The 12 Best Punk Bass Players Of All Time (with sound)

punk bass players karl alvarez mike dirnt and mike watt

While straight 8th note basslines can sound great, the best punk bass players out there often take a different approach to the genre.

From melodic grooves to playing chord progressions. From iconic low-end grooves to using the bass as a lead instrument. These guys have done it all.

To celebrate their accomplishments, I decided to make this list of the 12 best punk bass players of all time.

I will show you some of their most notable basslines, and what made them stand out from the crowd. The list will showcase the very best that the genre has to offer. Hopefully, this will lead you to discover some great punk bassists you haven`t listened to before.

12. Michael “Fat Mike” Burkett

  • Band: NOFX
  • Main Bass: Modified Fender Precision
  • Notable for: Melodic and fast playstyle, chord usage
  • Plucking style: Pick

One thing Mike often does is play a melodic bass riff during instrumental parts. Then, he switches to a more straightforward groove during sung parts. Not only does this make sense as a singing bass player, but this has also shaped NOFX’s staple sound.

Our job as bass players is to just have a nice round tone so that vocals and guitars sound better. We make other people sound better.”

Fat Mike – Loudwire showcase

He often incorporates fast passages into his riffs to retain an intense sound while sounding melodic. Examples of this can be found in “The Decline” and “The Death Of John Smith”.

Another staple of Mike`s playing is his distinct use of bass chords. On “Whoops I OD`d” and “Stickin` In My Eye” he incorporates chords in a calmer and more melodic way than is typical for punk.

11. Darryl Jenifer

  • Band: Bad Brains
  • Main Bass: Modulus Jazz bass
  • Notable for: Tone, Speed, Genre-blending
  • Plucking style: Pick

While Bad Brains have played a wide range of genres, a noteworthy part of their discography can be classified as punk.

Thus, as Darryl Jenifer has pulled inspiration from many forms of music, his punk basslines have a groovy and unique character to them.

Geezer Butler, definitely, but James Jamerson fascinates me and teaches me to this day. He’s the only bass player that can’t be covered! He’s like the grandfather teacher to me, and should be to all bass players.

Darryl Jenifer on his Innfluences – 2019 Interview with Musicradar

“Sailin` On” and “Banned in DC” are songs where he plays a fast bassline, but adds small rhythmic and melodic variations in ways that are not typically found in punk.

On “Big Take Over” and “Regulator” we can hear his more melodic approach to playing the bass. What`s impressive is how he keeps the songs heavy while deviating from playing straight 8th notes.

Jenifer also had a boomy and fuzzy bass tone on the band’s faster tracks. All of this combined made his basslines stand out in both style and tone.

10. Mike Dirnt

  • Band: Green Day
  • Main Bass: Fender Precision, Gibson Grabber G3 (early)
  • Notable for: Adaptability, Melody, Groove
  • Plucking style: Pick

Despite many Green Day songs having simplistic basslines, Mike Dirnt has proven that he is capable of playing more complex grooves when need be.

“Stuck With Me” and “Sassafras Roots” are great examples of how Dirnt is able to add melody and variation to otherwise straightforward songs.

On “Stuart and the Ave.” and “Longview” showcase his ability to write basslines that work as the main riff of a song.

Through the years Dirnt has shown a great understanding of what it means to be a bassist. He knows when to dial it back, and he knows when to spice things up. As a result, he is able to consistently write basslines that fit the song perfectly.

9. Bruce Foxton

  • Band: The Jam
  • Main Basses: Rickenbacker 4001, Fender Precision
  • Notable for: Melodic and groovy basslines, genre-blending
  • Plucking style: Pick

The Jam blended Mod Revival with punk. As a result, there are few bands that sound even remotely like them. No matter how they blended genres together though, Bruce Foxton was able to come up with melodic basslines that fit the band’s innovative sound.

“Going Underground” and ” `A` Bomb In Wardour Street” are songs where everything revolves around Foxton. Taking on this type of role as a bass player can be difficult. These songs are perfect examples of how to do it right.

For some examples of his catchiest bass grooves, listen to “Start!” and “Absolute Beginners”. Both of these songs could have easily been put on my list of the best punk bass songs ever. They are that good.

8. Chris “Chris #2” Barker

  • Band: Anti-Flag
  • Main Bass: ESP LTD with J and P bass pickups
  • Notable for: Melodic and dominant basslines
  • Plucking style: Pick

In addition to keeping punk alive in the current age and singing about relevant political issues, Chris 2# provides Anti-Flag with complex and melodic basslines.

“But ultimatley for Anti-Flag, like the music is just a vehicle for what we want to discuss and what we want to work on and try to break down these invivisble barriers that we see all the time. You know, whether it be border law, or whether it be racism in the media or sexism.”

Chris #2 – Interview with DigitalTourBus

The verses on “This Is The End (For You My Friend)” and “Die For The Government” are examples of his groovy side. With the guitars creating a lot of space for the bass to fill, he makes good use of this to elevate the songs.

“Bring Out Your Dead” and “The Press Corpse” are songs where Chris goes completely crazy. These songs feature fast melodic basslines that will have your fingers begging for mercy if you decide to give them a try.

7. DeeDee Ramone

  • Band: The Ramones
  • Main Bass: Fender Precision
  • Notable for: Influence, forming punk as a genre, style
  • Plucking style: Pick

The Ramones might be the most influential band since the Beatles. Their unique, simplistic, and raw sound has been emulated by countless bands not only in punk but across a vast range of genres.

“To me, I think it would be a really good statement not to go to the hall of fame.”

DeeDee Ramone – The Ramones, Unfinished documentary project

The backbone of their simplistic and raw sound was DeeDee Ramone and his basslines.

Granted, these grooves were simple. He mostly played straight 8th note grooves, on songs such as “Pet Sematary”, “Surfin` Bird” and “I Don`t Want To Grow Up”.

He was great at adding small melodic and rhythmic variations when needed. “Blitzkrieg Bop” and “Poison Heart” are examples of him keeping lines simple but adding small variations to his 8th note grooves to give the songs some extra character.

While this seems like something most punk bassists would do nowadays, this would not be a staple of the genre without DeeDee. What he lacked in complexity, he made up for with innovation. As punk would not exist in its current form with him, it`s safe to say that DeeDee has earned a well-deserved spot on this list.

6. Rob Wright

  • Band: Nomeansno
  • Main Bass: Fender Precision
  • Notable for: Unique guitar-like tone and playstyle, creative and fast grooves
  • Plucking style: Pick

Rob Wright shaped Nomeansno`s sound both by playing heavy and melodic basslines. Furthermore, his fuzzy tone and guitar-like playstyle made their songs stand out even more than they already did.

“It`s Catching Up” and “Sex Mad” showcase Wright`s ability to play hard-hitting low-end grooves. The grooves work especially well due to his fuzzy and gritty punk bass tone, which adds more punch and a heavier feel to the songs.

On “Body Bag” Wright shows his more groovy side with a bassline that adds a lot of flavor to an otherwise simplistic beat.

Most notably, “Rag`n Bones” has one of the most iconic yet underrated basslines of all time. I only recommend listening to it below if you are prepared for the riff to be stuck in your head for days to come.

5. Klaus Flouride

  • Band: Dead Kennedys
  • Main Bass: Fender Jazz Bass, Fender Bass VI
  • Notable for: Creativity, Maniacal sound, filling space
  • Plucking style: Pick

Originally a guitarist, Klaus Flouride transitioned to the bass right after College. As a big fan of punk, bass, and the Dead Kennedys, I could not be more grateful for this.

The band has a maniacal sound that you won`t hear anywhere else. What`s impressive is how Flouride was always able to write basslines that fit this unique sound and make them sound all the more crazy.

He did this in several ways. In “California Uber Alles” he emphasizes the minor second interval, which on its own tends to sound evil and sinister.

On “Insight” he makes use of the chromatic scale to add a sense of disharmony to the song which creates a sense of chaos. “Let`s Lynch The Landlord” showcases his ability to be groovy and melodic at the same time.

And on “Holiday in Cambodia”, he somehow manages to do all of the above while playing drony chords. This accomplishment alone makes this one of the most noteworthy punk basslines of all time.

4. Karl Alvarez

  • Band: Descendents, All
  • Main Bass: Ibanez Roadster 2 and a modified P bass
  • Notable for: Melody, playing the bass as a lead instrument
  • Plucking style: Fingers

When anyone asks me if it`s possible to play punk bass with your fingers, I point them in the direction of Karl Alvarez and the Descendents.

“If it`s me I like a P bass with a J bass as well, cause as a finger player its nice to have something picking up the high-end energy from the bridge”

Karl Alvarez – 2021 Intwerview with Mike Herrera

“I`m The One” and “Suburban Home” showcase Alvarez`s ability to incorporate melodies. Here he sticks to a deep groove most of the time but throws in runs at just the perfect spots.

On “Myage” and “Victim Of Me” he proficiently uses the bass more like a lead instrument. All of the abovementioned songs sound cohesive, which speaks of his ability to write complex basslines that also fit the song.

3. Mike Watt

  • Bands: The Minutemen, fIREHOSE, Big Walnuts Yonder, The Stooges
  • Main bass: Fender Precision
  • Notable for: Versatility, Productive career, Technical proficiency
  • Plucking style: Pick and fingers

Despite the list spanning all genres, Watt made it on NME readers’ top 40 bassists of all time. For anyone who has heard his basslines, this should come as no surprise though. He played both with a pick and with his fingers, and he wasn`t afraid of using the bass as a lead instrument.

“There`s a big debate somtimes with the bass, over the, pick and fingers. It proboably best to do.. both. I`ve seen John Entwhsitle do pick and fingers in the same tune”

Mike Watt – Interview With PlayThisRiff

fIREHOSE has multiple songs that are built around Watt`s basslines. “Under The Influence Of Meat Puppets” and “Chemical Warfare” are great examples of the bass being at the forefront of the band.

“History Lesson 2” by The Minutemen showcases how he was able to write tranquil lines basslines. “Jesus And Tequila” and “Viet Nam” on the other hand, showcase his groovy side. In other words, this was a guy who could do it all and do it well.

2. Paul Simonon

  • Band: The Clash
  • Main bass: Fender Precision
  • Notable for: Influence and genre-blending
  • Plucking style: Pick

The reason I rate Paul Simonen of The Clash so highly is that he is the whole package. He was both influential and versatile. He was consistent and innovative. His basslines were creative and reggae-influenced, but they never strayed away from sounding punk.

“Then I tried one of these, and it had such a, well first of all it had such a weight to it, and also by playing it it sort of had such a fuller sound. And I think a lot of the music that I have grown up listening to, was a lot of reggae. And so with something like this I thought: Better equipped to suit myself soundwise”

Paul Simonen on the Fender Precision Bass – Interview with Fender

Songs like “Capitol Radio”, “Lost In The Supermarket” and “Stay Free” showcase how groovy his lines could be. On “White Man…” and “Charline Don`t Surf” he shows his reggae influence, which he incorporated seamlessly into the punk genre.

And it would be a cardinal sin to not mention “Guns Of Brixton”. To me, this is one of the best basslines of all time. As a bassist who consistently wrote great basslines, it`s no mistake that Simonon`s very best one would be as good as this.

1. Matt Freeman

  • Bands: Rancid, Operation Ivy, Devil’s Brigade
  • Main Bass: Fender Precision
  • Notable for: Melodic playing, creativity, solos
  • Plucking style: Pick

Matt Freeman is often regarded as “The Punk Bassist”, and for a good reason.

In Rancid, he is often found using the bass as a lead and rhythm instrument at the same time. He does this by playing a lot of low notes while moving across the fretboard and adding high notes when appropriate.

A staple of Freeman`s style is to play runs by while picking notes twice. Examples of this can be heard on “Olympia WA” and the pre-chorus of “Roots Radicals”.

The Verse on “Ruby Soho” and the chorus of “Roots Radicals” showcase how he is able to hold a song together with a melodic bassline. In addition to adding melody, he is also great at playing deep grooves, such as on “Salvation”.

Lastly, this guy also knew how to write a bass solo. With “Maxwell Murder” being one of Rancid’s most known songs, it is safe to say that this is in large part because of his immensely impressive solo on it.

Ian Partanen

BassOx Founder. Passionate bassist for 15+ years across a vast selection of genres, currently into indie-rock and hip-hop. Bachelor's degree in Musicology from the University of Oslo.

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