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Testing a Bass with no previous expeirence

Discussion in 'Basses [DB]' started by theshadow2001, Dec 14, 2006.

  1. theshadow2001


    Jun 17, 2004
    So hopefully in the new year Im going to be heading across to england to look at a few basses. The problem being that I've never played one before and I don't really have any reference to gauge the instruments from. Typicaly the advice around here is to get your teacher to check it out the instrument with you. However I can't ask the guy to fly over to England over two weekends to go look at basses with me.
    I've been playing guitar and bass for five or six years and have been in bands with varying degrees of quality instruments and equipment so I would like to think I wouldn't be completely clueless as to what sounds good or bad. But the sound is one thing the playability is another. I don't even know how far apart a semi tone is on an upright let alone know if one bass plays better than another.

    So has anyone any advice they would like to share on how to approach this unusual perdicament
  2. Ed Fuqua

    Ed Fuqua

    Dec 13, 1999
    Chuck Sher publishes my book, WALKING BASSICS:The Fundamentals of Jazz Bass Playing.
    If yer teacher has any friends, acquaintances, people who know people who know people, get some names.

    If there's no joy there, use this board to try to locate someone who'll go with you. For example, if you came to NYC, I'd be happy to fall by Dave Gage's shop with you.

    Worst case scenario, you're going to have top get somebody else at the shop to play it while you walk around. YOU want to play it too but, being somewhat of a neophyte, you want somebody with a little more experience.

    for what its' worth, most of the luthiers and repair shop owners and crew have always been pretty straight forward with me. It's more joints that are strictly sales entities (stores) that don't have a vested interest in seeing you happy that tend to tell you stuff like "Oh it'll sound better once it's played in a little" or "new strings wil give you a warmer sound". Once you're out the door, you're some luthier's problem.
  3. douglas81


    Sep 24, 2006
    Perhaps get a lesson or two *before* you go over to England. In a couple of lessons you will learn enough to stop a few notes correctly with the left hand and be able to create a decent enough sound. If you've got a good set of ears, the quality between different basses will become immediately apparent. I was in your exact situation a few weeks ago, and picking out a quality, playable bass wasn't difficult. Finding one in my price range was the hard part...

    Trust your ears and good luck!
  4. TroyK

    TroyK Moderator Staff Member

    Mar 14, 2003
    Seattle, WA
    If you say which town in England, perhaps someone on the board would meet you there. We have several active memebers in the UK.
  5. hdiddy

    hdiddy Official Forum Flunkee Supporting Member

    Mar 16, 2004
    Richmond, CA
    I did it completely ignorant about DB's when I bought mine. I just did my research here on TBDB first. I did it by feel as well as sound. The one thing is that I wish I knew to have the seller play the bass while I listened - Ed's tip above. I chose my bass because it felt right, natural, and easy to play in my ignorant hands, tho there was another Christopher that was fully carved but didn't feel as good. Something to consider as well.

    Turns out I had a decent bass once I showed it to my teacher. It sounds even better now with several components changed (tailpiece, end pin, strings) and a couple setups. :hyper:

    Oh yeah, and don't be in a hurry to buy! :)
  6. zazz


    Feb 27, 2004

    that was one of my life experience ..low points.:oops:
  7. Jake


    Dec 11, 1999
    Ed is totally right about this. Get somebody to go with you, preferably a good player that can get a good sound in the high register, too. Alot of basses, especially nice looking big ones, die when you get past about the first D on the G string. Also, especially if you want to study classical music and if you want a good jazz sound, get someone to play it in a big room preferably an auditorium or concert hall or at least a big rehearsal room. You could check with a local college, university or even highschools and middle schools. There's a good posiblility you could set this kind of thing up with the admistrators if you explain to them the kind of investment you're planning to make in your music. You can save a lot of trouble, headaches, and time by taking the time to do this stuff.
  8. theshadow2001


    Jun 17, 2004
    Thanks guys I think that getting a lesson or two would be the best option for me. It was always my intention to get the seller to play the bass.

    However things like some basses dying off after the D on the G string is information thats good to know.

    Does anyone have any suggestion for something for him to play? E.g. All notes on each string etc. Should he play with a bow or pizz. My own intention would be to play jazz/pizz with a cheap bow for intonation practice. Is there anything I should look for structurally in a bass, sort of tell tale signs that something may be wrong or is likely to progress into a problem.

    What do you guys look for when trying out basses
  9. jfv


    May 5, 2003
    Portland, OR
    A lesson or two??? I'm sure this is well intentioned but its
    absurd, one's ability to judge doesnt come in that kind of
    time frame I'm sorry, extend that out to a YEAR or two
    and maybe...

    And trusting noob ears is exactly what you don't want
    to do, you want some ears that have played for 20
    years or so.

    There is no way around this, you either need to find
    someone with the experience to be there or you are
    going to have to judge the integrity of the seller and
    allow them to play and guide you. Judging character
    is something that is independent of skill so thats an
    important consideration.

    If you do go and let the luthier/seller play various basses
    for you, you should ask to hear them both pizz and bowed.
    I probably never would have bought my bass if the luthier
    had not played it with a bow, its true beauty came out
    then, at the time I was completely green with a bow, but
    it changed everything for me, I decided I needed to be
    able to make that kind of music it was soooo sweet :)

    Best of luck to you however you approach it,
  10. douglas81


    Sep 24, 2006
    With respect, I have to disagree - these blanket statement just don't cut it for me. I stand by what I said - in a lesson or two it will be possible to create a decent enough sound to tell whether the bass has the sound you're after. Buying an instrument is a very personal thing, and at the end of the day the final choice is up to the person buying the instrument

    Just because it is "theshadow2001"'s first time looking for an upright bass, it does not make him a "noob" (as you so patronisingly describe it). A good sounding instrument is a good sounding instrument, and the discerning musician with a good set of ears will be able to tell the difference. I know - I've just gone through this exact same process and the sound of a good instrument was immediately obvious, despite my limited experience. Also, I was always able to ask the luthier/shop owner to play a few notes so I could listen in front of the instrument, but even the most experienced players would do this.

    Of course, if "theshadow2001" was totally new to music (and this was to be his first instrument), the scenario might be different.
  11. theshadow2001


    Jun 17, 2004
    Ok I appreciate everyones input here so far but I'd rather this not turn into a debate on whether Im going to be able to choose a bass well or not.

    What Im really looking for is objective (If such a word ever applies to music) things I can listen out for things to look for on the bass. Signs it may be a lemon. Ok I know no one can pass me all their years of experience in a single post or a lesson.
    But just some tips and pointers that you feel could aid me. Things that I should really be aware of (no matter how basic)
  12. hdiddy

    hdiddy Official Forum Flunkee Supporting Member

    Mar 16, 2004
    Richmond, CA
    Well keep in mind the parameters are similar to buying any instrument. I'll just through out a laundry list of what I would look for. I'm sure more experienced peops would add alot more to my list (not in any order of import).

    1) Tone - is it dark? bright? Is that what you want. Is it boomy and underfined or is it clear and cuts right through? Is it thumpy? Is it stringy sounding? Is this the sound you want? Do you like how it sounds pizz? Arco?
    2) Volume - is it loud enough? You can't really tell how loud it is by playing it. You need someone else to play it so you can stand at a distance and hear it.
    3) Feel - is the neck thick? Thick necks aren't bad. Some prefer them. Are the shoulders big or small? Small is nice, makes playing higher registers easier but not neccessarily a requirement. Big shoulders might give you a better sound tho?
    4) Look for scratches, nicks, cracks all over the bass, in the inside if possible too. Cracks might expand and cost you more money in the future.
    5) Fingerboard - does it cause the strings to buzz? Play all over the neck and try to find if it buzzes? Is it warped? Look at the fingerboard from below and see. Is the tone in all spots on the fingerboard even? You probably want to avoid stuff that sounds good on the bottom but thin or pingy on the top. Keep in mind that some of these problems can be fixed but it's also something you can look for too.
    6) String tension - is it hard to pull the strings to get a sound? This is hard to tell without alot of experience but hopefully you can compare between basses. How much do you have to press with the left hand?
    7) Tuning machines - is it easy to turn the knobs? Does it hold pitch easy?
    8) Check out the end pin. What is it made of? Is it easy to adjust the height?
    9) Pickups - does the bass come with some already?
    10) Is the bass heavy? You do have to carry it around and stuff. Probably not that much of a big deal tho. Thought I'd put it out there anyway.
    11) Is it a flat-back or round back? Some dislike flat backs saying that they sound more nasal than round backs. I never understood it but it is probably something to note.
    12) Is the bass carved, laminated, or a hybrid? Typically, carved sounds better, lams are more durable and hybrids are in between (I'm generalizing here).

    I guess the biggest thing you can do for yourself is to play as many as possible to get a feel for it. You may not have alot of experience with basses, but hopefully if you mess around with enough of them you can make comparisons. Try to play the most expensive basses you can find too. You might not be able to afford them but they can give you an idea of what a good bass might sound/feel/play like. Also, I would also listen to recordings like mad. Keep in mind that recordings dont' accurately record a bass but maybe the recordings will also bring out what you like to hear and give you some of sound you want to chase down.

    Happy hunting! :)
  13. theshadow2001


    Jun 17, 2004
    Thanks Hdiddy that was all very informative and useful. If anyone else would like to add to the list that would be cool
  14. +1 also look for signs of previous repairs. If it has been repaired, how long ago and how is the repair holding up? The old King I owned had a repair to the neck, but it was an old repair and held up well.

    Take a mechanics inspection mirror and a flashlight with you to get a look inside.
  15. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    If you're primarily a pizz oriented player, strings will be one the most important variables in the sound of different basses. I find that I prefer a certain type of pizz sound, and I find that I can basically get that sound from certain types of strings on a quality, well set up fingerboard. If you're listening for pizz sound, shopping for basses can sometimes be frustrating if most of the basses you see are sporting arco strings. I went through this when shopping for my first carved bass. Some of the basses I tried might have actually been great pizz basses, but with dampened orchestral strings on them, it was really hard to tell sometimes.

    Case in point: My friend Sid King has an absolutely gorgeous Hachez bass that he used to use in the orchestra before he retired. When he had arco strings on it, neither of us could pull a decent arco sound out of it to save our lives. After he retired, he put some spirocores on it (still for arco purposes, but so he could cut through the mix better in the flamenco setting), and now it sings like a bird played pizz, and sustains for days. String height also plays an important role in the power of the pizz sound. It can be really confusing at first. Be patient, and learn as much as you can about how to pull a sound you like and the differences between strings before you make the trip if possible. Good luck!
  16. Jake


    Dec 11, 1999
    The reason I said you should try out the basses you are considering in a big room is that most any bass sounds full and loud in all registers in a small, live room. The real test of how a bass performs is to try it in a big room. This is where you are going to hear whether it dies and goes super thin in the high register. The mark of a good bass is how it sounds in a big room particularly an auditorium or hall, not in your bedroom. Since you said you're mainly interested in pizz/jazz, this may seem unnecessary, but this is how you can tell the difference between a nice bass and just a nice looking or well set up (easy playing) bass.

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