Top 10 tips for buying a Bass Guitar - a beginner's guide
Top 10 tips for buying a Bass Guitar
My roommate at University played guitar like a demon. So, after a little bit of encouragement he persuaded me to spend a chunk of my grant on a bass and amp so we could live the dream, and get a band going. A pretty simple concept thought I. So one weekend we venture off into Birmingham city centre to take a look at what I could get. The obvious place to go at the time was a great little music shop called the Bass Place, a dedicated bass store. As I knew next to nothing about basses, the primary criteria guiding my choice at the time was naturally price, as it is for most people at the start of their musical journey.
When you visit a music instrument retailer it is the job of the sales assistant to ensure you both fulfil your destiny and maximise your budget, but I was more than ready for that. But to my surprise, our visit went in a bit of a different and unexpected direction. Instead, I was greeted by an affable and vastly knowledgeable sales assistant with a big smile who welcomed us in and simply said, ‘how can I help you lads?’ His familiar and friendly tone instantly put us at ease. I explained that I was as green as grass and I needed a lot of guidance, and his expert help would be much appreciated. His shop was adorned with all manner of exotic bass instruments, the sight of which made my head spin.
After I came round from the initial awe I felt it appropriate at that time to ask the question ‘so how do you choose a bass?’ In retrospect, I was not prepared for the answer, or should I say more accurately a detailed and complex lecture by a master of the craft.
But in the spirit of passing down the tips and tricks of unwritten bass lore to the next generation, I’ve broken it down to make it all a little easier to digest.
Each bass is different
- You have to actually try them out. You could look at 10 basses that are all the same make and model online, but each one will likely differ to some degree due to natural slight variances that occur during manufacture.
Try it out with your own amp or something similar
- If you are spending a modest amount of money on a bass but you demo it in the shop through a massive Ampeg rig, you are going to get a slightly different impression when you get back home and plug in to your tiny 10 Watt practice combo.
Don’t be put off by the set-up or playability of the instrument
- If the bass you want to try in store is poorly set-up or has dead strings on it, don’t be afraid to ask the shop to change them and give it a set up. Generally any shop worth its salt will do this to support you making the right decision, and ultimately a sale. There is no point buying a bass to get home and find that the neck is bowed, and you can’t get the action low enough to suit your style.
Try it standing up and use a strap
- If it doesn’t balance well on a strap, it will be a nightmare when playing live. It sounds obvious, but it’s easy to forget to stand up in the heat of the moment when testing in store.
Start at the lower price bracket and work your way up
- As you are trying out basses, disregard any that have a problem such as dead spots on the neck, a lack of punch or don’t sit well with your playing style. By following this process you will eventually find one that is ‘just right’ – this is the Goldilocks Principle, applied to bass shopping (or guitars, or keyboards, or pianos…).
Listen to someone else playing it
- It is sometimes helpful to add in a dose of objectivity by hearing someone else playing a bass; the shop assistant will be more than happy to play it for you so you can stand back and take it in.
Don’t be rushed
- Take your time, you don’t have to buy that day and try a few music shops before you commit.
Follow the Holy Trinity of bass
- The three fundamental elements of bass are sound, playability and aesthetic: It’s got to both work as an instrument, and give you the sound you are looking for at this point in your musical career. But also bear in mind that your tastes will likely change as you develop as a player. You have to be able to get it to do what you want, and make sure that you can set it up to play well for you. Your bass should suit your personality, and be in harmony with your look and musical style.
Consider second hand
- Pre-loved can sometimes offer great value for money and of course if you could get something old, quirky or vintage.
The bass is ultimately an instrument, a tool to do a job
- If you take a magnifying glass along with you to the music shop to make sure that the finish and every tiny detail on a £99 entry-level bass is flawless, you will never end up buying one. Every bass, no matter how high or low the price point, will eventually pick up some knocks and dinks over time - if it doesn’t then you are not playing it enough. Or having enough fun!
To sum up, get down to your local music shop and try out as many basses as you can. You will learn more by doing this than reading any blog or forum, as nothing can replace the ‘hands on’ approach. Don’t be afraid to ask the sales assistant for their help and advice, and if it all feels a bit intimidating, ask to try out a few different models in the quiet room, away from the ears of other visitors to the store.
Ultimately, keep your mind open and take your time. Have a look at our bass collection online for some ideas, and visit our Birmingham flagship store to try out our large bass collection and talk to our very friendly expert team. Happy shopping!