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Is this the golden age of bass selection and mass availability?

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by Troph, Jan 4, 2013.

  1. Troph


    Apr 14, 2011
    Kirkland, WA
    I am constantly amazed at the wide selection and good overall quality of instruments available today, most at reasonable prices.

    International imports of amazing quality seem to have flooded the market, so that intermediate level basses are available at entry-level prices. When you adjust for inflation, that $300 entry-level instrument with active pickups, active pre, string-thru body, and 24-fret super-duper-neck, equates to just $39 in 1960. Imagine that!

    In 1960, a brand new Fender Precision retailed for $279.50. After adjusting for inflation, that's roughly $2200 today. Think about what you can do with that kind of budget today!

    And yet, even if you don't like the new imports, today you can still purchase a US-made classic design from old-pedigree entities like Fender, Gibson, Music Man, G&L, or Rickenbacker. The competition the old guard have faced from imports (e.g. early Ibanez) have forced them to improve their value proposition from their low points in the late 1970s and early 1980s, when they nearly went bankrupt. Now at least they're solvent and producing great-quality instruments once more, and in some cases, they're better than ever.

    And then think of all of the modern small-output luthiers like Spector, MTD, or even smaller shops like Mike Lull, and the work they're able to do with modern manufacturing techniques, amazing electronics selection, and new tools like the PLEK machine for computer-assisted fret work. The Internet has opened up new markets for them, allowing them to sell to international markets where before their work would have remained largely regional.

    Of course I can't predict whether this explosion in selection is a sustainable market trend and will continue to grow. I know that the "Great Recession" has already taken a toll on several companies who have scaled back. But I'm fairly sure that 2002-2012 has been an unprecedented decade for instrument consumers.

    It's truly a great time to be a bass player... as long as you have a paying gig to fund the GAS. :)
  2. Tvrtko


    Dec 27, 2002
    South of the USA
    Things will change rather quickly in near future.
    It is going to be very rough. Sparse jobs, live music is already the first victim of downturn economy all around Globe. Digital era with creation of music at different levels of computerization will turn rather harsh on musical production, musicians and builders of the instruments. Our generation became rare bliss of musical performance against many, many previous generations and those who are coming.
    Even now, we have larger corporations controlling most of the market. If things continue, that will be even more and more visible. Small productions will be forced to fight cheap mass productions. So, the market will split on very cheap instruments and very expensive one with almost no ground in the middle.
  3. BrandenSteele


    Nov 25, 2012
    I would agree this is the golden age! So many amazing basses at such good prices.

    We are at a peak right now on the line graph. What will most likely happen is Fender, Ibanez, Warwick or other big companies will buy out smaller ones. Here's why:

    There is one thing that I find disturbing though. For Capitalism to function it must keep expanding profit income. No expansion = a dying business since another will expand and take over. At the rate the bass manufacturing are progressing it will be producing more basses than there are bass players soon or certain companies will not expand profits rapidly enough resulting in collapses or more likely buyouts of smaller companies.

    It's like, there's only enough food for 10 animals in the area. Lets say there are 100 animals in this area. The strong animals (ones making most profits such as Fender) will eat (buyout) other companies to get more of the food (income) for them since they control more of the food.

    There will be a collapse in the future, it is how capitalism as a whole functions and will continue this way until there is a Leftist revolution or significant socialist economic reform is taken place.

    Sorry if that went on for too long!

    There is indeed a golden age among us, and indeed it is awesome, and will continue for many years tom come :)
  4. JoeWPgh


    Dec 21, 2012
    CNC routing is the reason for most of this. A computer guided machine cuts precisely the same pieces time after time after time. There is not nearly the same amount of labor involved in each instrument as there once was. And when there is, the instrument usually costs somewhere around what you mentioned.
  5. JxBass

    JxBass Supporting Member

    Aug 5, 2008
    I agree with the OP. Way back when ... I bought my first bass, a $79 Kent P-Bass copy, at an electronics store (which were also few and far between by today's standards). Compared to a modern day Squier Vintage Modified or even Affinity, it's night and day. And my first "nice" bass, a '66 Guild Starfire, cost $400, a lot of money when the average annual wage at that time was $7000 - $8000.

    To the second post, just yesterday I was thinking about live music in the old days. Almost every week a local high school had a dance that very often had live bands. Many were large venues - halls, gymnasiums, etc. - with elevated stages with curtains and lights for the band. Hundreds of kids would dance and a throng would often stand near the stage just to watch and listen. There were also many large function halls in the surrounding area that would often have multiple bands perform on a given night. For these you often had to audition just to get on the bill. Many Boy' Clubs, I.B.E.W. and other "clubs" had monthly dances that would bring in 200-300 kids from surrounding towns.

    Sorry to derail, the thread happened to come up just when I was thinking about all this stuff. Back to to your originally scheduled programming :bassist:
  6. lbbc

    lbbc Supporting Member

    Sep 25, 2007
    Seaford , DE
    My first bass, a 60's Fender Precision, was given to me by a church that needed a bass player (I was a guitarist then). After that I bought an Aria Beatle Bass and an amp for $350 in the mid-70's. Prices have certainly gone up and, as mentioned earlier, it would be great to have enough gigs to alleviate our G.A.S.
    I don't know what the future holds but I see a lot less variety of basses being offered at local music stores....mostly the "big names" and I would guess that will be the trend.
  7. kevteop


    Feb 12, 2008
    York, UK
    What worries me is that people can look at that graph and not spot the immediately obvious problem in this economic model - the endless upward trend. The survival of this model is based on continuous, infinite growth. On a planet of finite resources.

    Good luck with that.
  8. Dredmahawkus


    Nov 4, 2012
    The real question is how many can they produce today compared to 1960....and how much per unit does it cost them. trust me they make more money now charging what they do.
  9. M.R. Ogle

    M.R. Ogle Supporting Member Commercial User

    Nov 5, 2004
    Mount Vernon, Illinois
    Backstage Guitar Lab owner
    It's very strange that the availability of instruments, all the way up and down the price/quality scale, has exploded, even to the point of having "big box" music store chains nowdays... but the number of places holding live music has decreased.

    Let's face it, the number of guitars and basses sold has nothing to do with the amount of work available to musicians.

    Maybe it has nothing to do with musicians at all. to most, it's just a hobby.
  10. Clef_de_fa


    Dec 25, 2011
    So one day ... everyone will have to shift to carbon fiber or any alternative to wood... even Fender or they will disapear and be only avalaible used for too much money ...

    But that graph is the way every business work or even every products work for that matter.
  11. I don't know if the graph can totally predict things since not everyone's job is affected by economic conditions.

    That being said, it's amazing what you can get these days. I think luthiers have always been a big part of the equation, but now there are better options for pickups, strings, and hardware. Want a 6 or 7 string P pickup? No prob. Flatwounds for your 6er? No problem. Want a one-piece Hipshot 9 string headless bridge? No problem.
  12. IMO, this probably is the 'top of the top' time for bassists and gear. Given the literal collapse of the music industry, and the de-emphasis of the 'bass/guitar/drums' sort of thing, my guess is, just like the horn industry when the big bands finally ended, we are seeing the last gasp here of old coots still hanging on to the 'Beatles/Chuck Berry' sort of thing. That 'electric instrument combo' sort of thing has been with us for 50 years now... amazing run.

    I would guess that the VAST majority of high end bass and gear sales are accounted for by baby boomers with decent day jobs reliving their past (meaning that many grew up with fond memories of garage bands and high school dance gigs, etc.). While I still play at a professional level, this describes me quite well in many ways.

    Once the baby boomers mostly hit their 70's, that will be that. Luckily, most of the luthiers mentioned will be older than that and finished anyway.

    So, yes, it is truly the golden age of 'bass/guitar/drums', but IMO the 'business cycle' mentioned above doesn't really account for it. Just like the horse and buggy, the trombone, etc., it will most likely not come back. That isn't a bad thing, change is good!
  13. Another graphic worth considering is that of an upward-sloping technology curve superimposed on a downward-slowing cost curve. On this alone, I thing the so called "golden age" is still ahead of us. Then again, technology is a double edged sword. As KJung mentioned, the rise of electronics killed the brass section.
  14. 96tbird

    96tbird PLEASE STAND BY Supporting Member

    It is truly a bonanza for bass players. I have acquired three offshore basses in two years and love them. It will, as pointed out, decline but we didn't need the economics lesson and socialist rhetoric.

    So, I say to that, sure profitable companies will eat small ones like say Gibson did Tobias. Then Tobias could have retired but he started MTD. So what you're saying is Fender is going to buy Cort and Corts' will all become Squiers'. you are saying Fender will buy the Chinese factories? I say fine. You say Fender will buy out Sadowsky? I say fine, Roger worked hard and deserves a windfall if he wants to retire. If companies become insolvent that's life. The problems with the world can't be solved with leftism, it can only be solved by education but foremost: birth control. Use of limited resources has more to do with population than capitalism. Human ingenuity uses resources, discourage ingenuity (USSR) and you create peasants; a new medieval 'Dark Age'. Oh yay!

    I'm confident that if Fender and Gibson stay on top of QC, that good import instruments will continue to be available. Manufacturing technology guarantees it. In fact, with the Plek now on the scene, I am waiting for a machine that does the complete fret job, end filing and all to absolute perfection: no more high frets and small imperfections in the entry level products. .
  15. Joe Nerve

    Joe Nerve Supporting Member

    Oct 7, 2000
    New York City
    Endorsing artist: Musicman basses
    Agree with the OP. My first bass was a $79 teisco, and it was ridiculous. Guitar was my first instrument, and I also remember a friend of mine buying a Carlo Robelli Les Paul, for around $250. It was light years away from the CRs of today (different company), but I just picked up a Rondo of equal, if not better quality for $150.

    What makes this even more of the Golden Age as far as I'm concerned is availability, and information available for instruments because of the internet. Many people here can't even imagine a world without the internet, but those of use buying our first guitars in the 60s and 70s knew how very little information we had to go on.

    For the most part we had to trust the friends who were close around us, and the people who owned the local music store. And we were pretty much limited to what they had in stock. We saw what the rockstars were using on Midnght Special and In Concert, but even then - we had to have someone knoledgable watching it too to identify whatever instruments we saw being played. :) Couldn't rewind, pause or show someone the next day. I'm not even sure if gear magazines existed back then as guitar player magazine was the only guitar mag that I knew about. We had such unbelievably limited knowledge of what was out there, and what experiences people were having with their purchase of what was out there.

    We should all be incredibly grateful for what most of us, including myself, now take for granted.
  16. M.R. Ogle

    M.R. Ogle Supporting Member Commercial User

    Nov 5, 2004
    Mount Vernon, Illinois
    Backstage Guitar Lab owner
    It'not "leftism" at all. Capitalism will have its run and end just like every other Monopoly game... you start with six players each with a bit of money, you wind up with two big players with ALL the money trying to crush each other.

  17. Another good example of what I talked about in my post above is the virtual disappearance and collapse of piano manufacturers over the last 30 years. I just watched a wonderful documentary on the making of a single Steinway concert grand over a one year period. There was a discussion of the number of companies making pianos today versus 30 years ago. I can't remember exactly, but it was on the magnitude of several thousands to single digits.

    The days of 'every house with a piano' and kids taking piano lessons is over. Amazing article in the New York times a few weeks ago about businesses sprouting up that are in the piano disposal industry, since any piano not in the top tier is literally worth nothing. The cost is about $300 to 'remove a piano' from a home and recycle for parts.

    Amazing changes happening here, and it should give younger bassists (and luthiers) STRONG motivation to work very hard on a plan B. Over the past 30 years, the plan B was teaching. Not so much now... those jobs are disappearing also.
  18. unclejane

    unclejane Guest

    Jul 23, 2008
    You say this as if being a successful musician wasn't always about as likely as winning the lottery. In fact, I've never known a time when that hasn't been true and that includes today.

    I gigged for a while during the 80's and 90's; I'd estimate my total earnings from playing bass over that period was approx. $120. Even if I were a good player I wouldn't have expected that figure to be too much higher. Since I've resumed playing that figure has dropped to $0.0.

    I'd be surprised if I heard other bass players complaining about missing the Land O' Plenty and $ bills flowing out of their cases that characterized the years gone by....

    However, as far as the quality of equipment we have available for whatever we do, there's absolutely no comparison between today and the Good Ol' Days. We have orders of magnitude more and better choices than we used to. 30 years ago, all there was was the awful FMIC stuff which you couldn't give away if you wanted (and now is worth a mint) or the Rick 4001. If you were rich, you could start looking at a boutique like an Alembic, etc. But for the rest of us that was about all we had to work with.

    Today, it's just like shooting ducks in a pond to find a really well-made, excellent sounding/playing bass from a whole constellation of companies. Including FMIC - today's FMIC P and J's are the best instruments they've ever made. So you can go buy a brand new Fender, take it home, set it up and play it without ever having to screw with it again. That's _never_ been possible before (witness the P and J upgrade market).

    So we're definitely in the Good Ol' Days of equipment now. As professional players we're still as screwed as ever, but for bedroom warriors like myself, the toys available are endless in comparison.

  19. M.R. Ogle

    M.R. Ogle Supporting Member Commercial User

    Nov 5, 2004
    Mount Vernon, Illinois
    Backstage Guitar Lab owner
    LOL! Well said, Unk!
  20. 96tbird

    96tbird PLEASE STAND BY Supporting Member

    I just never forget a billion Chinese people drooling for consumer goods as they enter the open market. That's a quarter of the world. Doomsday for capitalism is a way off yet.

    BTW I didn't bring up leftism, brendansteele did. That's whom I was addressing. ;)