“Music expresses that which cannot be put into words and that which cannot remain silent” - Victor Hugo
Whether it’s rock, jazz, soul, punk, blues, or folk, every genre of music has its legends. While we often remember the great guitarists like Jimi Hendrix, Keith Richards, Eric Clapton, and Jimmy Page, we can’t forget the great bassists.
The bass guitar is both rhythm and melody and the foundation of every song. Bassists are often excellent musicians and composers.
Would you like to learn how to play the bass? What about learning your favourite musicians’ basslines?
Here are our top 10 bassists of all time.
Born 10th February 1962 in Vastro Valley, California, and died aged 24 on 27 September 1986, Cliff Burton was Metallica’s second bassist.
While originally attracted to jazz and rock, Cliff Burton didn’t seem destined to join a heavy metal band.
Replacing Ron McGovney, he recorded through albums with the band including some of the band’s most famous songs. Kill ‘Em All, Ride the Lightning, and Master of Puppets.
He’s known for his unique approach to bass playing, playing melodic and soloist roles while creating the harmonic and rhythmic foundations for songs. Cliff Burton has appeared as one of the best bassists of all time in several lists.
When the band was touring in Sweden to promote the Master of Puppets album, the tour bus crashed and flipped over. Cliff Burton was sleeping in his bunk at the time and was thrown through the window of the bus and subsequently crushed under the weight of the bus.
He’s famous for having composed the song Orion which was hugely successful.
Learn about the history of the bass guitar.
Michael Balzara aka Flea, The Red Hot Chili Peppers
Flea (real name Michael Balzary) is an Australian-American a bassist, pianist, trumpet player, and actor.
Born 16 October 1962 in Melbourne, Australia, he’s one of the founding members of Red Hot Chili Peppers along with Anthony Kiedis. According to Rolling Stone, he’s the second-best bassist of all time.
His basslines are enchanting and he’s on every RHCP album including Freaky Styley, Mother’s Milk, Blood Sugar Sex Magic, One Hot Minute, Californication, and By the Way.
He’s nicknamed Flea due to how small he is and how often he jumps about on stage.
He was heavily influenced by jazz as a child and later discovered rock music through Jimi Hendrix, Kiss, and Led Zeppelin. He met Anthony Kiedis, Hillel Slovak, and Jack Irons and created the band Red Hot Chili Peppers in 1983.
His playing style is influenced by jazz and bassists like Jaco Pastorius.
Learn more about the role of the bass guitar.
Paul McCartney, The Beatles
Who hasn’t heard of The Beatles?
Born in 1942 in Liverpool, Paul McCartney is an author, composer, and performer.
He was The Beatles’ bassist from their inception to their breakup in 1969. He recorded 12 albums and nearly 200 songs with the band in just 10 years. A symbol of the 1960s and the McCartney/Lennon writing were globally successful.
He met John Lennon in the summer of 1957 and joined his group The Quarrymen as a bassist. With George Harrison and Ringo Starr, they created The Beatles and shaped rock ‘n’ roll history.
Paul McCartney was “just” the bassist. As the bassist, he recorded hundreds of songs including Love Me Do, Please Please Me, Ticket to Ride, Help!, Yellow Submarine, Penny Lane, Revolver, All You Need Is Love, Hello Goodbye, Hey Jude, and Let It Be.
Discover the best basslines.
John Paul Jones, Led Zeppelin
It takes a great bassist to play alongside amazing guitarists like Robert Plant and Jimmy Page.
Born 3 January 1946 in London, John Baldwin aka John Paul Jones was the bassist for Led Zeppelin from its creation in 1968 until its breakup in 1980.
He learnt the piano from a young age and started playing bass as a teenager.
With Led Zeppelin, he became one of the most famous rock bassists and performed on some particularly famous songs: Stairway to Heaven, Immigrant Song, Whole Lotta Love, Black Dog, All My Love, Good Times Bad Times, Your Time is Gonna Come, and Dazed and Confused.
Roger Waters, Pink Floyd
How can we talk about the best bassists in the world without mentioning Roger Waters from Pink Floyd?
Born 6 September 1943 in Surrey, Roger Waters is the bassist and a founding member of Pink Floyd.
He founded the group with Richard Wright, Nick Mason, and three other musicians in 1964. After members left the bed, Syd Barrett and Bob Klose joined Wright and Waters.
With Nick Mason, the group took the name Pink Floyd in 1965 and with the addition of David Gilmour, moved in a prog-rock and experimental direction.
In 1973, Roger Waters and Pink Floyd became internationally renowned for their album Dark Side of the Moon.
He composed all the band’s songs including Dogs, Comfortably Numb, Money, Wish You Were Here, Have a Cigar, Welcome to the Machine, Shine On You Crazy Diamonds, In the Flesh, Another Brick in the Wall, Mother, Empty Spaces, and Hey You.
Born 1 December 1951 and died 1987, John Francis Anthony Pastorius III aka Jaco Pastorius was a jazz and jazz-rock bassist.
He’s largely known for playing the electric bass as both an accompaniment to other instruments and as a soloist.
He’s famous for playing a fretless bass and was the last 20th-century jazz musician to have influenced subsequent generations according to guitarist Pat Metheny.
In the 1980s, he played with great musicians such as Brian Melvin, Mike Stern, and Biréli Lagrène.
Rex Brown, Pantera
Born in Texas 27 July 1964, Rex Robert Brown is the bassist of the heavy metal band Kill Devil Hill. However, he’s most famous for being the bassist of Pantera from their founding in 1982 until their breakup in 2003.
Rex Brown may only be known amongst metalheads, but here’s your chance (if you’re not one) to appreciate his bass playing, especially on songs like Five Minutes Alone.
You’ve got to appreciate his playing even if you’re not a fan of the music.
If you’re learning to play the bass, it’s a good idea to observe his technique and bass riffs in the song. Five Minutes Alone is proof that metal music requires excellent musicians.
Tom Hamilton, Aerosmith
Born 31 December 1951 in Colorado Springs, Colorado, USA, Thomas Hamilton is the bassist for the band Aerosmith.
He composed three masterpieces for the group, the basslines for Sweet Emotion, Janie’s Got a Gun, and Jaded.
Influenced by Paul McCartney and John Paul Jones, he formed Aerosmith in 1970.
The rock group sold 150 million albums across the world and 97 million in the US and is one of the most successful rock groups of all time.
Duff McKagan, Guns N’ Roses
Born 5 February 1964 in Seattle and part of the same generation as Kurt Cobain (1967-1994) and Chris Novoselic (1965- ), Michael Andrew McKagan aka Duff McKagan is a guitarist, singer, and bassist.
He played bass for Guns N’ Roses from 1985 to 1997. An iconic member of the group, he played alongside the guitarists Slash and Izzy Stradlin, Axl Rose and Steven Adler.
They’re his basslines you can hear on the albums Use Your Illusion I and II and Appetite for Destruction.
Amongst his best works, we find: Don't Cry, November Rain, You Could Be Mine, Sweet Child O' Mine, and the famous Bob Dylan cover Knockin On' Heaven's Door on the guitar.
Duff McKagan is also an excellent guitarist.
A little bonus for you here.
Marcus Miller, born 14 June 1959 is another bass virtuoso. He was a jazz fusion, jazz, and funk bassist.
Born into a family of musicians, he learnt to play the guitar around the age of 12.
He worked with Miles Davis in the 1980s, which gained him global notoriety, as well as with Claude Nougaro and Aretha Franklin.
No doubt that he deserves his place amongst the best bassists.
Looking for more bassists?
If you'd like to learn more, consider getting tutorials from one of the many talented bass tutors on Superprof. They can offer you one of the three main types of bass tutorials.
Face-to-face tutorials are your traditional private tutorials between the student and a tutor. They're great if there's something specific you'd like to learn as the lessons will be tailored to you and your learning style. However, this bespoke service comes at a cost, meaning that this type of tutorial is usually the most costly.
Online tutorials are also just between a single student and their tutor but their tutor won't be there in the room with them. Instead, they'll provide their tutorial over webcam. While this isn't always ideal for hands-on subjects, if you have a decent mic, a talented tutor can teach you how to play bass without even being in the room with you.
Finally, you can also get group tutorials. With several paying students attending the tutorial, this type of tutorial tends to be the cheapest per person per hour. Of course, the tutor's attention is also divided amongst the students and they won't be able to tailor the lessons to a single student.