There are so many great bassists in the world that it’s a challenging job to pick out the best ones. However, the 25 people on this list certainly deserve to be considered as some of the best bassists of all time.
The bassists on this list cover many different genres and styles of music, in fact, some of them played quite a big role in shaping some of these styles altogether!
- 1. John Entwistle
- 2. Geddy Lee
- 3. James Jamerson
- 4. Tim Commerford
- 5. Victor Wooten
- 6. Cliff Burton
- 7. Chris Squire
- 8. Les Claypool
- 9. Steve Harris
- 10. Bootsy Collins
- 11. Geezer Butler
- 12. Donald “Duck” Dunn
- 13. Jack Bruce
- 14. Scott LaFaro
- 15. Chris Wolstenholme
- 16. John Deacon
- 17. Flea
- 18. Carol Kaye
- 19. Roger Waters
- 20. Jaco Pastorius
- 21. Mark King
- 22. Paul McCartney
- 23. Larry Graham
- 24. Doug Wimbish
- 25. Billy Sheehan
- Notable Mentions
1. John Entwistle
John Alec Entwistle, also known as The Ox and Thunderfingers, is from England and has a career that spans over 40 years. The Who fans remember him as a legendary talent with bass skills and vocal prowess as lead vocals for the Who for years. By 1990, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Technically, his vocal talent focused on a full-volume lead vocal style. But his bass-playing skills landed him the title of the greatest bassist of all time in Rolling Stone’s 2011 100 Greatest Bass Players issue. By 2017, Entwistle was listed at number seven in Bass Player.
2. Geddy Lee
Geddy Lee joined the rock band Rush in 1968 and soon became known to the world as one of the best bassists of all time. He came to Rush through his friend Alex Lifeson and replaced the original bass player Jeff Jones. By 2000, Geddy Lee would be releasing a solo called My Favourite Headache.
Throughout his career, Geddy Lee was not only one of the world’s best bass guitar players but an award-winning one at that. His style and skill have been compared to inspirations like Steven Harris from Iron Maiden and Cliff Burton of Metallica. By 1996, Lee joined the ranks of many other rock stars and received the distinction of the Order of Canada.
3. James Jamerson
James Jamerson was a bassist who appeared on numerous records for Motown Records between the 1960s and 1970s and is today considered among the most influential bassists in musical history. By 2000, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and made 56 on Billboard’s R&B Hot 100 list.
4. Tim Commerford
Tim Commerford was a member of Rage Against the Machine until it disbanded in 2000, after which he became a vocalist and bassist for Audioslave and Prophets of Rage. Other bands he has been in include Future User and Wakrat where he was the lead singer and bassist. In 2014, Commerford was ranked eighth in Paste’s magazine list.
Commerford’s music career began in 1991 when he was following the band Lock Up and was asked to jam with them and guitarist Tom Morello. The group eventually became Rage Against the Machine.
5. Victor Wooten
Victor Wooten is a guitar player and producer who was the bassist in Bela Fleck and the Flecktones in 1988. Between 2017 and 2019 he was the guitar player for Nitro. Today, he owns Vix records and writes novels including The Music Lesson: A Spiritual Search for Growth Through Music. He followed that up with a sequel called The Spirit of Music: The Lesson Continues.
Throughout Wooten’s career, he has won five Grammys, and Bass Player of the Year by Bass Player magazine three times. He is the first bass player to win Bass Player’s award more than one time. He has also been listed in the number ten spot of Rolling Stone’s Top 10 Bassists of All Time.
6. Cliff Burton
Cliff Burton was a star in Metallica in 1982 until he died in 1986 in a bus accident in Sweden. He appears on the band’s studio albums Kill ‘Em All, Ride the Lightning, and Master of Puppets.
He also received credit posthumously for To Live Is to Die. By 2011 he was ranked number nine on Rolling Stone’s greatest bassist of all time. Come 2009, he was also inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
7. Chris Squire
Chris Squire is a guitarist from England and is known for his work as a founding member of the band Yes. The band lasted from 1969 to 2014 and he was the only member of the band to appear on every studio album. By 2017, he was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame marking himself as one of the best bass guitar players of all time.
Playing guitars wasn’t his only claim to fame, he also made them. Between 1991 and 2000, he made the Rickenbacker 4001 and a limited signature edition model bass called the 4001CS.
8. Les Claypool
Les Claypool is one of America’s most famous musicians, and also from the era of the 1960’s. He was not just one of the world’s best bassists, he also was a lead singer and songwriter for the band Primus. Primus has also had his own solo career, where he produced and engineered his own solo albums from his own studio called Rancho Relaxo.
In addition to his excellent bass-playing skills, Claypool is also a writer. In 2006, Claypool wrote and directed the film Electric Apricot and also the novel South of the Pumphouse. He wrote the theme songs for the television shows South Park and Robot Chicken and also performed them.
9. Steve Harris
Steve Harris is a bass-playing guitarist and a legend from Iron Maiden. Alongside fellow guitarist Dave Murray, Harris has been the longest-running bandmate and has appeared in every album.
Harris is the kind of guitar player who became a legend by unconventionally playing music. He is known for a technique known as “the gallop” which is heard on The Trooper and Run to the Hills. Come 2012, he released a solo. Hi second solo came in 2020 and was called The Burning.
10. Bootsy Collins
Bootsy Collins was born William Collins in the United States and is best known for his bass-playing skills with James Brown and then Parliament-Funkadelic. After that he formed his own band he called the P-Funk Project, which was also affectionately known as Bootsy’s Rubber Band.
While he was doing that, Collins’s work appeared in “Groove is in the Heart”, by Deee-Lite and he also played on “Weapon of Choice” by Fatboy Slim. By 1997 he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
11. Geezer Butler
Geezer Butler of Black Sabbath was born as Terence Michael Butler in 1949. He was from England and was the lead guitarist and lyricist with Black Sabbath. He also played with Ozzy Osbourne, Heaven & Hell, and Black Sabbath. Prior to that, Butler had humble beginnings in a band he formed himself in 1967, one that he called Rare Breed.
He and Ozzy Osbourne reunited to work with each other again for a blues band known as Polka Tulk. They formed a band named Earth, but Butler eventually moved forward to join a band called Black Sabbath by 1969.
12. Donald “Duck” Dunn
Donald Duck Dunn was a member of Booker T. & the M.G. and he also played for Stax Records. When he was playing for Stax Records, he played with many of the greatest, including Otis Redding, Bill Withers, Elvis Presley, Eddie Floyd, Sam & Dave, and Rufus Thomas.
He has also once held the 40 spot on Bass Player’s 100 Greatest Bass Players of All Time.
13. Jack Bruce
Jack Bruce was from Scotland and played bass for the English band known as Cream when he was just getting his first start. After that band ended in 1968, Bruce chased a solo dream and played the guitar all over the world. He eventually played with John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers where he was introduced to Eric Clapton. A legend was born. Bruce co-wrote many Clapton hits including “I Feel Free”, “White Room,” and “Sunshine of Your Love.” Bruce’s first solo album was released in 1969 and was called Songs for a Tailor.
By 1972, he formed the West, Bruce, and Laing with Leslie West and Corky Laing, while his solo career went on to succeed for decades. In 1993 Jack Bruce was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and received the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Grammy Awards in 2006.
14. Scott LaFaro
Scott LaFaro, born Rocco Scott LaFaro is an American-born legend who took the jazz world by storm. He was born in New Jersey and moved to New York at the age of five, where he began playing clarinet and saxophone.
By 18, double bass was something he couldn’t keep his hands off of, and a star was born. He tried college at Ithaca College but it didn’t last long.
15. Chris Wolstenholme
The world wouldn’t be the same without the band Muse, that would never have been the same without Chris Wolstenholme. He is another English legend who used bass playing with other instruments to bring words to life in song. He had some finger strength is what one producer was known to say.
His lead vocals are heard on “Save Me” and “Liquid State” from the sixth Muse album known as The Second Law.
16. John Deacon
John Deacon is a bass legend from Queen and composed many songs for the band including multiple Top 10 hits. After Queen’s first album, Deacon wrote at least one song on every Queen album. His career wasn’t the same after the death of Freddy Mercury, but he did play sporadically with some of the band members until retirement.
Michael Peter Balzary is a founding member of Red Hot Chili Peppers and has played with many major bands including Pigface, Rocket Juice & the Moon, Johnny Cash, Alanis Morissette, Young MC, and also worked with John Entwistle. Later in his career he cofounded the Silverlake Conservatory of Music and founded an organization for underprivileged children.
18. Carol Kaye
Carol Kaye is one of the few women who make the list of greatest bass players of all time, and she has appeared on over 10,000 recordings over her 50-year career. She began playing the bass in her teenage years and went on to become a guitar teacher. In addition to bands, she played on soundtracks for Quincy Jones and Lalo Schifrin.
19. Roger Waters
George Roger Waters was known as Roger Waters in the music world and was a prominent member of the legendary Pink Floyd. He was originally the bassist of the band but would become the lead vocalist by 1968 when Syd Barrett left the band.
By 1984, Waters’s solo work included The Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking, Radio K.A.O.S., Amused to Death, and Is This the Life We Really Want? By 2010, his Dark Side of the Moon tour became known as one of the highest-grossing tours of all time.
20. Jaco Pastorius
John “Jaco” Pastorius was a bassist who was a lead in the band Weather Report between 1976 and 1981. He was known for his funk and pop chords and his harmony that broke hearts. By 2017, he had become one of seven bass players to make Downbeat’s Jazz Hall of Fame and was known as a greatest of all-time contender.
21. Mark King
Mark King is one of the best bass players from England, of all time, and played for level 42. He had what was called a true slap-style guitar skill, one that brought pop to life. By 2015, he earned the BASCA Gold Badge Award and won the Outer Limits award in the 2017 Progressive Music Awards.
22. Paul McCartney
You can’t have a list of bass players without Paul McCartney on it. He was both a bass player and songwriter and sang for the Beatles. He is considered one of the most successful musicians of all time.
He was able to excel in talent, business, and fame when it came to the music industry. 32 of McCartney’s songs made it to the Billboard Hot 100. Paul McCartney is one of the wealthiest musicians in the world.
23. Larry Graham
Larry Graham is an American bassist who worked with Sly and the Family Stone for most of his life. He also played slap guitar and some say even invented it to some degree, particularly with the electric guitar. He called his guitar playing thumping and plucking. His third solo album was called GCS 2000, an album he produced when he was on tour with Prince between 1997 and 2000.
24. Doug Wimbish
Doug Wimbish is a popular bass player who was a member of Living Color, although he also played for Tackhead, James Brown, Depeche Mode, Mick Jagger, and The Rolling Stones. In 2008 he was still playing and had just signed with Enja Records. By 2009, Living Color had just released “The Chair in the Doorway” and was featured on six Little Axe albums.
25. Billy Sheehan
Billy Sheehan is known for his work with The Winery Dogs, and he also played with David Lee Roth and Steve Vai. His awards include a Best Rock Bass Player award from Guitar Player magazine, an award he won five times.
He has also used the technique of chording, including two-handed tapping to bring his strings to life. By August 2017, he joined a metal band known as Sons of Apollo.
Since no list can ever be definitive, here are some honorable mentions that are worthy of being among the 25 listed above:
Charles Mingus. A legendary Jazz upright bassist, considered among the very best jazz musicians, Charles Mingus pioneered the post-bop style and was known now only for his bass-playing, but as a pianist, composer, bandleader, and author.
Ron Carter. With a career spanning over 60+ years, and still active today, Ron Carter is a jazz double bassist and is THE most-recorded jazz bassist in history with over 2200 recording appearances. His discography is a thing of beauty and it’s amazing that he’s still active!
Phil Lesh. As the founding member of the Grateful Dead, Phil Lesh also has a stunning career that spans over 60 years. After the band disbanded, he started a side project named Phil Lesh and Friends where he still plays bass.
Stanley Clarke. As one of the pioneering jazz fusion bassists, Stanley Clarke shined a light on the bass guitar in a way that it wasn’t heard or seen before. He was one of the first jazz fusion musicians who headlined tours and sell-out shows across the globe.
John Paul Jones. Who could forget Led Zeppelin’s bassist John Paul Jones? A Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame inductee, John pursued a solo career after the band disbanded and has since been widely successful, collaborating with music icons.
When it comes to the best bassists and best guitar players of all time, there is no method to fit everyone deserving on the same list. Still, icons such as Jimi Hendrix and Keith Richards and others that miss the cut might say, they don’t need to be on there. They know how their talents have changed the world in music. These are our picks for the 25 best bassists and best guitar players of all time, for their eclectic and award-winning careers. Who would be on yours?
John Entwistle – Image (also in featured image (top-left)) by: Center of the Universe, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Victor Wooten – Image (also in featured image (top-right)) by: Jason Mouratides from Solana Beach, California, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Cliff Burton – Image (also in featured image (bottom-left)) by: Gene Ambo – Original publication: This photo was first published on the Cliff ‘Em All video, it was taken in 1985.Immediate source: from my Cliff ‘Em All video copy, Fair use, Link
Geddy Lee – Image (also in featured image (bottom-right)) by: Weatherman90 at English Wikipedia, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
James Jamerson – Image by: Experimento69, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Tim Commerford – Image by: Scott Penner, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Chris Squire – Image by: Rdikeman, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Les Claypool – Image by: Male-zet, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Steve Harris – Image by: adels, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Bootsy Collins – Image by: MikaV (Diskussion), CC BY-SA 3.0 DE, via Wikimedia Commons
Geezer Butler – Image by: Foto: Stefan Brending
Donald “Duck” Dunn – Image by: The original uploader was Thestaxman at English Wikipedia., CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Jack Bruce – Image by: Christian Sahm, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Scott LaFaro – Image by: By https://www.pinterest.ru/pin/547398529699012891/?autologin=true, Fair use, Link
Chris Wolstenholme – Image by: © Markus Felix | PushingPixels (contact me), CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
John Deacon – Image by: Carl Lender, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Flea – Image by: Foto: Stefan Brending
Roger Waters – Image by: Alterna2, http://www.alterna2.com, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Jaco Pastorius – Image by: Chris Hakkens, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Mark King – Image by: Tore Sætre, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Paul McCartney – Image by: Eddie Janssens, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Larry Graham – Image by: Kennystevens, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Doug Wimbish – Image by: Alex Lozupone, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Billy Sheehan – Image by: Frank Schwichtenberg, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons