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Kay S-1: What's a reasonable price?

Discussion in 'Basses [DB]' started by Chris Fitzgerald, Nov 8, 2000.

  1. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    I've been shopping for a new bass over the last week or so, and am primarily looking at lower end carved basses. Yesterday, while in a tiny little shop in a tiny little town, I ran into two "Chubby Jackson" 5 stringers, an S-1B (blonde), and an S-1 (dark). The S-1B played and sounded terrible. The S-1, on the other hand, was the sweetest playing plywood I have ever set hands on; even tone and action, good sustain, and extremely easy to play, even with the wider fingerboard for the high C string. I was very impressed with the bass, especially since I didn't expect to find it & it sounded better than even the carved basses in the shop.

    The guy is asking $3500 for the bass, and from what I've heard in this forum and others, most people advise putting a $2000 spending limit on plywood basses, reasoning that above that, you could afford a carved one; in fact, I'm scheduled to try out a new German carved bass from the Viol shop on 7 day approval on Friday, and the asking price on that is only $3200. OTOH, I've heard that the "Chubbies" can be an exception to this spending rule of thumb. I'm very much looking forward to playing the carved one on gigs next week, but if I don't like it, I'd be willing to consider the Chubby unless someone knows a good reason(s) I shouldn't, just because it felt like it was made for my hand, even with the wide board on it. So, just in case, what's a fair asking price for an S-1?
    (BTW, the price has nothing to do with the playability, as far as I can tell - he's asking more for the blonde one, even though it plays like a dog)
  2. brianrost

    brianrost Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 26, 2000
    Boston, Taxachusetts
    There's always exceptions, I paid $2300 for a very nice sounding Juzek plywood (which then needed $500 of work done to it). When I first played it, I actually thought it was carved as did the guy who tipped me off to it being for sale. My repairman thinks it sounds better for bow work than the carved basses he's building and selling for $7500!!!!

    $3500 is definitely top dollar for that Chubby. If it was in super clean condition and needed no additional work, well maybe, assuming it was THE bass for you.
  3. Don Higdon

    Don Higdon In Memoriam

    Dec 11, 1999
    Princeton Junction, NJ
    I have an S-1 from the fifties that is better sounding than most any plywood I've played. Paid $2,200 and spent another $700 on a new ebony fingerboard, bridge, and soundpost. I know I'll get my money back when I sell it (NYC area). All the major orchestra players buy them up for outdoor work. Trust me, they aren't playing Testores and Bergonzis in Central Park and Giants Stadium. Geography has something to do with price, and I don't know your marketplace. Bottom line, though, is that $3,500 seems to me to be an opening number with bargaining expected.
    Just to make the decision more difficult, I'll add that the S-1 is very stable. You won't have to wonder about the durability of the wood. You just don't know for sure with newer, lower-end carved basses. I'm not saying you should expect problems, only that different makers use different quality materials. An extra set of experienced eyes would help. Good luck.

    [Edited by Don Higdon on 11-09-2000 at 06:51 PM]
  4. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    Mr. Ed,

    Before I reply, I need to set something straight: down here in the deep south, where most of us own shoes but don't often wear them, that's pronounced, "Durrl". Just so you know.... ;)

    Thanks for the offer. I hope I won't have to take you up on it, cause I'm hoping the as-yet-unidentified German bass I'm picking up tomorrow will prove to have "THE SOUND". It had real hints of it last week, but it had orchestra strings on it then...to be honest, I'm a little nervous about hearing it with the Spirocores on it, because a)I'm so fed up with playing a borrowed stick bass on gigs that I bet anything with f-holes is gonna seem beautiful to me at this point (please don't quote me out of context on that), and b) I'll have a 90 minute drive on the way up to stress about it and build up the ANTICIPATION. Maybe if I can call up the Heinz Co. tonight, they can film me in my car on the way up tomorrow for a ketchup commercial, and I can pay for the bass with the proceeds.

    BTW, I like minidisc, too - I have an MD 4 track that I use to record sessions every week, and to borrow a phrase from the BG side, it RULES! Feel free to send an MD of your playing any time.
  5. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY

    Thanks for the tip, you must have posted right while I was posting.... You're right - that does complicate matters a bit. If I understand you correctly, you're saying that the S-1 is likely to be a more stable instrument than the carved bass, because the wood isn't going to change? Is that true even of the 5 strings?

    The reason I ask is that, whatever bass I buy, it's gonna be quite some time before I can afford to go through all of this again. The S-1 I played had Spirocore Solo strings on it, and looked very clean and sound (well, I could see a small amount of daylight on a seam or two, but the sound didn't reflect it). If I were to put Spirocore Orchestra gauge on it, wouldn't that increase the tension dramatically? While reading up in the 2x archives about the topic of string tension, there was a lot of talk about loose necks and bass bars on Kays....I'm assuming that string tension plays a factor in that, but based on what I was able to find, few conclusions were drawn about just how much it is a factor. I understand that $3500 is an opening number with bargaining (hopefully) expected, and one of the reasons I started this thread was to find out just how much bargaining should be expected :confused: . I think I could comfortably live with the S-1 I saw for quite some time if I knew it would be stable with the above set of strings (my favorite for sound) on it.

    Thanks for the info; if you know more about the string tension issue, or how I can tell if a new lower end carved bass is well made and likely to hold up, I'm all ears.

  6. Don Higdon

    Don Higdon In Memoriam

    Dec 11, 1999
    Princeton Junction, NJ
    The stability comes from the fact that it's plywood, and I assume the layers are at right angles. Plus, the instrument is old enough that any changes that could occur probably already have.
    I don't know enough to comment on alleged loosening of necks and bass bars.
    If string tension is a concern, Spirocores come in 3 tension grades. You would want Spirocore Weich. Another old trick is to buy Spirocore Solo strings, meant to be tuned to F#-B-E-A, and only bring them up to E-A-D-G. You can go to one of the String threads and find posts by Francois and Olivier and e-mail them with questions. They're into strings big-time.
    I don't know how to judge wood maturity by appearance. In addition, there are makers who treat the interior unfinished wood with chemicals to make it look aged. Very generally, the thinner the wood (which is one technique to make the bass louder), the more important it is that the wood be aged and stable. Also, with thinner wood, it is critical that the carving be utterly symetrical. If there are gaps between the top or back and the ribs, and these are forced closed and glued, you have an extra unwanted tension on the plates which can someday cause a split. Obviously, the lower the price of the bass, the higher the risk of this problem.
    These are all things I've picked up from talking to luthiers, and I certainly stand to be corrected.

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