What to do when you're not in love with a new ride...

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by Omega Monkey, Jul 24, 2021.

  1. Omega Monkey

    Omega Monkey

    Mar 8, 2015
    So, I picked up a Sterling Ray35HHSM (spalted maple). I've always loved MM basses (at least sound/wise, haven't played them all that much, but generally had good experiences with them). The USA ones were and still are a bit out of my price range. But I saw the current line of Sterlings and started eying the specific model in question.

    Unfortunately, NOBODY has/had that exact bass in stock (this is going back to like Februrary or March). I did play a 4 string natural finish single pickup version at GC and really liked it.

    Anyway, I ordered one from one of the big online retailers (about the only one where I've seen these in stock at all) and they didn't really do any packaging besides putting the bass in the gig bag in a box. And it must have been handled roughly, because the zipper teeth from the bag put some teeth marks in headstock, and there was some finish funkiness on the fretboard, and some roughness on the underside of the headstock, etc... So I sent that one back, problem is, they had ONE more in stock and were supposed to hold that one for me, which they DIDN'T. I only found out because the week following when mine was checked back in, I called and asked. So now they were out of stock for a while again, but I got them to agree to give me the same price I had originally paid (I had a holiday coupon). Both my bass AND the other one they had ended up as open box for even less than I paid, so they must've boned up shipping both times and damaged an apparently super rare bass.

    Fast forward a few weeks, they finally had them in stock again and I decide to take another shot. This time the bass arrives without shipping damage. BUT, now that I get a chance to actually PLAY it, I'm not getting on with the action/setup at all. No problem, I can do a truss tweak/action lowering/intonation. But the string gauges they ship with are the typical all over the map random ones. So I decided to get what I need to turn what I have into a balanced set (ie a 75, 55, 40, in the matching EB). I manage to order them from an online place. They ship the 75 and 55, but say the 40 is on backorder (annoying since it was listed in stock when I made the order). After a week or so of waiting for word, I have to call up. "Oh EB are hard to get, etc...." so I order a DAddario. But I'd rather have a matching set.

    Finally, I go to a local place for something else a couple days after the DAddario 40 comes in, and thought I'd try my luck at the accessories section on a 40 EB single. Magically they have one.

    So finally I can put these more appropriately gauged strings on. I give the bass at least a roughed in setup. I had already put somewhere between a 1/4 to a 1/2 turn on the truss rod. While sitting mostly unplayed while I had been busy with other things, the neck seems nicely settled. I actually RAISED the action a little once I put the new strings on. Still maybe a few spots where the frets are maybe not as consistent as they could be, but seeming workable until I can do another pass.

    Well, a few days later I have a band practice, and the thing feels about how I did when I got it. I know it's summer time, and I live in a converted swamp, so maybe it's just temp and humidity fluctuations.

    I'm convinced the nut slots need to be filed, they're pretty high and I think that's making a good smooth setup difficult. Also I think it probably needs a fret dressing/polishing/whatever. I'm just not sure I want to spend the money to do those things on a bass before I'm even sure if I'll want to keep it. If I got it used, it wouldn't be a big deal, but although I paid what I think is a good price for it out the door, I don't want to just dump money into it blindly.

    I haven't really fallen in love with the bass otherwise like I thought I would, but I'm not sure how much of that is just playability frustrations, etc... (I'm fairly picky about setup/action, and I like it really low, which my 90s Carvin 6 string has been good about accommodating most of the time).

    So if you were me, what would you do? I should still be within the return window for a little longer but it's closing fast. My tentative plan is to take another run at the setup in the next few days and reevaluate. The bass does LOOK sweet, and can get some pretty cool tones (still experimenting with pickup selection and EQ settings). The neck is a bit chunky but reassuring, which is a different vibe from my other basses which mostly have pretty slim necks, so I kind of like the change. It's also at least an import/licensed version of a classic, which I don't really have, but with more modern/exotic looks which I like. But at the moment I feel like I'd have to go on faith that maybe another couple hundred bucks in work (or doing stuff myself that I haven't tried before) could make it a bass worthy of this kind of price point (let's say I'd be looking at 1200-ish altogether).
    TrevorG and Riff Ranger like this.
  2. wvbass

    wvbass Supporting Member

    Mar 1, 2004
    West Virginia
    I'd say you are never going to like that bass. Nothing to do with the bass - you seem to have associated the bad experiences of the original one with the current one. Also, for basses at this level, I have found that needing to work the nut a little is extremely common, and fretwork is typically very good but not perfect. At all levels, some necks move a bit, and some are stable. Sometimes on low lines, the neck seems to "settle down" after a while.

    The bass should have come with regular slinky strings. I'm not a fan of EB strings, but I wouldn't call a 45-65-80-100-130 gauge set "all over the map random." That's a fairly normal set of strings, regardless of whether you like them.

    If I were me, I'd keep it. If I were you, I'd have returned it already.
  3. Robf

    Robf Supporting Member

    Feb 14, 2007
    Fremont, CA, USA
    Personally, I had good luck buying online, but I have a Squire jazz that I honestly have never really gotten into and should have returned once I received it. The problem at the time was it's my first jazz bass and I didn't realize how differently it played compared to the other jazz basses I bought later. Considering it was cheaper in price than your Sterling, I am not sure if I should even go beyond a setup or any changes in the parts. It's sort of the "you can borrow my bass" bass.

    Honestly for your bass, I would really look at if the bass is almost there, it might be worth the money spent. You can roll the dice again and try for something out of the box that works, or better yet, wait until it's in stock at your local music store.
    Riff Ranger likes this.
  4. rpt50


    Jan 10, 2021
    It's sounds to me like you are going to keep finding problems--just look at how much time you spent writing about your experiences with the different iterations of the bass. Send it back and wait for the right bass to come along.
    jd56hawk, TrevorG and Riff Ranger like this.
  5. arbiterusa


    Sep 24, 2015
    Setup is irrelevant for this decision. Play an open string. It either has the sound you want or it doesn’t. If it doesn’t, send it back. If it does, a good tech can get it to play like anything.

    Edit: A couple of others have said it and they’re right; it sounds to me like you’re looking for an excuse to return it. You don’t need one.
  6. Riff Ranger

    Riff Ranger Supporting Member

    Mar 22, 2018
    Bigfoot Country
    I get it. I spent more on a bass than ever before, on a brand new signature model of a major influence of mine, back in February. It arrived virtually unplayable. Like you, I can do a decent setup, so I did. It had a really weak A string, and some scratches, so I sent it back and asked for a replacement. The replacement had the same issues. It took several passes at the setup, three different sets of strings, a (probably ultimately unnecessary) pickup swap, and an unexpected EQ tweak to finally get the A string sounding close enough to “right” (I do like the suggestion from @arbiterusa to play an open string, but would suggest playing all of them :laugh:). Even then, it mostly just reminds me how much I love the bass I have already had for 25 years :laugh: I don’t know what to tell you, other than that I know the feeling. I’m well outside the return window now, and still not sure I will keep it :bored:
  7. Omega Monkey

    Omega Monkey

    Mar 8, 2015
    I'm not really looking for an excuse to return it, more like the opposite if anything. I guess I'm just looking for any stories where a similar situation either worked out, or didn't, or what people would do if it was their bass.

    And I'm not really holding the first bass against this one (that more goes on the retailer). It has been kind of a saga, but I wouldn't have ordered another one if I didn't think it would be good.

    At any rate, I want to end up with a pretty nice "main" 5 string fretted with rounds, so alternately, if anyone wants to sell me on a particular model in a similar price range (used or new), that works too. I'd like something that looks great and can at least approximate a range of vintage to modern tones. I have my Carvin which after a full electronics replacement (Bartolini 69J hum cancelling jazz pickups and John East Uni Pre 3 band including active/passive switch and passive tone) is pretty great. But sometimes the 6 string is a little over the top, and I also just like having alternatives. And another option is to get a 6 string fretless, which I was looking at the Ibanez Portamento.

    Anyway, so yeah, I don't really need people second guessing what I want to do, I would rather just get some other perspectives. Things like if a fret polishing, etc... is likely to make the difference I'm looking for. The other thing I probably need to do this week is head over to the local used gear place that has like 100 or more basses, of all kinds of different flavors (I've seen Elektra, Tune, SD Curlee, etc... there, not just the boring fender/ibanez stuff you see at GC). Seeing what else is out there will help. On paper this bass is pretty close to perfect for me. Where would the line be if this were your bass?
    Riff Ranger likes this.
  8. luciens


    Feb 9, 2020
    A bad setup sounds like a minor thing and guys are dismissing it here, but it's really not. Especially a poorly cut nut with the slots too high: that'll make any bass absolutely break your arm to play for more than about 2 minutes. And make an otherwise dreamy bass keep hopping off your leg and back onto the stand/into the case every 5 bars almost like magic.

    In fact, that's why some years ago I started doing my own setups and maintenance and bought a set of tools for doing it. The local luthier will never do it the way you really like it no matter how good he is. So, sadly, your only choice is to learn to do it yourself and make the investment in the tools.

    And I've had that experience over and over on virtually all of my basses. Something doesn't have to be off by much - a slot a little too high on the E string, or just a eensy bit too much relief in the fingerboard and that bass will just stubbornly sit in the case like a pouting child. Seriously. Until I take a wrench or a nut file to it and fix it. It can take several days with the tools handy going back and forth to really get it just right.

    Same with lousy strings. Brand new shimmery roundwounds or flats that are too rubber-band/washtub bass sounding, etc. Same thing happens.

    The only unfortunate thing is, as you've correctly noted is, on a new instrument once you start cutting into the thing even just starting to file down the nut slots, there goes the automagic return policy, and you're more or less committed. I get that too.

    But its been my experience that basses that "I just didn't bond with" or "just weren't right for me" were almost always transformed into kept and well-loved/played instruments once I set them up so they weren't tearing up my hands and arms by the end of one song or maybe two. I even play a Fender P bass now (my Tony Franklin) after decades of thinking the P bass "just didn't fit me". Reason being, I have my nut files and a radius beam, etc. to set it up when it came in. Viola, I play it all the time...

    Anyway, that's just been my experience. There are some basses that I truly can't play enjoyably, but nowadays those are simple cases where I'm just too old with too much wear and tear in the hands to be able to handle them anymore (5+ string basses with super wide necks, or really goofy boutiques with huge necks, weigh a ton, etc). If it's a 4 string, I can most of the time adapt to it and/or grind on it until it doesn't hurt me to play it. And then I can enjoy it if it sounds and plays the way I want...

    Last edited: Jul 25, 2021
  9. luciens


    Feb 9, 2020
    PS: the G&L L2500 is perfectly good choice for a 5 string, though you have to be mindful of the pickup height. the B string will absolutely clear the bar out if you have the pickups too close to the strings.

    For me, the best 5 string ergonomically I ever owned was a Carvin Bromberg 5 fretless. I wasn't totally sold on how it sounded, it was a little blah for me. But Kiesel has better pickups nowadays so it's worth looking at.

    Here's mine with the older Carvin radiused humbuckers, played through a practice amp. This is from about 7 or 8 years ago (I don' thave the bass or the amp anymore, don't ask):

    And another track that sounds even worse, but still gives an idea of the tone:

    Omega Monkey likes this.
  10. Greg75


    Nov 20, 2009
    I'd spend my Sunday afternoon with the right tools getting it dialed in as well as possible, including putting on my favorite set of strings and addressing any issues with the nut if necessary (no one will know if you have to file a bit). Then, I'd play it for a few hours. By Monday morning I'd know whether to keep it or send it back.
    Omega Monkey and JRA like this.
  11. drumvsbass


    Aug 20, 2011
    Return it. How much time are you going to waste trying to like something that isn't going to be what you want it to be in your head. It's never going to be that.
    jd56hawk and BobKos like this.
  12. There’s a lot of variables in basses. There’s a lot of variables in humans.

    Both of those things are unpredictable.

    It’s ok if they don’t click. There’s lots of other ones around.
  13. BobKos

    BobKos Supporting Member

    Apr 13, 2007
    You don't state what the B &E string gauges are, but I personally wouldn't choose those other strings you bought unless you're doing some crazy tuning scheme. IMO if you were finding fault with the original string gauges, you should have just bought a set of strings you like and put them on. The whole dialogue about trying to find a specific .040 string seems like a monumental effort for what? I would say part of your issue may be the whacky string set you have installed. IMO there's no way you are going to be able to evaluate the bass in the context of the OP with a custom blend of strings. Buy a normal set of strings (or put the originals back on), set it up proper, and see if you like the bass. If yes, keep it and refine it. If no, send it back.

    Hate to say, but this is why I don't buy open box basses from retailers with a generous return policy.
    Last edited: Jul 25, 2021
  14. JRA

    JRA my words = opinion Gold Supporting Member

    then take care of that! maybe let a trusted tech/luthier get things in the ballpark per your preferences --- you can do the final tweaking(s).

    me? i'd put time/money into it if i knew (or even thought) that would make a difference. that said, i think i have a good idea/judgment which axes are 'worth it': the time and the money --- and which ones are not. i think i'm pretty picky about stuff, too. so i persevere until i see the writing on the wall! :laugh:

    FWIW: i would never expect any ax, at any price, to play like "'the one', right out of the box." when other folks describe that situation i chalk it up to:
    - they're an easy mark.
    - they're less "picky."
    - they're luckier.
    - any combination of the above.

    whatever you decide = good luck! :thumbsup:
    Last edited: Jul 25, 2021
  15. DrBnz


    Apr 4, 2021
    You started out saying the U.S. models were out of your price range. But you're already 1200 into it. So you're not THAT FAR out of range. I view guitars like houses or cars. Always "go big", meaning "slightly" out of my comfort zone (financially). Not only will you be more satisfied with your purchase, but your resale value and/or ability to sell/trade is better when you go big. So "if" you absolutely love how it LOOKS, FEEL, SOUND then keep it and make it work. If you're lacking anything there..... I'd take it back and go big the next time.
    rockdoc11 and Hummergeist like this.
  16. Jazzkuma


    Sep 12, 2008
    Set it up properly with your strings, your action…etc. Give it a month of playing.

    if you dont still feel comfortable with that bass, sell it online.

    if you sell it for less than what you bought it for just think of it as a rental you paid for a month to try a bass.
  17. wvbass

    wvbass Supporting Member

    Mar 1, 2004
    West Virginia
    Amen. There is a lot of wisdom in this post.

    I'll admit to being an easy mark, but I still disagree with you. Most basses need some setup work out of the box, and a setup issue is not a reason I would ever return or sell a bass.

    But...maybe it does take a little bit of luck, but what I really think it takes is well-selected woods, a proper setup in the first place, and the right weather when it ships. I have three (two new and one used, but clearly almost never touched) that were perfect for me out of them box. One of them has not needed so much as a truss rod tweak, and I've had it for almost two years now.
    JRA likes this.
  18. JRA

    JRA my words = opinion Gold Supporting Member

    :thumbsup: :thumbsup:

    i think i was unclear or confusing in the way i stated my post because i agree 1000% with your statement, above! ;) :thumbsup:
    wvbass likes this.
  19. Hummergeist

    Hummergeist Commercial User

    Jul 21, 2020
    Tutorials, reviews, and interviews for Future Publishing.
    Agree, I pushed it a bit with my last two, and every day I'm glad I did.
    Alivefor5 likes this.
  20. murmur70


    May 3, 2017
    It sounds like you are comfortable with the neck and like the sound. I think everything else can be adjusted to make it what you want it to be.
    Staccato, Greg75 and Omega Monkey like this.