In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the best bass guitar players of all time. Here in this list, you’ll see 10 famous bass players like Flea from Red Hot Chili Peppers, John Paul Jones from Led Zeppelin, Geddy Lee from Rush, and many others, each one a prolific musician with an original technique and style.
I played the bass for several years, recording albums and playing numerous live shows with several bands. Finding inspiration is often important, which is why finding a personal bass idol might help you learn faster. I myself started to play the bass because of a certain famous bass player you’ll see on this list. But I don’t want to spoil too much, so let’s get into it!
What Makes a Great Bass Guitar Player?
A great bass player, in my humble opinion, must not only have some innovation and a personal technique, but also a successful career with numerous hit songs. But remember that this is a subjective question, as each one of us has our own personal taste in music.
When I was selecting the best bass players for this list, I had a hard time narrowing it down to 10. I had to select the most iconic musicians from several genres.
Most of the musicians you’ll find on this list have a long and prolific career and are highly-praised by the bass community. But I also included some of my personal favorites to spice things up.
10 Best Bass Guitar Players
Let’s take a closer look at some of the best bass guitar players in the world. Here you’ll find a mixed bag of modern and classic old-school musicians that left a perceptible mark on the music industry as a whole.
- Bands: Red Hot Chili Peppers, Jane’s Addiction, The Mars Volta, Fear, Atoms for Peace
- Best hit song: Under the Bridge
- Best album: Californication
- Music type: Funk rock
- Favorite bass guitar: Custom Shop Fender Jazz Bass
Flea is one of the first names that comes to mind when it comes to famous bass players. This restless musician, called Flea because of his inability to sit still, is mostly known for creating the unique and funky basslines for Red Hot Chili Peppers.
This prolific musician feeds from two genres to create his own. The first one is funk. Flea is a modern master of the slap technique, which was first developed by funk bands in the 70s.
The slap technique consists of hitting the strings with the thumb, creating a heavier percussive bass sound. This technique is often used with a pull-up from beneath the strings in an octave above.
The other half of Flea’s style is punk, which he employs to create more aggressive and melodic lines. This half gives his sound that irreverent and fresh feel.
The resulting blend is an easily recognizable sound that made Red Hot Chili Peppers so famous all around the world.
2. Les Claypool
- Bands: Primus, Oysterhead, Blind Illusion
- Best hit song: Wynona’s Big Brown Beaver
- Best album: Pork Soda
- Music type: Funk metal
- Favorite bass guitar: Carl Thompson 6-String Fretless “Rainbow Bass”
Les Claypool is the famous bassist and frontman of Primus. This unique and full-on strange band made its debut during the 90s MTV era, where their underground and weird personas fit right in. Musically speaking, their songs are a strange blend of metal and funk, while the quirky vocals of Les Claypool add some irony and comedy to the mix.
And of course, let’s not forget the iconic South Park intro, which is probably the most famous track made by this band.
3. Geddy Lee
- Bands: Rush, Big Dirty Band
- Best hit song: Tom Sawyer
- Best album: Moving Pictures
- Music type: Progressive rock
- Favorite bass guitar: 1972 Fender Jazz Bass
Geddy Lee has one of the most iconic sounds when it comes to bass guitar. His unique bass lines bring that complex progressive and melodic nature to all Rush songs. Add this to the high-range vocals of Geddy, and you get worldwide success in the form of Rush, one of the most famous bands from Canada.
This band started as progressive rock in a pure 60s style inspired by Led Zeppelin and later settled down for a more personal and melodic rock with some synths sprinkled in. This later style made this band so iconic for many fans around the world.
Rush might not be everyone’s cup of tea. But there are certainly some things to admire and like, which is evident by how passionate and loyal most Rush fans are.
4. Cliff Burton
- Bands: Metallica, Agents of Misfortune, Trauma
- Best hit song: Orion
- Best album: Metallica
- Music type: Heavy metal
- Favorite bass guitar: Rickenbacker 4001 Aria Pro II
Cliff Burton became world famous after joining Metallica and creating some of the most iconic bass lines in metal history. His short but explosive career made him very respected to this day. Cliff was a versatile and highly technical bassist, which could be seen at almost every live show he performed.
Cliff Burton injected every solo and line with his unique musicality. He knew a lot about musical theory and even taught James Hetfield some of it.
But tragedy struck on September 26, 1986, when the bus in which the band was traveling on their European tour suddenly crashed, taking the life of this young and talented musician.
5. John Paul Jones
- Bands: Led Zeppelin, Them Crooked Vultures
- Best hit song: Stairway to Heaven
- Best album: Led Zeppelin IV
- Music type: Hard rock, folk rock
- Favorite bass guitar: Fender Jazz Bass
John Paul Jones is one of the most elegant and versatile musicians alive. This talented artist worked as a session musician and arranger prior to joining Led Zeppelin. During his years with Zeppelin, John recorded and performed some of the most iconic bass lines in rock history.
John Paul Jones is not only a great bass player but also an amazing keyboard and mandolin player. This versatility helped him to create a wide range of unique melodies and musical ideas, which provided Led Zeppelin with sophistication and elegance.
John, now 75 years old, is an incredibly humble and passionate artist that continues to inspire bass players around the world.
6. James Jamerson
- Bands: Motown, The Funk Brothers
- Best hit song: I Heard it Through the Grapevine
- Best album: What’s Going On (Marvin Gaye)
- Music type: Funk, soul
- Favorite bass guitar: Fender Precision Bass Guitar
James Jamerson is the father of the funky bass guitar. This prolific musician recorded a great number of hit songs with famous Motown groups, as he performed with iconic artists like Marvin Gaye, Dianna Ross, Michael Jackson, Steve Wonder, and many others.
This legendary bass player started playing the piano in his childhood, later changing to upright bass, which he played in several jazz bands. This helped him learn more about how chord progressions work, which he transposed to electric guitar, creating iconic bass lines in the process.
James Jamerson played the bass guitar for the Funk Brothers, a band from Detroit that became the backbone to all of the Motown records. His energetic and groovy lines made Motown so popular and iconic, and his personal style rapidly gained worldwide praise and admiration.
7. Jaco Pastorius
- Bands: Weather Report, Blood Sweat & Tears, Trio of Doom
- Best hit song: Birdland
- Best album: Jaco Pastorius, 1976
- Music type: Jazz fusion
- Favorite bass guitar: 1962 Fender Jazz Bass
Jaco Pastorius is considered one of the most influential bass players in jazz. This musician is responsible for bringing the electric guitar into the spotlight, and his 1962 Fender Jazz Bass, called Bass of Doom, became an iconic instrument for this musician.
Interestingly enough, Jaco removed the frets of his Jazz Bass with a knife, as he wanted to get that unique upright fretless bass sound. This simple adjustment created one of the most famous bass guitars in music history.
Jaco’s style is full of interesting melodies, as this versatile bassist was able to play in numerous musical styles such as jazz, soul, and funk. This musician is famous for his innovative use of harmonics, which before Jaco were rarely used and were considered a simple commodity.
But unfortunately, as it often happens with legendary musicians, Jaco died at a very young age. He was 35 when he was hospitalized after getting into a fight with a club bouncer. A few days later, Jaco died of an internal hemorrhage, leaving the world without its most brilliant bass player.
8. Paul McCartney
- Bands: The Beatles, Wings, Band Aid, The Fireman, The Quarrymen
- Best hit song: Hey Jude
- Best album: The White Album
- Music type: Pop rock
- Favorite bass guitar: Höfner 500/1 Violin Bass
As one of the founding members of The Beatles, McCartney has been world-famous since a very young age. This versatile musician wrote numerous hits with The Beatles and had a prolific solo career afterward.
Paul McCartney helped establish the bass guitar as an important part of any rock song, as his innovative bass lines had a complex and highly melodic feel to them. Paul was not only an exceptional bass player but also a great composer and singer, which certainly contributed to his future solo career.
McCartney is considered the founding father of the rock bass guitar. He inspired millions of young artists to think differently about this instrument.
9. Justin Chancellor
- Bands: Tool, Suns of the Tundra
- Best hit song: Parabola
- Best album: Lateralus
- Music type: Progressive metal
- Favorite bass guitar: Custom Wal Bass Guitar
Justin Chancellor is one of the most technically complex and unique bass players in the world. This bassist is the reason why I personally started to play the bass, as I was profoundly inspired by the personal style of this musician.
Basslines made by Justin are an important foundation to every Tool song, as the bass adds rhythms and also a melody, where the guitars only do some simple chords and solos. The unique style of Justin Chancellor and the polyrhythmic nature of drummer Danny Carey create the signature Tool sound, which has brought this band numerous awards, including four Grammys.
I personally find his style mesmerizing. I was able to see this band performing live a few years ago, and it was one of the most entertaining and unique live shows I’ve ever seen. But it’s also true that Tool is not for everyone, as their visceral and complex formula can be quite demanding on the listener.
But each time you listen to this band, you’ll get a new piece to this complex and intriguing puzzle.
10. Roger Waters
- Bands: Pink Floyd, Sigma 6, The Bleeding Heart Band
- Best hit song: Another Brick in the Wall
- Best album: The Dark Side of the Moon
- Music type: Psychedelic rock
- Favorite bass guitar: Fender Precision Bass Guitar
Roger Waters is the bass player from the iconic band Pink Floyd. During his career with this band, he composed and recorded some of the most famous hit songs made by Pink Floyd. In the late stage of the band, Roger Waters became the full-on frontman, singing, composing, and arranging most of the songs on their albums.
The biggest achievement made by this artist is considered Another Brick in the Wall, and he composed and arranged the whole thing. The album The Wall earned numerous awards and is considered a classic rock album.
After leaving Pink Floyd, Roger Waters had a prolific solo career, which helped him gain more musical notoriety.
I highly recommend learning at least a few songs by this band, as you’ll learn a huge deal of bass guitar technique.
Types of Bass Guitar Music
Let’s explore some of the musical styles that employ the bass guitar. The bass can be used in almost any style, but here I selected some of the most prominent genres that produced at least a few legendary bass players.
Rock is one of the oldest mainstream genres that’s still alive today. Rock is characterized by fast and distorted guitars and a loud and powerful sound. Throughout the years, rock branched out into numerous sub-genres such as progressive rock, hard rock, punk rock, and many others.
Nowadays the rock genre is quite wide and ambiguous, as each band blends their own influences, mixing them with the rock foundation.
The most prominent rock bands are Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, The Rolling Stones, Aerosmith, Pink Floyd, The Beatles, Guns and Roses, and The Who.
Funk is easily recognized by its uplifting melodies and fast groovy bass lines. This style became popular in the 70s when artists like The Meters, James Brown, and Funkadelic gained mainstream attention.
The energizing nature of funk music is a result of the highly technical and masterful musicians that join together to create a never-ending happiness and positivity transformed into music.
Jazz music first appeared in the United States in the late 19th century. This music takes its roots from genres like blues and ragtime, and it’s characterized by long improvisations, solos, and complex rhythms. The average jazz musician is considered the top of the game, as this style requires a high deal of musical knowledge and prowess.
Jazz is an interesting and unique style, and this genre is quite ambiguous and unorthodox in many ways. I like to think of jazz as some kind of musical “always-morphing limbo,” from which you can take numerous musical ideas and develop them into full-blown songs.
See also: Best Bass Guitars For Jazz Buyer’s Guide
Heavy metal, or simply metal, appeared as a subgenre of rock in the late 60s, mainly in the UK and the United States. This musical style is commonly known for its aggressive approach to music. Heavily distorted guitars, loud percussion, and deep punchy bass form the foundation of heavy metal.
The first use of the term was used to describe the “screaming” organ solos of Jon Lord from Deep Purple and some of the heavier tracks from famous Led Zeppelin. Interestingly enough, these bands are now considered simply rock or hard rock, as our tolerance for heavier dissonant sounds has expanded.
Nowadays, if you were to use the term metal, you’d probably refer to bands like Black Sabbath, Slayer, Pantera, or Anthrax.
The term “blues” is often a synonym for sadness or melancholy. This musical genre takes that idea and blends it with its African roots, creating a homophonic and melodic experience. Most blues songs are more interested in expressing feelings rather than telling a story.
Blues takes inspiration from many work songs, which became a way of expression for many African slaves in America, as they tried to alleviate their “blues” with a tune.
To this day, blues maintains its place as the founding father of most modern musical genres. You can hear blues references in numerous songs and by many artists like Led Zeppelin, The Allman Brothers Band, The Rolling Stones, Canned Heat, Fleetwood Mac, AC/DC, The Doors, and Jimi Hendrix.
Best Bass Guitar Songs
Let’s take a look at some of the most iconic bass guitar songs and what makes them so popular among bass players.
Come Together – The Beatles
This song has one of the most recognizable bass lines in rock history. The groovy nature of the bass guitar played by Paul McCartney gives this song a melancholic blues feel that dissipates when the uplifting chorus comes in, creating a unique musical contrast.
Come Together is a pure example of a simple masterpiece that doesn’t have complex or technical parts or progressions. It’s songwriting at its finest.
I highly recommend this song to any beginner, as the bass line is quite easy to learn but will teach you how versatile and unique this instrument can be.
Ramble On – Led Zeppelin
Ramble On is a hit song recorded and composed by legendary Led Zeppelin. This track has a huge contrast between the groovy and folky verse and power-rock chorus in a pure heavy Zeppelin style. I personally think that this is what makes it so special, as you get two songs in one.
The bass lines of John Paul Jones are elegant and right on point, as he adds fast-moving and flowing progressions to this song. You can hear how brilliant an arranger and bass player he is. His lines are complex but simple at the same time, if that makes any sense.
This track is one of the most famous songs by Led Zeppelin and one of my personal favorites.
Schism – Tool
Schism is one of those songs you can start playing with your bass and everyone would know what band it is. This track has one of the most famous bass intros in metal history, as it uses strange chords and tempos.
This song is about a distant future, where the “Great Schism” created a wide gap between two opposite groups of people. They grew further each time until the point where each one began to see the opposite as another species, giving them the “right” to harm them without any moral consciousness.
I think this concept is very on point if we apply it to our generation. Each year the political polarization of each side, left and right, is growing with more violence and lack of empathy to the opposite side, creating a bigger gap between them. Is the “Great Schism ” a prophecy of things to come? I hope not. I hope it’s just a song. A strange one for sure.
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I hope you enjoyed this article about the best bass guitar players of all time and learned a thing or two in the process. Remember that I couldn’t fit every famous bass player on this list, which is why I encourage you to look out for your personal favorite, as there are thousands of interesting artists to discover.
If you liked this read, feel free to share or leave a comment about your favorite bass player.
Stay safe, and as always, good luck with your sonic adventure!