What makes a bass so high end, like $3,000?

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by Brendan, Aug 27, 2000.

  1. Brendan


    Jun 18, 2000
    Austin, TX
    Why would you pay so much more for a bass that is very simmilar to the standard Fender Jazz? What makes them worth 3 grand? Lakland, Sadowsky, Mike Lull, ect, what makes them so valuable? Is it material? I know people swear by the sound and feel, but what makes them worth so much? I can't think why even a handmade bass can fetch over 3 thousand dollars? Are people willing to pay that much for "feel". I know that there is the argument that if you can't tell the difference, go for the cheaper, but still, why so much money?
  2. akajuve400g


    May 22, 2000
    Most basses that are that much usually take a lot of man hours to build. Another reason is the brand, if it is a certain brand people are more likely to spend more money for it. If people are willing to spend that much for a bass they are gonna sell it for that much. You can't really blame them. But you really can't tell unless you hae played em all...........
  3. I've played a Sadowsky J-Bass and couldn't tell the difference in sound and in feel of a Fender American J-Bass. I love Fenders and paying 3 times as much for a copy isn't my idea of a good deal. The only upper class basses I think are cool are Conklin's (my teacher, Eddie Pruitt has a custom 7-string, its the coolest thing I've ever played) and Warwicks (I love their sound), but Fenders will always be my favorite basses, they are classics. BTW, how the f*ck do you post pictures on hear?
  4. Angus

    Angus Supporting Member

    Apr 16, 2000
    Palo Alto, CA
    How to post pictures:

    [img*]website where picture is located[/img]

    like this:


    The HTTP has to be there, and if you dont have a place to put your pictures on the web, go to http://www.photopoint.com, because its free.

    And dont put the * there...i did that so it wouldnt look like i tried to post a picture.

    Three things make the basses expensive:

    1. Labor
    2. Name
    3. Materials

    The labor is the obvious one, which is the most expensive also. The name because if you play a Fodera, people tend to think more of you than if you play a Fender, so you pay for the name Fodera (which is actually WHY most brands cost so much, its in the name, which is why brands like peavey and kinal can have awesome higher end basses for much cheaper). And materials, because someone usually hand selects (depending on the size of the company) the woods, which tend to be much better and more consistent than in a full on factory, and you pay for the better fret wire (and fretwork), nuts, bridges, etc. So there you go. But man labor and name jack it up the most. You also pay for the research that goes into what works best and what doesnt, etc.

    And if you own an Alembic...its alllll in the name.

  5. Blackbird

    Blackbird Moderator Staff Member Supporting Member

    Mar 18, 2000
    If you think $3K is a lot for an electric bass, how about Uprights? a good upright can cost upwards of $10.000!

    Will C.:cool:
  6. Will, what does an average/good upright go for?
  7. CamMcIntyre


    Jun 6, 2000
    With what big wheel said & i think upright strings cost like $100 or something per set. Also most uprights aren't as able to take the hits like an electric can since they are hollow bodied & the woods are cut much thinner than the solid bodies. I also beleive that repairs on uprights can be really expensive.I play cello along with my Jazz so that's why i know some stuff about uprights & other orchestra style instruments. Ok sorry i got off the main topic like most people have said you pay for name,labor,developement,materials ect. SLap happy i'm not Will but i've heard around $3500 for a decent one then as quality goes up so does price.

    [Edited by FenderJazzCam on 08-27-2000 at 10:16 PM]
  8. Blackbird

    Blackbird Moderator Staff Member Supporting Member

    Mar 18, 2000
    You can get decent beginner models at around $1500 - $2k. There are also less expensive ones, which are made in China. Those can cost from $1000 - 1500 and are laminated. Solid wood basses can cost a lot more, but depending on what kind of music you play, a laminated bass might be a better choice. You can also find good deals in used basses, but it's best to have someone with you know knows uprights when purchasing a second hand bass. Wooden basses can cost between $2500 and... well, the sky's the limit. It's all about pedigree. Italian and German uprights are the most coveted, in that order of preference.

    I was lucky to find my upright. It's a german bass from the '50s or '60s. I got it for $1000, but I had to have the fingerboard leveled (a $300 job), the bridge lowered and a new endpin installed. Final cost with strings, gig bag, and an inexpensive fiberglass german bow: Somewhere north of $1600, and it was still worth it. I don't think I'll need another upright as long as I live, unless I join an Orchestra, and seeing that I'm mostly a Jazz player, it's sort of unlikely.

    You can also check the "Double Bass" section of TalkBass. That part of TB is virtually forgotten! :(

    Will C.:cool:
  9. NOT a cheap investment!

    Thanks, Will and FJC.
  10. Stingisanoldman


    Aug 21, 2000
    Do brand names necessarily matter? I mean, and forgive me if I sound like an amateur here, if you're shopping and you see a Tommy Hilfiger shirt for forty bucks you can likely find a less expensive shirt which looks very similar to it. I guess what I'm saying is, do people spend more for a "Fender" or "Ibanez" just because of the name rather than the feel?

  11. Will, what does an average/good upright go for? [/QUOTE

    You can also check the "Double Bass" section of TalkBass. That part of TB is virtually forgotten! :(
    :mad: HEY NOW! Who says that us Double Bassers are forgotten? It's just that there are more Electric Players than Upright Players out there!
    Anyway, to put my two cents in, Bass prices have become very interesting in the past couple of years. People will pay thousands more for a mediocre bass with a pedigree than they will for a no-name instrument that sounds great,because it is an investment, after all.I saw a 300-year old Testore sell for 40,000 and I know it wasn't that much better than My Juzek I got for 6500 (appraised at 10,000),(well,maybe I'm biased). I know a guy who keeps a Strad (Violin)in a safe deposit box and never plays it.He paid 1.6 omigod for it and it just sits there. Kind of sad
    But I think that reputation makes up a big part of the price tag,Then Matierials, design and construction are the other factors.
    The big thing about Uprights is that the wood has to be aged before you can use it.Barrie Kolstien, Who made My Upright, has wood in his shop aged over 50 Years. That is
    a huge contributing factor in the sound and durability of the instrument. Some of the cheaper basses made nowadays especially the chinese and Korean Uprights, are made with
    unseasoned wood, and this results in some problems. But I've already said too much, I'll go back down to my lonely
    side of the forum...
  12. rojo412

    rojo412 MARK IT ZERO! Supporting Member

    Feb 26, 2000
    Cleveland, OH.
    I think the cost is in the labor and capital. The labor of the people who cut and ship the wood. That wood is payed for by the luthier. There are a ton of specialized machines that the luthier had to buy and store in a factory (or something similar), which has a rental charge plus utilities. The luthier has to pay employees who had to learn how to build quality instruments and parts. They don't work for chump change. This is all before the luthier lays a hand on what is about to become a bass. When you build something that refined and expensive, there are details that take time. Sanding, polishing, routing, not screwing up a partially finished bass body by gouging the wood, cutting too much wood out of a pickup hole.
    I could go all day, but basically, when the bass is done, there was so much work put behind it and so much attention to detail that it amazes me how little money they actually make on a bass.
    I used to work for a company that made torque wrenches which had to be accurate enough for NASA to use (and I shipped a few to Cape Canaveral). For example, I used to have to custom size screws for the wrench. I made $7.50 per hour. The screws (100) cost about $5 per box. That's $.05 each. It took me about 2 hours to do a box. So the new screws cost $20 per box. That's $.20 per screw, or 400% of the original cost. But add to that the cost of the machine, the warehouse, the electricity, the cost of training me... it goes up to almost $1 per screw.

    Basically, the human attention to detail is what is in the cost. Machine made stuff (fender, ibanez, cort, etc.) is barely even glanced at by a person. A partially handmade bass (Warwick) is still made in bulk, but has more human attention to it. A handmade instrument (Fodera, Ken Benbesee, Carl Thompson) has a luthier on it almost the entire time it's being built. It takes months. That costs money.
    My hands are tired from typing...
  13. john turner

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

    Mar 14, 2000
    atlanta ga
    i know eddie! he and i would hang out at namm shows sometimes at the conklin booth. tell him the guy with the doubleneck conklin says howdy. you should try to get him on here.
  14. john turner

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

    Mar 14, 2000
    atlanta ga
    the major factor in custom bass manufacture is the cost of the labor. these guys making these instruments are craftsmen. bill conklin, for example, HAND CARVES every custom conklin neck. basically, if it's not a groove tools, he hand carved the neck. that takes time _AND_ skill. and that's just the neck.

    in the next week or two, i will have my band's page redone, and i have pictures of my doubleneck being made, all the woods on the top being put together, as well as the specs and the pictures that i sent to bill to design it. it's really interesting all the steps that went into it.
  15. Slater

    Slater Bye Millen! Hello?

    Apr 17, 2000
    The Great Lakes State
    One small point I'd like to add:

    After you get to a certain level of "good quality", it takes a lot more time and effort to make just a small improvement in overall quality. Therefor, Bass-A may only be 25% better in quality than Bass-B. But Bass-A will probably cost twice as much as Bass-B. An example might be: Lakland=Bass-A, MIA-Fender=Bass-B. (Of corse, there is some subjectivity involved as well).
  16. Gard

    Gard Commercial User

    Mar 31, 2000
    Greensboro, NC, USA
    General Manager, Roscoe Guitars
    John and Rojo wrote excellent posts. The costs in a custom made instrument are mostly in the labor and knowlege of the craftsman(men...women....) involved. I got a lot of knowlege of this fact hanging out at the place that built my 2 babies. It's very demanding work, and as it is these people don't make nearly enough for what they do, if you ask me. I paid the ~2K for each of mine happily, and felt almost (ALMOST!! :D) bad about it.

    You just can't compare the "vibe" of a factory made Fender/Ibanez/Cort/Insert random manufacturer here bass to that of one that was created by a master craftsman such as Bill Conklin, Sheldon Dingwall, Mike Tobias, or Bill Fels & Doug Montgomery (I'm particularly fond of their work ;) ). There is something almost magical (strange coming from a "non-supernatural" guy like me, eh? :) ) about an instrument that's been shown that much care and attention during it's "birth".

    'Scuse me, I'm gonna go commune with my babies for a while before I fall asleep....

  17. I absolutely agree. This is called the Law of Diminishing Returns and applies equally to every field of human endeavour from motor cars to football players to musical instruments.
  18. Brooks


    Apr 4, 2000
    Middle East
    Just a small note to MegaAngus - if you check my profile, you'll see I have a bunch of bass guitars, but guys I play with call my Alembic Essence "Da King". These guys know nothing about bass guitars, they never heard of Alembic until they saw mine, they just think that it sounds better than my G&L, Rick Turner etc. As for the price, it cost me $825 with case - not bad for a hand-made active bass. Fact is, I would never pay the $3,200 list on it, or the average dealer price of around $2400-2600. But at $825, I think it's worth more than any cookie-cutter Fender in that same price range.

    There ARE great deals to be had on high-end, hand-made bass guitars.
  19. Craig Garfinkel

    Craig Garfinkel

    Aug 25, 2000
    Hartford, CT
    Endorsing Artist: Sadowsky Guitars
    Remember bass builders, whether they be Fender or Ken Smith, are business people and are going to charge what the market will bear taking into consideration everything from cost of materials, labor, demand for the product, shipping costs, dealer profit, research and development, manufacturing costs, etc.

    So I guess the question is, is a $3000 Ken Smith worth three or four times the price of a made-in-America stock Fender Jazz bass? IMHO, yes. But of course you have to consider the goals you have set for yourself as a player, how much professional playing you are doing now, and how much you hope to do in the future. Unless you have plenty of disposable income, it's hard to jusitfy the high-end bass if you're only gigging once or twice a month. Hard, but not impossible...how much would you spend on a reliable car?

    As a general rule, I believe you pretty much get what you pay for when it comes to musical instruments. There are exceptions to be sure. For example, I really don't think the Fodera basses are justifiably worth $1500-$2000 more than a comparable Ken Smith, or for that matter $2000-$3000 more than say a Roscoe. On the flip side, I am absolutely amazed how good a $199 Squier Chinese-made 5 string is. So go figure.

    All in all it's better to spend more time working on your skills than money on a new bass...but it can't hurt to do both!
  20. john turner

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

    Mar 14, 2000
    atlanta ga
    one of the things that i like to bring up in this conversation is that for a long time, nobody but bill conklin was making anything remotely like the basses that i wanted. even now, there really aren't the equivalent of "mim standard jazz" basses with the layout i need, the closest thing is the groove tools, and even there, the string spacing is too wide on the regular gt7 for me. so the only mass produced "budget" bass that i would consider for my rig is the groove tools bill dickens signature, and that's about US$1700 at least. not exactly a bargain.

    so for me at least, i am going to have to continue to use custom luthiers for my bass needs out of necessity. not that i need any more basses anyway, but you get my point. :D