1. Please take 30 seconds to register your free account to remove most ads, post topics, make friends, earn reward points at our store, and more!  

Buying Precision: how to pick a good one?

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by recnsci, Apr 8, 2010.

  1. recnsci


    Apr 8, 2010
    OK, first thing first, 1000xThankYou to everybody here, you are great community (I've tormented forum search engine quite a bit for last few weeks, and picked up lot of very useful info). Second, English is not my native language, so excuse me if I make mistakes (and I'll leave introducing myself in detail to some later post).

    I'm in a middle of buying new bass, a P-bass to be precise. It will be a Fender cus G&L and Lakland are either unobtanium or robbing a bank kind of deal around these parts. I have narrowed my choice on '50s Classic Precision (I wouldn't even notice damn thing if I haven't read dozens and dozens of raving comments on TB 'bout that bass).

    Now to my question. Everybody knows that Fender can be hit or miss. So, what to look for to pick great bass?
    First thing, it seems that Fender factory setup is pretty much disaster. Testing bass with way too low or way too high action is not exactly informative. I've tried one sunburst '50s P in shop and action was too high. It played like a charm up to 5th fret or so, but I have no way to tell how will it behave after decent setup (and quickie setup in shop is not possible thanks to that vintage accurate neck design). Does anyone know of some smart trick to test for fret buzz and stuff like that without proper setup? Thats quite important to me, I want good sounding AND good playing instrument. And on related matter, '50s P has those small "vintage" frets. Could that be a problem later on if it turns out that fret leveling or other fretwork is needed?
    Further more, when I look for mechanical problems I check overall finish, fretwork, possible neck bows and deviations on both E and G side, rigidity/stability of bridge, tuners and pickguard and finally I simply shake bass to see if some strange noise would emanate from it. What else should I pay attention to?

    Finally, the tone. I've checked one sunburst 50s P in local shop (they will bring one black/gold tomorrow so I can test it, that's my favorite combination on '50s P by far). Anyway, I have tested previously MIM Deluxe P (meh; had to turn mid all the way up to get useful tone, on this particular bass anyway), Aerodyne (nice, but tone was a bit anemic, and it's not P/J bass anyhow, they should call it J/splitJ), Highway One P (factory setup was abysmal; after some setup it was playable, but plain in every way). All of them had this metallic, clangorous highs and high mids, usual (IMHO) on new strings and new basses. Now that '50s P was something completely different. Do you know that great bass tone in "Gloria" from Van Morison? Well, this P was like that with tone pot wide open. Highs and high mids were there when picking, but decayed very quickly. With tone pot all the way down, it was dub city. And I'm not kidding, it was subsonic. I mean, my playing style is heavy picking, and I expected from P-bass this hollow grinding tone, but even with hard strumming highs were quite tame. And funny thing is, bass didn't sounded dead. Notes sounded much "healthier" (for lack of better term) compared to other mentioned basses, it's just that tone was very warm/mellow. Is this normal for '50s P (I've read few reviews that mention something similar) or this bass is some kind of freak?

  2. FunkyMan


    Nov 27, 2007
    Hey recnsci! just few words.. you can't go wrong with a Pbass IMHO! good luck
  3. To be honest I don't think Fender is nearly as hit or miss as what people like to say. IMO most all of them play well after a good setup and the quality is very good on most of them. There will be some that might speak to you more but that is the case with ANY bass company.

    Also their setup from the factory is not a disaster IMO. Most of the poor setup comes after the shipping and the store not properly setting it up. If you are at a shop and they refuse to do a setup on a bass for you to try out to buy then walk away. They should be doing it ANYWAY so the fact that they are refusing says alot as to why the basses are the way they are.

    Unfortunately unless it is set up at least decently it can be very hard for you to try a bass out. The best method might be to try and find a used one on here that someone would ship. At least most of the people here will give you an honest assessment.
  4. jallenbass

    jallenbass Supporting Member Commercial User

    May 17, 2005
    Bend, Oregon
    Just keep in mind that what sounds good in the store may not sound good on the gig and vice-versa. Ideally, I would listen to some bands where the bassist is playing a P-bass and when you hear one that you think sounds particularly good approach the guy or gal and see if they'll play it for you solo and not too loud.
  5. recnsci


    Apr 8, 2010
    Hi guys,

    as far as not going wrong with P-bass, as far as I am concerned, P-bass IS bass. But I'we had in my hands one or two stinkers made in Fulerton in mid/late 70s, so I know fender can produce not so nice instruments here and there.

    Johnny, you are probably right, transportation don't help setup on basses, but no matter what cause most basses I test in shops around here are very poorly setup. Guys at this shop are actually very nice, they did fix a bit setup on that Highway One which was unplayable, but problem with 50s Classic P is that you have to remove neck to access truss rod, a bit more than what I can expect from kids that work in this shop.

    Buying on TB would be great, but shipping is out of question (I wouldn't rely to ship brick here, let alone fine instrument, had enough bad experiences; "here" is one of dark corners of southeast Europe).

    BTW, I have to mention something. People were not raving 'bout 50s P for nothing on TB. As I said, on 50s P I've tried , action was a bit high and tone seem too mellow for what I think P should sound like, but: finish is absolutely gorgeous, on same level as Am.Deluxes in same shop and much better than CIJs i've checked, especially the neck (and that was a surprise, I've expected perfect workmanship on CIJs, maybe just lacking in tone). Further more that neck, as far as high action allowed me to test, was nicest I've tested, feel and playability wise. That is, if you are born for those wide but thin front-to-back necks (which I have found out about my self after years of torturing my left hand on jazzoid necks).

    cheerz & thanks
  6. recnsci


    Apr 8, 2010
    I pretty much know what sound do I want; as far as listening in shops, I bring these with me for reference listening. And I would recommend them to any basshead here. Not only that they are very nice studio-monitoring grade headphones, they go infrasonic as well, I swear (only headphones I can rely to some extent when mixing sub heavy electronic music).

  7. Dark Horse

    Dark Horse

    Jul 31, 2008
    Austin, TX
    To paraphrase Joe Meek -

    If it sounds good and feels good, it is good.
  8. Jeff K

    Jeff K Supporting Member

    Jul 9, 2005
    Memphis, TN
    Hey Urosh. If it reassures you any, here were my experiences with the Classic '50s P-Bass:

    A couple years ago I was in a music store here in Memphis. This place always had a good selection of basses. They had 4 or 5 Classic '50s in stock and on sale for something like $535.00 at the time. Three or four Fiesta Reds and one Black. I played all of them, and there was not a dog in the bunch. They sounded very similar. But I thought I detected the best tone when I played the black one. But they were very close. (Maybe I liked it the best because like you, I liked the black better than the Fiesta Reds.) ;) Anyway, I didn't pull the trigger because I already had several nice P's. But I kept kicking myself several months later because I kept thinking about that black one.

    Fast forward to about a year ago. I was in Guitar Center when I spotted a used Classic '50s in Honey Blonde (MY favorite, with black a close second). It sounded awesome, so I snagged it at a fantastic price.

    The bottom line is that I've played five of them, and they all had great tone. I wouldn't be too afraid to buy one if I were you, because they seem to be pretty consistent with their quality. I really like mine, and I have two other real nice P's. (A '75 and an '08 American Standard.) But that Classic '50s can hang right with them. Good luck!
  9. nic salsus

    nic salsus

    Mar 16, 2010
    I've always found they jump right out at you and you just know. The Pre that was my main workhorse for a lotta years I knew within a couple of minutes of picking it up. I wasn't even in the market for another bass. There are a ton of great basses out there and you really have to go with your gut reaction to them.
  10. Jim Carr

    Jim Carr Dr. Jim Gold Supporting Member

    Jan 21, 2006
    Denton, TX or Kailua, HI
    fEARful Kool-Aid dispensing liberal academic card-carrying union member Musicians Local 72-147
    My advice is to buy a Fender MIA standard P-bass, or Road Worn P-bass. In all honesty, I have owned and played many vintage P-basses. The Road Worn P-basses and the new MIA P-basses (since 2009, or so) are as good or better than 95% of all older P-basses.

    That said, IMHO the most important thing besides your own personal reaction to the sound and feel of an instrument is the state of the frets and neck. I am assuming here and below we will are looking at a brand new instrument (2010) that is sitting in a music store.

    Ideally you can bring YOUR amp into the store and try all the candidates through your rig. If you can't do that, pick a rig a lot like yours. If you want to compare basses in several shops, take your rig, or a headphone amp and a set of headphones. Otherwise, you have little chance of making a reliable comparison.

    Headphones offer real advantages when checking the details of how an instrument sounds, especially if you have a headphone amp that is Hi-Fi and adds no EQ (or allows the EQ to be by-passed).

    Here is what I do, assuming I bring a headphone amp or rig, and maybe a familiar instrument to compare with a top candidate, just to be sure I am not too dazzled by new paint, LOL!

    1) Tune up and play unplugged if the environment is not too noisy.
    I want to hear how resonant/loud the instrument is without an amp.
    Loud, pretty, and sustaining are what I want. Compare two or three basses.

    2) Plug in and play for about 10 minutes, at least. Scales, riffs, intervals, fingers, thumb-stryle, pick, chords, harmonics, whatever.

    3) Systematically play every single note on the instrument, Listen to each note, play it several times, noting dead spots, buzz, rattle, chokes, tone, etc.

    4) Feel for fret sprout and look how evenly each fret tang is seated in the groove.

    5) sight up and down the neck from the bridge end and the nut end.
    I hold the head stock between my toes and look down each side of the bridge (and the middle as much as possible). By tipping/tilting the instrument, I want to turn the frets into a continuous surface, a sort of pane of glass. I am looking at the curve of that pane/plane and am looking for high/low frets, relief, twists, humps, ski jumps, blobs of snot, what ever! Find high and low frets and and inspect to see how the flawed frets are seated. Keep track of which instrument has a bad fret or two (or more!). I would probably not get that instrument. BTW, I have only found one bad fret in a batch of about a dozen MIA new american standard P-basses. Bad (usually high) frets are very rare on those instruments. The Road Worn frets appear to be almost as good.
    While I haven't found poorly seated frets (in about 20 instruments), I have found uneven crowns--not so for the MIA new American Standard P-basses. These instruments seem almost "Pleked."

    6) Noting the adjustment and state of all screws, I visually inspect all parts--strings, tree, tuners, nut, neck, frets, fingerboard, heel plate, neck screws, body, pickguard, pick-ups (N.B. adjustment), bridge/action. strap buttons, etc.

    7) I also note the intonation and how well each string rings on pitch. In general, if the pitch drops or wavers a lot, the strings may be shot, and I try to take that into account.

    I spend at least a half an hour with the instrument unless it is obviously sub-optimal. Unfortunately, worn out strings, a bad setup, and fret sprout can make a decent instrument seem lame. It is hard to evaluate an instrument that has been neglected. A new set of strings is often the main issue. BTW, if you know what you are doing, you can adjust a truss rod without any disassembly on a heel adjust P-bass, but I don't advise trying it in a shop--it's a good way to get tossed out! However, a small philips to adjust pickups, and a small slot head might be discretely deployed it you really really know your stuff. :cool:

    IMHO, the Road Worn P-basses and the new MIA Standards are very very good. You will find others that are good as well. In 2004, a friend bought a simple MIM standard P-bass from $475 new from GC in San Jose, CA. It still sounds great.

    Good Hunting!!! :bassist:
  11. darkstorm


    Oct 13, 2009
    1. With tha bass on its stand and facing either away or toward you, run fingers up and down the edge of the fretboard. Onefrom in front and one from behind. Do you feel either just smooth wood or just a little bit of smooth, not jagged, fret edge bumps? If you jagged, or sharp rather then just smooth little bumps or nothin go to next bass and skip this one as a lemon.

    2. Pick bass up and tilt it so your looking down the fretboard from body end. Does the neck look bassically straight, or is their sign of just a hint of upward curve. If so proceed to step 3. Otherwise, determine if the bow is fixable for better truss rod and neck straightness. If you see a twist and its not a torzal twist nect, skip this bass.

    3. Strike the strings with a pick. Does it sound nice and do you feel some vibration thru the body and neck as string vibrates? If so, go to step 4. If it sounds a bit dull but still feel vibrations thru body and neck, still go to step 4, maybe dead strings or flats on it.

    4. Play around up and down neck. Does neck feel good? If so go to step 5. If feels clunky and mehh, skip this bass.

    5. Plug the beasty in. Preferably into your brought from home processor of choice with your own brought from home headphones you normally use for studio monitoring. Hows it sound? Like? If like go to step 6. If not decide wether or not pup and or electronics upgrade will fix it.

    6. Purchase bass and take it home. Proceed to step 7.

    7. Check every screw and nut on the bass. Tighten any loose ones. Dont forget the ones under the control knobs. Only noobs with no guidance complain when knobs wont stop turning or they fall off. Cause they didnt check the pot nuts or knob screws. If push on knobs on split shaft and one just slides off too easy. Take flat tip screwdriver, and just lightly insert it in split top shaft and just slightly try to widen it. Then reattach knob which will go on snug now.

    8. Do initial personal setup tweaks for action and pup adjustments to taste.

    9. Do any little mods you had planned early on like knob changes and string of choice putting on.

    10. Enjoy new bass.
  12. When you test drive one, make sure you play RIGHT OVER the pickup with yoru right hand. See how it handles that, how it sounds, etc. as you go through the full range of the tone knob. If it handles that OK and everything else feels and sounds right, it should be OK.
  13. godofthunder59

    godofthunder59 God of Thunder and Rock and Roll Supporting Member

    Feb 19, 2006
    Rochester NY USA
    Endorsing Cataldo Basses, Whirlwind products, Thunderbucker pickups
    For the most part Fender quality these days is pretty darn high. Back in the the '70s they made a lot of dogs........................but I have a '73-74 that is killer, so you just never know till you play it. Factory set up is just that factory, certainly not done to ones personal taste. If I find a bass I am interested in and I don't like the action I ask the shop to adjust it for me. I have had hundreds of basses over the years, some I paid $100 bucks for others over 5k. Every single one has needed a proper set up after I brought it home. I am pretty specific on how I like my action and am lucky to be able to do the work myself. Good luck with your new bass ! 50's style P basses rock !
  14. Phalex

    Phalex Semper Gumby Supporting Member

    Oct 3, 2006
    G.R. MI
    Pay close attention to the 4th, 5th, 6th, and 7th frets on the G-string. That area is where the dead spot hides.

    I bought an ugly one for cheap. Don't be afraid of an ugly color or scratches on the body / chips in the head stock if the price is right.
  15. recnsci


    Apr 8, 2010

    When I've first seen these RW basses, I thought "jeez, fake bass for fake wankers". I've always considered them as an idiotic idea, marketing stunt for "vintage" (as opposed to simply good) obsessed. RWs were, simply, waaaaay below my radar.

    Anyway, I went to a shop again. Tried two '50s P, nice, great finish and look, tone was OK.
    Tried sunburst RW, just for the kick, expecting same or worse as two '50s P. I mean, they should be same basses, right? Went to the booth, pressed it against my stomach (unplugged), plucked open A hard. Contest was over there and then, without second thought. Playing through the amp was just stating the obvious.
    Tested it against AV 57 RI. That was one hell of a bass, super nice well defined notes all over the neck, bells and whistles. But, for that perfect tone I have in my head, that RW ripped 57RI apart. Not as detailed and clear, but sound was pure wooden bliss.

    Now I'm left with one big problem and one question. Problem is how to get $400 more over my budget limit. Question is how the hell can new mexi fender sound so good? And I still bloody hate look of that thing.

  16. Jim Carr

    Jim Carr Dr. Jim Gold Supporting Member

    Jan 21, 2006
    Denton, TX or Kailua, HI
    fEARful Kool-Aid dispensing liberal academic card-carrying union member Musicians Local 72-147

    It's a good test, but such fret sprout is a common thing. That and plain roughness can be fixed by a good tech in under an hour. IMHO, it does not indicate a "lemon," just that the instrument has experienced some "climate change." However, it does count against a candidate all other things being equal.


    It is an issue. Having a similar or identical instrument with new strings (or very dead ones) allowed me to compare a known instrument/string combination to the candidates. That's about the only way to offet strings even part way, aside being certain the instrument has been hanging in the shop for a short while.

    However, having done it once I would never again buy a passive bass that I felt needed new pickups or a pre/effect out the door. :D
  17. Jim Carr

    Jim Carr Dr. Jim Gold Supporting Member

    Jan 21, 2006
    Denton, TX or Kailua, HI
    fEARful Kool-Aid dispensing liberal academic card-carrying union member Musicians Local 72-147
    Save $40 a week for 10 weeks by skipping beer and walking to where you are going, do an odd job or two, sell stuff you don't need. Talk the seller down a few bucks.

    The remark that comes to mind, made originally by someone other than me is: "Who builds better Fenders, the Mexican workers in Mexico, or our Mexican workers in California?"

    Honestly, all these workers are extremely proud of what they do. But IMHO, the RW basses are something special. I am not certain why, but the wood seems lighter and aged--or "baked" as noteworthy guitar expert Bob Willcutt, once described it to me.
  18. nostatic

    nostatic Supporting Member

    Jun 18, 2004
    lost angeles, CA
    Endorsing Artist: FEA Labs
    I have been pondering a 4-string for awhile, and while I love my Sadowsky PJ5, I just can't swallow another $2500 (used) to $4K (new) for one. The last 4 string I owned was a Sterling (circa '94) and it was a nice bass. I went to a couple local shops and first was blow away by a RW p-bass. I have a tough time convincing myself to pay $1K for a MIM instrument, but as luck would have it another shop had a MIA alder/rw p-bass that I played. Sick. I was stunned at how well it played and sounded. No other instrument on the wall was close. The only thing that keeps me from pulling the trigger is whether or not I can get by with a single P pup. With my PJ I usually am a bit swung towards either pup. With a P I'd have to use hand position and have some flexibility with with tone knob.

    Dunno...never owned a "proper" p-bass, nor have I played one with flats (have flats on the Rob Allen). I keep watching Pino vids on youtube and those are pretty convincing arguments about it "working" in a funk situation...
  19. stoolpigeon


    Dec 17, 2009
    Greenville SC

Share This Page

  1. This site uses cookies to help personalise content, tailor your experience and to keep you logged in if you register.
    By continuing to use this site, you are consenting to our use of cookies.