Yamaha has a legacy of producing highly regarded wind instruments, guitars, keyboards, synths and pianos. However, Yamaha is not the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of bass manufacturers.
Yet, legends like John Myung, Lee Sklar, John Patitucci, Billy Sheenan and Nathan East have rocked out for most of their career on a Yamaha bass. What are Yamaha basses worth?
Yamaha basses are very under-rated and offer among the best value for the money. They have great necks, good electronics, high-quality assembly and QA standards. They are very playable and sound great across all price ranges, from the entry-level RBX to high-end BBs.
Yamahas are also among the best bargain vintage basses.
There are two types of people in the world. Those who love the Yamaha bass and those who are yet to get their hands on one.
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What is so good about Yamaha Bass Guitars?
Yamaha basses can handle everything from rock to blues to metal, but they particularly shine through in R&B and Soul.
The most outstanding feature of Yamaha basses is build quality. You can rightfully call them ‘an axe’. Yamaha basses are built to last and don’t require too much maintenance. For the price you pay, you can’t ask for better craftsmanship.
Their necks are fast and feel very natural. Additionally, Yamaha basses with humbuckers offer a solid ‘above the ramp’ playing experience because of the broad pickups. It makes thumb placement and playing very effortless.
Most of the basses in the current catalog offer a lot of value for money and easily justify their price tag.
Yamaha is very responsive to customer feedback. Many of their earlier models had a toggle switch and chrome around the pickups which caused issues. Following user requests, they got rid of the switch and the chrome – making it easier to install aftermarket pickups to upgrade the electronics.
The Japan-made basses are simply outstanding. The Korean made basses are equally solid but not comparable to the Japanese versions, especially those from the 90s. The cheaper versions made in Indonesia can be inconsistent, so check the return policy before you get one.
The current high-end stuff is all made in Japan and comes loaded with active electronics, 5 piece bolt-on necks, string-through body, V7 pickups, and adjustable bridges.
The ultra-high-end MIJ Yamaha basses are priced similar (though slightly cheaper) to big-name brands and boutique basses. They also compare in fit, finish and quality.
Yamaha bass guitars can’t be compared to Sadowsky, Modulus or Ken Smith in terms of brand recognition. However, they are better known in the vintage and used market.
The Yamaha limited edition runs or discontinued lines from the 90s are a great bargain in vintage instruments. They offer a lot of quality without the ridiculously inflated prices of old Gibsons and Fenders.
Yamaha basses may be summarized as follows:
- Value for money
- Low maintenance
- Good quality electronics: pickups & preamps
- Playable necks
- Versatile tone
- Quality construction & craftsmanship
How bass players feel about Yamaha basses
The problem with Yamaha is not that they don’t get any love, they do. The issue is that they don’t get enough of it.
- The RBX series has great options for new bass players. The RBX are some of the best entry-level basses, on par with a Squier. E.g. for $450 you can have a great-sounding bass with two active humbuckers.
- Many bass players still play their cheap Yamaha bass from 20 years ago today, at least as much as they do their more high-end basses.
- Yamaha basses from 80s or 90s offer the best bargain in vintage basses, even though some old BBs have now become pricier
- Yamaha basses are very accurate and playable, making them very suitable for R&B and soul.
- While many bass players are biased against Yamaha basses, when they get to try one they are often impressed by its sound. Some even prefer it to a Fender P-bass.
The Yamaha bass RBX series
The current RBX line prices range from $200 to $500 and can be an excellent choice for an entry level bass. The RBX basses are light, versatile and reliable. The pickup configuration is split single-coil in neck and single-coil at the bridge (PJ style).
They may need a setup to suit your preference but on the whole the construction is durable and the finish looks spot on. The pickups are good for the price. The tone knobs allow you to dial in a decent range of tones.
In general, the sound is rife with feisty highs and some of the brightness is evident in the low end growl you would associate with a Warwick.
There isn’t any glaring inconsistency in the models and they are sturdy instruments that age well. They don’t require a lot of maintenance and upgrades are optional. You could hot-rod the bass but most bassists would find more value in upgrading to the BB or TRBX series.
With some luck, you can find a used RBX 375, RBX 760a or RBX 765 (5 String) for $200 to $300. It can be a solid backup instrument or your main axe (after upgrades) at a very modest price.
The inexpensive RBX line is a good choice for a first instrument. The RBX definitely has more to offer than Squiers or similar brands in this price bracket. And, you won’t need to upgrade until you are stage-ready.
See new and used Yamaha RBX bass guitars here on Guitar Center
The Yamaha bass TRBX series
The TBRX series punches (especially the 304, 505 and 604) way above its weight and all for a modest price. Unlike the RBX series, everyone from students to professionals can find something in the TRBX line.
There are some excellent TRBX modern-sounding active basses. It is quite baffling how the TRBX neck profile just flew under the radar in the bass world. They are thin and fast like many of the acclaimed Ibanez SR models but rarely get any mention in discussions on forums.
The MIJ (made in Japan) TRB5 bass guitars are comparable to EBMM and MIA Fenders. For example, the Yamaha TRBX504 is a high-quality guitar with beefy tone, a thin and fast neck, a top-notch preamp and active/passive toggle.
TRBX304 is another solid semi-pro instrument, available in active and passive models. The TRB 5-II has a warm low-end and lots of mid-punch, the build quality is just superb and the playability is unmatched in the price range.
The TRB1004j is a dual pickup modern monster with a 3-band active EQ and rich tones across the spectrum. Good for a modern bassist who needs something funky and powerful.
All in all, the TRBX series is worth exploring for a versatile and modern bass with a great quality-to-cost ratio.
See new and used Yamaha TRBX bass guitars here on Guitar Center
The Yamaha bass BB series
The BB series is the epitome of a ‘work horse’ bass for semi-pro and professional bassists. They are sturdy, versatile and durable instruments. The electronics are excellent and every model has a lot of tonal flexibility and usability to offer. The BB model is the foundation for the Billy Sheenan signature bass and is also used by Abe Laboriel and Tony Kanal.
The BB Pro series has a nice Custom V7 pickup and a bolt on neck. The fit and finish is stellar and it sounds stage-ready right out of the box.
The BB 425 is one third the price of a Fender, yet it is similar to the P bass in many aspects. It sits well in the mix with a memorable mid punch and great overall tone definition.
The Nathan East signature bass is just one big hunk of articulate oomph that shines across the EQ spectrum. Armed with a piezo bridge pup, you can dial in warm low end awesomeness, aggressive growling tones and feisty high-end lead/solo tones. It is an absolute beast that lives up to the artist it represents.
The BBs are great bang for the buck bass guitars for intermediate to professional bass players. I have played EBMM, Lakland, Warwick and G&L and the BB Pro and the BB700 series can share a stage with any of those without issue.
See new and used Yamaha BB bass guitars on Guitar Center
Why Yamaha basses are not as popular as others
The following are a few cons bass players commonly mention regarding Yamaha basses.
Despite the recognized quality construction, Yamaha’s looks is not to everyone’s taste. Some bassists don’t like the BB shape, the chrome along the pickups, the incongruent cutouts, and the chunky contours, for example.
Yamaha is a global brand with a strong presence in a very diverse range of markets, from pianos, electric guitars, acoustic guitars, synths, and commercial audio, all the way to boats and ATVs. This gives the impression that they are not ‘serious’ bass manufacturers (even though they are).
Marketing & availability
Yamaha doesn’t market their basses half as much as other major brands. There are many occasions when new product lines are launched but can only be found online. Many smaller local music stores don’t stock/display their product range. This keeps new and serious bass players from discovering them or experiencing the quality and value for money they offer.
Many believe that Yamaha is great at offering functional tones and sonic versatility but some of their basses can lack ‘personality’. Though, to be honest, this applies to other brands like Ibanez as well, for whom it doesn’t seem to be an issue.
Yamaha’s bass guitar lines lack options for intermediate players. It is difficult to find a suitable Yamaha bass in the $1000 price range. This is a big chunk of the semi-pro market that they are simply missing out on.
Some famous bassists who play Yamaha
- John Myung (Dream Theater)
- Nathan East
- Tony Kanal (No Doubt).
- Leland Sklar
- Billy Sheehan (Signature Model)
- John Patitucci (check out the John Patitucci Custom Semi-Hollow bass).
- Verdine White (Earth, Wind & Fire)