Thanks for your gracious post.
$3,000-3,500 is a ton of money at the Sherry household and I am sure at yours too. However, honesty compels me to note that it's not a lot of money at the bass shop.
It might buy you:
a) A perfectly nice new hybrid bass -- solid top, plywood back and sides -- or a used one maybe with some change;
b) A stylin' plywood bass, with change if bought used;
c) The wreck of an old sold-wood bass, temporarily in one piece but waiting to explode in the first stiff breeze;
d) A new solid-wood bass of the cheapest variety that might not sound as good as the crate it ships in; or
e) Something else if you get lucky. But your chances of getting lucky increase if you go see a bunch of basses.
The two points here are, "Don't focus on brands" and "Go see a bunch of basses." If you're far from bass shops maybe you can talk your folks into it by fitting a bass-shop trip along the side of a college-scouting trip.
"We can give to those who listen to the essence the best of what we are. But to do that, at each stage we have to keep on cleaning the mirror." -- John Coltrane