The type and treatment the tonewoods used to construct the instrument’s body have the most influence over its sound, while the construction techniques used will have the biggest impact on the instrument’s durability. A large instrument like a double bass (we use the terms “double bass,” “upright bass,” and “string bass” interchangeably here for they’re the same thing) can be an equally large monetary investment, and finding a model that will last you for many years to come will save you lots of expense and heartache down the line.
The four basses on this list both sound great and are very durable and playable—and though no upright bass comes cheap, they’re some of the top-valued instruments on the market. Below are, in our humble opinion, among the best upright basses on the market.
Modeled after their previous SB-3 line, the SB-4 keeps the best aspects of the previous model but also upgrades some of the materials and construction. The end result is a professional-level bass (see full specs) that sells for half the price of comparable models. It uses flamed maple on the back and sides and the construction is impeccable, with double body kerfing and an arched back.
The solid spruce top is hand-carved; the bridge is made of seasoned northern maple, while the fingerboard is ebony, meaning it’s built of quality tonewoods from top to bottom that will make your tone sing and give you an incredible response. The contoured neck profile also means it’s more comfortable to play, letting you play longer—and sound amazing while you’re doing it
Becker uses well-seasoned tonewoods in the construction of all their basses, aging it over time to give their instruments a richer, sweeter, more complex sound. They’ve also chosen tonewoods that will enhance this complexity. The top of this model (see full specs) is made of laminated spruce, with maple for the back and sides, a classic combination that gives you a good balance of tone and power.
As far as the hardware goes, it uses ebony for the nut, tailpiece, and fingerboard and features a fully-fitted maple bridge and German machine heads. The bow that comes included is a Glasser model that uses a German grip for volume and power, complementing the rich tone of the instrument. This should be on anyone’s list of the best upright basses.
Merano is known for their colorful instruments, but there’s more to their line of basses than just the eye appeal. The MB400 uses similar tonewoods to other models on the market, with spruce on the top and maple on the back and sides. It also comes with a genuine horsehair French grip bow, which only makes it more of a value at $800.
This instrument is designed with a classical orchestra in mind but could also serve well in a jazz setting. The alloy tailpiece and ebonized fingerboard are extremely durable, and the high-quality arched back construction makes it perfect to gig with—one of the best string basses around.
Rata Beginner Upright Bass
Like it says in the name, this is an excellent choice for the bass student who’s ready to own his or her own instrument, but isn’t ready or able to spend thousands of dollars. The construction of the body is similar to the models above, with a laminated spruce top and maple on the back and sides.
The best thing about this bass for a student is its durability. It can take quite a bit of abuse without taking damage, excellent for a beginner who’s still learning how to play and handle it. This dependability also makes it an excellent back-up bass for a more experienced player, since you can use it at outdoor gigs and in other environments you’d be wary of using a more expensive instrument.
You’ll probably notice reading through the descriptions that the materials all sound very similar. Many of the best upright basses use spruce for the top and maple for the back and sides. This combination gives them the resonance and rich low-end you want in a bass while still allow for crisp attacks and articulations. The difference between models tends to come from which variety of wood is used, where it was grown, and how it was cut and treated.
You’ll often hear the term “seasoned wood” used when talking about orchestral string instruments. Seasoning is a process by which the wood is dried and aged before being used to build the bass. Seasoning the wood makes the tone sweeter, darker, and more complex. The seasoning process doesn’t stop after construction, either; this is the main reason vintage violins and cellos are so sought after. Because it has to be stored somewhere while it’s aging and takes more effort to produce, it’s generally true that instruments made from seasoned wood are more expensive than those that aren’t, though for many players the improvement to the sound is well worth the extra investment.
Sizes of the Best Double Basses
Upright basses come in four sizes (1/4, 2/4, 3/4, and 4/4) which describe the scale length and height of the instrument. A 4/4, also called a full-sized bass, has a height of 74.8 inches and a scale length of 43.3 inches. A 3/4 bass, meanwhile, has a height of 71.6 and a scale length of 41.3 inches; 2/4 and 1/4 instruments are proportionally shorter. While those numbers above probably look pretty precise, there is some variation between individual manufacturers, as well, in terms of the exact scale length and instrument height, largely because so many professional upright basses are still made by hand.
There is no inherent quality difference between the different sizes of bass. It is more a matter of player comfort than it is one of sound quality. The 3/4 bass is by far the most popular size among students and professionals alike. Though 4/4 basses have been gaining popularity in recent years, unless you are exceptionally tall or have very large hands, there is no need to specifically seek out a full-sized bass. Even tall players may still find a ¾ size gives you a more comfortable playing experience.
As with most things concerning musician instruments, the best way to find out which size is best for you is to visit a musical instrument shop and try holding and playing various instruments in various sizes (then buy it there or online if it’s cheaper). Even if you don’t plan on buying the exact model they have at the store, you can get a sense of the overall feel of each distinct size, letting you figure out which one is right for you. And if you keep these ideas in mind, you’re sure to find the best upright bass for your needs. Good luck!