Buying A Bass Without Playing It

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by perfektspace6, Feb 1, 2023.

  1. perfektspace6


    May 9, 2006
    Whether purchasing from a seller in a distant part of the U.S. (or world) or ordering a custom made bass, many of us have had the experience of putting money on the table for a bass we have never played. Personally, I have purchased 4 basses in my lifetime that I did not play before buying. Two of them are no longer with me but were very good instruments. One was not what I expected and I quickly sold it. One bass is still in my possession and I will keep it forever. However, for the majority of the basses I have owned: I played the bass, determined I like it, and decided to buy with no reservations.

    So my question(s) for the TB community is how you determine whether you will spend your hard earned money on an instrument that you have never played and, in some cases never heard, before purchase? What are some experiences, both positive and negative, that we can learn from to support a decision to commission a custom bass or buy a used bass without the benefit of playing it beforehand?
    BOOG, DJ Bebop, Smooth_bass88 and 6 others like this.
  2. roccobass

    roccobass Still funkin’ in the free world.

    Jun 25, 2014
    The only instance I did this was when I did a straight across trade for a used Sadowsky here on TB. It was good for me because my bass was a boutique short scale which I was having a hard time selling. It worked out well because I ultimately did sell the Sadowsky. That sale was much easier and quicker. Normally, I would not buy (or trade for) a bass before I played it, but this was a special set of circumstances.
    Last edited: Feb 1, 2023
    Lucca and perfektspace6 like this.
  3. pcake

    pcake Supporting Member

    Sep 20, 2011
    Los Angeleez
    my experiences buying online, both new and used, has been mostly fine, and i've bought many basses over time, at least half online. no real problems, partly because the 3 basses that had issues were exchanged quickly and easily with no hassles.

    i bought a bass i had played many times before in stores and loved, but since then i had a long-term injury. it turned out it hurt to play, so sweetwater took it back and even paid return shipping. i bought a B stock mikro that turned out to have a maxed truss rod, but it never was an issue it seems to be the perfect neck relief for me, and i got an awesome deal on it.

    i can't recall having a problem with anything i bought online. it probably helps that my husband does all our setups, mods and so on. we both feel minor issues on an otherwise good-to-play and undamaged instrument are better to fix than to ship back.
    johnnynitro, shodan, Roger W and 11 others like this.
  4. Geri O

    Geri O Endorsing Artist, Mike Lull Guitars and Basses Gold Supporting Member

    Sep 6, 2013
    Florence, MS
    I’ve bought several basses unplayed and I’ve not had a bad one yet. But I’m not buying just any bass….

    A player in another band let me play his Mike Lull (“hey, may I check out your Lull?” “Sure, just put it in its case when yer done, I’m going to catering”…:D). Then I bought a Lull from a good friend. So by then, I had no problems whatsoever buying a Mike Lull I’ve never played. And I’ve bought 3.

    Also, I’ve bought 5 Stingray SR5s sight unseen. All great basses, not a bad one in the bunch. Except for one, which was a stupid good price, but it came with pretty worn frets. It was worth the price of the fret job.

    So, with certain brands, it’s a pretty safe bet buying sight unseen.

    However, none of this matters if you aren’t comfortable buying basses in this manner. As time goes by, it may be more and more prevalent, though.
  5. My circumstances are unique. I love in a secluded area without a lot around me. Also Im left handed. Those 2 things make it tough to find basses. I have my first bass that I bought in person. The rest have all been from online sources. Funny thing is that the bass I love the most and want to keep forever is also the bass that arrived to me the worst. It sounds great and has been stable as a rock after I had to add an extra neck bolt. I always say to take each transaction on a case by case basis and it should be fine. If not make sure there's communication and a way to return it.
    SixtyCycleHum, dr doofie and pcake like this.
  6. pcake

    pcake Supporting Member

    Sep 20, 2011
    Los Angeleez
    that reminds me - if i buy used from a seller on ebay or reverb, i send them a question. i try to make it a reasonable question about the bass that a clueless person can't answer. two reasons - first, i want to be sure they reply to emails. if they don't, i don't buy from them regardless of the deal. second, the guy who didn't know what a nut was on a bass probably isn't going to notice issues that someone with a little more experience would notice and understand.
  7. Online is definitely your friend in this journey for a bass. I'd just be sure of what you want and if you're unsure about the bass try to talk to the seller. Hopefully they are kind and knowledgeable and willing to answer whatever questions you have.
    Last edited: Feb 2, 2023
  8. Thinking about this, I realized I bought my "forever" bass sight unseen/unplayed. I had my then regular music store order my 97 MIA Fender Jazz from the factory/warehouse. But I knew exactly what I wanted (Lake Placid Blue - Maple Fretboard), and 26 years later, I still own it - I've recorded 95% of everything I've done with it. When I die, it goes to my son.

    My current Ibanez Talman was ordered unplayed, but that's an inexpensive instrument. I do love it, and I actually play it now more than my other basses oddly enough.

    But my Ric 4003 was ordered from a music store/pawn shop in Miami - I live in Minnesota - for $550 (really - this was in about 2003). Got it on ebay, which was before what ebay is today. I thought from the pics it was that white finish that Ric's have that yellows over time. When it showed up, I realized it was silver - a pretty rare color it turned out. Not the hi-res photos we have today, and it had some issues. Some cracks, some checking, etc. But it was a Ric, and I could afford it. I put a lot of work into it cosmetically, and had it in the shop for quite some time dealing with electronic issues. But I played it live a lot, and used it a bit on my last recording session, which was in 2017. I eventually sold it Probably shouldn't have, or I should have waited a bit longer. I made a lot of money on it in the end, and I don't regret selling it - the buyer was super excited and I hope he has it today.
    Roger W and Flamingo21 like this.
  9. It's always a risk... I've bought a few beasts without playing them first; some have had more issues than others, and some needed some serious help to make them barely functional, but my main bass is one that I bought online from a Music Go Round halfway across the country that didn't need much work to get it where it is now in terms of playability and functionality.
  10. Elusive1


    Jun 21, 2018
    My experience buying blind has thankfully been great so far. Have yet to experience the misfortune of receiving an unsatisfactory instrument, and hopefully I never will.

    As a lefty with limited options, I always keep an eye out specifically for old Japanese Fenders - they were a lot more lefty-friendly prior to 2015. I came across two of my CIJ Jazzes online back in 2019; one was a common '62 reissue model in Old Candy Apple Red (common colour for righties but quite uncommon for lefties) on Reverb, the other was a rarely-seen 5-string model on this website dedicated to lefty bassists.

    Both sales went through without a fuss, basses arrived reasonably early, and thankfully played and sounded great. The 5-string even came with a case without being advertised, so it was a pleasant surprise and an unexpected bonus for me. Both had reasonable wear being second/third/fourth-hand instruments, but seeing as I am the type to mod my basses anyway, it didn't bother me one bit. Still playing both to this day.

    As mentioned by others in this thread, always ensure you have clear communication with the sellers, and you should be good to go from there.
    pcake likes this.
  11. Levent


    Oct 26, 2022
    I can trust the hardware and crafters reputation.
    I haven't seen a bass that sounds or plays "bad" with hipshot hardware and Delano, Nordstrand, Sadowsky etc. pickups. and reputable preamps like jeast, noll glocken etc. With this stuff a reputable luthier really needs to just make It ergonomic, finish smooth etc.
    But If you are talking about mass produced, outsourced stuff, I wouldn't buy without trying unless I tried the model beforehand and I have guaranteed, easy return option with the seller.
    Used basses necks scare me, I never bought a used bass. Truss rod might work when you are buying but It might just be the last quarter turn left in there, you will never know.. and you can't return It after a few months of usage If that's the case. I call It Shrödingers truss rod
    Last edited: Feb 2, 2023
  12. Robert Booker

    Robert Booker Inactive

    Jul 28, 2022
    Great question.

    For myself I know what I enjoy playing so over the years I've almost always owned a PBass or a Jazz Bass or both simultaneously as I do now. After a sabbatical from playing around 15 years ago during which I sold all of my gear when I began to assemble a new fleet of basses the first one I bought was a used CV '60s Jazz Bass. There was no amp to plug into but I could tell from the "feel" that it was no different than the '66 Jazz that was my first pro bass.

    I paid $250 for it with a gig bag and eventually upgraded it with Wilde J-45 pickups and a Babicz FCH bridge to bring it in line with what I was looking for out of it tonally. It was impressive enough to me that when I decided to add a PBass I bought a new Matt Freeman CV and modified it in the same fashion with a Wilde P46 and a Babicz FCH Bridge. They were very honestly two of the best sounding/playing basses I'd ever owned including that '66 and a '63 PBass. I still have the Matt Freeman but a newer '60s CV Jazz in LPB like my old '66.

    When I bought my G&Ls it was after reading a whole lot about them in the G&L thread here and also from speaking with others who played them. Once I became convinced they were designs that Leo would eventually have produced had he never sold Fender to CBS it was pretty easy to accept that I would probably enjoy those as well. My first was a Tribute L2500.

    Like most it took some time to work my way through Leo's Tri-Tone electronics and work with MDF pickups for the first time and once I did I thoroughly enjoyed the bass. Eventually I decided I no longer needed a 5 string so I sold it and bought an M2000 to replace it. I wanted on active bass with an 18v preamp and a PBass width neck. That one has all of that.

    Then I also picked up a Tribute Kiloton but that one I bought new. I did play it first but I already knew that I was gonna buy it because I wanted another "sweet spot" type bass like a Modulus I had sold long before. The pickup location gives them their own more unique tonality that's very mid forward and really cuts through a mix. I'm quite happy with it too.

    So that's my fleet of basses and how I acquired them. I didn't stray far from what I'd been playing for over 40 years so I pretty much knew what to expect and how I could modify them to better suit my needs if I wanted to. It's unlikely I'll ever commission a custom build because I can get what I want out of what I have. They just fit me well and my playing style.
    Spidey2112 likes this.
  13. Gorilla Monsoon

    Gorilla Monsoon Magician...Can turn a car into a driveway... Supporting Member

    Aug 27, 2022
    The Swamp
    Of my six basses, I’ve ordered five online. Have never considered getting rid of any of them…I figure- it’s not the arrow, it’s the Indian. Unless there’s something wrong with the neck, there’s gotta be someone out there somewhere who can really enjoy playing it, why not me?
  14. Malak the Mad

    Malak the Mad Over the River and through the Looking Glass Supporting Member

    I've bought several basses sight-unseen in the past. Some have worked out, others...not so much. My best instance of this, complete with all the "agony & ecstasy" one would expect in a halfway-decent story, revolves around this gorgeous Jazz bass I went out on a limb to bring all the way to the Northeastern U.S. from The Land of the Rising Sun.

    The whole story is written up in these threads, complete with more pics, why I no longer have it (dammit!! :banghead:) and the parts-bass Projekt it's loss has inspired. :bookworm:
  15. Dr. Gonzo82

    Dr. Gonzo82

    Jul 19, 2008
    I only bought two basses, one before I joined talkbass and one after.

    the first is a us fender precision I bought in 1997 after trying at least 20-25 jazz and p basses in the store.

    The second one is a Ric 4003 I had to order online from the UK (thankfully before Brexit).

    Having never had a Rick in my hands before it was quite a gamble, but it turned out great. Especially the neck and string spacing felt perfect right from the start.

    I haven’t bought another bass since 2005.
  16. Katoosie

    Katoosie Mangoes! Tahiti! THE PLAN! Supporting Member

    Jun 12, 2020
    Every bass I have ever bought sight unseen has been great. Never did I get a lemon or anything like that. Every time I got rid of a bass, it was either because I did not gel with it or because it was unpractical to have it, for whatever reason. It pays off carefully weighing in your options and doing a lot of research.
    I do not regret or miss any of the basses I sold off, even if I do sometimes think about them.
    6-3-2 and Spidey2112 like this.
  17. Polfuste


    Sep 10, 2010
    South France
    The two basses i've bought without trying it were two rare and specific models: A Ken smith burner from 1998 and my last MARKBASS Kimandu.
    The burner was used, but owned by a top level bass player which is a regular forum member from our french bass forum. I completely trusted the guy. I've seen videos made by him with this bass, and listened to a lot of other videos with other burners, and read a lot on talkbass about this particular model before pulling the trigger.

    The Kimandu was new, direct from an online shop, so with guarantee, return policy, etc. Less risky. Same thing: i've looked a lot of videos about it. It was harder to find feedback cause this model is young. But by chance, an italian guy has performed a lot of vids with this exact model. Him and another guy from east Europe too. So they have convince me i was on a good way. At the end, this bass became my #1. Tone is beautifull, preamp is killer, neck is a pleasure to play and this bass has the best balance ever. a little more weight than the burner, but with this perfect balance it feels lighter.

    The only thing i've had to do is a set up on each one; not a problem as i do it myself. That including the typical jazzbass shimming of the neck for the Kimandu: with the winter, her neck has moved and i realized i couldn't reach my perfect setup with the bridge. So i've add a little shim and now the neck is a highway.
    Last edited: Feb 2, 2023
  18. DrBnz


    Apr 4, 2021
    It just adds to the suspense of when you finally get to open / play it. But honestly .... I study the pics hard, I've done online research, I ask questions about the neck, truss rod, weight and if they know of any issues. Then go for it. The 5 day wait just adds to the suspense as well. The unforeseen negative issues (to me) is 1) It gets damaged in shipment 2) the person before me worked on it
    BlueTalon and dieggsy like this.
  19. RustfeatherBass

    RustfeatherBass Supporting Member

    Jan 19, 2022
    Haverhill, MA
    I’ve had decent luck with buying basses and guitars online, though I only do it rarely.

    I spend a lot of time looking at pictures, reading the ad carefully, asking questions and looking for red flags.

    Seller rating/reputation factors-in heavily. As does return policy.

    If I can, I will try to play the model being sold locally, if it is unfamiliar, so at least I will know if the design has any inherent flaws or won’t work for me. Then roll the dice :)
    Spidey2112 likes this.
  20. lbbc


    Sep 25, 2007
    Seaford , DE
    I have bought many basses online having never previously played them. I always knew what I was looking for, asked the sellers questions about each bass and asked about return policies. If I was happy and comfortable with the responses....I bought the bass.

    When commissioning a bass, the same rules apply for me....ask questions and KNOW what you want before you buy. I had Dave Pushic build a custom bass for me....and after several conversations, I got exactly what I knew I wanted!
    BlueTalon, retslock and JRA like this.