10 Best Grunge Bassists of All Time


Image of grunge band Pearl Jam, featuring the full lineup.

Pearl Jam – Story by Anne Erickson, photo by Danny Clinch

Audio Ink Radio highlights the 10 best grunge bassists of all time

When it comes to grunge music, the bass guitar is perhaps the last instrument that gets highlighted. Genres such as jazz and blues tend to give a lot of love to their bassists, while grunge is more focused on the genre’s introspective vocalists and rowdy, messy guitars. But, don’t underestimate the work of a great bass player in grunge music. So, who are the best grunge bassists of all time?

In grunge music, the bass guitar is usually filled with distortion and down-tuned, which compliments the distorted lead guitars. The bass is also used as a thunderous low end to support grunge’s hooks and melodies. What’s more, grunge allowed bass players to get creative. For example, Ben Shepherd from Soundgarden has often layered power chords with his playing, while other players have presented a fuzzy, lo-fi sound.

It’s time for these underappreciated grunge bassist to shine. In that spirit, Audio Ink Radio presents its list of the 10 best grunge bassists of all time. Reach out to us with your picks via social media.

10. Van Conner, Screaming Trees

Screaming Trees were one of the pioneers of grunge, as vocalist Mark Lanegan crafted simple, catchy grunge-rock that resonated with the underground Seattle scene. Van Conner helped form Screaming Trees in the mid-1980s and was with them up until his untimely death in January 2023. He played on all of the band’s albums and left his mark on what it meant to be a grunge bassist.

9. Melissa Auf der Maur, Hole

Melissa Auf der Maur rose to grunge fame as the bass player in the Courtney Love-fronted Hole, and she plays on Hole’s seminal 1998 release, “Celebrity Skin.” Since playing with Hole, she’s released her own solo material. Her self-titled studio album, “Auf der Maur,” dropped in 2004. She also had a brief stint with the Smashing Pumpkins as a touring member for their 2000 tour. She’s an imaginative player and adds creativity to all of her projects.

8. Joe Preston, Melvins

Melvins were one of the first voices in the Seattle movement, and they inspired a bevy of grunge and rock bands to follow. Joe Preston was a huge part of Melvins from the band’s inception. His playing is wild, carefree and spirited, and he brings that aura to Melvins’ frantic alternative rock. Find Audio Ink Radio’s interview with Buzz Osborne of Melvins here.

7. Matt Lukin, Mudhoney

Mudhoney may not have reached the pinnacle of fame as some other bands on this roster, such as Soundgarden or Nirvana. But, they were a major part of the formation of the Seattle Sound. Matt Lukin brought a fresh bass playing style to his music. He also had wild onstage antics and incredible slides that made seeing Mudhoney in concert a wicked treat.

6. Mike Inez, Alice in Chains

Mike Inez has served as the bassist of Alice in Chains since 1993. He also played with Ozzy Osbourne from 1989 to 1993. It takes some major chops to be able to hold down the low end in both a grunge and heavy metal band, so Inez’s time with Alice in Chains and Ozzy shows his diversity. He also has a background in saxophone, which brings an interesting flavor to this sound and style.

5. Ben Shepherd, Soundgarden

Soundgarden gave the world beautifully dark, murky, metal-influenced grunge music, and Ben Shephard’s bass playing was a bit part of that sound. Shepherd’s heavy bass riffs and unique bass tone made him one of the best bassists in grunge music and, really, in hard rock and metal, in general.

4. Mike Starr, Alice in Chains

While many grunge frontmen passed away before their time, most of grunge music’s instrumentalists are still alive today. Unfortunately, Mike Starr of Alice in Chains is one instrumentalist who passed away too young. Starr died in 2011 at the age of 44. Prior to that, he had been very open about his struggles with drug addiction. But, aside from those demons, Starr was simply a talented bass player. He brought an eerie mood and vibe to Alice in Chains’ songs, which was a great fit with Layne Staley’s haunting harmonies.

3. Robert DeLeo, Stone Temple Pilots

Some music fans don’t really consider Stone Temple Pilots grunge. They didn’t hail from Seattle, and their major label debut, “Core,” came out in 1992, a year following Nirvana’s “Nevermind.” But, since Stone Temple Pilots formed in the late 1980s and were active before Cobain’s passing, we’re considering grunge for this feature. Robert DeLeo’s bass playing was front and center on “Core.” DeLeo is also a prolific songwriter, and he adds different textures to his sound, such as funky bits and slaps. He brought a more complex style to STP’s music, which was often a rarity in grunge music.

2. Krist Novaselic, Nirvana

It’s hard to shine in a band that also features the highly charismatic Kurt Cobain and Dave Grohl. But, Novaselic was able to break through the noise and stand out, both during Nirvana’s live shows and on their recordings. During Nirvana’s shows, Novaselic was often a big part of the between song banter, which was perfect, since Cobain was often more reserved when it came to talking on the stage. Novaselic also brought a perfectly subdued bass sound to Nirvana’s music, which laid the just-right foundation for Cobain’s vocals and Grohl’s drum work. He’s also known for his low action and detuning.

1. Jeff Ament, Pearl Jam

Bass players in the grunge genre don’t get much more legendary than Jeff Ament. The bassist founded Pearl Jam with Stone Gossard, Mike McCready and Eddie Vedder. Not just a player, Ament also wrote or co-wrote many of Pearl Jam’s biggest songs, including what was arguably their biggest hit, “Jeremy” off the band’s 1991 debut, “Ten.”

Before forming Pearl Jam, Ament was also a member of Seattle’s Green River and Mother Love Bone. What’s more, this guy can play fretless bass and upright bass with the best of them. For his help in forming the foundation of the grunge genre and his versatility as a player, Ament is No. 1 on our list of the best grunge bassists of all time.

Now that we’ve gone through the best grunge bassists, who are the greatest grunge vocalists of all time? Here’s Audio Ink Radio’s feature on the best grunge vocalists.

Have an idea for a feature or comment? Contact Audio Ink Radio head writer Anne Erickson at anne@audioinkradio.com.

Anne Erickson
Posted by Anne Erickson | Alternative, Features, Grunge, Music, Rock