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What REALLY makes a BassMore "Playable?"

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by Jerry Callo, May 28, 2011.

  1. Jerry Callo

    Jerry Callo Banned

    May 23, 2011
    Playability is subjective. It simply is whatever the player finds comfortable. Where I've learned the term is more of a marketting tool is in the area of boutique basses, which tend to feel more "solid" and in turn is promoted as being somewhat superior. (That solidity can often also feel a bit stiff). Add a pre amp that makes it louder and suddenly there's an elitist quality to it. Use exotic woods, add the term "hand crafted" (although all basses are a combination of hand and machinery) and a hefty price tag and there will always be those who feel better about owning a more "serious" instrument.

    Now, I'm not saying there aren't great custom made instruments out there. That's the point -- if you want to spend more for something you want...GREAT. But I do have to question the "playability" issue.

    For me it's simple. After going through dozens of basses, including custom built and boutique,I've come to the conclusion that playability is hundreds of little factors beyond the straightness of the neck. Maybe that's where the high end stuff is more consistant. But it doesn't mean it's preferable and it doesn't mean a cheaper bass is inferior.

    Consistancy in a product doesn;t mean much to me, because, I'm not buying the whole line. I need just one. ;)
  2. Muddslide


    Feb 23, 2007
    Mobile, Alabama
    For me, I never thought it had anything to do with the brand name of a bass, or its cost, where it was made, whether or not is was a boutique custom build or something mass-produced, etc.

    I just think of "playability" as a confluence of little things that make a bass comfortable for me to play. Ergonomic body shape, not too heavy, easy and comfortable to play either sitting down or standing up, action, neck profile, etc.

    Most if not all of these things are personal and subjective. They will be different for everyone. Some people like higher action. Some people like thinner necks. Some people like certain body contours, etc. There's no right or wrong to any of it, but do feel as though "playbility" is a legitimate descriptive term when talking about an instrument.

    To me, some basses feel more "playable" than others just in the sense that they are comfortable and easy to get up and down the neck on.

    And again, this has nothing to do with price or anything else. though I've owned some nice vintage and high-dollar instruments in my day, I very much keep to the inexpensive end of the spectrum nowadays.

    Personally, the basses wth the highest playability for me are the old P-bass, and some of the more playable ones I've owned are cheapie knockoffs.
  3. GrapeApe

    GrapeApe Banned

    Nov 9, 2009
    Richmond, Va
    I think its half truth, half marketing, and half subjective opinion - and if that math made sense to you, you're probably in charge of pricing at Gibson... :p

    As far as playability, the feel of a Squier beats just about anything for me...
  4. Well, the price they are making us pay at Gibson make more sense to me than Fender. At the price of a MIM Fender you can get a MIA Gibson!

    Well that's what I call bad pricing!

    Anyway to keep on the subject, it's all about the name and the salary they offer to the people who work for them.
  5. IanIan


    Dec 31, 2009
    When I think of playability of an instrument it has a lot to do with the individual instrument itself, to me every instrument is unique, much like every person is and like not every person plays great, neither does every instrument, but it doesn't mean you couldn't make them play good.
    Even if my ibanez sr300 was made from "bad wood" it still sounds and plays great. Every instrument builder/luthier should know how to work with the cheapest and the "worst" woods and hardware possible, and after mastering the worst circumstances imaginable move onward to better stuff
  6. MikeBC


    Oct 28, 2009
    There is subjective element in play here. There also elements that are universal.

    To me such elements of playability include but are not limited to a stable straight neck, very low fast action, frets that are comfortably spaced and do not tend towards buzzing, tuners that hold well, and strings that deliver the goods while ripping one's fingers as little as possible.

    Another test is when a guitarist or another bassist tries the instrument, smiles, is surprised and, or comments, man that is smooth or that is very playable.
  7. faulknersj

    faulknersj Supporting Member

    Apr 4, 2008
    Scottsdale Az
    A straight, jazz bass width neck...super low action...34" scale or less...tight string spacing...the closer point A is to point B the better. For me...a J-bass, an MM Sterling or a Med Scale P-bass.
  8. cnltb


    May 28, 2005
    For me it's a light instrument a well shaped neck( I prefer them relatively wide but not too thick) and wide enough string spacing to not cramp up at either end.
    I personally am uncomfortable on short scale basses( 33" and shorter) so 36 for me.
    It's subjective.
  9. TechJunky


    Aug 31, 2009
    Columbus, OH
    Playability for me is similar to what others have mentioned. Low action without fret buzz, frets finished well and no sharp edges, neck is finished well (I prefer oil finishes, not a fan of satin or gloss), and to me, the electronics have an effect as well. If the pickup/pre is cheap or doesn't sound good, I find myself trying to alter how I play to make it sound better. If it sounds good from the start, then I can play natural and just adjust how I play to alter the tone accordingly (such as by the bridge for brighter, articulate playing and over the neck for round, warmer, boomy tone). I agree it is all subjective. And while I don't think all cheap basses are of bad quality and can't be playable, I do think that you're more likely to find a more playable bass if you spend more. I'm not saying you have to go for the $5000+ basses, but for me, comparing something like a Stingray to a Squier, the Stingray is generally more playable for me. The higher quality parts and more attention to detail tends to allow me (and others) to set the bass up how we want and play it, not set the bass up the best we can and adjust to fit. I give Squier a lot of credit, as their basses nowadays seem better and easier to setup like that, but I've played a lot of cheap basses that frankly aren't very playable to me since there's always a compromise it seems (such as if you want low action, prepare for fret buzz or dead spots)
  10. allexcosta


    Apr 7, 2004
    A truly straight and well shaped neck, perfect fretboard and good fretwork is a good part of it...
  11. hofnerboy


    May 27, 2011
    Yes hand made and well shaped
  12. stflbn


    May 10, 2007
    Nut height IMHO is the primary contributor to playability. Many basses have ridiculously high nut height.
  13. for me it's a mix of a good low action and having a ramp installed or radiused pickup covers. Although I can play without a ramp but the truly playable basses I have, the ones I feel most comfortable on all have them, they all range in neck shapes and thicknesses and string spacing but the ramp and low action is all I really need to groove.

    I do agree I think nut height and neck stiffness play a huge part in this as they help keep the bass solid and uniform, just my 2c
  14. Playablilty, at least for me, includes many factors. Most of these are ergonomics. Here goes:
    1. Balance. They should be balanced in the middle. Neck heavy and backside heavy (Think Stienberger headless bridges) are a major factor for me.
    2. Finger spacing. If it's too wide or to narrow I do not care for it.
    3. How the body cuts are made to fit. Does the bass fit naturally against me, or does it feel like I'm trying to play a flat table top?
    4. The thickness of the neck from top to bottom. For my short fingers, this is actually more of a critical area than how wide the fretboard is.
    5. Tone: Will the tone fit one of the styles of music I play?
    6. Weight. Not so much a factor for most but I find heavy basses an anoyance to my bad shoulder.
    7. String height. I like a straight neck with the strings relatively low. The height of the nut is a factor here as well.
  15. I think "playability" is a disingenuous descriptor to use in the marketing of a 4 string electric bass or a 6 string electric guitar, but that should come as no surprise to even the least savvy consumer. The above posts bring out valid points about ergonomics, but playability is all relative to the hands of the player.

    Start with an instrument that is constructed within your ergonomic comfort range, then have that bass set up by virtuoso tech and you'll have a highly playable bass. Virtually any reasonably constructed bass can be highly playable once it's been across the bench of a skilled tech. I think there is a range of setup specs that can be broadly categorized as "playable" and any professional instrument (I know, that's an arbitrary category) can generally be setup inside that range. The trick is to find the exact kind of setup that brings out effortless playing for YOU, then keep going back to the same to tech (or learn to do that exact setup for yourself). The point I'm belabouring is that I've played Mexican Fenders and SX basses that were very playable once they're setup to my liking.

    In terms of marketing, I'm always much more impressed by an instrument manufacturer's claims of the instrument's stability, or its ability to hold a setup through the changes in climate, than I am of their claims of its playability. But I rarely see that in marketing print. My general experience is that cheaper basses tend not to hold their setup as well as some pricier ones, and therefore become less playable more often. Also, cheaper basses are not setup in the factory (part of the reason they're cheaper) and almost never setup when they get hung in a music store. So the experience that you go through is a store is that you pick a cheap bass off the wall and it plays like crap because it's not well setup. You reach for something more expensive that has already been through the hands of a skilled tech, either from the factory or in the store, and you find it much more playable. The store doesn't bother doing setups on cheaper instruments for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that they'll have to set it up again once the climate changes.

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