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What to look for on used upright?

Discussion in 'Basses [DB]' started by MtnGoat, Aug 8, 2000.


  1. MtnGoat

    MtnGoat

    May 7, 2000
    MA/NH
    There is a 1960s Kay upright bass in a pawn shop near where I live. They are asking ~$1450. The bass has a rosewood fingerboard and is well used, but playable. The fingerboard is rough, with dings in the sides in a few places. Overall the bass looks good, but well used. A new bridge has been installed and a setup was done on the bass. How would I be able to know if this is a worthwhile price for the bass? I know there are not many, but are a few new plywood basses of decent quality that I can purchase for this price or slightly higher. What advice can you offer?

    Digs
     
  2. Rockinjc

    Rockinjc

    Dec 17, 1999
    Michigan
    What to look for in a URB huh? … What are you going to do with it?

    Well I can think of a few things. Like what does it sound like? How does the neck fit into your hands? Those are the two most important things. Are the edges worn out? Does it have a decent end pin and cable? Is the neck on tight or has the neck been repaired?

    I myself prefer an ebony fingerboard it will last better if you are going to slap it. The bridge should have height adjusters as well. Is it setup for the way you want it? Are the strings decent? If you replace the fingerboard, have setup work on it, replace the strings and ad a pickup and/or purchase a microphone and a volume pedal, is it still within your budget? Will you need a new bag or bow for the thing? All things considered, if it needs work you could wind up spending a few hundred more dollars on it. If it is set just how you like it, it may be worth the price.

    jc
     
  3. MtnGoat

    MtnGoat

    May 7, 2000
    MA/NH
    Thanks for the info. I have been an electric player for a long time and am looking to get into the upright scene, so I don't have much knowledge about how to select a bass and what it costs to work on them.

    This 60's kay bass has a lot of charm, but what can you say about the sound of them compared to other inexpensive plywood basses or what can you say in general about the sound/quality of such a bass? Would I be paying for a bass that has the appeal of being from the 60s and that would not be very good if sold in new condition today, or for a bass that was/is a great inexpensive bass that is now affordable due to its wear and dings? Any comments appreciated.
    Digs
     
  4. 1) Nobody can hear dings. 2)I've never heard of a pawn shop that expected to get asking price. Tell him the bridge is too low, or high, the cable for the tail piece is too short, the fingerboard has to be dressed, etc. Have 8 $100 bills in your pocket and $200 in 20's in your wallet. Show him the $800 so he can say no. If he doesn't move, leave. I see this thing going for $1,000.
    BUT- don't buy it unless you like the sound. Kay prices, like all basses, depend on sound first, then condition. When all is said and done, you don't want to have more than $2,000 invested in the typical Kay, depending on your location. I have almost 3 in mine, but it's a surprising specimen in a high priced area (metro NYC), and I have no intention of selling it.

    [Edited by Don Higdon on 08-09-2000 at 07:26 PM]
     
  5. winston

    winston Supporting Member

    May 2, 2000
    Berkeley, CA
    As an upright dabbler for the last 12 years (I play them when they come into my life thru friends but I've never owned one), I've had to accommodate myself to less than wonderful instruments. If it came to buying one, I wouldn't do it unless the instrument had a sound and feel I could live with, and was in good condition. At least where I live (Sacramento, CA area) $1450 is way too much for a Kay. A friend got a decent one for $750, and I'm still kicking myself for not buying the best Kay I ever played, which was $1000 on consignment at a local music shoppe. The thing just purred and growled, was setup well, and filled up the room beautifully without an amp. Oh well...maybe next time!
     
  6. MtnGoat

    MtnGoat

    May 7, 2000
    MA/NH
    Ed,
    The bass still sits in that pawn shop. I am doing a lot of checking into this before I plunk down any change. I know there are other basses out there for about the same money so if it sells before I get beck to it then I have other options. I have had several upright player friends of mine go by and play the thing. So far they have given favorable reviews of its tone, but say that some neck adjustment may be necessary.
    By the way, has anybody out there played Johnson uprights. A dude today told me that these basses have solid tops, sound decent, and sell new for ~$1200.
    Digs
     
  7. Tim Ludlam

    Tim Ludlam

    Dec 19, 1999
    Carmel, IN
    I think that re-planing will set you back between $125-$175 here in the good old midwest. One thing you have to make sure of, is if the fingerboard needs to be re-planed, do you have enough thickness? Once you get to a certain point, and you still haven't achieved the desired results, it's new fingerboard time. I bring this up, because Kays, and more so with Englehardts, et al, can have some pretty skinny fingerboards right from the start.
     
  8. MtnGoat

    MtnGoat

    May 7, 2000
    MA/NH
    Ed,
    When they said neck adjustment, they were referring to the fact that some notes were buzzing and that there were a few notes that had inferior sound, all of which were consistent with a neck that may not be straight. This is information coming from them--I haven't been back over to look at the thing myself since I got the info.
    Digs
     
  9. Dig: I'm not ready to buy into buzzing and a few notes of inferior quality as caused by a neck that isn't straight. It sounds more like a worn fingerboard and maybe too much playing in too few keys, so that the wear is not evenly distributed. You have the cost of planing from Tim. A new ebony fingerboard in NYC is $900. Material wholesale cost is $190. Rosewood is $55. You might have both a worn fingerboard and a misaligned neck. Put the bass on its back and look at the strings and the neck from the bottom. Also check the bridge feet. Are they centered with the f-holes, or has the bridge been shifted sideways because of an off-center neck? By the way, these conditions can occur on a new but mass produced bass.
    An added benefit from doing these checks is that the seller has more respect for your judgement when you start playing hardball.
     
  10. MtnGoat

    MtnGoat

    May 7, 2000
    MA/NH
    Don,
    Thanks for you suggestions.
    I went over to the pawn shop to look at the bass again on Saturday. I didn't lay it on its back the way you suggested, but I think I'll try that next time I'm over there. By just looking down the neck on both sides it looks like the neck is fairly straight. You are probably right about the wear--the neck is well used and even has a few string-thickness dents in it. I played a new Englehardt bass also and I think the old Kay sounds fuller and richer. I definitely need to look around and consider my options before buying this bass.
    Digs
     
  11. I'm curious; how do you know it's a 60's model? Is the label still there? Also, how do you intend to use it - arco or pizz? Depending on your answer, there may be other considerations.
     
  12. pkr2

    pkr2

    Apr 28, 2000
    coastal N.C.
    Digs, I can't quote the numbers but i believe I can give you some sound advice.

    Look at the fingerboard CLOSELY. Look at the glueline and any obvious misalignment. If it's a Kay and it doesn't have an ebony F.B., without grooves(string wear) and in PERFECT playing condition that's plain and simply too much money for a 60's? kay.

    If everything looks good in the store and you've decided it's "the" bass you've got to have, then it's time for step two. If you can pay that much for a bass you can probably spring for another 25 to 50 bucks for an appraisal by a pro. Friends always have good intentions but they may not always know what you need to know. Also, If you decide to insure it you have a valid value to present to the ins. co. Sometimes the dealer has based his price on what "he" thinks it's worth. If he has overpriced it, you've got a strong negotiating tool. If, not likely, it's priced too low, you don't have to let him know the results of of the appraisal and you get a bargain.

    Good luck, and let us know your decision.

    Just remember, it's always a buyers market and theres another deal just around the corner. :}
     
  13. pkr2

    pkr2

    Apr 28, 2000
    coastal N.C.
    I've been called everything now. :)

    I'm sure you could, Ed, but you live in one of the most expensive places in America. I promise you that 1400 bucks will buy a very good plywood Kay from the 60's(?) pretty much anywhere in the south.

    A soft drink froma vending machine here costs 40 to 75 cents. A hamburger at Mickey dee costs .95 to a buck25. I can rent a very decent home for 4 to 7 hundred a month. Figure in the cost of living and everything is much higher in N.Y.

     
  14. MtnGoat

    MtnGoat

    May 7, 2000
    MA/NH
    pkr2-
    This 60s Kay bass supposedly was worked on and setup by a little by a local string repairman/builder, who also helped the pawn shop price the bass. From what I've seen out there, I will not buy it for $1400. By the way, the fingerboard is definitely not ebony.

    A reputable string store nearby has a 50s early model englehardt with a hard maple fingerboard that they are selling for $1800. Also, I have found several used newer Englehardts for ~$1400 and a new laminated bass incl. bag with ebony fingerboard and adj. bridge for $1900. I need to do some driving around at this point and play a bunch of stuff.

    I plan to use the bass I eventually buy primarily for pizzicato playing, but would like to bow as well.

    Digs

    [Edited by Digagroove on 08-21-2000 at 04:24 PM]
     
  15. Poke Her, Too: I don't have anything to say; I just wanted to get this variation of your name in before Ed.
     
  16. pkr2

    pkr2

    Apr 28, 2000
    coastal N.C.
    LMAO. Yeah Ed we're pretty much saying the same thing. Truth of the matter is, Kay produced a lot of different quality instruments thru the sixties. Theres a lot of difference between a student model kay and a Chubby Checker blond. They are both usually excellent basses but there can be a world of difference in the value of each.

    Anyway, I agree that we don't disagree. :)
     
  17. MtnGoat

    MtnGoat

    May 7, 2000
    MA/NH
    Picker2-
    Now that you mention the different Kay models, it makes me wonder how I be able to tell which model this particular bass is? It definitely has a light golden color, similar to the color one would get when putting a polyurethane finish on a piece of sanded plywood.
    Digs
     
  18. pkr2

    pkr2

    Apr 28, 2000
    coastal N.C.
    Therein lies the value of a reliable appraiser. If I were you, I would pursue evaluating the bass in question. All Kay basses seem to be more desirable if they have "gambrel" corners on the bouts. Please correct me on my terminology, Ed.(gambrel?} If the original finish is still o.k., or repairable, the fact that it's a blond may have something to do with the value. The wear on the edges of the bouts is a good indicator of how well the bass has been taken care of.

    It sometimes is a good idea to put down the minimum deposit to keep someone from scooping your deal while you do some research on the bass. Most stores wont return the deposit if you decide not to buy. Most stores will go along with giving you a gift cert. or store credit for the amount of deposit if you don't buy. Afer all, you can always use strings etc. so you don't actually lose the deposit. MAKE SURE the terms of deposit are spelled out on the reciept.

    Use a flashlight to look inside the bass for a paper sticker which should have ,at the very least, the model and serial #. An appraiser will use this info to appraise the bass.

    By the way, where are you located? As Ed and I were discussing earlier, that does have an impact on the actual selling price.

    Just as an aside, all the Chubby Checkers had ebony fingerboards as far as I know.

    Poke Her, Too: I don't have anything to say; I just wanted to get this variation of your name in before Ed."

    Don't get Ed started! :) :)


    [Edited by pkr2 on 08-22-2000 at 08:53 AM]
     
  19. Pick, Poke: Gamba, as in viola de. However, I'm not aware of Kay ever making anything but violin corners. In any event, at this point, unless everybody was lying in the other thread about what was the primary reason for selecting a particular bass, sound is more important than which model, reasonable wear and tear on the finish, etc. We're talking Kay, not Montagnana; a qualified bass repair man would be more helpful; an appraiser seems like overkill.
     
  20. pkr2

    pkr2

    Apr 28, 2000
    coastal N.C.
    In a couple of my posts I've mentioned Chubby Checker models. I should have said Chubby Jackson. They say the memory is one of the first things to go. :)

    Don, everything I've said is only my opinion. Certainly open to disaggreement. You certainly may be right about the Kay always having violin corners. I'll try to find out for sure before I concede the point though.:) I'm glad we can disagree without being "too" disagreeable. Anyway thanks for the input.