Guitars

The Best 4+ String Acoustic Bass Guitars

If you are looking for an acoustic bass guitar, you will have a quite a few bass guitars to choose from. What should you look for in a bass guitar? How do you know which bass guitars will perform the best? Which one will work best for the type of music you play?

If you have an idea of what your needs are for the type of music you play and where you will be playing, then you will have a better idea of what features your new bass guitar will need. Here are a few tips on what to look for in a bass guitar, and a few reviews to help you start your search.

Top Pick: Fender Kingman

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Funky design and a cleaner and richer sound than other similar bass guitars, with a slimmed-down neck design that plays much like an electric bass, but with better natural tone projection from its deeper body chamber.

After having been a musician for over thirty years, I know that the type of instrument you use can make or break a gig. If you have a bass guitar that does not have the features you need for the style of music you play, you are going to be struggling through that show.

If you play bluegrass or folk music, then you do not want to have an electric guitar at your next gig. Acoustic guitars are great for musicians that don’t want to have to deal with an amp. An acoustic bass guitar has all the same features as an acoustic 6-string guitar, such as creating a resonant sound through its hollow body.

Most acoustic bass guitars can be played acoustically or plugged in. If you do choose to play your acoustic bass unplugged, you will get a robust, full-bodied sound that is characteristic of acoustic music.

What to Look for in an Acoustic Bass Guitar

Neck – The type of neck you choose depends on how large your hand it. They can come in oval, round, and flat back shapes as well as “vee” and asymmetrical shapes that are narrower on either the bass or treble side.

Scale Length – If you have a longer neck, you will have more defined sound on your lower strings, and a shorter neck is better for smaller hands and beginners.

Tuning Machines – If you have a closed machine head, you will have less rust and airborne corrosives requiring less maintenance and replacement than having an open tuning machine.

Intonation – This tells you whether your notes are in tune as you work up the neck. The bass will not be able to play a tune if the frets are off making it useless in a recording situation or in a performance.

Bolt-On, Neck-Through – Remember that bolt-on necks have a punchier sound, but are more susceptible to dead spots. Neck through basses will have better sustain and note resolution, and they are stronger.

Fingerboard – If you fingerboard is coated, it can help you create a trebly, whining “fretless sound” that has a longer sustain that has much longer wear round-wound strings. An uncoated fingerboard will have a more natural and warmer sound.

Number of Frets – Your average bass will have either 21, 22, or 24 frets, and since you do most of your playing in the lower position, the number of frets you have is really a personal preference.

Wood – This is another personal preference choice, since it depends on how you like the sound of the wood used to make the bass. Woods can affect the weight and tone of the guitar, so it is a good idea to think about how you plan to use the guitar before making that choice.

Tonewoods

Like other instruments that are made of wood, the type of wood that is used is crucial in how the instrument will sound when it is played.

Wood will determine the tone of the instrument, and when you are talking about a bass guitar, the wood will take on varying characteristics depending on where the wood is used on the bass guitar.

You can create a guitar for a special purpose dependent on the type of wood used. It is also important to look at the guitar’s design, how skilled the manufacturer is, and what quality of wood was used.

Ash and Alder – These two kinds of wood are very similar as they can both give you sustain and an evenly balanced tone that has rich and resonant harmonic overtones. Due to its attractive grain, ash is a popular choice among guitar makers since it looks really good under a finish that is transparent or semi-transparent.

Agathis – This is a pretty inexpensive type of wood that makes it commonly used for budget level basses. It has a medium tone that you find somewhere between mahogany and ash/alder. The tone is rich and resonating that highlights lower midrange over the upper.

Mahogany – This type of wood has a warm and full-bodied sound with a low resonance and medium density. Mahogany’s tone highlights the lower register of the bass guitar that has a marked emphasis and a sharper attack of the strings than you would get with alder or ash.

Basswood – Those that love to play a wide variety of music love basswood due to its intense softness that easily absorbs vibrations. Basswood has a shorter sustain that makes it perfect for techniques that are quick and complex.

Maple – This is a dense wood that gives you incredible sustain, plus a bright and sharp tone. Maple is the preferred wood of a lot of bassists and recording engineers due to its clarity and definition.

How Many Strings?

4-string basses have narrower necks and are tuned in the standard E-A-D-G setup making them great for beginners.

5 or 6 string basses are also tuned in the standard E-A-D-G setup, and some styles of music prefer a 5 string bass like country and modern worship music.

Both a 5 and 6 string guitar allow for more creativity, and a 6 string bass that is tuned B-E-A-D-G-C allow you to do more fancy tricks.

Fretted vs. Fretless

You will have to choose between two different types of fretboard layouts when you are shopping for your bass guitar. A fretted neck is the most common, and they come with steel frets that divide the chromatic scale at each half-step.

You can then find the notes easier, which is great if you are a beginner. A fretless bass does not have steel frets, just smooth wood like an upright bass.

It is believed by some bass players that this gives you a warmer, smoother sound since the note’s pitch depend entirely on your finger position. It requires a lot of muscle memory to remember where to place your fingers, so this instrument requires practice.

Passive vs Active Pickups

Passive pickups have been around a very long time, and they give your bass guitar a warm and dynamic sound.

Active pickups give you a clear, bright, and percussive sound, and they give you a higher output than the passive pickups do.

Other Pickups

The single-coil pickup has a chrome-plated cover, and it gives a bass guitar a more solid and defined sound.

The dual 8-pole humbucking pickups give you a wide range of tones that some guitarists believe is a cleaner sound, plus you can get more tonal variations by using the pan knob to adjust the balance between the two pickups.

Bolt-on vs Neck Through Body

The bolt-on neck is the most traditional style of neck made of a separate piece of wood that the manufacturer bolts onto the body of the guitar. One of the biggest advantages of this style is the ability to replace the neck if it is every damaged.

A neck-though-body design means that the wood in the neck goes through the entire body of the guitar. This style gives you a more direct energy transfer and a greater sustain.

Several pieces of wood are glued together to create this style of bass, and manufacturers usually use very high-quality wood in the construction of this type of guitar.

Body Design

The Precision Bass has a forward-raked design with deep double cutaways. It is comfortable to hold due to the sculpted recessions at the bottom, and they are usually made with either alder or ash bodies.

The Fender Jazz Bass has an offset-waist body that moved the figure of the body forward, plus it is out of the way of the right arm of the player. They are also usually made from ash and alder bodies.

The “C”-shaped Neck is made of maple, and it has a fingerboard made of rosewood, pao, or maple. It has a pretty consistent thickness that narrows in a little as it reaches the nut. It has narrower spacing near the nut giving it a tapered feel for easier fingering.

The Competition

After hours of testing and research, here's the final competition.

InstrumentRatingCurrent Pricing
Fender Kingman
a cleaner and richer sound than other similar bass guitarsOut of stock
Dean EAB
a clear, warm tone with remarkable projection for its size$269.00
Ibanez EAB
spruce gives better projection and clarity, mahogany makes for deep, rich bass tones.$331.69
Boulder Creek EBR1-TB4
larger acoustic bass guitar, powerful acoustic sound, especially on the low end$999.00
Fender T-Bucket Bass
dual-action truss rod makes adjustment easy, accurate, and effectiveOut of stock
Warwick Alien Deluxe
one of the more radical looking bass guitars on the marketOut of stock
Washburn AB40SHNK
great sound, ergonomics, and aestheticsOut of stock

Our Recommendation: Fender Kingman

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The Fender Kingman has the playability and feel of an acoustic guitar, plus it has a strong low-end tone in a funky and unique acoustic bass.

It has a cleaner and richer sound than other similar bass guitars, with a slimmed-down neck design that plays much like an electric bass, but with better natural tone projection from its deeper body chamber.

With its superb built quality, it sounds great plugged in, or just with its natural acoustic sound. It’s modified design increases its playability with the feel of an acoustic dreadnought, but really it has a Jazz Bass neck.

A superb cutaway allows you to get your wrist around it more smoothly giving you more upper range, and the smaller body makes it easier to play sitting down. The modified body design also makes it easier to put your arm around no matter what position you are playing it in.

The maple neck on the Kingman is very slim making it easy to play and do fretwork. The cutaway is wider and more accessible than similar bass guitars, even though it is still has a full-scale neck. This gives it a wider range than other acoustic bass guitars making it more similar to an electric jazz bass.

You will also love its funky, jazz-inspired appearance that goes well with Fender’s electric bass guitars as the fretboard and headstock are the same ones as the ones you see on their Jazz basses. It has the same nut heads and tuners as the electric models.

It is made with a spruce top and a solid maple neck with mahogany on the back and sides and rosewood on the fretboard and saddle. The scalloped x-style bracing gives you structure that also clarifies and focuses the bass guitar’s tone.

The appointments on the Kingman are higher quality than what its competitors use. It has better intonation with the rosewood and bone bridge as well as the saddle setup. Pearled inlays on the stock, and intricate soundhole bindings, plus the pins and tuners all put it well ahead of the budget guitars.

The Kingman also comes outfitted with a combo of a Fishman pickup and preamp combo, and the piezo pickup gives you definition and clarity. The onboard EQ gives you tons of adjustments to let you find that perfect tone when you are plugged in, plus it has a built-in tuner.

The Kingman beats out the budget models in looks and feel, plus it has a higher level of quality in its playing as it holds a more steady tone and plays smoother than its competitors. It also comes with a hardshell case making it even more of a deal.

Pros

Great look and great sound
Great value, especially with the hardshell case
Great upper range, awesome look

Cons

Doesn’t project as much as other models do

Other Products to Consider:

Dean EAB

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The Dean EAB is a budget friendly acoustic bass that gives you all the standard features of a bass guitar with a very reasonable price tag. It has a clear, warm tone that has remarkable projection for its size.

Beginners will appreciate this guitar, especially with its striking tonal range that is better than a jazz bass, and professionals will appreciate it as a good practice bass.

The Dean EAB is constructed with a mahogany back and a spruce top, plus mahogany sides that improve the bass guitar’s balance of resonance and projection. If you know your guitars, you will notice that these are the same types of woods used in high-end guitars.

It is made with a classic guitar shape, but it has a bigger and deeper chamber that gives it more resonance at the lower frequencies. It is well-built with a simple design that is durable and definitely not delicate feeling. It has a thick gloss finish without any decorative flourishes or frills.

Some have commented that it looks like a jumbo acoustic guitar that has rear and front curves, but it is a great design for beginners, or someone who is switching to the bass from playing guitar.

The Dean EAB has surprisingly good projection, and it can hold its own again guitar with its extra body volume. It also has a nice boom that stands out in a mix of acoustic instruments, but still has a warm tone that still blends in with the other guitars.

You can also plug this acoustic guitar in, if you desire, giving you more versatility from the different tones you will be able to create, plus you can play it through an amplifier if you need to.

This is definitely a great guitar for the money, and it makes an awesome practice bass guitar. You can find the Dean EAB in the under $200 range.

Pros

Well-built with a nice glossy finish
Great for guitarists on a budget
Basic guitar that is a great practice bass

Cons

Onboard electronics are not the best, and you will need to make adjustments

Ibanez EAB

Credit: Amazon.com

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The Ibanez EAB has a cutaway design with a narrow neck that makes it more playable than the Dean EAB. It also has better fittings, and it has a more tuneful and precise sound with a snappy growl.

It has a mahogany back and a spruce top with mahogany on the sides. The spruce helps to give the Ibanez EAB better projection and clarity, and the mahogany gives it the deep, rich bass tones.

Rosewood is used for the bridge and the fretboard, and the shorter 32” scale makes it more playable than many of the other acoustic guitars. This is a great bass choice if you are playing live, or you are looking for a better practice instrument.

The body is still as large as a full-scale acoustic bass guitar, and that makes it easier to play, so that you don’t have to sacrifice you projection strength or tone depth. It gives you a consistently warm and punchy tone, whether you play it acoustically or plugged in.

The wood on the guitar makes it more precise giving it a low boom. It is a warm and full guitar that does not lose it definition, making it a great guitar for not a lot of money.

It can hold it own against guitars with it awesome projection, and the sleek black high-quality finish makes it look great in a band setting. It has a nice set of Fishman pickups with the Ibanez preamp, and the piezo pickup highlights tone clarity.

The combo of the EQ and the ShapeShifter preamp lets you have the choice of several tone setting that lets you amplify your acoustic sound giving you warm, buttery tones, or plug in for a rockier bass sound.

The battery is easy to get to and replace, and it has a built-in tuner.There are two output jacks including a standard bass amp cable and a larger XLR port that you can use for direct lines to your PA system that makes it easy to adjust no matter where you are playing.

Pros

Great projection, great look
Easy to play, high-quality bass
Great built-in tuner, very handy

Cons

Doesn’t project as loudly when it is unplugged

Boulder Creek EBR1-TB4

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The Boulder Creek EBR1-TB4 is made in a lovely spot in Boulder Creek, California that personifies the woody and organic feel of the Boulder Creek guitar. Mike Shellhammer, a longtime bassist, heads up Boulder Creek Guitars, which is a new comer in the bass guitar market.

The EBR1-TB4 has Pearloid binding with a rich tobacco sunburst finish, plus it has all the accessories that make it a high-end acoustic bass guitar. This is one of the larger acoustic bass guitars on the market, and it has an incredibly powerful acoustic sound, especially on the low end.

Above the fingerboard is a small soundhole that projects volume well, and the soundhole in the side-position next to the preamp controls emphasizes the lower frequencies. The neck profile is fatter than your average acoustic bass, but it won’t keep you from enjoying the instrument.

It is also one of the few acoustic bass guitars that can hold up in an acoustic jam without amps. If you do want to plug in, you have two options, either the standard q” instrument jack, or the balanced XLR jack. It also has a 3-band preamp that includes a tuner and phase switch that help to shape the ABG’s amplified tone.

Pros

Has jam worth acoustic volume
Gig-friendly with an affordable price
Great at emphasizing lower frequencies

Cons

Neck is fatter than some prefer

Fender T-Bucket Bass

Credit: Amazon.com

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The Fender T-Bucket Bass has a smaller body than its competitors, and it has awesome graphics that are inspired by hot-rods. It has laminated mahogany and maple body in the Grand Concert style that is great for close mics in the studio.

If you do plug in, its small profile will reduce feedback. It does not have an overpowering volume due to its size, but the 1.650” nut width and the 32″-scale neck give the bass guitar a very comfortable feel.

The dual-action truss rod makes adjustment easy, accurate, and effective, and the Fishman’s Isys III onboard preamp has bass, volume, mid, and treble controls, plus a built-in tuner/mute function. There is also a flexible EQ that allows you to go from a bright grind to a warm thump with just the twist of a knob.

The T-Bucket is great for acoustic gigs, and it is awesome at fulfilling the bass function, plus it is easy to play. The medium scale length of the bass give you enough heaviness, and, if you play more treble, the factory-supplied Fender Phosphor Bronze strings gives you enough zing, but still blends nicely with an acoustic guitar.

This is a humble, laminate acoustic bass guitar that gives you a well-defined bottom, easy playability, and flexible electronics all in the low $300 range.

Pros

Easy to play, modest acoustic bass
Great at fulfilling the bass functions with medium scale length
Great for close mics in the studio

Cons

It is a little top heavy

Warwick Alien Deluxe

Credit: Amazon.com

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The Warwick Alien Deluxe is one of the high-end Warwick German-engineered basses, but it also makes fan favorites with budget friendly Chinese- and Korean-made basses and amps. The Alien Deluxe is one of the Chinese basses, and it has an out of this world appearance.

As one of the more radical looking bass guitars on the market, it is something that some may love, while other hate it. It has a medium sized body that is large enough to give you enough acoustic volume, but still stays comfortable.

It has a satin-finish mahogany neck that is similar in feel to the electric Warwick guitar. It is made with Bubinga wood that is often used for solid body instruments.

The Alien Deluxe has a full, loud, and balanced acoustic sound. When it is plugged in, the Fishman Presys+ preamp has all you want in onboard controls.

It does have a buzz when you are midway up the neck on the G string, which is difficult to adjust since the bridge lacks individual saddle to adjust the string height. Otherwise, the Alien Deluxe is a well-built acoustic bass guitar with great volume and a flexible preamp for in the mid $900 range.

Pros

Great amount of acoustic volume
Pretty comfortable, great look
Has a great acoustic attack with a higher setup

Cons

There is a buzz midway up on the G string

Washburn AB40SHNK

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The Washburn AB40SHNK has a 32″ scale length and a sparkly finish. Designed by Stu Hamm who worked with Washburn to create signature electric and acoustic bass guitars, Hamm used his radical techniques of tapping, slapping, and plucking to help design the AB40SHNK.

It had to have certain things for Hamm, including an intonatable bridge. Most acoustic bass guitars do not have much adjustability, but the AB40SHNK lets the player set their intonation and string height where other guitars ruin their sound with improper string balance.

It also includes top-mounted 2-band EQ that has volume control, and trim pots that control the output of each of the strings that are embedded on the back of the control panel.

When it is plugged in, it has the punch of a solid body guitar, plus a shade of shimmer with airy highs from the piezoelectric pickups. It does have more of an “electric” sound than its competitors that is preferred by some players.

It has great sound, ergonomics, and aesthetics, and is available in the $500 price range.

Pros

Very easy to play, great ergonomics
Bridge allows you to adjust intonation and string height
Great design features

Cons

Acoustic sound does not have that much volume

Sources:
http://www.guitarplayer.com/miscellaneous/1139/all-about-tonewoods/14591
http://www.guitarplayer.com/miscellaneous/1139/all-about-bolt-on-and-set-necks/14775

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