How best to buy a bass?

Discussion in 'Basses [DB]' started by Andy Allen, Nov 23, 2005.

  1. Andy Allen

    Andy Allen "Working Bassist"

    Aug 31, 2003
    Los Angeles, CA
    In the new year I hope to be in a position to upgrade my bass, so I am starting to look around locally at what is available. I may well go for a Hybrid New Standard, but there are older basses in the same price range with potentially more tone and character that may be worth buying. But how do I know what they are, and how much they are worth?

    For instance yesterday, at a dealer who is well respected but with a reputation for being a little on the pricey side, I tried an ‘unamed’ Hungarian flatback, and a Rumanian bass with an Eb neck (or was it the other way around). Both played and sounded much better than my present bass, but I was not so keen on their physical condition. I wasn’t moved to seriously consider either one of these, but should I stumble on something that I really like how would I find out whether it is as represented, and that the price is realistic?

    It’s much easier when buying cars or airplanes or houses – you do some research on well known makes and models and then get a trusted expert to examine your potential purchase. Of course I’m not spending that kind of money, but I still need to be assured that my money is well spent.

    How do you guys go about buying older basses?
  2. Ed Fuqua

    Ed Fuqua

    Dec 13, 1999
    Chuck Sher publishes my book, WALKING BASSICS:The Fundamentals of Jazz Bass Playing.
    Play'em, have somebody (luthier, teacher, experienced friend) look at them to assess condition and worth. But the bottom line is always how does it sound. And then condition, and then price. It doesn't matter where, who, how, when it was made, you're buying it to PLAY. DONOSAUR's favorite bass turned out to be a Hungarian "gypsy" bass made in the late 20th century; he bought because it SOUNDED great and the price was right.

    As far as how to find a bass; tell EVERYBODY that you know that you're looking for a bass. Consider taking a trip to one of the big bass shops (Hammond Ashley, Steve Kosica's joint, Gage, Kolstein, Cincinnatti, etc.) so that you can play 80 basses if you want (and who wouldn't want?).
  3. Tbeers


    Mar 27, 2005
    Chicago, IL
    I would not buy a used bass unless I could be assured by a well-respected bass luthier (Nnick, Arnold, Jeff, Upton, there are many others) that it had no structural issues. If it sounds just too good to be a $4,000 instrument, maybe it's a $6,000 instrument in disguise (in other words, needs 2k in repairs). A bass can sound great and have a crack all the way through the endpin block... or a poorly set neck... or old repairs done badly with linen and rubber cement, heck I dunno it could be almost anything.

    Using your ears is not enough when looking at pre-owned instruments.
  4. Ed Fuqua

    Ed Fuqua

    Dec 13, 1999
    Chuck Sher publishes my book, WALKING BASSICS:The Fundamentals of Jazz Bass Playing.
    T, ya gotta do more than just skim. Remember the second part of the first sentence? No one is suggesting that "using your ears" is "enough".

    Case in point, check out the WEIRD JUZEK thread. If Fred had been going by his eyes and not his ears, he woulda passed on that bass. But by LISTENING and then (PART TWO OF THE FIRST SENTENCE) he got a great sounding bass, that is now also a very healthy bass.

    depending on the chunk of change you're getting ready to drop on the bass itself, you can specify repairs or adjustments to be done or get the purchase price lowered significantly in order to cover that cost. ESPECIALLY when get in the K$B range of old wood.
  5. I was looking at your profile and it says you have a "linear" bass. I've not heard of that before. What is missing in that bass that you want from another bass?
  6. Andy Allen

    Andy Allen "Working Bassist"

    Aug 31, 2003
    Los Angeles, CA
    Linear is/was a Korean company handbuilding quality basses (similar to the Sunrise line of basses from China, I'm told). I'm not sure that they're in business still - the Linear web site seems to have disappeared. (Quick edit - their site is back again - )The model I have is their top of the line carved model.

    I got the bass at a great discount through an endorsee; it was definitely the best bass I could afford at the time...and after two or so years the bass is still a little better than I am. I could always wait a few years until I outgrow it, but who's to know if I will have the funds then to apply to a better bass? But if all goes well I will have the money to upgrade in the new year, and I have in mind to look for a long-term bass purchase - something that will last me many years; 10, 20, maybe even as many as I have left in me :p .

    The Linear bass is physically heavy, sounds big and boomy and at two years old, now it's settled and stabilised, would benefit from a good set-up. There's nothing wrong with it; it is a good workhorse, and seems to be well (and sturdily) built.

    But the basses I've tried at about three times the cost of the Linear really do have a presence, response and...well, perhaps "articulation" is the right word...that the Linear lacks. In short it seems that there is a good reason to make that jump in price/quality.
  7. hdiddy

    hdiddy Official Forum Flunkee Supporting Member

    Mar 16, 2004
    San Francisco, CA
    Andy, you've put effort into trying to making the bass sound the best as possible too? I know you messed around with strings since I bought an old set of obli's from you. But there's other things that can be done too... MPM tailpiece, more strings, another setup specific to how you play, soundpost adjustments, tailgut cord, new end-pin, new bridge to better fit the bass bar, amps, cabs? And playing alot of arco just helps the bass open up, of course. Probably all of this stuff is still cheaper than getting a new bass.

    I was GAS'ing for another bass a while back, but after getting an RS, lopping off the excess length on the end-pin, and switching to Velvet Anima's, I'm happy camper. :hyper: Especially now that I discovered that I like the sound with high string heights I've kinda stopped looking. Not to mention that I'm a clutz so I dont' mind if I ding my bass - having a hybrid gives me piece of mind. Same reason I don't mind the lacquer finish anymore. A slight bit of protection than other finishes.

    My only complaint is that I'd like to keep the same sound but make her easier to play, but I haven't let the strings fully stretch out yet either (it's only been 2 weeks). I'd only buy another bass if one happens to fall into my lap and sounds good for a decent price but I think I've stopped lusting for now.

    I'm sure you looked into summa this stuff but just wanted to remind you that lots of stuff can still be tweaked before you give up and get a new bass. But considering all that and if it still ain't the sound in your head, well then I guess there's nothing that can be done other than getting a new axe.

    EDIT: And if you're after a particular sound, then IMO buying sight-unseen is rather silly. In that case, the only answer is to try every bass you can get your hands on and not stop until you find one that beckons to you and keeping in mind that no two basses sound exactly alike either.
  8. ctcruiser


    Jan 16, 2005
    West Haven, CT
    With little experience, but watching my luthier in action, the best thing to do is try them out with someone you trust.

    I was at the shop (home) of my luthier and he had a customer (professor from a local university) that wanted a new bass for a 2 week gig he was going to start in a week or so. I watched as he tried out bass after bass. He would play, rap on the body parts, and discuss the pros and cons of each instrument. With a little bit of haggling, he settled on an instrument which the luthier would set up for him to test out again the next day. (bridge adjustments and different strings)

    My luthier only sells for local pickup. He wants the customer to play the instrument and be sure what they are buying. He even lets a customer take a bass home to try out.

    Once you start looking to buy a bass that is not coming out of a box, you should take the time to test out several options before settling. That is, of course, if you are lucky enough to have a trustworthy luthier with an inventory of basses within driving distance.
  9. Andy Allen

    Andy Allen "Working Bassist"

    Aug 31, 2003
    Los Angeles, CA
    Thanks for all the good advice - the biggest problem I will have when (if) it gets to that point is to find an independent expert, as the only ones I know are the proprietors of the stores here. Luckily there are plenty of stores locally and Phoenix is not too far to go to try out Steve Kosica's basses. (It’s about time I went and visited all my old friends in NYC too, come to that).

    I’m prepared for the new bass purchase to take a long while (I’ve heard of others here who looked for years before finding their ‘keeper’ bass), and in the mean time I already have a good bass that I will continue to improve over time, just as if I weren’t selling it (which I may not, even if I buy another). The next thing, as I mentioned, is an extensive set-up and fine-tuning, which may make the world of difference (maybe I’ll find it in myself to buy a set of Animas too :eek: ).

    Indeed – that’s why I’m starting to look now, to get experience of the tryout/purchase process, so that if and when I decide to spend money I’ll be sure that it’s the right bass for the right reasons.