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Ordering a Custom Blindly?

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by pointbass, Apr 21, 2006.

  1. pointbass

    pointbass Jersey to Georgia Gold Supporting Member Supporting Member

    Nov 4, 2004
    Acworth, GA
    Endorsing Artist: FBB Bass Works
    Why would someone order a custom bass without having ever played one? I see this happening nearly every day here at TB, people placing orders for $2K+ basses and they've never even seen one in real life, let alone test drove it one for a bit :confused:

    I know each and every custom bass is unique to the player/luthier combination, but most skilled builders have certain "signature" feels to the basses that just seem to be built in to any instrument they make. For example, I have two FBB's (one 5 + one 6) that were originally built for two other players, but they both feel the same to me. Additionally, I have played three other FBB's and again, they all have that same "Matt Schmill" imprint.

    There have been hundreds of similar comments about Stambaugh, Sadowsky, Roscoe, etc. etc. No matter who the builder is, the basses are pretty much "injected" with the flavor of the builder. So, if that's the case, how does someone order a custom built bass if you don't know, for a fact, that you'll like the "flavor" that a certain builder has?

    In my case, I've fallen in love (deeply) with FBB. I no longer care about the other guys, 'cause I found my match. But there are people here that have a low opinion of FBB. Right now, Stambaugh is the hot "flavor" of the year (with good reason, they are great basses and yes, I've played several) but there are people here who regularly choose a different builder.

    So, how does a person decide that builder "XX" is the right one if you've never played the basses? Is it just a popularity contest? A shot in the dark and hope for the best? I don't know, I guess I'd want to be sure that I picked the right axe before kickin' out $2K-$3K or more ....
  2. First of all, I think many of the people who are ordering $2K+ basses HAVE played something made by the given lutheir, so they know somewhat what they are getting themselves into. If not, I think pretty much everyone knows that if you're shelling out a couple grand for a custom made bass by a high-end boutique builder, it's generally assured that you will receive a quality bass. Whether it is to your liking or not isn't always guaranteed, hence why many dudes around here turn around their custom orders pretty fast. Hopefully, the bass shopper with common sense will take the time to go around and test out some basses made by their selected luthier before he/she places an order. I definitely would if/when I have the money to buy a custom bass.
  3. Subculture13

    Subculture13 Jamming Econo

    Apr 9, 2003
    Toronto, Ont. Canada
    Looks and reputation. Many people ordering these esoteric custom basses are getting things that (by "standard" bass design) are total abominations....

    That is in NO way a slam against people gettting 11 string basses, it is a fact... If you want an 11 string neck with a 14" nut width you are going custom, meaning unique to you. You choose woods, colors, strings, hardware, etc... You get what YOU want, and sometimes getting the exact thing you want is justification enough to get it sight unseen, I've order numerous custom basses from brands I trust, and in all but a few cases was very happy with the results...

    Face it... Anybody that pays $3k+ for a single instrument will NEVER admit to not liking it, its the perfect bass for them because it is exactly what they ordered, that's their story and they're sticking to it.

    Now before you all flame me.... I once (in a day when I was on a major label and had more money than brains) ordered a custom shop 8 string bass (no I won't name the brand, I dont need that headache thank you), having never seen an 8 from this brand before. 6 months and $8800 (Canadian, so about 50 cents US) later I got an utter piece of crap. Worst neck dive I've ever had, action higher than a '60's Hagstrom, all treble no bass, pickups that were visibly a hair misaligned, and on and on.

    At the time I was so proud... I had my ultimate custom bass... A year later when the novelty wore off (and the credit card was paid) I slowly started to admit it was a risky endevour, and for me, one that didn't work out in my favour. I don't own that bass anymore and got far less than half what I paid for it.

    Recently I bought a EB/MM Sterling unseen. I know the brand and model and trust it wholly. The color/features are not standard for the store, so I couldn't try before I bought, had to commit to the buy upfront and wait 4 months for it to come in... by then it was paid off entirely. It came in and I am less than thrilled. It doesn't sound have as good as the ones hanging on the wall (only Sterling I've played, with a maple fretboard no less, that has little brightness to it, it's tone is dull and lifeless if anything, even with new strings) and the rough job on the frets is enough to make me cry.

    Well, actually the crying came in the form of me the first time I slid my hands up the fretboard and the rough protruding fret ends that were not cleaned up or filed off took a bite from my index finger. Don't even get me started about the constantly changing neck... I can't finish a song without needing to adjust the truss rod. It is in a constant state of flux, unplayably high action one second, bottoming out on the last fret the next.

    Frankly I'm disgusted with EB/MM's quality control on this bass, I expected alot better, but that too is the price you pay for a custom bass, it's a gamble, and sometimes you lose. At least this problem is fixable. It'll cost me a few $$ to get a fret dress, as this bass and all its buzzing clearly has never had one. I'll have to live with the rest (or get new pickups which is my present dilemma).
  4. elros


    Apr 24, 2004
    Proprietor, Helland Musikk Teknologi
    Pretty much the same way you choose what to have for dinner.
    Except proportionally more thought through.
    ("will this fit my needs?" "will it fit my wallet?" "does it look allright?" &c.)
  5. instigata


    Feb 24, 2006
    New Jersey
    well, here's the thing. i refuse to buy a bass unless i myself have had my hands on it (or specifically requested all specifications). because face it, each bass is unique. i don't care if it looks just like that other fender... its not. its neck is different, its tone is different. each piece of wood and pickup winding is slightly different.

    basically, the BEST advice is to play before you buy. now, as far as choosing a custom shop. the price is always the first factor, followed by quality. stambaugh has high quality, and at only 1400 for a completely custom 5 piece neck exotic top 2 pickup active eq 4 string, its an amazing deal.

    naturally, each bass has its luthier's "flavor"; however, a great luthier should be able to capture whatever tone you ask of them in the bass they create. from what i hear, stambaugh is spot on to what people request. and thats a sign of a great craftsman.

    so basically, the moral of the story is. try before you buy if its production, and really know what you want if its custom.

    part of me really wants a stambaugh, and the other part wants a used dingwall. i've already decided that i will never spend more than 1500 on any one instrument. ever.

    so therefore, stambaugh is my guy if i really want a custom. but if you don't know what you want (like me), you're better off throwing half of what you spent into a hole and burying it. cos thats whats going to happen.

    so until you decide on what would be your ideal instrument, i recommend the used market 160%. that way, you never lose too much cash, and get to play the instrument first. with ebay and other online trading, you could get a winner, but chances are you'll get a loser (like me... damn you, olp).
  6. ebe9


    Feb 26, 2006
    South Africa
    Would surely defeat the purpose.

    I.e. Custom generally implies "customised to you" and your tastes.

    I would however order a customn without having played the exact same model e.g. knowing the tone of a Warwick Streamer and the feel of a warwick 6 string thumb them combining the two in your own mind to come up with a 6 string streamer.

    If that made no sense......its been a long day
  7. I would order anything that most people here said was good. If I didn't like it at first once I got it, I would adjust because I would know in my heart it was the best, and I must just not be doing something right.
  8. instigata


    Feb 24, 2006
    New Jersey
    way to conform to the masses. :)

    it seems like half the people here feel the consensus of talkbass is the word of God, and instantly change their minds, desires, and futures because of it (ok, maybe not FUTURES, but you get the idea)
  9. Subculture13

    Subculture13 Jamming Econo

    Apr 9, 2003
    Toronto, Ont. Canada
    That is why I am disappointed in my Sterling... its a Sterling... EB/MM, safe if anything, but all brands will have a lemon eventually, I got theirs.
  10. rontalsaurus


    Aug 19, 2002
    I ordered my Kinal without having played one. I was not disappointed in the least. I tried out hundreds of instruments and twice came very close to buying something else that I had tried at a store, a Modulus Q5 and a Bossa OB5. In the end, though, neither had me totally won over. I wanted something with a similar feeling neck shape and tone to the MOdulus, but with a bit more woody flavor. After reading a lot about Kinal, asking tons of questions both to Mike directly (great guy to talk to) and on forums, etc...I made a leap of faith because it just felt right.
    I got exactly what I was looking for.
    3 years later, I still love the bass. However, I still remember certain aspects of the Bossa that keep me interested and I may get one down the line. I'm very happy I settled on the Kinal over the Modulus, though.
  11. RAM


    May 10, 2000
    Chicago, IL
    I've got a few favorite luthiers (namely Jerzy Drozd and Mike Tobias), and a few whose works I admire almost as much (Keith Roscoe, Rob Elrick), and a few "builders" whose works I love just as much (Lakland). Admittedly biased, Jerzy has produced the most consistently great basses of the bunch, of those I've played, but every luthier / builder I listed has produced basses that simply didn't "do it" for me.

    If I could, I'd own (at least) one bass from each of them, but wouldn't be comfortable ordering without first playing the actual specimen...waaaaaaayyyyyy too much can go wrong, even in the hands of such inspired masters as I've listed above...
  12. James Hart

    James Hart

    Feb 1, 2002
    Endorsing Artist: see profile

    I've owned a few 'custom optioned' basses. Everyone researched as best I could without having the means to try one first. Maybe I've been lucky but of the 4 I've custom ordered in the past:
    one was stolen (otherwise I'd still have it),
    one I sold when I stepped briefly from the world of bass (and wish I still had it),
    two I still own and plan to be buried with one of them

    I have a new one on order that I've also ordered blindly. I know my tastes and needs... I know how to read opinions... I have a circle of players and such that I value opinions of.
  13. I've been asking myself the same question. I've been playing for several years have thought that it maybe was time to treat myself to a custom bass with everything I want on it. But, the more I think about my past buying habits, the more I am shying away from a custom bass. I guess the reason why is because I really DON'T know what I'm looking for. Every bass purchase in my past (with the exception of two cheaply priced SX basses) has been based on me personally playing the bass with no consideration to brand or products used to build the instrument. This is evident with my mix of 4-5-6 string basses, different scale sizes, different woods, different fretboards, and different pickup and electronics. The more I study my buying habits, the more I realize I dont have any buying habits. Its all basically based on what my hands and ears tell me.

    With this large range in features on basses, I would have a VERY hard time trying to tell a custom builder what I want. And, the thought of me leaving the decision on how to use my money up to someone else (although I'm sure they are very skilled and educated luthiers) scares me. What is great to them may suck to me. I could piece together features I like in all of my basses but that still doesnt gurantee the end product will be great. Each bass I own has its on unique personality and certain great features but it doesnt mean combining all of these features into one custom bass would make it my "dream" bass.

    This is more of a rant than anything. I've been tossed up with the whole custom bass issue also. Just some thoughts of mine that you might take into consideration.

    On a side note, I will say I've played some custom basses that have been just FANTASTIC! I no way knocking anyone with a custom bass. I wish I has the balls and expendable to drop that kind of cash on a bass that I've never played before.
  14. +1
  15. For some reason the above brought this to mind as an example of what can happen when we try to combine all of our favorite features into a single incarnation:


  16. After 10 years of trying out different basses, and not ever being satisfied enough with any of the basses that I played, I decided to look into getting a custom bass made. I did a bunch of research and narrowed down my options to a few luthiers. I ended up talking with Jack Read of Read Custom Basses and went to visit him to hear some of his basses and talk over the project. My problem was that I could find basses that I liked as far as the tone went, but I couldn't find one that felt good in my hands. Or the exact opposite happened. I really just wanted to find a a manufactured bass and only looked into a custom bass as a last resort. And the end result in my experience was marvelous. Now, although I heard and felt some of Jack's creations, what I was having built was not going to sound like what I had tried at his place. For one, the bass body and neck is very slim and light. This can present a problem with fullness of sound. But I wanted a very fast action and a bass that I could wield like a sword. I tune down a whole step (all my strings) so I had the neck scale be made as a 35 length instead of the traditional 34 so that the strings would have the tension of the more common 34 length. Due to this increased length and the ultra slim neck, the neck is not as stable as I would like. That is my only qualm. But the feel of the bass is unbeatable and the Lane Poor passive pickups and mahogany body/ maple neck/ rosewood fretboard/ flame maple top creates an amazing sound. (I lucked out as these were the last Lane Poor pickups that Jack had as Lane Poor just went out of business at this time). It is the only bass I own and I have had it for 5 years...

    Just take your time, do tons of reasearch, get other users advice who have has experience with whatever builder you are looking into. By the way, my custom bass cost me $1,800 which is a steal. Flame maple top, Schaller locking tuning pegs, hipshot bass bridge. All under 7.5 pounds. Not quite as full sounding as I would of liked but I knew it would not be with my stipulations regarding the weight. However, my Thunderfunk 550 and Epifani NYC 2x12 WELL makes up for any little shortage of the bass in the fullness category!
  17. john turner

    john turner You don't want to do that. Trust me. Staff Member

    Mar 14, 2000
    atlanta ga
    :eyebrow: well, i never played a conklin before i ordered my first custom.

    then again, the web was about 3 or 4 years off at the time, let alone a web forum, so i couldn't choose based on popularity, and i had only seen a picture of one of em. granted, it looked pretty cool, but that's not how i ordered my first to look.

    man, all the sweeping generalizations in this thread are making me dizzy. :rolleyes:
  18. john turner

    john turner You don't want to do that. Trust me. Staff Member

    Mar 14, 2000
    atlanta ga
    i know numerous folks who have ordered instruments, were unhappy with the results, and made their opinions known. what you are talking about is more a question of maturity than anything inherent in an expensive instrument.
  19. john turner

    john turner You don't want to do that. Trust me. Staff Member

    Mar 14, 2000
    atlanta ga
    not to get too sidetracked here, but a pretty cool "history of the looney" can be found here...


    very interesting monetary policies described.
  20. Shiveringbass


    Aug 21, 2005
    Well Ive got my Roscoe without trying one since I'm in Europe and Roscoe is not distributed here. I even didn't see one cause I'm near blind and pictures posted on that forum or on site are not accessible to my vocale synthesis computer.
    My girl took care of the look department and help me to choose between several top woods Keith proposed me.
    Everything else was based on my experience in choosing my woods, Keith experience on building an instrument with the tone I wanted and fellow TBers members who gave me their opinion on that particular brand...
    The key for me was to find all I could read on the topic and particularly read the opinion of people who were not Roscoe fan. It is usualy more informative than people who just say Roscoe are great !
    I've contacted a user of Roscoe and share with him on every aspect of the instrument :
    neck profile
    size of body
    overall feel...
    Our discutions were based on bass we both owned so that we could have some common comparison point...

    Well let me tell you that I'm totaly happy with my instrument on feel, comfort, playability, neck profile and luthery quality side.

    My only mistake was on the choice of electronics but I haven't asked any piece of advice on that subject so it is all my fault.
    Anyway this is just something easy to feet, it coasts a bit more money but just a swap of preamp will make me the hapiest guy ever !

    As you see, I've realy bought my Roscoe "blindly" but it is the best instrument I ever laid my hand on and I'm now sticking with Roscoe.
    Call it luck if you want... for me, I just think I've work it in the good way.


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