, Pastorius regularly introduced himself as the greatest electric bass player in the world, and we’re not going to argue.”
5. Paul McCartney
From his start with The Beatles through his solo career, his talents as a bass player continue to stand out. In fact, his contributions as a bassist on hits like “Come Together” and “Nowhere Man” were highly innovative.
“Paul McCartney gets so much attention for his brilliant songwriting in The Beatles that his stunning bass playing abilities are often overlooked,” says Rolling Stone. “But listen to any Beatles songs and focus on his deeply melodic, flawless bass parts.”
“Paul McCartney made a trademark out of the supple, lyrical bassline more than any rock player before or since, and that’s on ‘Paperback Writer’ alone,” states Return of Rock. “As one of the best bassists in history, he played both lead and rhythm, and did it all ridiculously well – a trademark of everything The Beatles did.”
“Among Sir Paul’s accomplishments with the Beatles and as a massively successful solo artist, McCartney’s talent as a bassist is often downplayed,” writes Yardbarker. “Music fans of any real level or generation understand what a phenomenal songwriter McCartney was and still is.”
You might also be interested in:
- Rolling Stone
- Musician Wave
- Return of Rock
- uDiscover Music
- Guitar World
- Paste Magazine
Note: This article was not paid for nor sponsored. StudyFinds is not connected to nor partnered with any of the brands mentioned and receives no compensation for its recommendations.