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

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

  1. Helix

    Helix California U.S.A.

    May 29, 2015
    I knew what you meant
    buldog5151bass likes this.
  2. OptimalOptimus


    Jan 4, 2019
    Some people can’t like very expensive instrument or more than 4 strings. It isn’t in their DNA.

    a lot of people here are rockers and old rockers and Fender is the poopie for that style of music... could they rock on a Whatever-expensive-brand ? Yes but the sound and feels may be to sophisticated.

    you see a lot more high end or more than 4 string in metal and jazz fusion than in rock.
    JPK_DK likes this.
  3. pravus


    Feb 5, 2013
    Fort Wayne, IN
    I think it will be a natural progression depending on your willingness to try new things and ability to discern features in your instrument that you absolutely depend on for the material you play. You will also need access to a variety of instruments in different styles and quality levels to understand the differences as a personal experience.

    When I got back into bass I started with an Ibanez SR-500 but continued to try Yamahas, Fenders, other Ibanez models and pretty much anything I could get my hands on. As I played more I started noticing things like maple necks and fretboards always seemed to feel a certain way and neck profiles started to make a huge difference in my comfort level. I also started experimenting with string gauges and was searching for a better overall playing experience.

    Now I play Dingwall exclusively and that's because after doing all of this searching they offer exactly what I am looking for in terms of neck, body, and fingerboard construction and quality along with tone, playing comfort and aesthetics. I also fully get why people lust after Fender P-basses, Ernie Ball MMs, Rickenbackers, Sadowskys, Sandbergs, Ritters, ... even if I don't own any. Once you know what you want you start to focus your collection around it.

    I would say buy an instrument with a purpose. That purpose can even be just to look at it or reward yourself for something, but make sure that's the purpose you want first.
  4. Medicine Man

    Medicine Man

    Apr 10, 2015
    I think you can appreciate fine instruments at any step of your journey, but there does come a point where your skills are refined enough to know what your preferences are for feel. Maybe you are lucky and that preference aligns with an inexpensive instrument. I highly prefer the feel of my off the rack Strat over many high end instruments I've played, but I'm only mediocre at regular guitar. I'm much more discriminating when it comes to basses. I can play any cheap bass you hand me, but I prefer my main axe. A friend of mine just spent $18 G on a handmade trumpet. My mom is a symphonic harpist, and I don't want to know what she spent on that thing. I guess we should all be happy we play an affordable instrument in general.
    imabuddha, Roger W, JPK_DK and 2 others like this.
  5. Bartrinsic

    Bartrinsic Supporting Member

    Jan 6, 2018
    San Diego
    The bass in the photo at left cost ~400 off Craig's List locally and I did all the restorations myself. With new pickups, tuners and passive electronics it sounds and plays great. What I learned is that I don't want to buy a >$2K 4 string jazz or clone because the necks are bit too small for my hand (It's now lent out to a friend). I spent too much on my first Ibanez and learned the same thing (this is OK because the mint Ibanez was not hard to sell). My suggestion is to use your budget to try cheaper knock-offs, lower end or other import versions of the 'original' ('standard', 'pro', 'Squire', etc. ). Trade, buy used and restore, buy open box. Try as many basses as you can stand--when I say try, I mean you have to practice daily with the bass for 6-8 weeks before you pass judgement. The most important thing is whether the style of bass fits you, both ergonomically and aesthetically. And everything you plug the bass into also makes a difference, so I've needed to spread the money around quite a bit. Plan on buying some things that you won't keep. Plan on making some buying mistakes. As the price tag goes up I try to make fewer big errors, but I've made a few costly ones--all in the service of finding what seems to play and sound best in my hands, not what everyone must agree is the one best most pricey bass ever made, or the one vintage model that should have ended bass building forever. What frets are going to be best for you? What scale? What nut width, bridge spacing, pickups, preamps, wood choices and weight? I always wear a strap and sometimes clip the butt end to my belt loop, so guess what?--I've saved good money on some great basses with 'neck dive', because that doesn't matter much to me--I'd rather have a great sturdy neck on a slim solid body than the modern 7 pound empty-box sounding chambered's that are popular these days (disclosure: I own 2 chambered basses and they have two different 'hollow' sounds that are not necessarily worse than a heavier bass)--as replacements for 10lb+ 'balanced' solid bodies. You should disagree with me--because you've tried it yourself and you know what works for you. Then you can start pushing up the price a bit, but you might find yourself with declining marginal returns--once I had a better idea of what works me, I had to face the fact that most of the high-end production basses are built without some key things that work for me. So I end up hunting for odd birds or going custom or just buying another Ibanez--and I can get 4 custom basses to my perfect specs for the price of one Fodera.
    Roger W and JPK_DK like this.
  6. fishdreams

    fishdreams Supporting Member

    Sep 4, 2010
    Brooklyn, NY
    Endorsing: Arkham Vacuum Tube Amplification and and Martin Keith Guitars
    It's about what is the right instrument for you and whether you are a beginner or not will likely inform your capability to decide that, but has no bearing on whether that is a Gio or a Fodera - it can be either.

    I got both my handbuilt Martin Keith basses because 1) I finally knew what I wanted 2) what I wanted to come together (sound, construction, appointments etc) in 1 bass can and could not be bought of the shelf 3) Martin's builds and models fall right into what I wanted 4) the playability and musical/expressive quality is above anything ive ever played off the shelf 5) I could save up for it and afford them. Part of saving up for it selling off basses because now one bass takes the place of several others.

    I still have a few super cheap basses left. Because I like them for what they do.
    JPK_DK likes this.
  7. SpazzTheBassist


    Jun 20, 2006
    Why do dogs lick their....I mean, Why do people buy expensive basses?

    Because they can
    equill likes this.
  8. Bass V

    Bass V

    Dec 11, 2008
    Honolulu, Hawaii
    I hope I never get SO good that I need more than the awesome cheapos I've got
    besides, the more you spend the further away from good basic tone you tend to get
  9. DigitalMan

    DigitalMan Bring Back Edit/Delete Supporting Member

    Nov 30, 2011
    Bay Area, CA
    I just replaced the ceiling fan in my office since I’m repainting and the style of the old fan no longer fit the color scheme. Both fans were from good companies. I made the change based on style and fit, not because I’m a ceiling fan snob. However, in so doing I came to the realization that the build quality and workmanship of the new fan greatly exceeded that of the old fan. Not that the old fan had any deficiencies.

    I’m a ceiling fan beginner. But I can appreciate the difference in quality design, build, and all the little extras like how well the packaging and documentation is put together.

    Expensive basses don’t take expertise to appreciate. And they don’t necessarily sound better. But if you can tell the difference between average furniture and a really nicely built piece of furniture, you are qualified to appreciate a high end bass. It’s a nicely built object.
    Rich Fiscus, Roger W, JPK_DK and 6 others like this.
  10. Esteban Garcia

    Esteban Garcia bassist, arranger, aelurophile Supporting Member

    Apr 11, 2018
    Portland, OR
    Modern cheap basses are amazing. The cost/benefit curve flattens significantly above $1k new/$500 used IME. That is, for every dollar you spend over that, you get less and less benefit. Yes, a $2k bass is better than a $1k bass in noticeable ways, but it's not twice as beneficial. Likewise a $6k boutique bass isn't 3 times as playable as a $2k production instrument. Most pros could do their jobs with $900 MiM fenders, and you'd never hear the difference.

    For beginner/intermediate players, I can't imagine any benefit to getting better in buying anything beyond a production import for $500 used. That's still a lot of scratch for a lot of people, but it'll get you a studio- and stage-ready instrument that might be your forever bass.
    JPK_DK and luciens like this.
  11. FronTowardEnemy

    FronTowardEnemy It is better to go unnoticed, than to suck Supporting Member

    Sep 19, 2006
    Chicago Illinois
    Not reading through all the replies, I can say that I had a Fender MIJ Marcus Miller with an East retro Marcus preamp in it.

    Total high end bass in my book, it was so good I had to sell it because I would never use all its features. I used it stock as my main player for about 8-9 years as a paid gigging musician, when I realized all I needed was a P bass, I sold it off.

    My talent dictates what bass I play, no boutique Basses for me I’m afraid.
    JPK_DK likes this.
  12. ShawnG

    ShawnG Supporting Member

    May 2, 2020
    Ft Worth, TX
    I'm a beginner, about five months into my bass journey, starting at age 54.
    At the very beginning, I got two basses, a Squire P/J and a Kingston Saratoga jazz, both for just over $200, as I wanted to try one of each and since just starting out, do it as reasonably as possible.
    I've decided to be serious about learning to play and have set some real, long-term (five-year) goals for my playing. I've decided to invest in a couple great Jazz basses (USA Geddy & Sadowsky MetroLine, both used), quit GASing and focus on my practice knowing that the basses will never be the reason for my lack of tone.

    Have I been playing long enough or am I good enough to warrant either of the basses I bought. No.

    Can I tell the difference in build quality and the the sounds they produce. Absolutely.

    Would I be embarrassed to show up at my first lesson with an instructor with one of these basses in tow, probably.

    Do I think they playing with a quality instrument from an early stage will make me play better, I don't know, but it won't hurt and it motivates me to play every day, both to justify the cost and to try to coax the wonderful sounds out of these basses that I know they are capable of.
    Last edited: Sep 5, 2020
    imabuddha, Roger W and JPK_DK like this.
  13. That is different for everyone.
    I always recommend getting a good, well set-up guitar, but not necessarily something expensive for a beginner. Something that fits their hands and size in general, (especially if they are a child) is most important.
    I don’t think a true beginner can appreciate or use what an expensive bass has to offer, but they CAN feel and see the difference.
    JPK_DK likes this.
  14. Bruiser Stone

    Bruiser Stone Supporting Member

    Dec 7, 2017
    Good stuff helps inspire me to play. It’s not the reason I practice. There needs to be a cost-benefit analysis of how good, but I’m a firm believer quality gear (and not necessarily any particular brand name) puts the ball in my court.
  15. Justinian


    May 7, 2015

    I think a lot of players have nice basses and so-called mediocre basses yet could appreciate them both for what they are

    Personal setup/upkeep of your instrument is a big factor in your sound and desire to play
    JPK_DK and equill like this.
  16. jd56hawk

    jd56hawk Supporting Member

    Sep 12, 2011
    The Garden State
    Many people can take a $200 bass and make it work without ever having to upgrade.
    I've played all the cheap basses and was satisfied with each and every one of them, but I liked trying better basses whenever people recommended this or that brand and model.
    I won't say try every bass out there, but try as many as possible until you find the right one.
    For me, the right one happened to be the G&L L2000. I have two of them now, and I know I won't find anything better, so there's no need to try those botique basses, classic basses or the custom-shop builds.
    Last edited: Sep 5, 2020
    JPK_DK, nabilhuakbar and SimonSays32 like this.
  17. I am a firm believer in the possibilities of the cheap guitar - after all I am just chasing sound, it doesn't have to feel amazing to sound amazing. I have a number of cheap guitars and basses that I use all the time in the studio and I don't think anybody would ever notice it wasn't a $2000+ instrument being played.

    I do have a number of instruments that are significantly nicer than my cheap collection, and I do love playing them just as much. But monetary value is an entirely human concept that can only account for so much when it comes to purchasing anything - and instruments definitely have a personality where sometimes the scrappy lower class ones just get it done better than an uptight snobby rich one.

    Seriously though - I have played instruments that are worth a 3rd of my annual salary, and yes they were amazing to play (shout out to The Twelfth Fret in Toronto for letting me just pick them up off the wall no questions) - but for the purposes of creating art, I don't think they are necessary and I am sure even if I was a multi-millionaire I'd be reaching for one of my Squier's before I'd be sinking 17k into an guitar.
    JPK_DK and jd56hawk like this.
  18. The hammer in my toolbox drives nails really well. But a professional finish carpenter probably uses a much more expensive hammer.
    The difference between my hammer and his is probably small. But that difference is important to him.
    Unless your using a tool to make your living, having the worlds finest example makes little sense to me.
    After a certain price point, the differences in instruments become smaller and smaller as the price goes up. There was , I'll admit, a huge difference between the bass I learned on and the Fender I eventually acquired.
    But once I had what I considered a "Cadillac ", I just didn't feel the need for a Rolls Royce....Let alone a Ferrari.
    If I made my living with my bass.......maybe
    imabuddha, JPK_DK and Justinian like this.
  19. LowWay

    LowWay It’s got 4 strings ‘cause they’re bigger! Supporting Member

    Dec 16, 2009
    W Mass
    I took up bass in the mid ‘80s as a teen in high school, when I realized how much cooler bass was than guitar. My first guitar was a Hondo, then an Ibanez, then a Kramer with a Floyd Rose. I could tell the difference in quality as a kid. That hondo was garbage. So my first bass shopping experience at 16 years old I went and played all the instruments in the local stores. We had a rich music community, and a lot of stores, and I just looked for ergonomic comfort. My first bass rig was a guild pilot and a GK 400RB and a 4x10 cab. Pretty high end for a 16 year old. I worked at least 600 hours to save for that gear at my supermarket job.

    I then started getting curious. Got a great deal on a Ricenbacker. Hated it. Moved into a pre-Gibson Tobias. Loved it. Played it for 15 years. Tried new things from time to time, kubicki, Bolin, pedula, Ibanez, but these were all backups for live gigs. Nothing pulled me away from that Tobias.

    When I started getting curious again, it was 2007, my Tobias had been destroyed, the others long sold off, and I bought and sold continuously in the classifieds here at talkbass. Went through a LOT of Basses. Modulus, more pedulla, several used customs, and then discovered Bordwell. Went through every 4 string Bordwell with frets that hit the bst over an 18 month period. That’s my only bass now. A single Bordwell, the first one I’ve ever bought. After living with it for 12 years or so, 8 of them actively playing, I finally know what I want in my own custom bass. Or I think I do. And I’m doing my first custom build. I’ve been playing 35 years.

    So in the ‘80s, MIM fenders sucked. MIJ Basses were just becoming viable. Getting a decent bass cost about then what it does now, and that money was worth more then than now. My pilot was $700 in 1986. My car was $1100 for a used Honda Accord that lasted 80,000 more miles.

    Now a days, for less than $700 you can get a perfectly serviceable bass that will take a good setup, be reliable and sound good in a multiple of styles. There’s no need to spend more other than it brings you joy. Find a comfortable instrument, pay a good tech to help you tweak it to your liking. And play it a lot. It takes a while to learn what you really like. It took me forever to realize I needed nickel wound strings not Hi-beams. It took almost as long that heavier gauge strings resulted in higher tension and could get lower action without buzzing, and would keep me from digging in to hard and be more gentle on my right hand. It took no time at all to learn that I like 1.5” nuts but thicker necks. And 5 or more strings are not for me. I like frets.

    When you know these things, then it’s time to consider a custom, but as you’re on that journey, there’s no wrong time to play a high end off the shelf bass, especially used.
    Roger W and JPK_DK like this.
  20. mattj1stc

    mattj1stc Gold Supporting Member

    Jan 13, 2009
    Dallas, TX USA
    To the original question, your disposable income will be a big driver, likely bigger than your ability. When I started playing I had very little money, so it was cheap gear for me, but I worked my way up to nicer things. However, these nicer things came in concert with my income, not my ability. Back when I was broke, I could have been as good as Jaco, but I would still have been playing cheap gear (note: Jaco was broke most of the time and often lost track of his amp). In contrast, a friend of mine just started playing guitar in his 50s. He has lots of disposable income, so his starter instrument was about $3000. It's a fair question as to whether or not all the nicer features of a higher end instrument will appreciated, but again, that's not really the driver, it's the money. To paraphrase something I wrote on another post, when you go to by a Ferrari, they don't ask how well you can drive, they only care that you can pay for the car.
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