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Top 10 Rock Bassists

The best rock bassists don't always get the stardom of the lead guitarist, but they deserve it.

They know how to slappa da bass. Welcome to WatchMojo.com and today we’re counting down our picks for the top 10 bassists.

For this list, we’re focusing more on classic rock and heavy metal band bassists who were innovative, great songwriters, or standout bassists with a commercially successful track record. We’re focusing less on the top session players or technical masters.

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#10: John Myung, Dream Theater

As one of the progressive metal group’s founders and longest serving members, John Myung has helped shape Dream Theater’s sound since day one. The bassist’s highly technical style includes the use of fingerpicking, slapping, popping and tapping. He’s also distinguished himself by playing a six-string bass, which produces such complex and harmonious grooves that they’re often the core of many of the band’s songs. 

#9: John Deacon, Queen

Though he later played other instruments, it was his incredible bass playing that nabbed him a job with Queen when he was just 19. In addition to writing several Queen hits, John Deacon provided the unmistakable bassline for their biggest American smash: “Another One Bites the Dust.” Known for using the instrument to play lead and rhythm, Deacon’s proficiency was expressed through his bass runs and swift transition work. 

#8: Flea, Red Hot Chili Peppers

As co-founder, there’s no question that Flea has been instrumental to the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ success. Though he mixes up different musical genres, Flea’s trademark is his slap bass style, which is the foundation of the funky flavors in the Chili Peppers’ sound. He has also experimented with popping techniques, aggressive punk rock playing and melodic simplicity. 

#7: Les Claypool, Primus

Since he does double duty as Primus’ vocalist and bassist, it’s obvious that Les Claypool is multitalented. Influenced by Rush’s Geddy Lee, Claypool became a master of slap bass and helped bring the original and funk-fueled sounds of Primus to the masses. His bass playing style is notable for incorporating several effects, distortion, tapping, and Spanish-inspired strumming.

#6: Cliff Burton, Metallica

Though he only lived to contribute to three Metallica albums, Cliff Burton still left us a memorable discography filled with his bass playing goodness. By using it more like a lead guitar than a backup rhythm instrument, the musician helped the band become one of thrash metal’s Big Four. Their heavy early sound and technical skills certainly wouldn’t be the same without him; just check out Burton’s work on the instrumental “Orion” for proof. 

#5: Steve Harris, Iron Maiden

While he founded Iron Maiden and is the band’s primary songwriter, Steve Harris has made a name for himself for his ability to play the bass. Thanks to his galloping bass lines, fingerpicking techniques, unique tone, Harris has made the bass as inextricable to the band’s sound as the guitar. Notable tracks include “Running Free,” “Wrathchild” and “The Trooper.” 

#4: John Paul Jones, Led Zeppelin

He may be a multi-instrumentalist, but John Paul Jones will always be remembered most for his groundbreaking bass. Just check out his dynamic and melodic playing on “Ramble On” and how his memorable bass essentially drives ‘”Dazed and Confused.” While he also came up with “Black Dog”’s main riff, it’s Jones’ chemistry with drummer John Bonham as Lep Zeppelin’s rhythm section that’s truly made music history.

#3: Paul McCartney, The Beatles

Known as one of the Fab Four, there’s simply no arguing Paul McCartney’s success and musical talents. Macca didn’t only impact rock ‘n’ roll with his vocals and songwriting partnership with the late John Lennon, but also with his creative and melodic bassplaying. The versatile musician was especially notable for his ability to expertly connect chords together to make iconic and elegant basslines. 

#2: John Entwistle, The Who

With a nickname like Thunderfingers, is it any surprise John Entwistle’s skills on the four-string bass are so highly regarded? The British musician used his formal musical training to develop a hard-hitting style that made him a pioneer of playing the bass like a lead instrument. Though he knew when and how to unleash his power, The Ox also knew when to hold back, which made him perfect for The Who’s sound.

Honorable Mentions

  • Jack Bruce (Cream)
  • Billy Sheehan (Mr. Big, David Lee Roth)
  • Geezer Butler (Black Sabbath/Heaven & Hell)
  • Robert Trujillo (Metallica)
  • Tom Araya (Slayer) 

#1: Geddy Lee, Rush

Topping our list is the singer, songwriter, bassist and keyboardist of one of the most advanced and technically sounds bands in the history of music. While Rush has proven their precision, musicianship and ambition multiple times, Geddy Lee is continually cited as one of the biggest influences of bassists everywhere. While his complex bass playing is already impressive, it’s the fact that Lee sings, plays keyboards AND bass that gives him the edge.

Do you agree with our list? Who is your favorite bassist? With new videos published daily, be sure to subscribe to WatchMojo.com.