Is more more?

Discussion in 'Basses [DB]' started by Scot, Jun 21, 2004.

  1. Scot

    Scot Supporting Member

    Mar 20, 2004
    Pacifica, CA, USA
    Warning: URB newbie (that has read the newbie links).

    Is a $25,000 (US) bass $20,000 better than a $5,000 bass? I'm hoping to soon join the URB ranks and have been playing electric for quite a few years. My observations regarding the electric are that a $3,000 electric bass is not $1800 better than a $1200 bass. I've never spent more than $1200 on a bass and find that a properly setup decent instrument allows me to get a good sound and plays great. There are subtle sonic differences and the high price models look great but they just don't sound that much better, at least not enough so that I'm willing to pay 3 times the cost. The sound is 80% in the fingers. I suspect that in the upright world a $25,000 bass is probably going to sound amazing compared to a $3,000 bass but I'd like to hear from you guys (and gals) about what kind of things can you expect from an instrument over $10,000 compared to $5,000, for example. Sorry if this sounds like a dumb question. I'm sure most of the answers to the dumb questions I have will be revealed to me once I get a bass and a good teacher. Thanks in advance.

  2. Scot

    David Gage has stated a rule of thumb that in terms of absolute value, a double bass is 10X the cost of an equivalent bass guitar. That would mean that the Musicman or American Fender of URB (if there was such a thing) would cost you in excess of $10,000. I feel that David's rule of thumb holds for instruments in the mid price range but not at extremes of the market. For instance, I paided $400 for my plywood bass in 1990. At that time $40 would not buy much of a bass guitar but my URB was decent. If I was in your position, I might rent a decent Chinese, or Eastern European carved bass, invest some money in a good set up if necessary and then have your teacher help you search for a bass to purchase since he/she will have an understanding of your rate of growth, etc. I warn though that opinions differ as to what constitutes a good instrument for a beginner. Some say buy as much bass as you can afford and grow into it, others say buy just a little more bass than you can appreciate so you have a little room to grow. I moved from my plywood straight to a good German shop bass when I started advanced study. IMHO, set-up and sturdiness of contruction are more important than tone when you are learning. Your ears will change as you grow as a player anyway. What sounds good now may not sound good in a year and vice versa.

    Hope that helps.

  3. anonymous0726

    anonymous0726 Guest

    Nov 4, 2001
    It also pays to have something pretty rough and tumble for the first year or two until you get used to taking care of the thing and moving it around.

    It has to be set up well, and get a good enough tone to keep you excited about playing. So many students get repelled by 'student instruments'. The 'Student' qualifier is industry shorthand for 'they're too ignorant to know that we're screwing them'.

  4. :eek: :eek: :eek: :eek:
  5. olivier


    Dec 17, 1999
    Paris, France
    Sorry for editting your questions. I'd say go for a plywood Christopher or something equivalent. I tried one last week, was really playable and had good sound. You'll be able to learn and could start to gig on one of those. Then you'll see from there...
  6. matt macgown

    matt macgown Guest

    Dec 1, 2003
    Chattanooga, TN
    I think it's hard to assess the "true value" of an instrument for the first several years. To wit, my first bass was a Kay C-1, new, followed shortly by a new Kay S-1, mahogany colored, and then a new Kay Swingmaster. At the time (1954) the C-1 was sort of the doghouse of all basses, and I sold mine for a hundred bucks to a friend after buying my other two. I kept the netter pair of Kays for some time, then sold them cheap, as well.

    I also have had three '57 chevies along the way, one a convertible. Sort of reminds me of that situation. I sold all those, too.

    Duh ...

    So, the new cheapie Chnese bass I just bought for a few hundred dollars reminds me of the Kay C-1 in several ways. There was no label in it, so I typed a neat label up with all the details and stuck it inside. It may be interesting to follw these things for a few decades. After all, the C-1 was almost an embarassment, back then ("Oh, it's just a Kay." And this "cheapie" looks and plays ten times better than the C-1.
  7. Chasarms

    Chasarms Casual Observer

    May 24, 2001
    Bettendorf, IA USA
    I think you are on to the general idea. You can easily get a good sound on a bass that cost far less than $25,000. Some of your thoughts on EBG are right on with DB as well.

    Such as, if the bass is properly setup and the player has some clue of what they are doing, you are probably going to get a decent sound as long as the bass isn't a total dog.

    You could debate for days as to what is "better" and what is not. My slab is a Modulus Q5. I wouldn't trade it for anything and there is no other bass at any price that sounds and plays like it sounds and plays. The truth is, one's assessment of the value of how it sounds and plays is simply opinion.

    It's about the sound you want to make. For example, NOTHING sounds like a Ken Smith bass except for a Ken Smith bass. If that is sound you want to make, then it'll cost you more than $1,200. the same goes for MTD. Are they better? Well, that's up to you, but there is no debating that they are unique. There are other high-priced makers out there that perhaps don't have the same unique character, but there is no need to go there.

    The DB world is the same. There are certain basses out there with a certain sound and the cost depends on how bad people want it and how much trouble it is to get it.

    One difference is that it isn't nearly as easy to start looking for a particular sound by brand label. First of all, the branding is nowhere near an accurate process, and because the nature of the instrument is so much more complex than an EBG, each bass has a significant character. You just have to look.

    But it is true that certain branding can drive value, especially in older basses. For example you'll likely pay more for a bass labeled Wilfer or Pollmann than for a German-made carved bass of the same vintage but of unknown origin. But, it is certainly possible that the BOUO (bass of unknown origin :) ) could be be put together, play and sound just as good. With REALLY old basses, verfication of the maker can easily double the cost, but knowing who made it 200 years ago doesn't really matter at all as far the sound and playability goes.

    Not to mention that "Kay"mania certainly an interesting phenomenon.

    The other issue is durability. DBs aren't at all like slabs in that fingerboards wear, tops crack, seams pop, necks break, etc. You need something that's going to stay together. Really cheap basses are known to fail.

    FWIW, I'd love to the results of a survey of all those in TBDB land as to what kind of $$$ they actually have in their DB. I'd guess a significant majority have less than $10K in them. Whether TBDB is a fair sample of the whole DB kingdom, I don't know.
  8. Scot

    Scot Supporting Member

    Mar 20, 2004
    Pacifica, CA, USA
    Thanks a lot for the responses. Good info.

  9. KSB - Ken Smith

    KSB - Ken Smith Banned Commercial User

    Mar 1, 2002
    Perkasie, PA USA
    Owner: Ken Smith Basses, Ltd.
    Gee Scott, I am selling my $25,000. Bass and have replaced it with a $50,000.+ Bass. And YES......... It's more than twice as good. Actually, I bought two Basses and decided they are both as good and can't decide if I should sell one or keep them both. They are equally valued but each has a different different type of tone.

    I won't get into the EB argument with you here. We can do that in
  10. Sorry Ken but I gotta ask - what is it about the $50k basses that gives more than twice the value of the $25k bass - louder, richer, more focused or bigger spread of overtones or bigger dynamic range without getting choked at one end or thin at the other maybe or what?

    Playing a cheap bass I wanna know what to be covetous of :D .
  12. Ed Fuqua

    Ed Fuqua

    Dec 13, 1999
    Chuck Sher publishes my book, WALKING BASSICS:The Fundamentals of Jazz Bass Playing.

    I've been having a hard time getting this Vinnie Panormo guy(or even his son Georgie) on the phone. Maybe I'll just get a King Rockabilly, at least they return your calls...
  13. KSB - Ken Smith

    KSB - Ken Smith Banned Commercial User

    Mar 1, 2002
    Perkasie, PA USA
    Owner: Ken Smith Basses, Ltd.
    Jneuman we are way past Basses labeled Wilfer, Pollmann and other German-made carved Basses.

    MIke, Try a 100-200 year old Pedigree Italian Italian or English Bass. Try playing the Dragonetti on it. Try the Eccles. Play a 3 octave scale on it. If then, you can't answer your own question, then you are not ready yet for a Bass in that class.

    The playability, tone, sweetness, Carry power thru an orchestra... These are what makes these Basses worth what they are worth.

    I was told that my English Gilkes made the whole Bass section (of only 3 Basses) sound fuller from one rehearsal to the other when I brought it in. I played my Martini in concert and you could hear me thru the Bass section and orchestra in the Back of the hall.

    The quality of tone is almost beyond descriprtion. It makes you wanna play and listen to the tone of your Bass till you are too tired to play......... or untill the phone

    When I played my Gilkes, I could barely hear the phone as it filled up the entire room with sweet, deep, full mellow sounds. When I played the Martini, besides the floor and walls shaking, I couldn't hear the phone at all.......( I keep these Basses in my office beside me, and guarded by an infrared alarm system when I am out).

    Each of these Basses has thier place in an orchestra. One program next season is a night of Puccini. I will play the Gilkes for that..... Another concert we are doing the 1812 overture, Without the cannons I hope....... I will play the Martini for that as I need penetrating power on the bottom.....

    Find some great Basses owned by symphony players or an orchestra grade bass from a teacher and try it. You will never think the same about a Bass again.. Promise !
  14. Thanks for reply Ken - I can hear the dollars in your description - your office sounds like a scene from mission impossible - BTW isn't Martini a make of machine gun? I'm not sure how dissatisfied with my own bass I want to get but I'll just have to find out. Maybe I wont be - and I know it wont mean my bass is great either.
  15. Oh I think Ken was just exhorting me to find someone who'd let me try a really good instrument so I could appreciate the difference - BTW, the only place round here you'll attract the attention of your 'piers' is Blackpool promenade ;-).
  16. KSB - Ken Smith

    KSB - Ken Smith Banned Commercial User

    Mar 1, 2002
    Perkasie, PA USA
    Owner: Ken Smith Basses, Ltd.
    Maestro, I was just answering Mikes' question about the difference in Value. I answered it!!
    We were not discussing who can or cannot afford them. There are Banks out there that loan people money that can afford to pay them back in a reasonable amount of time . This is called a loan or mortgage. The dealer gets paid asap and the player (or me) pays monthly till it's all paid off and thats if 1) You don't sell it b4 and pay the loan down, 2) win the lottery and pay it off early or 3) you die b4 it's paid off and your heirs continue the payments or sell it to pay it off if they don't repo it b4.

    But thanks, I do deserve it. I sold my Italian Bass to move and buy a House. Now 10+ years later, I want it back! only problem is . it's gone forever. Time to find another life long friend. Trading up has always worked for me.............

    Oh, and my Shen, a nice Bass but in a different league entirly. My son is traning on it and will most likely use it for College as he needs to go in on Upright. Hey, Guess who his teacher is?
  17. anonymous0726

    anonymous0726 Guest

    Nov 4, 2001
    I've mentioned it before and will repeat myself. A tool, which the fiddle ultimately is, is only worth what it can make you in your trade and leave you profitable. If you pay more than it's worth in this way it's because of other factors: It's a toy; It's collectible.

    If an instrument were valued without those other two factors, and bass wouldn't be worth a fraction of the price that they are drawing, no matter how rare a find it is. There are business guidelines and algorithms that would explain this much more clearly than I can, but it's a pretty elementary idea.

    Now, on the other hand, when you consider fiddles in the light of collectability you're in a whole 'nuther ball field and the sky is the limit with little but the arbitrary asthetic of the collecting community to determine if a $50,000 bass is twice a $25,000 bass.

    Ultimate answer, since the reality is that basses are priced both on quality with a lot of gravity toward collectablility, watch your ass and spend in the right frame of mind.
  18. Marcus Johnson

    Marcus Johnson

    Nov 28, 2001
    I've said it before, I'll say it again...

    "Mom, can I PLEEEZE go play at Ken 's house?!!!..."
  19. KSB - Ken Smith

    KSB - Ken Smith Banned Commercial User

    Mar 1, 2002
    Perkasie, PA USA
    Owner: Ken Smith Basses, Ltd.
    Just ask Don Z. to bring you along the next time he visits the office.........
  20. Marcus Johnson

    Marcus Johnson

    Nov 28, 2001
    Cool...I go your house, you come my house.