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Things to look for in a BG thumper

Discussion in 'Bluegrass [DB]' started by Bluetick, Oct 16, 2019.


  1. Bluetick

    Bluetick

    Oct 16, 2019
    Buzzard Hill, AL
    Howdy all,

    I know that cheap Chinese basses are talked down a lot, but I have an opportunity to look at a used bass that is listed on Facebook Market for $500. It is listed as a "no name" bass. I'm just looking for a thumper to piddle around in bluegrass with. When I go to look at the bass this weekend, what are some signs to look for to determine if it is worth buying. Obviously, cracks would be a concern. But what about the fret board? Are there particular places on the fret board that would induce any buzzing? Gear heads? Anything else I should make sure to inspect?

    Thanks for your input.
     
  2. turf3

    turf3

    Sep 26, 2011
    I would suggest you read the various threads on "buying a bass".

    The chance that a $500 used no name Chinese bass will actually be playable without major expensive repairs (if it can even be made so) is pretty small. I don't mean "unplayable" in the sense of "thumb position is more difficult than it needs to be", I mean "unplayable" in the sense of "all the parts falling off this bass are of genuine Chinese manufacture" or "can only finger notes with a C clamp".
     
    james condino likes this.
  3. AGCurry

    AGCurry Supporting Member

    Jun 29, 2005
    St. Louis
    Even if the bass is structurally sound and playable, it may not be suitable for bluegrass. Bluegrass desires a bass with some authority when plucked.

    A few months ago I made the mistake of buying a $500 bass because it seemed to be structurally sound... it was, pretty much, but it turned out to be one of the cheap Chinese basses built for resistance to breakage. Sounded just okay with the bow but dreadfully inadequate pizzicato. After a setup and new strings, I lost money on it.

    If it sounds okay, look for issues around the endpin, saddle, and fingerboard contour. Furthermore, a bass used by a high-school student will need strings more suitable for pizzicato.
     
  4. dhergert

    dhergert Gold Supporting Member

    Jan 17, 2018
    Blue Zone, California
    I'd suggest spending some time at bluegrass festivals and local jams, listen to the sound of the double basses that you hear there. Also watch for the strings that people use and their touch on those strings.

    From what I've seen out in the south western USA, the older USA-built double basses are very popular among bluegrassers. Kays in particular, but also others. Broken and creatively repaired neck heels are pretty common to see, cracks and ply separation are less common but are out there. A typical bluegrass bass will show lots of wounds from being transported without a bag or a case as well as from being knocked or blown over a few times, and their setup for sound varies depending on how many bumps in the road they've encountered.

    Strict traditional bass playing for bluegrass is usually a simple 1-4-5 background. Many of the newer bassists out my way are pressing that with generous walking and slap. It would be smart to consider how you want to play when you buy and setup your bass. In particular, carefully consider strings and how your hands will do with them when you're jamming for 3 to 5 hours. Lots of choices.
     
    Holdsg and james condino like this.
  5. neddyrow

    neddyrow Captain of Team Orange Jacket Supporting Member

    Apr 21, 2011
    Cortland, NY
    i agree with the guys above. but...you may get lucky. selling an upright is difficult. maybe they can't find any buyers because there is no demand where you live. it could be an old german shop bass that is as solid as a rock and may need a setup...who knows? if it looks new and shiny....probably a cheap chinese bass.

    as for advice....look at some of the pics people use to sell basses here in the classifieds. check the heel joint, how perpendicular the bridge is from the top, and if the end pin is perpendicular. make sure the wood is not separating anywhere. that'd be a start. take some pics too and share them here for help from the experts on here. they'll give you the straight dope.
     
    unbrokenchain likes this.
  6. james condino

    james condino Spruce dork Supporting Member Commercial User

    Sep 30, 2007
    asheville, nc
    The 9 weeks after the new year are the absolute best weeks of the year to be shopping for a bass as everyone is Christmas broke and there will be huge deals to be found!
     
    marcox likes this.
  7. jsf729

    jsf729 Supporting Member

    Dec 12, 2014
    Central Maryland
    It's not a fretboard- it's a fingerboard
     
    james condino and unbrokenchain like this.
  8. Bluetick

    Bluetick

    Oct 16, 2019
    Buzzard Hill, AL
    Oops! Didn't notice that in my original post, jsf729.

    Thanks to everyone for the information. This bass is about 150 miles away from my home, so I may have to make 2 or 3 trips before making a semi-educated decision. Please keep posting more "look for" info so I can have the most in my bucket when I get there.

    Bluetick
     
  9. unbrokenchain

    unbrokenchain Supporting Member

    Jun 8, 2011
    Black Mountain, NC
    +1.

    Then maybe string height at nut and bridge-end of fingerboard. These are easy to adjust but can give you an idea of whether the bass was ever set up properly in the first place. Then notice the fingerboard wood. Dyed/painted/coated maple is probably to be expected in this price range. If it's rosewood or ebony, that usually indicates a not total bottom of the barrel. Flashlight looking through the f-holes, try and ascertain whether the glue that was used is brown/caramel (hide glue) or white (pva). Hide glue construction makes the instrument much more serviceable than white glue. Ditto for any repairs.
     
    bassfran likes this.
  10. BobKay

    BobKay Supporting Member

    Nov 5, 2012
    Estero, Florida; USA
    Once, just once, I’d like to read “I just want some old thumper to use in a jazz quartet or orchestral setting.” I’m really tired of the lack of respect for bluegrass, contemporary acoustic, and Americana bassists. The modern bassist in any of those styles is often playing more than “1-4-5.”

    Neither of my two basses is set up to deliver some muddy, inarticulate thump. I wish my skills could match their potential.

    Rant over. Back to your regular programming.
     
  11. dhergert

    dhergert Gold Supporting Member

    Jan 17, 2018
    Blue Zone, California
    I appreciate and share your thoughts. In my short time on the double bass, I already have a history of telling bluegrass requestors that I don't play 1-4-5 for anyone. And it's true, about 85% of the bluegrass people I play double bass for like the generous use of walks and slaps, so I'm moving forward with them with great enthusiasm. My feeling is that it's well past time for the bluegrass double bass to come out of the closet.

    In the midst of this, bluegrass in general is changing as the younger generations of bluegrass musicians take their positions of leadership. It is time, and it has to happen or bluegrass will cease to exist as a successful genre.
     
    unbrokenchain likes this.
  12. unbrokenchain

    unbrokenchain Supporting Member

    Jun 8, 2011
    Black Mountain, NC
    I know a guy who brings his washtub bass to every jam session. Most folks kind of roll their eyes but honestly if you can get a solid 1-5 on that thing you're gifted, it's tough :laugh: Actually does sound good when it hits right though.

    Driving home from a gig tonight the radio was playing Bela Fleck playing Help On The Way. I was so confused because Oliver Wood was singing but it sure didn't sound like Chris on bass. Got home and looked it up just now, sure enough Edgar Meyer.

    Strict trad bluegrass is to me the equivalent of having a perfectly tended crew-cut kinda lawn. Start moving the jam out of the usual progressions, depart from the riding-on-the-back-of-a-mule rhythm for a few and see where you can take it.. it's kinda like having a party on said lawn. No worries, it grows back.

    One of the coolest parts about 'grass in general is that it can suit any skill level. A child, or an adult first-time player can learn to chuck chords or play simple bass to Blue Ridge Cabin home. Great players take the instrumentation in totally different directions, to where it blends with jazz and classical. Take Grisman or the Thile Bach suites for example.

    I ain't never heard no horse sing a song..
     
    Last edited: Oct 18, 2019
    Colyn, 210superair, dhergert and 2 others like this.
  13. Reiska

    Reiska Supporting Member

    Jan 27, 2014
    Helsinki, Finland
    Nothing wrong with The Truth, I`m one of those who love the minimalist aspect. It`s all about playing for the music, busy or not, doing it with great tone and presence. And I think one Edgar Meyer is all Edgar Meyer world needs.

    Sorry for partial derail.
     
    Last edited: Oct 18, 2019
  14. Bluetick

    Bluetick

    Oct 16, 2019
    Buzzard Hill, AL
    Didn't mean to offend, BobKay, by referring to my bass desires as a "thumper for blugrass". I'm 62 years old, and I've been a bluegrass fan since I was 16. I played a 1952 Kay upright bass for a little while many moons ago, but only progressed to the "1-4-5" stage. But I purely loved playing the bass. Even though I play a little fiddle, and a little clawhammer banjo, the bass is the only instrument that keeps pulling me in. I just want to get back in the mix, and a cheap bass is my only option at this point. So, I don't need one with great orchestral capabilities, and jazz has no soft spot in my heart.

    My first priority in life is taking care of my ailing wife of 40 years, and I'm the only source of income in my family. That means that I have to settle for having fun with as cheap of a bass as I can get my hands on. But that doesn't mean that I want a bass with some "muddy, inarticulate thump." I can fully appreciate the sound produced by a high quality instrument, set up correctly, in the hands of a skilled player. So I'm not inarticulate in this manner. I'm happy that you can afford two well made basses. But your assumptions of folks who only want a "thumper" for the joy and fun of playing is off base.

    Now my rant is over.
     
  15. BobKay

    BobKay Supporting Member

    Nov 5, 2012
    Estero, Florida; USA
    Bluetick,
    No offense taken. I’ve owned three Kay’s over the years. With the help of good luthiers, each sounded fine. I don’t play one now because I prefer a fatter neck profile.

    I’m a little older, 72, and have been playing bluegrass since high school. My reaction was more about the general assumptions we often hear about bluegrass. The people I play with now include a classically trained pianist on banjo, and an accomplished jazz guitarist. Each could play pretty much any type of music; they don’t play in a bluegrass band because it’s the only thing they can do.

    It sounds like you have your hands and heart filled with family needs. Hopefully a bass, thumper or not, will give you a break from time to time.
     
    Keithunem, 210superair and Reiska like this.
  16. Bluetick

    Bluetick

    Oct 16, 2019
    Buzzard Hill, AL
    Thanks, Bob.
     
  17. birgebass

    birgebass

    Nov 7, 2011
    Arkansas
    Got a link to this bass or any pictures?
     
  18. Bluetick

    Bluetick

    Oct 16, 2019
    Buzzard Hill, AL
  19. turf3

    turf3

    Sep 26, 2011
    Well, I have to say that playing two-beat plain bass with a big sound, perfect rhythm, and optimal note choices ain't all that easy.

    I hear a number of amateur/beginner bass players who think "bluegrass bass must be easy, it's just two notes per bar, root and fifth." Well, when they start playing they've got a wimpy little sound and the notes may be more or less the right notes but they aren't really in the right place. Remember, the right note in the wrong place is a wrong note.

    I have been playing bass for about 8 years and music for 50 years, and I can tell you that the idea that playing simple two-beat stuff on the upright is somehow less musically advanced, is just flat wrong. If I wanted to play a million notes a minute and add chord substitutions without number, I would just have kept on playing the saxophone.

    As to sound quality, I suspect the supposed preference for a toneless thump comes from early players using cheap and cheerful basses that often got to the gig tied on the top of the car. In my admittedly limited bluegrass/acoustic bass experience, playing a carved bass with orchestra strings that produces a clear tone, I have never yet had anyone say "I wish the pitch of the notes you're playing was more indistinct and thumpy". Of course, if a third of the notes you play are wildly out of tune, maybe a toneless thump is better... But personally I think a song is enhanced by a clear, in-tune bass note placed right at the exact correct side of the beat and allowed to ring clearly for exactly the right duration. Every time I play with a bluegrass band I make a few of those, if I'm lucky.
     
    GlenParks, AGCurry, Reiska and 4 others like this.

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