When (beginner, intermediate, advanced, ...) can one truly appreciate a high-end bass?

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by JPK_DK, Sep 5, 2020.

  1. JPK_DK


    Aug 9, 2019
    I guess we all know people who have bought super expensive gear (because they have the money), but can't really play (yet/ever), but think that they need the best possible gear to get better. And then there are others who can make an 80$ bass sound like a dream and play everything on it, because they can play on just about any instrument and make music.

    So, when in our journey from bloody-nosed beginner to decent amateur or gigging pro can we REALLY begin to appreciate what a good instrument offers compared to a mediocre one, or what a top-notch luthier-made bass offers compared to a run-of-the-mill Squire?

    In other words: would you start with a, say, Fodera if you had the means, or do you upgrade your instruments as you progress? What does it take to appreciate why an Alembic is "better" than a Gio?
  2. murmur70


    May 3, 2017
    Many people say to get the best bass you can afford. My Stingray inspires me to play because of its high quality and the awesome feel in my hand.
  3. Element Zero

    Element Zero Supporting Member

    Dec 14, 2016
    I’ll second that. But I’ll add that before your next purchase, PLAY EVERYTHING YOU CAN GET YOUR HANDS ON!!!
  4. darkinners


    Oct 4, 2006
    I think the first misconception is higher-end priced bass is always better.
    Most higher-end bass priced that way because instead of all processes being automated by machine, they are handcrafted by a luthier. Which means the labor cost increase, doesn't help that some workshop even locates in higher living standard areal like NYC.

    In this day of age, basses cost around $1000 or less always have great electronics and great built. I have your mid-level stuff like Fender America standard, EBMM Stingray to higher-end stuff like Fodera, Sadowsky NYC, Warwick Custom Shop..etc

    I'd be surprised if anyone can tell which one sounds more expensive in a recording but as a player, there are some minute details in boutique bass not always present in mass-produced basses. Things like rolling fretboard edge, consistency of the fret levels, slightly asymmetrical neck profile that makes you feel equally comfortable when playing the low notes, and the higher notes. sort of stuff. I think these things can be appreciated by even not so great bass players.

    In the end, use what works for you. I have friends who play professionally and use sub $1000 bass and they are not sponsored, they use it just because they like how they play and sound.
  5. lfmn16


    Sep 21, 2011
    charles town, wv
    I don't get the idea that you have to "earn" your instrument, or the implication that if you are a beginner you shouldn't have a top of the line instrument, or working your way up as you go. IMHO you should always get the best instrument you can afford. Yes, the inexpensive instruments of today are leagues above the inexpensive instruments of the 60's and 70's, but they're still not as nice as the high end instruments.

    Yea, Victor can make a Squire sound great, but I notice that he plays a Fodera. And none of us are Victor. ;)
  6. JRA

    JRA my words = opinion Supporting Member

    When ....... can one truly appreciate a high-end bass?
    i think this is a trick(y) question, and i think "the best ax you can afford" is a bit of tricky advice.

    but just to play, per the question: when your teacher says you're ready to move "up" to a 'better' instrument! :D
    JPK_DK likes this.
  7. catcauphonic

    catcauphonic High Freak of the Low Frequencies Supporting Member

    Mar 30, 2012
    Seattle WA
    I would say just make sure that playing bass is going to be a long time endeavor for you before buying the nicest gear you can afford right off the bat, especially if you're not willing to go the 2nd hand route.

    Another reason not to go all out crazy custom as a beginner is that you don't really know what your preferences are until you've tried a lot of different instruments.

    When I was closing in on my first full year of learning, I knew then it was likely going to be a 'rest of my life' delio (since I started so late, at 42yo.) That's when I started doing the research and found TB, did a bunch of reading and kept stopping by all the different GCs, pawn shops, and independent music stores around town near weekly to try out all kinds of things. Doing that and reading up on TB helped narrow my search to Spector, and when I popped into Bass Northwest (RIP) that day and saw that USA Forte-X hanging on the wall on consignment... I told myself if that bass plays and sounds as good as it looks then I was putting a deposit down on it. Well it did, and I did, and the only minor complaint I have to this day almost 10 years later is lack of access to frets 17-24 (nada biggie D!)

    Just keep practicing and do your homework before rushing out and throwing a bunch of money around. When you find 'the one' it'll probably speak to you!
  8. buldog5151bass

    buldog5151bass Kibble, milkbones, and P Basses. And redheads.

    Oct 22, 2003
    Even after decades of playing, some players can't. OTOH, my Pull is hands down the best instrument I ever touched. Buy what you like, and go for quality over quantity.
    danesdad and JPK_DK like this.
  9. EchoEcho


    Oct 14, 2007
    With the level of machining and mass production in various Eastern countries available today, there isn't much difference in quality between an inexpensive bass and a "top of the range".

    I think it's always best practice to get near the cheapest to begin with until you're experienced enough to know and appreciate the differences between what you're paying for. Don't believe that what your paying for is necessarily better(often what's better for ourselves is a purely personal choice) just because it costs more.
  10. When your experience and ears combine to tell you that you're now hearing and playing something extraordinarily better than anything you've touched before.

    Those many years ago when I was a piano student, I was fortunate to play far more good pianos than bad ones. Became quite used to several Steinway and Yamaha grands around town, all in good maintained shape, wonderful action and tone. Baldwins I laughed at, old fogey dead wastes of floor space.

    Then I played a Bosendorfer. Once.

    I remember it like it was yesterday, and actually now it's almost fifty years ago. I was used to very good pianos, but this was something else. But had I not had an experience base in my head, I would not have heard the difference.

    I'd say this applies to basses, and really a lot of things in life, although I've never had my world re-aligned ever again as that Bosendorfer did. Without that mental yardstick, it's hard to know where you're at.
  11. buldog5151bass

    buldog5151bass Kibble, milkbones, and P Basses. And redheads.

    Oct 22, 2003
    Lull P4

    @_&@@$& autocorrect...
    Helix likes this.
  12. tyohars


    Nov 11, 2016
    My experience is quite opposite. I start with Sire V7 1st gen and then purchase MIJ PBass. That's when I learn I like my Sire more than the Fender. I think, don't fooled by the brand.
  13. TheReceder


    Jul 12, 2010
    I'd say the big difference is a boutique bass is typically going to have a good set-up and more attention to detail where a lessor beginner bass may have just been churned out on an assembly line with minor (correctable) flaws.

    A perfect example is a bass that a lot of us really appreciate. Peavey foundations were distributed with awful setups and hung on the music store walls as an intro instrument. When people learned that once given a good setup they were solid instruments they started to attain a fair level of notoriety.

    Don't ignore the budget basses. there ae days when I'll play my foundations over several more distinguished basses.
  14. luciens


    Feb 9, 2020
    The short answer is yeah you could start brand new with a Fodera, but it's not the best idea in the world.

    The long answer is as follows:

    My position is that, while I think you can enjoy the benefits of a good bass at any point in your playing, as a pure practical matter it's usually better to start off with a less expensive bass. OTOH, you don't want to go too cheap and crappy - a truly bad instrument that breaks your arms to play can turn you off prematurely, without giving you the chance to learn if you really want to play bass.

    But when you're first approaching the bass, the main problem is that you don't know what you don't know. Nowadays there's a pretty wide variation in types and styles of basses that play and sound pretty different. Along with that, you're not yet in a position to judge if a particular type of bass is what you really prefer. That usually means you're going to go through at least several basses as you progress and discover what your real preferences are.

    OTOH, because of that, it's also not a bad idea to start off with something that is a "standard". Meaning, is pretty popular and, because it's been found to be good for many other players, therefore has a high chance of being suitable for you also.

    The other consideration is resale, simply because you probably are going to sell it at some point. You might get it exactly right the first time, but that's the exception rather than the rule. So it'd be nice if it's easy to get rid of and with a minimum of loss of the initial investment at sale time.

    So that's why your meat-n-potatoes entry-level Fender precision or jazz bass is a good choice for starting off. It tends to ding all of those bells at the same time as good as most other entry-level basses. And if you find it works for you as you progress, you can do your whole career on a Fender or Fender style if you want to.

    That's not the only option of course, but it's the most typical that I see.

  15. Cowboy in Latvia

    Cowboy in Latvia

    Mar 1, 2015
    I think that appreciation for the differences that make an instrument high-end comes fairly early on, shortly after the ability to feel the difference in details such as neck finish or neck profile.

    The real issue here is that often we attribute playing characteristics to the value of an instrument when they are often more a function of the quality of the setup. What I mean by that is when my cheapo main bass has a great setup, it can perform well in comparison with a handmade, high-end bass. Notice I didn't write "better".

    Once a player is familiar with the differences between a bad setup, an OK setup, a good setup, and a great setup they are better able to appreciate a "better" bass. There are often differences in craftsmanship and material quality that allow a handcrafted instrument to take a better setup or be setup more easily.
    leftybass54, JPK_DK and VoodooJazz like this.
  16. luciens


    Feb 9, 2020
    As for at what level can you truly appreciate a high-end or boutique custom made, etc., to the point that you really need one, there's no right or wrong answer to that, IMO.

    Some players sound terrible on everything even after decades of playing due to lack of talent, knowledge of their instrument, etc. Myself, for example. In my case, I play fretless exclusively in a desperate, but so far failed, attempt to improve my sound. That tends to put a "floor" on the cheapest bass I like to get, because I tend to want an unlined model if I have a choice. Those are rare as hen's teeth. I also think of basses partially as an investment, so I like nicer basses from a kind of "collector" frame of mind. But that also means it makes no sense for me to go above a certain price level to try to sound or play better. For collector or artistic reasons it might make sense, but the budget usually doesn't allow that.

    Others sound great on practically everything they play so the bass world is their oyster and it almost doesn't matter what they get.

    Others too do play and sound better as they improve the bass, and those players do realize a worthwhile benefit by going high-end or boutique.

    Even still others primarily collect and don't really play that much. They have artistic or investment intentions, so they usually go high-end, boutique and/or vintage. And not with as much concern about playability and tone, etc.

    And so on, kind of all over the map. So I don't think there's a firm answer to this one, other than it's more of if-it-dings-your-bell kind of thing IMO...

    Last edited: Sep 5, 2020
    JPK_DK likes this.
  17. RichSnyder

    RichSnyder Columbia, MD Gold Supporting Member

    Jun 19, 2003
    It really depends on your budget, but a $1500 Fender American Pro is still a lot cheaper than most band instruments. Just don’t get a 25W Rumble to go with it.

    But, the question of when can you tell the difference or appreciate a more expensive instrument could be day one or it could be a few months into your quest depending on what you're playing. When you're starting out, it really comes down to neck stability / comfort and a good setup. If you have to fight high action, you're more likely to drop out and pick up another hobby.
    Last edited: Sep 5, 2020
  18. pappabass

    pappabass Inactive

    May 19, 2006
    Alabama !! Roll Tide
    I have a friend who plays several nights a week. He has 2 Foderas, A couple of custom made basses, a few weeks ago at a show he was playing a STERLING RAY34 ! The amp did not quit, the bass neck did not fall off. He did not have to tune it after every song, Actually it sounded great.
  19. Smooth_bass88

    Smooth_bass88 vaxx! Supporting Member

    Oct 31, 2006
    North AMERICA, USA

    I started out on a $125 Harmony P Bass copy at age 12.
    About a year later I traded it (plus cash) for a cheap MX Magnum.
    A couple years after that, I was in a music store and tried out a Japanese made Charvel bass. It looked, sounded, and played much better than my previous basses. I played that thing for hours a day and did many gigs with it. I upgraded the pickups to EMGs. I thought it sounded great. I never really had any desire to try any other basses. I always subscribed to Bass Player Magazine so I could keep up on what was going on in the bass world. When I was 19, I saw a Music Man StingRay in a music store. Upon playing it, I realized this was even better than my Charvel, so, I bought it. From there, I moved on to Laklands and vintage Fenders.

    So for me, it wasn't that hard to gain perspective on the quality of the instruments I was using. I don't think it's a good idea for new, younger players to start off on expensive instruments.
    pappabass, leftybass54 and JPK_DK like this.
  20. JeezyMcNuggles

    JeezyMcNuggles Supporting Member

    Feb 23, 2018
    Santa Maria, CA
    I suck, but nobody really notices
    You'll appreciate the workmanship in high end basses, when you've played really crappy ones.

    High end basses don't sound any better than 15 dollar molasian ones. They're made better.
    bottomzone, pappabass and JPK_DK like this.
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