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a bass guitar buyer’s guide for beginners : instruments, amps, accessories, etc.

April 30, 2013

PREFACE:

This is a VERY long post. I’ve included a ton of information. I wrote most of it in 2013, but have added more info as time has passed.

If you don’t feel like reading all the information, and instead just want to read a little, here are my recommendations. If you want to learn more about these recommendations, scroll down a bit.

You can buy a kit that includes a bass, tuner, amp, and etc. I don’t recommend this. You will save some money, but the basses in these kits tend to be of the poorest quality. Better to buy each item separately.

Be careful buying a used instrument or amp. If you can find gear you really like in a store and try it out, this might be a good option. Some stores offer coverage for mechanical failure. If buying used gear, and the coverage plan is good, I suggest paying an extra $20 or so for the plan.

There are likely to be loads of instruments and amps on your local craigslist page. If you are wanting to buy a bass, ask if you can meet the seller at a music store. Most stores will allow you to bring in an instrument, and not complain, as long as no money changes hands within the store. It’s a good idea to try the bass with several different amps, so it seems you are amp shopping. If you try a bass that is being sold by someone on craigslist, and decide to buy it, pay the seller in the parking lot, not the store.

It’s up to you whether or not you want to risk entering someone’s home to try out an instrument or amp. It’s unlikely any salespeople at music stores will let you bring in an amp to test in a store, so you’ll have to try out an amp sold on craigslist in someone else’s home, unless they are willing to bring it over to your place. I’ve always avoided trying out gear in other people’s homes, unless I already know and trust the people selling the gear. You might not want to buy from a friend though, in case you later don’t like what you buy, and your friend won’t take it back. up to you.

You can find an incredible selection of used basses and gear on ebay. It is generally best to buy from ebay vendors that sell only instruments and related equipment. If these sellers have quite high feedback numbers and ratings, you’ll probably be ok buying a used bass.

I’d say avoid buying used amps on ebay. Shipping, even for small amps, is usually expensive. Also, there’s always the chance the amp will have been blown out by a previous owner. If, however, the seller has great feedback, you might do just fine. I’ve only bought one used amp from an ebay vendor, an old, small keyboard amp. I was fortunate, the amp worked well.

Here are my recommendations for basses, amps, cables, straps, tuners, metronomes and picks. I receive no money from any instrument manufacturer or other company I mention.

Top bass recommendations for beginners.. I’ve tried all of these on several occasions, and am quite pleased with all of them. The prices on all but one of them vary because the more expensive versions have different finishes than the cheaper ones. The price of the other varies because it is discontinued. You’ll find this model sold as used, not new. The prices for the other three are for new basses.

Ibanez Gio Soundgear model GSR 200. $199-$249. (requires 9V battery).

 

Ibanez Gio Soundgear GSR 200 (older, discontinued model, which you will find sold as used.. 3 knobs compared to 4 on the newer model, and no battery required). Prices will vary.. usually $100-$200. This is model I play.

Yamaha TRBX174 : $200-$225, depending on color. No battery required. Guy in the video said there were two tone knobs and one for volume, but seemed to me there are two volume controls and one tone, which is standard for basses with this pickup configuration and three knobs.

 

Tobias Toby Deluxe IV (made by Epiphone). $249 (nicer finishes than standard model.. wood grain, transparent, etc.).  Battery required.

Toby Standard IV is $199. Black or white. Slightly different electronics compared to the deluxe model.No battery needed.  I’ll post videos for both models. Deluxe first.

 

 

You can likely find some or all of these basses in music stores, or online. Musiciansfriend.com and Music123.com sell them (except for the discontinued, older model of the Ibanez GSR 200), and you can find them on ebay. You might even find the older GSR 200 on that site.

If searching on ebay, instead of in a store.  before buying,  you might want to write to the seller and ask if the bass comes from a smoke-free home. This is especially true if the instrument is sold with a case or gig bag. Cigarette odor on anything is horrible, unless you are used to it.

Some sellers offer a 30-day guarantee. If the instrument is damaged or defective, you might not have to pay return shipping. If you buy an instrument you want to return that is not defective or damaged, but you just don’t like it, you’ll have to pay return shipping. If you bought one with free shipping, you might have to pay the shipping charge for the instrument being shipped to you, and return shipping charge as well. This could pretty much equal the cost of the bass, depending on which bass you buy.

Amps:

A new Fender Rumble 25. $99. This is a 25 watt practice amp. It is not nearly loud enough for playing in a band, jamming with a drummer, etc. This amp is meant to be used while practicing at home in your room, or bringing along to a lesson. Once you are ready to play in a band, you’ll want an amp that has a rating of at least 200 watts, if not a lot more. Such an amp will cost a lot more money. But you don’t need one of these if you are a beginner.

Do not ever turn your amp all the way, unless you want to ruin it quickly.

The Rumble 25 has an 8 inch speaker, input (where you plug in your cable), volume knob, 3 equalizer knobs, an overdrive on/off button, a sound contour on/off button, headphone jack, and auxiliary input, which you can use to plug in your ipod or other mp3 player, and jam with your favorite tunes.

If you don’t want a Fender, try an Ampeg practice amp. I strongly prefer Fender amps though. I think they sound better than Ampeg, but you might disagree, so try both. Avoid new Peavey and Acoustic practice amps. These aren’t so good.

If you can find a used, discontinued model of the Peavey Max 158, with a vintage/modern switch (not a newer one with little white buttons on it) that you can try out (best to buy one of these in a store, if you can find one), and it doesn’t make any bad rattling sounds or other noises, this is a very good choice. Not as much tonal options as the Fender Rumble, but a great little amp.

Here is the discontinued version of the Peavey Max 158:

I’ve, on rare occasions, spotted these discontinued models sold as new from music vendors. You might be lucky enough to find one, but it is highly unlikely. I had one of these for awhile. I sold it when I bought a bigger amp (one I wished I hadn’t bought.. a $400 Carvin supposedly pro-grade amp). I wish I’d kept the little Peavey for at home use. I really like this one.

It is possible to use an electric guitar amp for playing bass, if you are purchasing a practice amp and don’t crank up the volume too high. Electric guitar practice amps sometimes have more features than bass amps do. You might want to try a small electric guitar amp. Some musicians say playing a bass through even a small electric guitar amp is a bad idea, but others say otherwise. I use an old electric guitar amp with my bass, and it works fine.

Cable:

Make sure you get one at least 10 ft. long, even if you are just practicing in a small bedroom. Planet Waves is a good brand. I’ve seen their cable selling for as little as $10 online (you’ll probably have to pay extra for shipping). This cable will likely be under $20 in most music stores. If you want a cable that is more durable and one that you’ll likely use later on for gigs, spend $25 or more for a 10 footer, and buy a Pro Co Lifelines cable, or one made by Mogami. Or a 12 ft. cable made by Monster for $30.

Strap:

Just find one that is comfortable for you, regardless of brand. If you want an especially comfortable strap that makes your bass feel lighter, and don’t mind spending over $50 on a strap, get a glove leather strap made by Franklin.

Tuner:

Many good brands.. Intellitouch, Korg, Snark, Fender, and lots of others. Good tuners can be had for as little as $10. Some tuners are made so that you have to plug the cable connected to your bass into the tuner. Other cables clip on to the headstock (the part where the tuning pegs are, sometimes referred to as the top of the instrument, if the instrument is resting vertically on a stand). Your choice.

Some tuners will have built-in metronomes. These tuners will be larger than some others, but it can be quite convenient to have one of these. You can find tuner/metronome combos for under $30.

Metronome:

You’d best get one of these to help you practice in time. There is a wide range of digital metronomes. You can find a decent one for as low as $16.

Pick:

Mostly bassists play with their fingers and do not use picks very often, if at all. If you want to try using a pick, I suggest Gator Grip, made by Dunlop. These picks have a sweat-proof coating on them, making it less likely these will slip out of your fingers.

The thickness of picks is measured in millimeters. If you want to play bass with a pick, buy picks that are at least .71 mm thick.

What do I currently use?

For practicing at home, this setup works well for me:

A discontinued Ibanez Gio Soundgear GSR 200 bass I bought used, and an old Epiphone  Slingshot 25R amp built in the ’90’s (also purchased used.. I tried out both the bass and amp in a store and bought coverage for both). The amp wasn’t made for bass guitar, but works fine with my bass. I use a 10 ft. Pro Co Lifelines cable.

I have a discontinued Planet Waves strap with a small but comfortable shoulder pad that was sewn on at the factory. I use an Intellitouch PT10XL tuner that came with a Korg clip-on attachment to give me more tuning options. I can either plug the cable from the bass directly into the tuner, or clip on the Korg attachment to the headstock of the bass. Either way is good. The Korg attachment is not necessary though.

The PT10XL without Korg accessory sells for $26. I don’t remember how much I paid to get the tuner and clip-on mic. I don’t currently see that package deal for sale. This tuner has a built in mic. You can tune an acoustic instrument, like a guitar or mandolin, without needing to plug anything in. You can even sing a note, and the tuner will tell you what it is. You’ll find this feature on many tuners.

When tuning an acoustic instrument, have the tuner located near enough your instrument, so the mic can adequately pick up the sound. I have an unusual acoustic instrument called a Seagull Merlin, which I’ve written about in another post. It is a miniature, portable mountain dulcimer that can be played like a guitar. The tuner works just fine with this instrument.

The mic on the tuner might even be sensitive enough to pick up the sound of your bass, unplugged, if you hold it close enough, but I haven’t tried it this way. It’s a decent tuner, but you don’t need one this expensive. The digital display lights up, and easy to read compared to some other tuners though. This is a good feature.

As I mentioned earlier, it is possible to get a unit that is both a tuner and a metronome.  I didn’t buy one, because I’d bought a digital metronome before I bought the tuner I currently own. Previously, I was using a very cheap tuner (under $10) made by Qwik Tune. It wasn’t very good. Some $10 tuners are just fine though. I don’t know which ones. I haven’t tried any others in that price range.

I use Gator Grip .76mm or .96mm picks on the rare occasions I feel like playing with a pick.

Bass guitar electronics (referred to as “pickups.”)

Before I get into more detail regarding specific basses, amps, and etc., I want to explain bass guitar electronics. It is important to understand that bass guitars have different kinds of pickups (those little rectangular things underneath the strings that pick up signals and send them to your amp via a cable plugged into a bass on one end and amp on the other).

There are Precision pickups, named after the Fender Precision bass, a one pickup bass, and the first ever mass-produced bass guitar. Precision pickups are generally referred to as “P” pickups, and look like two half pickups.

There are also Jazz pickups, named after the Fender Jazz Bass. These “J” pickups look like thin rectangles. Lastly, there are humbucking pickups, which are thicker rectangles. You’ll mostly find humbucking  pickups on active basses (which I explain below), but some active basses will have two J pickups or a P and a J. Basses with active pickups are sometimes called active basses.

Passive pickups vs. active pickups: Passive pickups do not require a 9v battery to be installed in the back of the bass. You can leave your cable plugged in when not using the bass. Basses with passive pickups will likely have at most three knobs: one volume control for each pickup, if there are two, and a tone control.  Passive pickups have what I would call a natural sound. I prefer passive pickups. You might not.

Active pickups require a 9V battery installed in the back of the bass. If you buy an active bass, make sure you remove the cable from your instrument when you are done playing. If you don’t, the power will continue to be drained, even if you are not playing.

If you plug in your bass and don’t get any sound from the amp, check the battery in your bass. If the battery is dead, the pickups will not work.

Basses with active pickups have more knobs (at least 4). Some are set up just like passive basses (2 vol. and 1 tone), but have a special volume or bass boost knob as well. Cheaper active basses tend to have this setup.

The active basses that are not set up mostly like passive basses will generally have a master volume knob, a pickup blend (getting sound from one or both pickups) and 2 or more EQ’s. Having onboard EQ’s gives you more ability to change the tone of your bass, which means you’ll have less need to walk over to your amp and tweak the EQ’s on it. Active basses have a more processed sound than passive basses, in my opinion.

Regardless of active or passive, in my opinion the best pickup combination is one P and one J. They sound differently from each other, and also sound good when the volume knobs on both are turned up. This does not make the sound louder, just changes the sound. With this combination, you can get a signal from only one of pickups, or signals from both. You can have the volume all the way up on both, or the volume half way down on one, with the other turned up all the way, etc. Having two types of pickups, a volume control for each, and a tone knob will give you enough tonal variety, I think.

More detailed descriptions of my recommendations.. basses, amps, cables, tuners:

Top 4 basses for beginners (I wrote this part in January of 2016). My suggestion is to spend less than $300 on your first bass. No need to pay more. You have the option of some rather good basses in this price range.

1. Discontinued passive Ibanez Gio Soundgear model GSR 200. You will see “GSR 200” on the back of the headstock – the part of the bass where the tuners are – and “Ibanez Gio Soundgear” on the front. Gio is the Ibanez cheap line. If you can find one of these used (or get extremely lucky and somehow find a new one) basses in good condition, especially if you can try it out in a store and pay $150 or less for it, buy it. I just bought one of these two weeks ago. It is rather good. Comfortable body shape, fairly light as basses go, passive pickups, one P and one J. Volume control for each pickup, and a tone knob. Natural sounding tone instead of processed active pickup tone. I’ve seen these sold in black, red, and blue.

2. A new Ibanez Gio Soundgear GSR 200. This new model also has P and J pickup. Just like on the earlier model, there’s a volume control for each pickup, and a tone knob. Unlike the previous model, there’s also an active bass boost knob, used to increase volume intensely. If you buy one of these, go easy on the boost knob.. you don’t want to blow out your amp. I personally prefer passive pickups. Otherwise, this is a great model. I almost bought one, but I found a used, older version (the one I described above), and bought that instead. White, red, blue, black, or my favorite, walnut flat finish (nice wood grain look and texture) for $199.99. Spalted Maple (fancy) top in either natural grey burst or chocolate brown burst for $249.99. I had a 5 string version in natural grey burst ($299.99). It was a beautiful instrument, but I decided I’d rather play a 4 string, and sold the 5 string.

3. Tobias Toby Deluxe IV. This one I also almost purchased recently. Two active J pickups. One master volume knob, one pickup blend knob, one tone knob, and a fourth knob, which is called a “bass enhancer.” As with the boost on the new GSR 200, be careful using the bass enhancer on this one. Amps are somewhat sensitive, and it’s good to avoid overloading them with too strong a signal. This bass felt a bit less comfortable to me than the Ibanez GSR 200’s (both used and new), but had better tone than the new Ibanez GSR 200. This version has a reddish, semi-transparent walnut stain finish that looks good. It sells for $249.99. It also comes in black or red. Same price, usually.

4. Yamaha TRBX174 (the violin sunburst is especially nice). Passive P and J pickups. 2  vol., 1 tone. A bit heavier in weight than the others, but solidly built, and great tone. I might buy one of these sometime. These sell new for $199.99 in violin burst or red. For $219.99, you can get one in root beer, trans black, or tobacco brown sunburst.

Any of these basses would be an excellent choice for you.

Amps:

Quite simple.. get a new Fender Rumble bass amp with the shiny silver grill cloth and the old fashioned knobs. These are great. If I didn’t already have an old Epiphone amp (this one was made for electric guitar, not bass) I’d bought for $40, I’d buy a Fender Rumble.

Amp volume is generally measured in watts.. the more watts, the louder the amp. If you are intending to just practice at home or want to bring your amp to a lesson, a small practice amp will do. 15 watts is fine. The 15 watt Fender Rumble costs $80.

If you don’t mind spending $100, you can get the 25 watt version, which I described in some detail already. With these Rumble amps, as with others like the Peavey Max and Ampeg BA series, the name will be the same (except for the number following the name) but are sold in difference sizes and wattages. The higher the wattage and price, the more features.

You can even spend $600 on a 500 watt Rumble amp with a bunch of features pros like to have, but which I won’t explain, since you won’t be needing them right now. I just wanted to mention that certain amp companies will have the same name for an amp, but increase wattage and price for different models.

If you for some reason don’t like the Fender, and want a new amp, an Ampeg practice amp should be fine. They are comparable to price than Fender, but I think Fender practice amps sound better, and look a lot cooler too.

The $100 Ampeg BA108V2 is rated at 20 watts, has 3 EQ knobs, a special feature that makes active basses sound a bit better, and a knob to control the sound level of your mp3 player, should you choose to plug one in. I’m guessing this is a good amp, but I didn’t try it out for very long in the store. I like the Rumble better. You, however, might like the Ampeg better than the Fender. Best to try both. Same price.

If you can find a used (don’t buy unless you’ve tried it) or new/old stock (some sellers have discontinued models that are still new) Peavey Max 158 with a vintage/modern tone switch, this is a good choice. I like this amp a lot, and had one for awhile.

Don’t buy one of the more recent Peavey Max amps. These have no vintage/modern switch, and instead have “psycho-acoustic technology” (whatever that means) written on them.  The new ones I tried in stores don’t sound good, and are less durable than the older ones, as far as I can tell.

Acoustic is the house brand of Guitar Center. I was not impressed with the Acoustic practice amps I tried. They seemed poorly built. I talked with a tech awhile back. He said Acoustic amps were often brought into his shop for repairs, and that I should not to buy one. Many people like them, but I’d say avoid this brand.

If you want, you can get an amp made for electric guitar and play your bass through it. Some musicians say this will cause damage to the amp, but the tech I talked to said that if you are using an electric guitar practice amp for bass, and don’t crank the volume all the way up on the amp, you should be fine. I use a 28 watt electric guitar amp made back in the ’90’s, and it works great with my bass.

The advantage of electric guitar amps is that even cheap ones tend to have more built-in effects, such as overdrive, distortion, reverb and chorus. Most bassists don’t use much effects though. It’s up to you to decide what you think you will like.

Cable:

I’d say don’t get a cable shorter than 10 feet. This is long enough if you are just going to be practicing in your room.

Don’t buy a no-brand name cable found in some bin at a music store. These are not of sufficient quality. For as little as $10 you can get a 10 ft. instrument cable made by Planet Waves, a good company.

I decided to spend a bit more, and purchased a made in USA ProCo Lifelines cable (10 ft.) for $25, but this is not necessary. A Planet Waves cable should do you fine. However, the ProCo cable comes with a lifetime warranty. I don’t think the Planet Waves cable does, but I could be wrong. The ProCo is more durable, but the Planet Waves cable will be fine for practicing at home. Once you get good enough to start playing gigs, then spend more on cables, amps, etc.

Tuner:

There is such an astonishing amount of tuners on the market I’m not sure exactly which model to recommend. Two of the main brands are Intellitouch (I have one of these and it is fine) and Korg. Fender and Snark are also good brands. And there are many others.

Some tuners are meant to be clipped on to the headstock of your bass, others you’ll need to plug your bass into.

My Intellitouch tuner came with a Korg clip-on mic tuner accessory that I can use to clip onto the headstock if you want. But, this is not necessary.

Adequate tuners can be had for less than $10, though it is possible to spend 10 times that amount if you want. I think I paid a bit over $20 for mine, since it came with the Korg accessory.

If you really really want to learn a LOT more about basses, amps, cables, bass effects, educational materials, where to shop, how to pick a good teacher, and other bass-related topics, read on. I put the topic headings in bold type, so they are easier to find.

Notes..

1. I am not an expert musician, but I have done a lot of shopping for various instruments and related gear. I’ve tried many many instruments,  amps, cables, guitar and bass straps and other gear.

2. I do not receive any money from any company or manufacturer or merchant that I mention.

3. I am not trying to sell you anything.

4. My opinions are just that.. my opinions. I’ll do my best to help, but I’m sure some people who read this entry will disagree with me on some things I write. I might recommend against buying a certain bass or amp, but you might find you like it. This is only a guide.. something to get you started.

5. This is a very long entry, but it contains a lot of information a beginner shopping for a bass and related gear will find very useful.

6. I first wrote this post in April of 2013, but have made changes to it since then. I’ve at times put in the word “edit” to show where I’ve made changes, but sometimes not. As I’ve read through, I’ve noticed that I’ve repeated a bit of info. This post is still a work in progress. It’ll never be perfect, but that’s alright.

7. I cover many topics. You might want to scroll through this post before reading it, to see what info I’ve provided. I’ve written about brands of basses, instrument electronics, types of strings, changing strings, amps and various features of amps, straps, necessary accessories, peripheral devices, instructional materials, where to buy a bass, buying at a store vs. online, and more. I’ve been VERY thorough.

Why play bass?

Here are my reasons:

1. Learning the basics on bass guitar is a lot easier than learning the basics on acoustic or electric guitar. On a bass, you don’t have to play chords! Bassists almost always play one note at a time. And because bass is easier to learn than guitar, I can get better in less time. I think it will take most folks less time to become rather good on bass than on guitar. One other advantage to bass being fairly easy to learn.. I feel no need to take lessons. I can teach myself, using books, DVD’s (many of which I can get from the library) and youtube videos. It’s possible to teach oneself to play guitar, but because that instrument is harder to learn, it is more likely a guitarist will need or want lessons.

2. This reason relates to the previous one. I spent many years trying to learn how to play guitar, and I never mastered the instrument. I practiced countless hours, had lessons, took classes, and still can play very little on guitar. With the bass, I’ve noticed I’ve made definite progress after only a few months. Not only do I believe I can learn to play this instrument, I believe I can learn to play it really well.

3. Bass players are in demand. There are zillions more guitar players than bass players. If you are a competent bass player, you’ll always find musicians who want you to jam with them or be in their bands.

4. I really like the sound of the bass guitar. Bass lines on so many songs are just incredible. For example, listen to practically any Motown album, or funk music like James Brown or Sly and the Family Stone, or hard rock/metal by such bands as Faith No More and Iron Maiden.

5. If you have enough skill and imagination, you can do so much cool stuff on bass! Let’s say you progress beyond playing simple bass lines.. well… there’s a lot more you can do. Check out music by progressive rock and metal bands like Rush, Prospekt, Dream Theater and Dragon Force. Certain forms of jazz also feature astonishing bass lines, such as jazz fusion and smooth jazz. And there’s Primus.. I can’t really fit that band into any genre. Les Claypool, who sings and plays bass in Primus, has created his own insane, at times immensely complicated and challenging style of playing.

Playing bass can really be awesome.

But, there are disadvantages to playing bass, as compared to playing guitar, such as..

1. If you want to sing a song and accompany yourself without other musicians, a bass just won’t do. Yes, you’ll see people in bands playing bass and singing, but you won’t likely see anyone on a street corner or open mic night, standing alone, singing and playing a bass.

2. Basses tend to be somewhat heavier than electric guitars. This is not always the case though. For example, it’s likely Les Paul guitars weigh more than many Ibanez 4 string basses. Generally though, basses are heavier, sometimes a lot heavier.

3. Although there is a huge variety of basses to choose from, most music stores will sell far fewer basses than guitars. This is not a major disadvantage though, unless you go to a small store that has less than 10 basses for sale.  Also, there will likely be a smaller selection of bass amps to choose from in most music shops.

4.  Most bass lines of popular songs from the past several decades are not complicated, and will eventually be rather easy to play. This is a very good thing, except.. Some people, once they become competent, find bass playing to be too boring. Some bass lines, practiced and played by themselves, can sound kinda dull to some musicians. I guess you’ll have to decide this for yourself. It depends on what songs and types of music you want to play. I sometimes practice with recorded backing tracks.. it’s like playing along with a band. But more often than not, at least right now, I just plug in my bass and practice without any other noise or music except for a metronome or drum track to help me keep time. Sometimes I don’t even use those. I just play. I don’t mind the sound of an unaccompanied bass. I like the sound.

5. You can do a lot more with a guitar. Just one example, it is possible to play classical music on a bass guitar, but it isn’t likely you’ll find albums featuring musicians playing classical music on bass guitar.  Generally, classical music sounds much better played on a classical guitar than it does on a bass.

5. Bass players do not generally get noticed as much as other musicians.  I can name a lot more famous guitar players than I can bass players. Bass players often don’t get much respect. And they tend to attract less women. If you want to be in a band to attract women, you’ll have much better luck doing so if you are the lead singer or lead guitarist. However, if you play bass and sing, yeah.. you’ll get lots of attention. Just ask Paul McCartney, Gene Simmons, Geddy Lee, or Sting.

Give playing bass some serious thought before you go shopping for one.

Are you left-handed?

The vast majority of basses on the market are designed for right-handed musicians. However, there are some very good left-handed models available, made by the most well-known brands that I am going to write about in this post.  Most left-handed models will be found online, but some music stores will sell them too.

If you don’t find any lefty basses you like, don’t worry, you have another option. You can buy a regular bass, turn it upside down, and have someone knowledgeable re-string it for you (unless you want to try doing it yourself). Jimi Hendrix did this with his guitar. The bass player on one of my all-time favorite movies, “The Commitments,” did this with his bass.

Price.

It is my recommendation that, unless you have a lot of money set aside, or are wealthy, it is best not to spend more than $400 on your first bass. It is even possible to find some good basses for $200 or less, especially if you buy a used instrument. There are some good new instruments out there for less than $400 too. Why spend less than $400? You won’t know if you like playing bass until you’ve been at it for a little while. It’s a drag to return an instrument, and if you buy a new bass, and sell it later in used condition, you won’t get as much as you paid for it. Best not to waste a lot of money on something you are not sure you will like.

Most of the basses I will be writing about in this post are under $400.

New or Used? (Edit 2/7/14)

I originally had intended to advise beginning bass players to stay away from used instruments. This is because beginners might not be able to spot or hear certain flaws, such as electronics that are not working quite as well as they should, instruments with messed up necks, etc.

But, because of my most recent visit to Guitar Center, I have changed my mind, and am recommending that beginning bass players at least consider buying a used instrument. I’ve found some very good ones in certain stores. And often these instruments will be $100 less than they would cost new.

Buying a used bass is risky.. it’s true. (But then, so is buying a new bass). Even if you are buying a used instrument from a music store with a good reputation, you still might find basses that have various problems. If you find a used bass you like, make sure to have a friend with you who knows about basses, and can spot potential problems. (Actually, even if you are wanting to buy a new bass, having a knowledgeable friend to accompany you to the music store is a good idea).

If you can avoid instruments with issues, then getting a used bass would be a very good idea, as long as you can try it out in a store. You will save money. Also, you will have a better chance at finding something in a cheap price range that doesn’t have sharp fret wire edges, and is therefore lots more comfortable to play.

Furthermore, some models are no longer made, but you can still get them used.  And, some models that were made in Korea are now made in China or Indonesia, and might not be as good as Korean models. Buying used gives you an opportunity to get something unique and also an instrument that is perhaps better made than many new models.

Chances are some, or even many used basses found in music stores, that are under $400 will be dusty. Some will have scratches, dings, or other surface flaws. Many music stores don’t want to pay their employees to work to improve the appearance of cheaper basses. I’m guessing it makes more economic sense for these stores to just leave the basses dirty and beat up looking, and sell them cheap.

Dust generally isn’t a big issue, although it can mess up the electronics somewhat. Generally not though. Surface flaws.. you’ll have to decide what you do and don’t mind. I don’t mind shallow, minor to moderate scratches and minor dings, dents, nicks, etc. I do tend to mind huge, deep scratches, and major gashes on the instrument.

Not all instruments that look beaten up are worth avoiding, but some are. It depends on how the instruments function. Even if the used instrument looks good, make sure the knobs work and turn without problem. Make sure the electronics work properly. Some things will not cost much to fix, and you’ll still get a deal. Other instruments will have major problems. Bring someone knowledgeable with you if you can. Don’t always depend on the expertise of the sales persons, because some will know a lot, and some won’t. Most will be honest, but not all.

B-stock, Factory-seconds, Refurbished..

There might not be any difference between B-stock and Factory-seconds.

Some online vendors on ebay will sell new models cheaper than you’ll find elsewhere, but these are labeled “B-stock.” This usually means there was some kind of flaw that happened at the factory, or during shipping. Instruments that are in perfect condition, but which have been returned to online sellers are also considered B-stock. These are open box items. Usually B-stock instruments have slight surface flaws, like minor scratches, dents or dings. They might have other problems. Some ebay vendors only sell B-stock instruments. Buying B-stock might be a good idea. Check each vendor’s feedback very carefully.

I think of B-stock/factory seconds are legally required to list their instruments as being so. But, there are dishonest people out there..

Some B-stock instruments will have a “B-Stock” logo stamped on the back of the headstocks (the top of the bass where the tuning pegs are located).

Refurbished.. this means something was wrong with the instrument.. could be cosmetic (appearance), or it could be electronic, or something else wrong. Refurbished instruments are those with problems that were corrected at factories and fixed by the manufacturers, or were refurbished by ebay sellers. I’m a little more concerned about seller-refurbished instruments than those that are manufacturer refurbished.. who knows if the sellers are good guitar techs. But, some ebay merchants who have seller-refurbished instruments available for purchase have very high feedback ratings, and are probably safe to buy from.

Starter packs.

Starter packs are package deals that include the bass, amp, cable, and maybe a gig bag or tuner or learning materials. All of this for a cheap price. Starter packs might seem like a good idea, but.. maybe not.

My best advice when buying a bass or any instrument is to play it before you buy if you have the opportunity to do so. If you don’t live anywhere near a music store, then buying online might be your only option. But if you can try some instruments before choosing one, and buy one you’ve already tried, then do that.

Starter packs come in a big box. If you ask a music store clerk to allow you to try out the bass, the clerk might agree, and open the box for you. However, people don’t generally ask for this, and the clerk might say no.

Most people who buy starter packs don’t get their hands on their instruments until after they’ve purchased them. Some stores have good return policies, but some beginners don’t know much at all about basses, and might not realize there are a few problems. It’s better to avoid the bother of making a return, don’t you think?

Once you’ve read this post, you’ll be aware of some issues a bass might have, and once you are aware, you can make a better purchase, thereby avoiding a return, or being stuck with a bass you don’t want.

Another thing about starter packs.. usually, the basses that come with these package deals are of the lowest quality a manufacturer will make. The only worse instrument you might find in stores might be the guitars sold at non-music stores such as Best Buy or Target or Wal Mart. Those might be even worse than the basses that come with the starter packs. But, the basses in the starter packs are probably pretty bad.

Yes, it is nice to get an amp, bass, etc. all at once for a cheap price. But, if you have the money, it is better to buy the items separately. And if you don’t have the money, it might be a good idea to wait until you can afford to buy the items separately.While you are saving up some cash, you can do some research. More on that in a bit.

If you avoid buying a starter pack, and buy the items separately instead, not only will you have the opportunity to choose a bass you really like, and one that is probably of at least a bit better quality than one that is included in a starter pack, but you’ll be able to choose an amp you like as well. You can choose what bass you want, then try out amplifiers. That way you can find the sound you like best.. the bass you like and the sound of it played through an amp you like best. There are several amp manufacturers that make small, affordable practice amps.. and some of those amps are even rather good.

Ok then.. moving on..

Do some research..

It is a good idea to do some research even before you go to a music store. This post is a great place to start. Also, You can check out instruments on various online sites. Musiciansfriend.com and Amazon.com are especially helpful, because you can read reviews on these sites. On both those sites, you can select instruments that have, for example, a 4 star or better rating from reviewers. You can also do product research on such sites as harmonycentral.com, and talkbass.com.  And, you can type into google something like “best basses under $300” or something like that.

I’ve been reading reviews on musiciansfriend.com and amazon for years. Almost all of the reviews on those sites I’ve found to be legitimate. Musiciansfriend.com even allows negative reviews of its own house brands, such as Rogue and Musician’s Gear.

Talkbass.com has tons of forums and is a very good resource. I like that site a lot. Harmonycentral.com is also quite helpful if you want to do more reading.

Youtube can be an excellent resource. Chances are, just about any and every model of bass guitar that you might find yourself interested in will be on youtube. Once on that site, type in the name of the bass, followed by the word “demo” or “review.” There might be only one or two videos for some models of bass guitars, but for more popular models there might be many reviews and demos.

Just typing in the name of the model of bass into youtube (without the word “demo” or “review”) will bring up not only demos and reviews, but people using the instruments in their home videos. These help too. You can hear how the bass sounds with various amps, and it is used to play various types of music.

But if you know nothing or next to nothing about basses, how do you know which ones to look up online? You’ve come to the right place. In this post, I include a LOT of information.. not only info about various brands and models of basses, but also info about amps, strings, and much more.

Read on..

How many strings?

If you haven’t already bought a bass, I have a few I can recommend.First though.. you may have noticed that most basses come with 4 strings, but also that there are 5 and 6 string basses out there. (And even 12 string basses, such as those used by Jeff Ament from Pearl Jam, and dUG Pinnick from King’s X.. but I don’t think you want to start on a 12 string bass). Basses with more than 4 strings are usually just used by musicians who play hard rock, metal, or smooth jazz.. which I find ironic.

The VAST majority of bass players, even metal players like Steve Harris from Iron Maiden, or the late, great bass player from Metallica, Cliff Burton, have used 4 string basses. Bassists who play classic rock, funk, hard rock, country, soul and blues tend to play 4 string basses. Even some jazz musicians, such as Victor Wooten, Avishai Cohen, and the late and legendary Jaco Pastorius use or have used 4 string basses at least some of the time.

Most teachers suggest that students start out on 4 string basses. However, I have heard a few teachers say that if students really want to play 5 string basses, then they should just start on those. The spaces between the strings will sometimes be wider or narrower, depending on how many strings a bass has. There will likely be more space in between strings on 4 string basses than on basses with more than 4 strings (although this is not always the case). Switching from a 4 string to a 5 string will take some getting used to.

The notes for the strings on a 4 string bass are the same as the 4 lowest strings on a guitar.. EADG. The lowest note string on a 5 string bass is B. 6 string basses have a string that is higher than G. It is a C. The open notes on guitars are EADGBE, but the open notes on 6 string basses are BEADGC. It is possible to play chords on basses, but even on 6 string basses, the chords will be different from guitar chords, because some of the strings have different notes than those on guitars.

Edit 9/11/14: I currently own a 5 string bass, which I have had for several weeks. I really like having that low end fifth string! It is so fun to play on. I like having a bass that can go lower than E. Also, because of the 5th string, I can play many bass parts on a different location on the neck than I could with a 4 string. This is because the note on the 5th fret of the 5th string is the same as the open note (E) on the 4th string.

“Open note” means the note that is sounded when the string is played, but no notes are fretted. The string names are the open note names.

On my 5 string bass, I can play a pattern of notes that would start on the open E string of a 4 string bass, but I instead can choose to play the pattern starting on the 5th fret of the B string. This means I don’t have to stretch my arm all the way down to the far end of the bass.

And, an interesting thing about basses and guitars.. the same note played on an open string will sound different from the note played on a fretted string. It will be the same pitch, but will have a different tonal quality. The E that I play on the 5th fret of the B string sounds a little different from the open (not fretted) 4th string.

All guitars and basses have notes that can be played on different strings and located on different frets. With a 5 string, I have more options to play certain notes than I would on a 4 string.

So then, why not get a 6 string bass? Hmm.. even more notes than on a 5 string. Also, people using 6 string basses can play all sorts of cool chords that other bassists can’t (most bassists don’t play chords though, we play notes one at a time).

I chose not to get a 6 string bass for several reasons. I don’t like how the curve of the neck feels. The neck curve of most 5 string basses does not feel awkward to me. In fact, because I have very long fingers, the slightly wider 5 string neck feels better to me than necks on 4 string basses. However, playing a 6 string bass.. yeah.. that feels quite weird.. too wide. Plus, I don’t really feel the need for more notes in the higher range. I prefer more notes in the low range. I certainly feel no need to learn lots of chords, and if I had a 6 string bass, I’d likely feel like I should learn chords. Eh.. don’t need that.

It’s possible to play chords on 4 and 5 string basses too (remember.. chords on basses are different than chords on guitars, even if basses have 6 strings).  But I’m almost never going to bother with chords. If I wanted to play chords, I would have stuck with electric guitar. I switched to bass for several reasons.. one of them being so I could play an instrument that is easier to learn, at least partially because notes are generally played one at a time, Lastly, 6 string basses are likely to be even heavier than 5 string basses. I don’t want a bass that is any heavier than mine.

Size.

Basses come in many sizes and shapes. Try out lots of models to find out which ones feel best to you.  Some have wider bodies than others. Some have thick bodies, some have thin bodies. Some have thick necks, but most have thin necks. Some basses have thick bodies and thin necks. The best example of this is the Fender/Squier Jazz bass.

There are also short scale basses. These have shorter necks. The average neck length for a regular bass is 34″. Short scale basses usually have neck lengths of 30″ to 32.”  You won’t need to buy shorter strings if you get a short scale bass (I don’t know if there are even strings made that are shorter). You’ll just have to cut off more of the string after you’ve put it on your bass. Some short scale basses: Squier Vintage Modified Mustang Bass, Squier Vintage Modified Jaguar Special SS (ss is for short scale), and Rogue VB100 Violin Bass. Ibanez makes an instrument called the Mikro Bass, which is quite small, and great for kids.

Short scale basses are great for smaller people, such as petite women who are of average height or shorter than average height, or young teens, such as those who are in junior.high or early high school.

Short scale basses aren’t just for small people though. Once in awhile I’ll see a fairly large dude in some concert footage or movie playing a short scale bass.

Bass necks, fret wires, dead notes, fret buzz, string height (action)..

While I’m on the subject of necks, when trying out a bass (or an electric guitar) run the edge of your thumb and the edge of your finger down both the lower and upper edges of the neck. More and more these days I am noticing sharp edges of fret wires. The fret wires are the metal pieces that separate the frets from each other. The fret wires stick out just a tiny bit from the neck, and have sharp edges.

The sharp fret wire problem might be common, depending on the weather conditions where you live. I live in a very dry climate. This somehow affects the wood on the fretboard, and makes the fret wires stick out a bit on the sides. I talked to some guys about this recently, and they told me this is not a serious problem. One guy said he knows a tech who will file down the fret wires to make playing comfortable, and only charge $20 for the job.

Just because there are some sharp fret wires on the sides of the neck doesn’t mean the instrument is bad. It does mean you will have to spend some extra money to deal with the problem, unless you want to play with some serious discomfort.

Although sharp fret wire ends aren’t a big deal, there are other problems which can be. Check for dead notes and fret buzz as well. After you have found an instrument you like, take your time, and play each note on the fretboard. Do this with the bass plugged in. A few instruments have notes that are dead.. that you won’t hear through the amp. Instruments with dead notes tend to be quite rare. The dead notes might go away as well with proper adjustment, preferably done by a professional.

Some strings make a buzzing sound, no matter how well you fret them. Fret buzz is somewhat common, and can likely be taken care of by a tech.. he or she will adjust the bridge or the neck. Some fret buzz might be expensive to fix. I don’t know how much it costs to have an instrument re-fretted, but I’m guessing it’s over $100. It’s possible fret buzz won’t go away. Best to try to find an instrument with no dead notes or fret buzz.

Action.. this term refers to how high or low the strings are above the fretboard. Too high action and you will find yourself pressing very hard on the strings to fret them. Action that is too high also leads to more awkward, slower playing. Action that is too low can cause quite a bit of fret buzz. Play a number of basses, and find the string height.. the action.. that feels best to you.

Action can be adjusted on most basses. If you find one you like except that it has action that is a bit too high for your liking, take it over to the store’s guitar tech if there is one on duty. The tech will tell you if he/she can adjust the action. The adjustment will cost extra, and techs at most stores will probably be willing to adjust the action or do other work on a bass after you’ve bought it.

One other thing to think about.. weight. Most basses are lots heavier than most electric guitars. Even when using padded straps (I get into more detail on these later in the post), many, if not most basses will cause some pain if worn and played for long periods of time. Some brands are lighter than others. The brand of light basses of reasonable quality that I’ve found is Ibanez. Tobias, Dean and Danelectro also make some light basses, but I’ve only played two Dean models and one Danelectro bass so far. More on these brands and many others later in this post.

Fretboards.

Almost all basses, especially those in the cheaper price range, will have maple necks. The fretboard is the playing surface where the frets are, and where you will be putting your fingers. The darker fretboards are made out of rosewood, and the lighter ones are made of maple. Other fretboards are made out of exotic woods, or even manmade materials. Rosewood fretboards are attached to the maple necks. As far as I can tell, the maple fretboards are not attached, but are just part of the maple necks.

The fretboard does influence the sound a little. Maple fretboards, I’ve been told, help produce a bit brighter sound, and rosewood fretboards provide a bit warmer sound. You might not notice a difference. Not sure if I have.

The fretboards certainly feel differently from each other. Try out basses with both kinds of fretboards to see what you like. Basses with rosewood fretboards are more common, but you might be able to find some models that have maple fretboards.

Tone Woods.

The types of wood the bodies of instruments are made of are called tone woods. Basses are made of a variety of woods. You’ll encounter basses made out of such woods as Agathis, Basswood, and Mahogany. The type of wood affects the tone somehow. This is not the sort of thing I really notice. Also, especially with cheaper basses, it probably won’t matter what kind of wood the body of your bass is made of. The only thing that might be a factor is that some types of wood weigh more than others. Don’t worry about that though, just find the bass that sounds and feels right to you.

Pickups, knobs, and electronics.

Pickups are the things that will process sound for you. They are located on the body of the guitar, below the strings. They have magnets in them. Some pickups are thin, and some are thick. Some look split in two, and some don’t. The pickup that is split is a Fender Precision Bass style pickup. The thin pickup that is not split is a Fender Jazz Bass style pickup. Many brands use these styles of pickups. Often these pickups will be referred to by their initials.. P for Precision, and J for Jazz.

Split pickups will sound different from those that are not split. Extra fat pickups will have a fatter sound then the thinner or split pickups. These pickups are called humbuckers. They are larger because they have more magnets and wiring than the smaller pickups.

Some basses will have both a P and J pickup. Some basses will just have a P pickup, and some will have two J pickups. Some will have two humbuckers. You might find a bass with a J pickup and humbucker. Basses with that sort of pickup configuration tend to be fairly expensive though.

Some basses just have passive pickups. These basses do not require batteries. If a bass has two passive pickups, there will be three knobs on it.. a volume control for each pickup, and a tone control. If a passive bass has one pickup, and it is a P pickup, it will only have two knobs.. one for tone and one for volume.  I like to have two volume controls.That way, I can choose which pickup is generating a signal, or I can blend a signal from both pickups. Some people don’t care about this though. The Fender Precision bass is tremendously popular, even though it has one pickup (split into two), and only one volume and one tone control.

Classic basses, such as the Fender Jazz and Precision basses, have passive pickups, and only a few knobs on the instruments. Ibanez makes basses that have passive pickups, a split one and one that is thin but not split. Ibanez gets tricky though, at least with their new cheaper models. They add some active electronics that require a 9V battery. More on that in a bit.

Some basses have active pickups. Active pickups are powered by an onboard 9V battery which generally has a special compartment on the back of the bass.

If you see a bass with two humbuckers, it will usually be an active bass, or a bass with passive pickups and an active electronic component as well. There are two exceptions I can think of. Spector makes some basses with humbuckers that have passive electronics and pickups. So does Epiphone. Lots more info on brands later.

Active basses have pickups that give you lots more ways to customize your sound without walking over to your amp. Active basses have more knobs on them than passive basses. These knobs are equalizers, which allow you to change the sound quite a bit. It is possible to find affordable basses with active pickups.

An active bass is likely to have at least 4 knobs, sometimes 5. There will be a volume knob, treble eq, bass eq, pickup blend.. allowing you to choose if you want the signal to come from only the neck pickup or bridge pickup, or a blend of both. It matters a lot where the pickups are placed. A pickup close to the base of the neck where it is attached to the body will create a different sound than the pickup located down by the bridge. If you have five knobs, the fifth will likely be a mid eq.

If you buy an active bass, make very sure you have a fresh 9V battery installed before you perform, because when the battery goes dead, the pickups stop transmitting a signal to your amp, and nothing can be heard. This can be rather embarrassing for you if you are on stage.

There are some basses that have passive pickups but still require a 9 volt because they have active electronics. One of the knobs has an active component to it, and requires battery power. There will likely be one less EQ knob on these basses, but there will be a knob that sort of acts as a volume booster, and possibly adds more bass, but is not an equalizer in the same way that normal equalizers are.

What I mean is, cranking this knob up won’t add a tone of bass or treble to your sound. It will be like making your bass sound a lot louder and more powerful without your having to bend down and turn the volume up on your amp. If you find a bass with a boost knob on it (which might be labeled “boom” or “toneexpressor” or something silly like that), you will have a volume knob for each pickup, and a tone knob. But there are variations.

Why would you want a boost knob?

Let’s say you’re jamming with a band, and the band launches into a particularly heavy song.. or the guitarist decides to crank his guitar up.. or the drummer starts pounding his kit louder than usual.. you can use this boost knob to pump up the sound of your bass. I don’t think this switch is exactly a great idea. If you crank it up too high, you might overload the speaker in your amp, especially if you are using a small practice amp.  If you buy a bass with a boost knob of some sort, don’t immediately crank it up all the way, even if you are just trying the bass out in a store. Adjust that knob very slowly.

I’ve just noticed this boost knob on cheaper Ibanez models. I think the Ibanez official name for it is Phat II EQ. That knob will have a little sign around it saying “Boom!” Tobias has a similar, but slightly different knob on their basses (tonexpressor). I haven’t seen this function on more expensive basses, and think it is kind of a gimmick. If I’m going to have four knobs on a bass, I’d rather not have a boost knob, and have a treble eq and a bass eq instead.

If you are trying out a bass with more than two knobs, experiment with the knobs for awhile, especially if you are trying out a bass with 4 or more knobs. See what sounds you can get, and what you like best.

If you decide to go for an active bass, make sure not to crank up the bass eq knob all the way. It could blow out the amps speaker or speakers.. or at least damage them somewhat. Same goes for the boost switch.

Very important.. if you have a bass that has a 9V battery in it, make sure to unplug the instrument cable (the one that gets plugged into the bass on one end, and amp on the other) when you are finished playing. If you leave the cable in, the battery will wear down, because the electronics will be in “on” mode, even if you are not playing.

Brands and Models:

Basses in the under $800 price range are likely to have been made somewhere other than the USA. Most basses under $399 have been made in South Korea, Taiwan, Indonesia, or China.

Korea used to be the country that made the most guitars in the world. But, about 10 years ago, many companies shifted production over to China. Even before that happened, some of the cheapest models were made in Indonesia. These days, I am noticing that almost all basses in the under $399 range are being produced in Indonesia. I think the Chinese are demanding higher wages than the Indonesians are, and lately, less basses are being made in China than were made there.

Yamaha is the only company I know of that might still have basses made in Taiwan. These will be in a variety of price ranges.

Basses in the $400-800 range.. many of these are also being made in Indonesia. Fender is an exception. Fender basses (and electric guitars) in this price range are almost always made in Mexico.

Occasionally you might find a bass in the $400-$800 range that is made in Japan. I don’t know if any instruments are still being made in Japan, but used Japanese-made instruments are held in high esteem.

There is a company called Godin, which is Canadian. I read somewhere that their instruments, or some of their instruments are partially made in New Hampshire, and partially made across the border in Canada. It is possible to find a used Godin bass for under $400, but most will cost more than that. I’ve not seen any new ones for under $600. Godin basses are good quality, but are extremely heavy.

How can you tell where a bass is made? Look on the back of the headstock. On the back, it will mostly likely say “Made in ______.” Sometimes the made in sign will be stamped on the back of the headstock. Sometimes, there will be a little sticker saying where the instrument is made.

Sometimes, you will find basses in stores that do not have a “made in __” sticker on them.  In this case, if you want to know where the bass is made, whip out your smart phone, and google the brand and the serial number. It might take some digging but you’ll eventually be able to track down not only in what country the bass was made, but in what factory in what country. The serial number will be on the back of the headstock.

If you want to shop online for basses made in certain countries, type in MIK for Made in Korea, MIM for Mexican-made basses, and MIJ for those made in Japan. People on ebay especially use these abbreviations. You might find these being used on craigslist too. You won’t find “made in” abbreviations for basses made in China or Indonesia. Since production has shifted to those two countries, there has been a higher demand for used instruments made in the first three countries I mentioned.

I heard a rumor that some basses are not made where the stickers on the backs of the headstocks say they are. But, the guy I overheard saying this sounded sort of like the type of person who claims the government is run by extra-terrestrials. I can’t prove this sort of person wrong.. but I’m not worrying about it.

Fender/Squier

I don’t remember ever having played a Fender or Squier bass that I considered to be a light instrument. These basses tend to be good, even great, but almost always fairly heavy to really heavy.

By the way, I am spelling the word “Squier” S-Q-U-I-E-R instead of S-Q-U-I-R-E  on purpose. “Squire” spelled with the “e” on the end is a word for an apprentice to a knight.. sort of a combination of a servant and a knight in training. The instrument brand is spelled differently because it is a dude’s last name.

By far the most popular maker of bass guitars is Fender. In just about every rock video or concert footage I’ve ever seen, the bass players are playing Fender instruments. Leo Fender developed the first mass produced bass guitar, the Fender Precision bass. That’s a big reason why this brand is so popular. Fender is THE classic bass manufacturer.

Most Fender/Squier models have classic, passive pickups, but it is possible to find some models with active pickups. Most models have 4 strings, but you can get 5 string models as well. I’ve not seen any 6 string basses made by Fender, but perhaps some exist. All the Fender/Squier 5 strings have been very heavy.

There are two main types of Fender basses: the Jazz Bass (sometimes called J bass) and the Precision Bass (sometimes called P bass). Jazz basses have two pickups and three control knobs.. two volume controls, which allow you to blend the sound of the two pickups together.. and one tone control.  Precision basses have only one pickup and two control knobs.. one volume and one tone. P basses are lighter than Jazz basses, but their sound cannot be as altered as J basses. Jazz basses are rather heavy compared to most other basses on the market. Fender also makes basses that have both a P and a J pickup. Lots of other brands have make instruments with this pickup configuration. More on the other brands later.

If you’d like to play a Fender bass, but don’t want to spend much money, go for a Squier bass. Squier is Fender’s cheap line. Cheap doesn’t necessarily mean bad though. I’ve owned a Squier bass, which was pretty good, and have played many others in the stores. I think, at this time, more Squier basses are made in Indonesia than those that are made in China, but I could be wrong. The Indonesian-made Squier models tend to be better than the Chinese-made models. I’ve owned several instruments made in Indonesia, including a Squier bass, and have not been disappointed.

More on Squier basses..

It is possible to get a Squier bass that has both P and J pickups built in. That model used to be called a P-Bass Special. This is the model I owned. It was my first bass. It was good, except for a bit of fret buzz. Because this instrument had a very narrow Jazz bass neck, it was uncomfortable for me to play, due to my very long fingers (my hand kept cramping up), so I donated the bass.

I’m not sure if Squier P-Bass Specials are made anymore, but Squier does make a model called the Vintage Modified Jaguar Bass Guitar Special (that’s a long name) that has both kinds of pickups. One of the Jaguar models with two pickups has passive pickups, and the other one has active pickups.

There is also a Jaguar bass that has only one pickup, and costs $199, but it has one active pickup. I’ve tried this version of the Jaguar bass, and liked it. Didn’t buy it because the neck on this one was also too narrow for me.. but for most folks.. definitely worth trying. It’s quite possibly one of the best bass available for $199. Check out the two pickup Jaguar models as well.

There’s a very good active Squier model called the Squier Deluxe Jazz Bass. You can get this one with either 4 or 5 strings. The fretboard is neither maple nor rosewood (like on almost all basses and electric guitars) but instead is made of ebanol.. a man-made material. It feels a little odd. But.. the tone on this instrument is highly adjustable due to the many knobs and the active pickups.. the tone (or rather tones) that can be dialed in are awesome. The 4 string model is currently selling at $299.99, and the 5 string at $329.99. I would have bought the 4 string version, but the neck is too narrow for my left hand. Bummer.

There is another Squier model I like.. the Vintage Modified 70’s Jazz Bass in Natural Finish. (There is a very similar model in a darker finish, just called Vintage Modified Jazz Bass, and another that is like the first one I mentioned, only it is a ’77 model). This bass had no sharp fret edges, and was very well-made. I didn’t buy it mainly because, like other Fender/Squier Jazz basses, this one was rather heavy. If you don’t mind the weight, and can find a good padded strap, you might like this instrument. The Jazz bass is the most popular model out there. Apparently many musicians don’t mind playing this heavy bass.

The cheapest Squier instruments are the Affinity series. I suggest avoiding those. Yes, they are super cheap, but I think it’s better to pay a little more and get a better bass.

If you want to get a Fender instead of a Squier, consider the price differences. The most expensive Squier models cost $379. Fenders.. the cheapest Jaguar model is $399, the cheapest standard P bass costs $579, and the J bass $599. These are made in Mexico. The American-made models cost over $1,000. Some American-made Fender basses will cost even more.

If you want to buy a Fender, and not a Squier, it is possible to find used Made-in-Mexico Fender basses for $400 or less. It is extremely unlikely that you will find a Made-in-America bass in playing condition for under $400. I think that if you like Fender-style basses, and don’t mind that all of them, except for the short scale models I mentioned earlier in this post, are heavy, then you will likely find that well-made Squiers are your best bargain.

Ibanez, Yamaha, Epiphone, Spector, Schecter, Tobias..  

After Fender, the best selling manufacturer of basses is Ibanez. Most Ibanez basses are likely to be made in China or Indonesia, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the instruments are bad. You might find used Ibanez basses under $400 that have been made in Korea or Japan. These tend to be good.

The best thing about Ibanez basses, besides their price, is that most models are rather light.. lighter than Squier and Fender models. Lighter than pretty much any other brand (although Ibanez does make some heavy models). Also, Ibanez instruments tend to provide good to very good quality for the price. I think Ibanez basses, overall, are excellent.

Ibanez has basses in a broad range of prices. The cheapest ones are the GIO series. Same goes for the Ibanez guitar line. The most popular by far series of Ibanez basses is called Sound Gear. A Gio 4 string Sound Gear bass will run about $199.. or more, depending on the features. The higher end of the Sound Gear models can be rather pricey. Sound Gear basses usually have “SR” on the headstock somewhere, except for the Gio models. The letters “SG” are not used, because SG is the name of a famous guitar made by the Gibson company.

Besides making 4 string basses, Ibanez makes 5 and 6 stringed basses The 5 string models are the lightest ones I’ve tried. The only 6 string bass I’ve played was made by Ibanez. Since I’ve only played a 6 string made by Ibanez and no others, I don’t know how the Ibanez 6 string bass compares to models made by other companies. I am guessing Ibanez 6 string basses will be lighter than those made by other brands.

Edit 8/21/14: Two days ago, I purchased an Ibanez Gio Sound Gear Five string bass, the model GSR205SM, for $299.99. For the money, I think it is awesome.

Yamaha is another company worth considering. Their cheap basses are comparable to Ibanez in quality, but quite different in tone. Also, the necks on Yamaha instruments will likely be thicker, and have a different curve to them than on some other basses. You’ll have to try out several, or even many brands and models to determine if you want a thicker or thinner neck.

You might want to try out a couple models made by Yamaha.. perhaps their RBX series and TRBX (I don’t know what the T stands for) basses. There is one other downside to some of the cheaper Yamaha basses.. they tend to be rather more heavy than comparable Ibanez basses. But, the Yamaha basses seem to be more durable.

Today, I found an unusual Yamaha bass, which I’ve never tried before. It has two humbucking pickups.. active, I think. It has hmm.. let’s see if I remember this right.. a volume knob, treble eq, bass eq, pickup blend (or else two volume knobs..one for each pickup).. and something different.. a 5 way switch to further alter your tone. The five way switch is great! The settings are based on style of playing, such as slap, finger plucking, and more. With the volume, pickup blend, two eq’s AND this 5 way switch, you’ll get TONS of variety! The model is called  TRBX304. It costs $349. Like other Yamaha basses, this one is fairly heavy. Unlike other Yamaha basses in this price range, this one has a very thin neck.

If you want a style of Yamaha bass that is different from the RBX series, and don’t mind spending a bit more, you might want to go with the BB series.. like the kind Michael Anthony (former Van Halen bassist) plays. These are generally higher quality instruments than the RBX series, but are bigger than the RBX series, and start out at $499. These basses are not especially light, but have fairly good tone.

The last bass I owned was made by a lesser known company called Spector. Spector makes basses that have a non-traditional shape, and more powerful pickups (called humbuckers) than you will find on most models made by Fender, Ibanez, and Yamaha. Spector basses with large, thick pickups sound different from these other models and brands. Some Spectors come with passive pickups and some with active. My bass had passive humbuckers. The sound is full and powerful. For me, the sound was too full and too strong.

Spector basses look cool, and are, for the most part, comfortable, but the brand never really caught on well. Most Spector models are made in USA and are quite expensive. Mine was foreign-made, a Performer model, and I bought it used. I paid $275 for it, including shipping. The cheapest new Spector bass (imported) starts out at $399. I tried one awhile back.. a new Performer. I was underwhelmed.

High-end, expensive American-made Spectors might be rather good though. Check out Sting playing one of these on youtube during the 1983 Police Synchronicity tour. Sting eventually came out with a signature model made by Fender, not Spector. I’ve read many bad reviews of Sting’s signature model bass. Avoid that one.

Edit 2/4/14. I was displeased with the tone and power of my Spector bass. I tried it out with many amps, and it only sounded good with an incredibly expensive amp that was made in Italy. I finally just decided to sell the Spector bass, which I did within a month or two after writing this post. The bass was well-made, and fairly light, a great choice for many musicians, but I just didn’t like how it sounded. 

Schecter makes several bass models in a variety of price ranges. Schecter basses tend to be very solidly constructed, but they are not light. Their Stiletto basses look much like the Spector basses, but sound different. The Stiletto basses start out at $399. Years ago, I rented a pricey Schector Stiletto Elite 4 string bass with active pickups. The pickups were so strong that with the bass EQ turned up all the way, I overloaded and distorted the sound of several amps, even one that cost over $1,000. I decided to return the bass to the music store I was renting it from. It’s quite rare to find a music store that  has a rent/rent to own option for basses. I’m glad I did not purchase this bass.

There are two cheaper models of Schecter basses.. the SGR C4, which is $199, and the basic model of the Raiden, which is $299. I’ve not tried either of these. But, Schecter, as far as I can tell, makes quality instruments. These models are worth trying. If you don’t mind spending up to $500, there are several higher-end (better quality) versions of the Stiletto, C4, and other models to choose from. For $499, you can even get a Schecter copy of a Fender P-bass, called the Schecter Model T. It is the main bass played by Robert DeLeo of Stone Temple Pilots. I don’t know if this model is still in production.

This Schecter model is more versatile than the standard Fender P-bass, because it has two pickups, not one, and probably has better electronics than the Fender Standard P-bass (the model made in Mexico) which sells for $549.  Fender has P bass models that have two pickups, but these are even pricier than the Standard P basses.

I played the Model T some years ago in a store. Fairly heavy, but perfect tone for my taste, great look too. I almost bought it, but I found the neck to be too narrow near the nut (near where the strings are attached to the tuning pegs on the headstock).  As I probably mentioned already, narrow necks that have quite a curve to them are not comfortable for me to play, but might be fine for most people.

Epiphone basses. I’ve not tried many of these. Only one model, the Thunderbird, tends to be in stock in most music stores. You can find lots more Epiphone models online. Sometimes used Epiphone basses in such body styles as the violin bass, SG style (called EB), flying V, Explorer, or large semi-hollow model might show up in music stores. But stores won’t generally carry new models in these styles. I don’t know why.

Epiphone is the import line of Gibson. Epiphone electric guitars are incredibly popular, but not their basses, except for the Thunderbird. Actually, not that many pros play Thunderbird basses. Hmm..

The only famous player I can remember who has used the Thunderbird model a lot is Nikki Sixx from Motley Crue. The Thunderbird bass looks cool, and is not very heavy. However, it has a shape that makes it very awkward to play, especially if you are sitting down.

Also, it has passive humbucking pickups with have a sound I consider to be very muddy and dull. Lastly, the Thunderbird is a bit difficult to play because of neck-dive. This means the neck has a tendency to slide down to the floor while playing it standing up and wearing a strap. Other models have neck-dive issues, but generally not as bad as the Thunderbird.

Tobias was once a high-priced, American-made brand created by luthier (guitar builder) Michael Tobias. Eventually, the Gibson company bought out Tobias. I’ve recently found 2 Tobias bass models at a store. the Toby Standard and the Toby Deluxe. These instruments are cheap imports, and are a challenge to Squier, Ibanez and Yamaha especially. The Gibson/Epiphone company finally has a serious contender in the cheap bass market.

The Toby Standard is only available with 4 strings, but you can get the deluxe with 4 or 5 strings. The deluxe has active pickups. Actually, I’m a bit stumped by the electronics on the Tobias deluxe. The listing states that the pickups are split humbuckers (don’t see how this differs from single coil pickups), but doesn’t say the pickups are active. However, the listing says there is an “active tonexpressor bass enhancement control.” Ok.. confused? Me too.

The pickups on the standard model are single coils, and there’s no tonexpressor knob. As far as I can tell.

I tried both 4 string models. I was not impressed with the standard. The build quality wasn’t great.. I noticed some fret buzz and so forth.  The standard costs $199.99.

I liked the Toby deluxe 4 string a little more than the standard model. Better pickup and better finish.  Both the standard and deluxe 4 string models are surprisingly light. The deluxe model costs $249.99. In my opinion, it’s worth spending the extra money to get the deluxe model.

Edit 8/11/14 I played a standard Toby and a deluxe Toby today. Standard was bad. Very weak pickups. The deluxe model I played was really good. It had a walnut finish, hardly any fret wire edges, instrument was very light, lots of tone options.. a very good bass. Not all deluxe Tobias basses will have this much quality.. in this price range, there’s always a wide margin of quality control for instruments, regardless of brands. But, this one at least, was great. This is one of my top picks for under $300.

There are other brands of basses available, such as Washburn, Godin, Musicman, DeArmond, ESP-LTD, Dean, B.C. Rich, Peavey, Harmony, Silvertone, Samick, Danelectro, Rogue, Hofner, and G&L. Washburn basses are affordable, but the ones I’ve found have been very heavy. I’ve not even plugged them in. Godin is a company that makes their instruments in the USA and Canada.. good quality.. but very heavy.

Dean.. I have had very little experience with Dean basses. This is because even very large stores don’t tend to carry many Dean models. Guitar Center, for example, usually only has one Dean bass model in stock. I don’t know what the model is called, but it is the most boring-looking bass in the world. Black, but not a glossy black, more a matte black. One pickup, two knobs, fairly standard shape. I tried one once and did not like it.

It’s possible that stores which are not chain stores will sell more Dean instruments than the larger stores. This is because certain manufacturers require stores to have a certain number of instruments in stock, or they just won’t bother. I knew a guy whose step-dad owned and ran a music store. I asked his step-dad why he didn’t carry any Gibson or Epiphone instruments. I was told that since his store was small, he didn’t have the room to put lots of instruments on the wall for sale, and could not meet the Gibson company’s quota.  That really sucks. If you go to a fairly small (or even a fairly large) locally owned store, you might not find Gibson/Epiphone products. Fender, that I am not sure about. I’ve seen some Fender instruments in smaller stores.

In these smaller stores, you will quite likely find Schecter and Ibanez, and maybe Dean.

Dean does make a variety of instruments. I don’t know why GC only carries the most boring-looking model. There are other models that look very aggressive. V shape basses, basses that look a bit like Gibson Explorers (see a Def Leppard video for a bass shaped like an Explorer) and other shapes.

As to the quality of Dean basses, that I can’t tell you, except to say that the main one GC sells doesn’t appeal to me. Maybe it’s alright, maybe not.

Edit 7/30/14: I found a used Dean Metalman bass in GC for only $99 (compared to the new price of $199.99)  and I really like that one. Very basic instrument as far as features go.. 4 strings, one humbucking pickup, one volume and one tone control. That’s it. (There are Metalman and other Dean models with 2 pickups, more knobs, etc.)

The shape though.. flying V body, and the classic Dean V headstock. Cool. (There are several other Metalman shapes besides the V). Because of the odd shapes, you can’t buy a basic gig bag or hard shell case. You’ll have to buy a case or gig bag made by Dean specifically for each Metalman model. These cases and bags are pricey.

The neck on the Metalman V I tried was thin but rather wide, great for someone like me who has very long fingers.

The Metalman V (I’m using this as a letter, not a Roman numeral for “5”) was fairly light. I really really like light basses. I’ve never played a flying V bass before. I was surprised to find out that I could play the bass sitting down. It felt a tiny bit awkward at first, but not bad.

Edit 8/11/14. I tried the Metalman V today, and could not play it while sitting down. I don’t remember how I managed to play the instrument while sitting down last time. 

The Metalman does have a bit of a neck dive issue. I was using a Planet Waves vinyl strap, which is fairly slippery. A leather strap that is wider might make this better. Even so, I didn’t find the neck dive to be a problem. I was able to push a bit against the upper part of the V, and keep the neck from diving. Sometimes, I didn’t even find doing this to be necessary.

More space than usual between the strings. The neck seems as wide as those found on many 5 string basses. I tried this bass for something like 45 minutes.

Edit 8/11/14: Today, while playing the Metalman, I noticed that the neck is really really long. Longest neck on a bass I’ve ever played. I’m 6’3″ and have long arms. Even so, I found my left arm felt uncomfortable from being stretched out too far to reach the lowest notes. I decided not to buy this bass. I’m guessing the Metalman models Z, ML, and Demonator will be possible to play while sitting down. Some reviewers have found a way to play the V sitting down, but haven’t gone into detail on this in their reviews.

ESP/LTD.. I’ve only tried a few of these in the stores, and mostly have not been pleased with them. They’ve just felt cheap. This company makes some really cool electric guitars, but basses.. eh.. none that I’ve found.

Edit 8/11/14: I tried a 5 string model.. I think it was the ESP LTD F-155. It was somewhat heavy and had a scary-looking heavy metal shape, but it was overall pretty good. I’d say it wasn’t heavy for a 5 string bass. Also, it had a really good variety of tones. This was a used model. Someone had put aftermarket strings on it, which helped. Good instrument regardless though.

DeArmond.. I don’t think these basses are still in production. You can find them used online. DeArmond basses tend to have slightly odd (the Pilot model) or very unique body styles (such as the Jet-Star model). I’ve only played one. It was a Jet-Star. I found it at a pawn shop. It looked quite weird. Apart from being heavy, it was fairly comfortable to play. It didn’t sound all that great though. I’ve heard that DeArmonds are pretty good quality basses, but, since I’ve only tried one, I can’t really comment much on that. If you want something that looks different, look for a used DeArmond. Most that I’ve found online lately are selling for less than $400.

B.C. Rich.. A brand that became very popular in the hair metal heyday of the 1980’s. This company makes guitars and basses in really wild shapes, such as the Warlock and the Mockingbird. I’ve never played a B.C. Rich Bass. I’ve heard the Warlock is terribly heavy. I’ve never seen a B.C. Rich bass in any store, but I have found them online. The cheapest models start out at $299.99.

Silvertone.. This brand has been around for a long time. You can find Silvertones from the 1960’s on ebay. These may or may not be in good working order. The more recently made Silvertones have been made overseas. I don’t know if any are still in production. I tried an import Silvertone 5 string. It wasn’t bad.

Danelectro.. These are funky looking instruments. Unusual pickups, shapes, body styles, and electronics. There are several different Danelectro models. Some, like the Longhorn, are quite light, others are a bit (or more than a bit) heavier. Danelectro basses were once made in the States many years ago, then were made in Korea (Korea used to be the nation that produced the most guitars and basses, before many factories were built in China), and are now built in China. I’ve only found one Dano bass model still in production. It is called Hodad, and sells for $299.

Harmony.. Like Silvertone and Danelectro, Harmony is an old brand. You can find old Harmony basses from the ’60’s or ’70’s on ebay. These were probably made in USA. Like the other companies I just mentioned, Harmony eventually shifted production overseas. I owned a used Harmony bass that was modeled after a Fender P-Bass special (a model with both a P and J bass and three knobs), but looked less fancy. It had poorly made electronics, and was kinda heavy, but was otherwise a good bass. Some Harmony basses are heavier than others. I found one similar to the one I owned in a store, but it was several pounds heavier. Very heavy indeed.

If you want a Harmony, you will have to buy a used one, or wait until a new model comes out. Harmony is a company that is getting going again, and they are going to come out with at least one bass in the near future. It will look like the large, semi-hollow older basses Harmony used to make. I do not know where the new Harmony basses will be made, or how much they will cost.

It’s unlikely you’ll find a Danelectro bass in a store. If you want one, you’ll probably have to order one online. Make sure you don’t buy a Danelectro Baritone guitar by mistake. That is not a bass. You can find new and used Dano’s (some made in USA and some made overseas) on ebay. You can order new Dano basses from various online vendors, not just ebay.

Hofner.. Hofner is a German company. As far as I know, it was Hofner that first made the violin-style bass guitar. Paul McCartney’s violin bass is made by Hofner. German-made Hofners are expensive, but a cheaper line has recently been released. This is the Hoftner Ignition series. These basses are selling new for $469. They are made in China.

If you want a violin-style bass, you can pick one up for cheaper. Epiphone Viola basses are selling for $299, and Rogue Violin basses go for as low as $219. The Hofner model might be of better quality.. but better enough to pay that much more? I don’t know.

Rogue is the house brand of musiciansfriend.com. Buying a store’s house brand, such as Kirkland at Costco, or a Walgreen’s version of an over the counter medicine allows people to (at least supposedly) get just as much quality as a famous brand, but at a cheaper price.

It’s quite unlikely you will find a new Rogue bass in any store. I think you can only buy a new Rogue bass from various online merchants, such as Amazon, Musiciansfriend and Music 123. Those last two online vendors are both owned by Guitar Center. But, I’ve never seen a new Rogue instrument at GC. Chances are, if you find a Rogue bass or other instrument in a store, the instrument will be used.

There are seven models of Rogue basses, plus three that are left-hand versions of some of the seven. The most expensive is only $219.99. You’re likely to only find these being sold new on the Guitar Center website, or through Guitar Center-owned vendors: The Guitar Center website,  Musiciansfriend.com, Music123.com and Woodwind and Brasswind (wwbw.com). These vendors also sell instruments on ebay and Amazon.

Since these new Rogue models are not likely to be even sold at Guitar Center stores, you might not have a chance to play one.

Edit 7/30/14.. The only Rogue bass I’ve tried was a used violin bass I found at GC.  Back in February I tried one out and played it for many hours in the store. It had odd electronics, but felt comfortable enough. I bought it, but returned it after a week. The instrument felt too awkward to play once at home, because of its shape. Also, the pickups were rather weak, and there was a serious problem of neck dive.. light body and heavy neck creating the problem of the neck sliding down the shoulder and headstock pointing toward the floor. Unpleasant to play instruments with serious neck dive issues.  But, it looked cool, and had decent tone.. just not enough output. I expect the pickups on other Rogue models will be just fine though. But..

I have no idea if new Rogue models will be good. Most models are favorably reviewed. If you want a new Rogue, you’ll probably have to buy one online and take your chances.

Peavey… you can find cheap, used American-made Peavey basses in some music stores and pawn shops. I made the mistake of buying one. VERY heavy and not the best tone. It’s possible to find cheap imported Peavey basses too. Although I quite like some Peavey amps, I do not like their basses.

G&L  is a company started by Leo Fender, after he sold his company to a big company, or something like that. The “G” stands for George. I don’t remember who George is. G&L make American and imported models. Even their imports are not cheap, but are worth the money. G&L models are similar to Fender models, except that some G&L basses have really cool pickups that are both active and passive.. these are great. They have little switches to enable musicians to turn the active pickups on or off. Not cheap, not light, but great basses.

I just checked prices of the Tribute (import line) of G&L basses. It’s rare to find even a used one under $400. Bummer.

Musicman.. yet another company with a bass design created by Leo Fender. Most Musicman basses are American-made and therefore expensive. But, Musicman makes an import line, called Sterling. I’ve had very little experience with these. They are well-liked though. Classic look combined with a big active pickup. Good tone, cool basses, but fairly heavy.

Samick.. You might find these in independent music shops, but probably not in big chain stores or the largest online vendors. You can find them new on ebay. I don’t know how good Samick is these days. I’d heard that Samick was a huge instrument manufacturer in Korea, and that Samick made instruments for other brands, and other brands hired Samick to put their logos on them. I think this is actually true. For example, if you buy a used Epiphone bass that says “made in Korea” on the back, it might have been made in the Samick factory. Who knows.

It’s possible that current Samick basses are of good quality, but I haven’t tried any, so I don’t know. I did own a used Samick 5 string. It wasn’t very good. Wasn’t terrible, but didn’t have the best tone or build quality or electronics.

There are yet more brands, but you are unlikely to find them in stores, unless you go to specialty music shops, or live in Hollywood or NYC. Also, most of the brands I’ve not mentioned in this post are rather expensive, professional models.. not something most beginners would be interested in, I’m guessing.

Bass Electronics and Controls.

Most basses have pickups that are passive. They process the signal without altering it much. You can use a tone knob on passive pickup basses to.. adjust the tone, but there are no special equalizer knobs. A jazz bass, for example, will have a volume knob for each pickup, and one tone knob. On my Spector bass, there are two volume knobs and two tone controls. One for each pickup.

Besides there being a difference between active and passive pickups, there is another difference. Some pickups, especially those on most Fender/Squier models, are called single coil pickups. They are called this because there is only one coil of wire wrapped around the magnets in the pickup.

The other kind of pickup is called a humbucker. These have two coils of wires around pickups, or are two pickups that are attached to each other and wired together. These are called humbuckers because they get rid of, or “buck,” the hum caused by single coils. There’s a tiny little bit of a noticeable electrical hum that single coils put out. This makes single coil equipped instruments sound differently from those that have humbuckers.

For example, you can probably hear a difference between the sound of a Fender Stratocaster guitar, as played by Jimi Hendrix or Eric Clapton, and notice that it sounds quite different from a humbucking guitar, such as a Gibson Les Paul played by Pete Townshend or an SG played by Angus Young.

It’s hard to describe tone with words, but I think you will be able to tell by listening.

There are a few vintage-style basses with mini-humbuckers. These will have a slightly less strong tone than regular size humbuckers.

Basses with humbucking pickups tend to have a thicker, fuller sound than basses with single coil pickups (with the possible exception of basses equipped with the mini-humbuckers I just mentioned). Most bass players tend to use basses with single coils, but some prefer humbucking pickups. Active basses tend to have humbucking pickups, and passive basses tend to have single coil pickups, though this is not always the case.  Try basses with both active and passive pickups to decide which you like best.

Some basses, such as those made by Schecter, mostly have active pickups. These pickups are powered by a 9 volt battery. There’s a little section in the back of such basses where the battery is connected. If the battery goes dead, no signal is sent through the attached cable to the amplifier.. and that means you get no sound. Very embarrassing if this happens while you are doing a gig. If you buy an active bass, make sure to unplug the cable after you are done playing, because otherwise the pickups are still activated, and the battery runs down. If you ever perform with an active bass, put in a new battery, and test out the bass before performing.

Although most basses with active pickups, even cheap basses, have a special place in the back of the instrument that is made just for the 9V (which makes changing the battery easy to do), on some active basses, the 9V is kept in the same back compartment that holds the wires and electronics and so forth. To access this area, you will have to use a screw driver to remove the plastic cover in back of the instrument. Some people, when they don’t see a small 9V compartment, will assume a bass is passive when it is not.

How can you tell by looking at a bass if it is active or passive? The vast majority of active basses will have at least 4 knobs on them. Not all basses with 4 knobs have active pickups though. My Spector bass had 4 knobs, and big fat humbucking pickups like many active basses, but it had passive pickups, not active. This is unusual. Generally, if you see 4 or more knobs, the bass is going to have active pickups.

Almost all active basses will have two pickups. Some models will have pickups that are twice as wide as others.  Most basses with one pickup (including those that have a pickup that looks like it has been split into two staggered parts) will have only two knobs. However, there is a brand of bass guitar called Musicman that has models with only one humbucking pickup.. a very large one. The Musicman basses (most of them very expensive, except for the Sterling import line) have three or more knobs because the single (single as in only pickup, not single coil) pickup on them is active, and powered by a 9V.

Why do active basses tend to have  at least 4 knobs? One for volume, and three equalizer knobs.. for low, mid, and high frequencies. These equalizer knobs allow more tonal flexibility. But be warned.. cranking the bass eq knob up all the way can damage amplifier speakers.

Why would you want more tonal flexibility? If you have a passive bass with only one tone control and only one or two volume controls, you have less options to change your sound. If you have an active bass, you can change your sound more. This will save you from having to walk back to your amp and adjust the dials if you want to radically alter the sound of your bass for a particular song. By contrast, if you are playing a Fender P-bass, which has one split single coil pickup, one volume, and one tone control.. if you want to change your bass tone much at all, you’ll have to walk back to the amp and adjust the dials.

Although it might seem like a major advantage to have an active bass, there is a downside. Cranking up the bass eq too high will cause problems with amps, even expensive amps. The bass signal is so strong the speaker or speakers in the amps will start to rattle or make other odd noises. You don’t want this.

Although most Squier basses are passive, at least one Jazz bass model has active pickups, and it sounds awesome. It’s called the Squier Deluxe Jazz Bass Active. The 4 string model costs $299. It’s not a light bass, and the fretboard is made of some man-made composite, called Ebonol, that I’ve never encountered before (fretboards are almost always made of either maple or rosewood.. both are good).. but the sound.. wow. Quite a bass!

The fretboard will feel odd to anyone used to playing an instrument will a wood fretboard, but after some time spent playing, it will feel fairly normal, I’m guessing. I was seriously considering buying this model, but the Jazz bass neck is too narrow for me to play comfortably. Should be great for most folks though.

Schecter has a series of bass models called the Stiletto. This bass looks almost identical to Spector basses, and is comparable in weight. However, some Spectors tend to have passive pickups, and almost all Schecters have active pickups.

I had a 4 string Schecter Stiletto Elite for a short time. I was renting it from a music shop. I did not know much at all about active pickups, and so I usually practiced with the bass eq all the way up. The first amp I brought home to use with the Schecter made odd noises, and I thought the amp was defective, so I traded that one in for a more expensive model. That amp also seemed to be acting up. I figured out later that the amps were fine, and the problem was me.. I had the bass eq on the Schecter turned up all the way.

Since I thought the amps were both defective, I got fed up with playing bass, and just returned the second amp and bass to the music store. The Schecter bass was somewhat heavy anyway, expensive, and had an ugly paint job. I had chosen it because it had by far the most comfortable neck of any of the basses in the store, and although fairly heavy, it was not the heaviest model. Some were worse.

Yes, basses, unfortunately, tend to be heavy.. most of them, anyway. If the weight of an instrument is of special concern to you, try out an Ibanez (most Ibanez models are light), Tobias Toby IV, or one of the Yamaha RBX models. If you are wanting a 5 string bass.. you’ll be stuck with active pickups, but not necessarily with a much heavier instrument. Schecter and Fender/Squier 5 strings are quite heavy, but Ibanez makes some fairly light 5 string basses. As far as I can tell, Ibanez makes the most popular 5 string basses. This is in large part due to them being light compared to almost all other 5 string models.

Where to buy a bass..

Best to buy from a store, so you can play the instrument, and buy the exact one you have played. Buying online is more risky. But, some basses can only be found online, and there are some great deals online too.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, buying a used instrument might be a good idea. I am guessing you will have better luck buying a used bass from a reputable music store, than from a pawnshop or on craigslist.

If you want to find out if a store is a good one, ask musician friends of yours, if you know any. You can also check store reviews on google or yelp.com. You might also want to put up a post on craiglist in the musicians section, asking if anyone knows of good music stores in your area. Some people will actually respond. You will likely get a variety of opinions. If many people recommend the same store or stores, then check those out.

Shopping for a bass on craigslist.. If  you are new to the world of bass guitars, I recommend NOT buying a bass from someone on craigslist. Yes there are many cheap deals on craigslist, but, if you don’t know much about basses, how will you be able to tell if the bass is good or really messed up? Also, even if you are someone who knows a lot about basses, do you really want to go into a stranger’s house to look at a bass? This could be very dangerous!

If you do decide to shop on craigslist, and find an instrument that you like, ask if the seller will be willing to meet you at a music store so you can be in a safe place, and so you can try out the bass by plugging it into some amps. You can pretend that you are shopping for amplifiers. Best not to let anyone on staff at the music store know you are trying to buy a bass from the person sitting next to you.

Pawn shops.. most people who run pawn shops probably don’t know much about musical instruments.  Be very careful when checking out basses in pawn shops.. who knows what might be wrong with them. There are some pawnshops that specialize in musical equipment. These shops are likely to have at least one person on staff who knows a lot about instruments, and is in charge of selling them. Buying an instrument from a pawn shop with a large music section and a knowledgeable person on staff might not be too bad of an idea. I recently went into a pawnshop that had a large selection of instruments. The prices were mostly rather good, and the guy I spoke with knew what he was talking about. I didn’t find anything I wanted, but at least, in general,  it was a good pawn shop to go to for instruments.

Pawn shops are not the only potentially risky places to buy used gear. Even buying a used bass from a music store is not always a safe bet. I’ve been to some music stores that mostly sell used instruments. Several of the guitars I tried out were in bad shape, and had various things wrong with them. Even Guitar Center has this problem. GC mostly sells new gear, but in the back, there’s a section where they sell used instruments and equipment.

On one previous trip to GC, I tried a used Ibanez bass that was a really cool model. It was rare, and made in Japan. It had some major gashes in it, which is a bad sign. I figure if the instruments look pretty smashed up.. have lots of dings, dents, scratches, or other major cosmetic issues, chances are the instruments have other problems too. Besides the bad gashes on the Ibanez bass I was looking at, the electronics were messed up. Two of the knobs didn’t work right, and the sound was scratchy. The knobs, also called pots, could be replaced cheaply, I suppose, and the crackly noises could also be repaired cheaply perhaps, but I don’t want to mess with all that, so I didn’t buy the bass.

If you are seriously considering buying a used bass from a store, if possible, bring a friend with you who knows about basses. If you have someone to help you, you could get an excellent deal on a used bass.

There are many good deals to be had on ebay.. both used and new basses, but I strongly suggest buying a bass in a store, or at least trying out a particular model before ordering one online.

If you find a model you like, and it is new, check the price online. Musiciansfriend.com is the main site to check for online prices. Some music stores will match the online price. I have saved money doing this, and you can too.

Guitar Center usually has the same prices on instruments that musiciansfriend does.. this is because GC owns musiciansfriend.com.. and Music123.com. The advantage to buying online from the two sites I just mentioned is that you will not have to pay tax. But, awhile back, I bought an amp online from GC, figuring that since I was buying from them online, I would not have to pay tax, but I did. I wasn’t pleased. Oh well.

If buying from an ebay vendor, you will only have to pay sales tax if the vendor is located in the same state where you live. Usually, ebay listings will say this, in the fine print.

Ok.. so… try out many basses. Bring a friend if you can. Better to buy in the store, or at least try out a model you are interested in before buying that model online.

One other advantage to buying in a store.. you know exactly what a particular instrument feels like. You’ll pay a little more if you buy in a store, because even if you get the merchant to match the online price, you’ll likely pay tax.. if you can talk the guitar seller down to matching the online price, that’s good.. and if you can get that matching price out the door (price including tax) that’s even better.

While in a store.. you might like a certain model, and decide to buy one online, but the one that will be shipped to you is not the same exact instrument as the one you played. Quality control is not always the best, especially at this price point, and the instrument shipped to you might not be as well-made or feel as good as the one you played in the store. The staff at some music stores inspect instruments before putting them up for sale.. but some don’t. Even if the instruments are not inspected before being put on display, you can still try them.

If you really want to buy a used bass on ebay, check the seller’s feedback profile and return policy. Buying on ebay, whether used or new, is risky. I’ve in the past bought 3 basses on ebay. The first two turned out not to be very good. The third one I bought turned out to be in great condition, but I ended up not liking it anyway, and eventually sold it. That was the Spector bass with the powerful passive pickups (passive full-size humbuckers).

Many online merchants offer free shipping. That’s only free shipping to you. If you want to return the instrument, that’s perhaps a different story. If the instrument is obviously defective, and you’ve bought it from a reliable seller, return shipping shouldn’t cost anything.. at least not if you’ve bought from musiciansfriend or music123.. not sure about ebay sellers.

However.. if you are wanting to return the instrument because you don’t like it.. you might have to not only pay the cost to return it, but pay the shipping cost the seller covered when shipping the bass to you. This happened to me when I bought an electric guitar online. The seller wanted to charge me double the shipping cost to return the instrument. I decided not to return the guitar to the ebay seller, and sold the instrument locally.

Yeah.. better to buy a bass in a music shop.

Picks.

Most bass players do not use picks to pluck the strings, they use their first two fingers. But, playing with a pick can be fun. Also, playing with a pick creates a different, more intense sound than using one’s fingers. If you choose to play with a pick, make sure not to dig in too much with it, or else you’ll scratch the finish on your instrument. I’ve seen several used basses with major pick scratches. I’m guessing these basses were used to play furious metal or punk, and the bass players were rather enthusiastic.

If you are going to use a pick, I recommend buying several, so you don’t lose them.

I also recommend getting a thick pick. Picks are made in many gauges..  if that is the correct term. Some are very thin, some somewhat thin, some thick, and some very thick and not flexible at all. Thicker picks work best with bass. I can’t find any of my picks right now, so I can’t let you know what thickness of pick I use. The picks tend to have little numbers on them that show how thick they are. Higher the number, thicker the pick.

There are many brands of picks. Everybody has their favorite. For both electric guitar and bass playing, I like Dunlop Gator Grip picks. These are coated with a material that makes it so the picks will not get slippery due to fingers sweating. Most picks can get slippery with sweat if used for a little while, but not Gator Grips.

There’s a product called Gorilla Snot (there are also Gorilla Snot hair care products. Those, I’m guessing are made by a different company. I’m not joking). It is an adhesive coating for picks. If you don’t want to buy picks that are already coated, you can buy some Gorilla Snot.

Bass strings.

Buying strings can be complicated. Strings come in a variety of gauges.. the higher the number, the thicker the string. I would suggest not getting heavy gauge strings. Some packs of strings will be labeled as “light,” “medium” or “heavy.”

If you do choose heavy strings, you will likely need the neck on your bass adjusted. Most basses, even cheap ones, have a metal rod inside the neck called a truss rod. The truss rod can be adjusted. A beginner should have a professional tech make the adjustment. I don’t know how well cheap basses will hold up with heavy gauge strings. Heavy gauge strings are also harder to play than lighter gauges.

Besides string gauge, there is another thing to consider.. the type of string. Bass strings come in roundwounds, flatwounds, and half wounds (also called half rounds). Round wounds are roughest on the fingers, but have the brightest, sharpest sound.. I am guessing most bass players use round wound strings. Basses all come with roundwond strings on them already.

Flat wound strings feel smooth. There will be much less excess noise as you slide your fingers up and down the strings, if you are using flatwounds. Flatwound strings have a more mellow, duller sound, but some bassists like this.

Halfwounds are somewhere in between. A little brighter tone than flatwounds, while still feeling fairly smooth to the touch. The bass I have was set up by the previous owner with halfwound strings.  I like them.

Bass strings are not cheap. The least expensive packs of 4 bass strings cost just under $15.

There are many string brands. The most poplar brands are D’Addario, Ernie Ball, and GHS. My favorite so far is D’Addario. I’ve tried both flatwound and halfwound strings made by this compay, and those strings were very good. I purchased a set of GHS flatwounds. They did not feel good at all. It’s hard to explain how something feels.. I didn’t like those strings.

I once bought a set of Ernie Ball coated round wound strings. Some strings are coated with some sort of metallic material, or enamel (honestly, I don’t know what different things are used to coat strings. I do know that the Ernie Ball strings I bought were coated with enamel, but I don’t know what other brands use), to make the strings more durable. The set I bought cost $29.99. Those strings took awhile to get used to.. very rough on my fingers at first. The tone was very very bright and strong.. very punchy. Because of the feel of the strings,  and picking up a lot of excess finger noise when I would move from fret to fret, I did not like them at first, but once I adjusted, I liked them a lot. Good strings. The full name for this kind of string is Ernie Ball 3833 Coated Bass Strings – Hybrid Slinky. The gauge is light-to medium.

If you are going to be changing your own strings, get a little plastic device called a string winder. These are cheap. You might want to ask someone at a music store which kinds are best for basses. Check out youtube for some good string changing tutorials.

Part of changing bass strings is clipping the ends that stick through the tuning pegs on the headstock.. you will have to be careful when doing this. I’ve ruined strings by clipping the ends too short. If you do this, you might get lucky and find a music store that sells individual strings.. but if not, you’ll have to buy another whole pack in order to replace the string you wrecked.. this can get expensive.

Be careful about string ends. They are sharp. Be safe when disposing the clipped ends. Make sure you don’t poke yourself.

You might want to have someone help you the first time you change your strings. I wish I’d had someone help me.. I wouldn’t have clipped the ends off too short, and would not therefore had to buy more packs of strings.

Amps.

You are going to want to plug your bass into something. I practice some of the time without plugging my bass in, and this does not bother me. However, not having an amp at all is no fun. You will need an amp to better hear yourself.

Be careful about buying a used amp. If you are considering buying used, bring a friend with you who has some familiarity with bass amps. Your friend can likely hear any sounds the amp isn’t supposed to be making. You might be fortunate to find a great used amp at an excellent price. It’s possible.

Buying used online.. hmm.. risky. However, there are many music sellers on ebay with very high feedback ratings. Check the feedback ratings and see if the seller is primarily a vendor who sells musical instruments, or is more of a pawnshop-type vendor.. one who sells every sort of thing. Sometimes pawnshops employ people who know enough about amps to sell them, but sometimes not. In general, better to go with a music merchant on ebay than a vendor who sells lots of different things.

A vendor with a high number feedback and a rating of 100% might be a good vendor to buy a used amp from.

Make sure to look for the shipping charges. These might be expensive, even if you are buying a small practice amp. Some sellers have free shipping.

Also check out the return policy, and remember that even if there is a return policy, you will be responsible to pay for return shipping (or double shipping charge) if you are returning the amp simply because you don’t like it. Vendors list that they will cover shipping if an amp is defective. Some vendors are more honest than others.

Amps come in LOTS of different sizes.. and different prices too. The smallest practice amps start out about $69.00.

Volume is measured in watts. I don’t know why. Usually, the higher number of watts, the louder the amp.. but not always. Some brands are louder than others with the same amount of watts. You will have to try things out.

Some amps have controls on the top of enclosures. This is good if you are standing up, and bending down to adjust the knobs. But, there is a drawback. Controls and input ports built into the tops of amps are much more likely to be affected by dust. If you buy an amp that has the controls and ports on top, make sure to put some sort of covering on top to keep the dust out when you are not using the amp.

You can use a cloth or sheet of plastic, or you can buy an amp cover. There’s a company called D2F on ebay that sells padded covers for many brands of amps. The covers are expensive, but they not only keep the dust off, but keep your amp from getting scratched while you are carrying it around. I don’t know if D2F makes amp covers for small amps though.

Besides D2F, there are other brands of amp covers. You can find some brands on ebay, and some other sites as well, like musiciansfriend.com and amazon. Be careful when buying amp covers. Some are padded and some are not. The ones that are not padded will keep the dust off, but won’t provide as good scratch and other damage protection.

Here are the main amp brands I’ve seen in stores: Fender, Peavey, Ampeg, Mark Bass, Rogue, and Gallien Kruger.. also called GK. Mark Bass amps are very good, but extremely expensive. Don’t buy one of these if you are just starting out, unless you don’t mind dropping $800 or more on an amp. GK tends to be expensive too, but not as expensive as Mark Bass. Mark Bass amps are made in Italy. Some GK amps might still be made in the USA. Fender, Peavey and Ampeg.. the cheaper ones will likely be made in China, like practically everything else.

There are many other brands besides those I’ve just mentioned. Marshall has been making bass amps for some years, and they have a couple affordable models. Marshall is a good brand, but I’ve  never tried one of their bass amps.. not been able to find any in stores. Other brands include Ashdown, Acoustic, Laney, Roland, Ibanez, Eden, Crate, SWR, Vox, Yorkville, and some others, but these tend to be more expensive.

I’ve never had a chance to try Ashdown, Eden, or Vox bass amps. SWR amps are expensive. I tried one of those some years ago. I was underwhelmed. Laney and Yorkville did not impress me. At all. I didn’t like Ibanez or Crate bass amps either. Muddy tone.. especially the Crate. Roland makes very high quality products, but they are not cheap. Roland makes a kind of amp called Cube. It’s a small, portable amp with lots of features and good tone. But you have to pay for these attributes. I’ve not played the bass cube, but I have played one of the Roland electric guitar cube amps. It was excellent. Tiny, but with cool features, and powerful. If you want something very small, portable, and likely to be rather good, you might like a bass cube. It costs $279.99.

If you go to Guitar Center, you will notice that a lot of floor space in the bass section is taken up by the brand Acoustic. Acoustic brand amps were made in USA in decades past. A few years ago, Guitar Center bought the brand, and now has these amps made overseas. These amps are priced cheap, but are not always very good. I talked to an experienced technician a couple years ago, and he said people were bringing in Acoustic brand amps all the time. Not all Acoustic bass amps are bad.. I tried one out in the store recently, the smallest, the B15 model.

This one wasn’t too bad. It normally costs $109, but was on sale for $89. It has both a clean channel and a gritty, distorted channel. Almost all electric guitar amps will have at least one distortion channel for playing hard rock and metal. It is uncommon for bass amps to have distorted channels. Weird.

The amp had decent tone. It couldn’t be cranked up past 5 without the sound distorting.. other amps you might be able to put up to 7 without this happening. I liked the distortion channel, because one of my favorite basslines is in the song “Believe,” by a group called CANT (I don’t know why they use all caps for their name, but they do). The bass line in that song is distorted, even though the song is very mellow.

I had previously advised readers of this post to steer clear of this brand, but for $89, this is a pretty good amp.. maybe even for the usual price of $109. This amp is quite highly rated on the musiciansfriend.com website.

I was thinking of buying the B15, but I didn’t quite like the tone when I paired the amp up with the Rogue violin bass I was planning on buying. It had too much of a ’70’s style tone to it. I did not notice this when trying other amps with the same bass. But, if you plug a different model of bass into this or other acoustic amp, you might get a good tone that you like.

I feel that, after trying several models made by Acoustic, and using several basses with them, I’d have to say that foreign-made Acoustic amps are generally a bad choice. Better to go with a different brand.

Carvin. Carvin might make good guitars, and maybe some of their most expensive amps are good, but not all their amps are worth buying. I know from experience. Carvin is a company that sells their stuff online or via catalog. They only have a couple stores, and those stores only sell Carvin gear. Carvin amps are not pricey considering they are made in America.

The first Carvin amp I bought was for an electric guitar. The build quality was terrible, and the speaker in the amp didn’t have the power rating ti was supposed to. The amp was supposed to be 100 watts, but the speaker clearly said 70 watts. Should a 100 watt amp have a 70 watt speaker? Maybe this is alright, but it didn’t seem right to me. I sent the amp back.

Many years later, I bought a Carvin bass amp. I didn’t like this one either. The cheapest and smallest Carvin bass amp is $299 plus $25 shipping.  The one I bought cost $399 (plus shipping). It had loads of features (too many, I think), but it turned out I didn’t need most of them, and some features most other amps have, that one didn’t. Also, it was rated at 200 watts, but sounded quieter than other amps that had 100 watts of power. Not good.

Edit 8/11/14: This afternoon, I tried a fairly small, used Carvin amp. It was rather good. I don’t know how old it is, or what exact model though. It was a 100 watt model, and besides the basic volume and EQ knobs, it had three very small push switches.. one for high, one for mid, one for bass. These changed the sound quite a bit. Some Carvin amps, even the small ones, are worth buying.

Up until recently, I’ve liked Peavey practice amps, especially the MAX 158 (a discontinued model). But, I tried two of their newest models, and I didn’t like them.. felt too cheaply made… not as durable as Peavey amps in the past. The sound on the larger one was ok. The small practice amp had lousy tone, and the two buttons used to shape the tone hardly did anything except make the sound worse. I don’t know what’s happened to Peavey.

The Peavey  amps I just mentioned are part of the newest in a series of bass amps called MAX. The newest MAX basses not only have a number after the word “max,” but a II. Roman numerals for 2. These are the ones I don’t like. There’s a slight possibility there are still a few of the original MAX bass amps that are in new condition, and for sale on ebay and musiciansfriend, including the small but good MAX158. It has 15 watts. That one costs around $100. It’s somewhat unlikely you’ll find a MAX158 that is not the second version in a store.. but it might just be worth the risk to buy a used , earlier version (one without the II) online. The earlier model MAX158 amps have a little switch that says “vintage” and “modern.” That little switch changes the tone. I had one of these amps for awhile. I thought I’d quit playing bass guitar, and I sold that amp. Not happy I sold it.

Peavey amps made before the MAX series was released might be good. They are likely to be quite heavy, but if you find a used one in good condition, it might be worth trying. I owned an old, small Peavey keyboard amp for awhile. It worked well for bass. I’ve been told by various musicians that keyboard amps in general work with for bass guitars.

Ampeg is a brand that has been around for a long time. I’ve never been impressed with the smaller ampeg amps. I tried an ampeg rig that cost over $2,000. That setup, as you might guess, was very good. However, some of their smaller amps are under-powered, very heavy and don’t have the best tone. I compared an Ampeg amp and some other brands with the same watts, and the ampeg was lots quieter. Maybe that particular amp I tried was just a dud.

Ampeg is a classic brand, and lots of people like them. Some cheaper Ampeg amps might be good. They have a somewhat dark but full tone. You might want to try Ampeg.

Fender makes decent practice amps. They make very small ones for $99, and the prices and sizes of amps go up from there. The cheapest ones will have 15 watts. I have noticed that Fenders are quite loud considering how much watts they have.. what I mean is.. a Fender amp that has, for example 30 watts, will sound louder than some other brands with the same watts.

Edit 8/11/14: Fender has recently released a re-designed Rumble series of amps in a wide range of prices and sizes. They look very cool. I don’t know how they sound, because I’ve not yet tried any of them. The cheapest one is rated at 15 watts, and costs $79.99.

The sound of Fender practice amps is sort of the opposite of Ampeg amps. Ampeg amps sound full but dark, maybe a bit muffled. Fender amps have a thinner, very bright, strong sound.. more intense treble sound to them. I’m not crazy about Fender practice amps or Ampeg practice amps. Not sure which one I would buy. The Fender amps tend to be lighter, at least. Yeah.. I’d go with a Fender.

You might like a used Fender amp that was made before Fender came out with their Rumble series. I borrowed a friend’s Fender amp. Wish I could remember the name of the model. It was made in the mid-’90’s, and had a grey cloth covering. It looked odd, but had good sound, and excellent volume for its size. I wish my friend had been willing to part with it.

Rogue.. The only Rogue amp I had was bought for me as a gift back in 2000. It was a good bass practice amp. I used it for years, not only with bass, but with electric guitar as well. I plugged my electric guitar (a cheap Ibanez) into a Digitech multi-efx unit, and plugged that into the Rogue bass amp. Worked great. I don’t think Rogue is making bass amps anymore though. Might be possible to find one used.

You might be wondering how much volume you will need.. how many watts.

If you are just starting out, a small, cheap 15 watt amp should be fine. It won’t be nearly loud enough to jam with a drummer, or a guitarist with a powerful amp, but it will be loud enough for you to hear yourself just fine while you are practicing in your room. It will also be loud enough if you are jamming with an acoustic guitar player.

Using a guitar amp?

Guitar amps are not made to handle the low bass frequencies that bass guitars send out. However, if you are just practicing at a low volume, and already have a guitar amp, it should be alright. I asked several guitar techs about this, and this is what I was told.

I use an Epiphone Slingshot electric guitar amp. I bought it used for $49.00. Great little amp. Not built for bass guitars, but as long as I don’t turn up the bass eq on the amp too high, or the boost switch on my bass up, the Epiphone amp works great. Not near loud enough to jam with a band, but that’s alright.

If you happen to have a keyboard amp, that will work better than a guitar amp. Keyboard amps are made to handle a wider range of notes than guitar amps, since there are so many notes on standard-size keyboards. I used a keyboard amp for over a year before I made the mistake of jamming with a metal band in a small basement, and turning my amp all the way up. The amp didn’t like that. It didn’t die completely at the time, but I think I hastened its demise.

How much power/volume do you need?

If you are thinking a 15 watt amp is too small, and you want something louder, you can get a 30 watt Fender Rumble for $120, and a 75 watt version for $249.  Fender is currently phasing out their regular Rumble line, and is now releasing Rumble V3 models. I haven’t had a chance to try one yet.

Let’s say you want an amp loud enough to play with a band.. consider what kind of music are you playing.. how hard does your drummer pound his or her kit.. how powerful is the amp the guitarist is using.. these are all things to think about.

A 100 watt amp might do you if you are playing fairly mellow music. If you are playing heavier stuff.. 150 at the very least.. 200 watts or more is better. If I were playing with a band,  especially a heavy one, I might go for an even louder amp .. 350 watts or more.

I used to jam with some friends. They were using 50-60 watt guitar amps mostly, and ran a drum machine through an amp that was at least 40 watts. Even though my Carvin amp was anemic compared to other brands, it was more than loud enough with its 200 watts. I think a 75 watt Fender would have worked just fine in the jam sessions I took part in. A 75 watt Fender amp might even be enough to play with a drummer. Maybe.

But for beginners.. no need for all that power.

Some last advice about amps.. I strongly encourage you not to buy a used amp. The speaker or speakers might be blown, there could be some electrical problems, who knows. I also encourage you to try amps out in a store. Buying new amps online is not a bad idea, once you’ve tried out the amp in the store and are sure you like it. If you buy from Musiciansfriend, Music123, or some other merchants, you’ll likely get free shipping.

I have bought two used amps. I got lucky with the one I bought on ebay. It was worth the risk. The other one I bought at GC. I’ve been buying gear for years, and so I know to listen for certain things when trying out an amp.. that is hard to explain.. comes with experience. I recently found a very cheap amp at GC, and it was in good condition. I tried it out for awhile, then bought it. But.. if you are a beginner, and unfamiliar with amps.. better to buy a new one, and a new one you have tried out.

The amps on the sales floor.. those are demo models, which have been used by other folks who have come into the store. Unfortunately, some of these amps have been cranked up too loud, usually by teenagers who play heavy metal. It’s possible the demo model might be a bit messed up, who knows. I’ve almost never encountered damaged demo models, but it can happen. Although the demo models on the sales floor have been used in the store, they are still sold as new gear. Used gear will be marked as used (hopefully). Often used amps will be at least a little bit dusty. I don’t know why, but many stores don’t dust off their used amps. Strange.

You can buy the demo model that you are trying out, or you can ask if they have another one in the back. If they do, it will come in a big box, with lots of packing material, manual, etc. If you want, you can ask to unpack the new one from the box, and try it out. They might let you. I’ve never thought to ask this. I’ve either bought the demo models, gotten a boxed one and just brought it home, or bought an amp online. If you buy a demo model off the sales floor, be sure to ask for all the paperwork it comes with.. manual, warranty card, etc.

Make sure you find out the return policy on amps.. it might be strict.

Do NOT turn your amp all the way up unless you want to wreck it. Keep that in mind.

If you buy a bass that has full-size humbuckers (almost all basses with humbuckers have full-size humbuckers).. whether passive or active.. it’s probably best to buy an amp that has a little more power than you think you’ll need, because those pickups transmit a more powerful signal than basses with single coil pickups. This is just a guess though.

Lastly.. larger, louder bass amps tend to be big and heavy. Once you are good enough to play in a band, you’ll probably be using a large amp, and might need help from one of your bandmates to move it. A lot of these larger amps have casters..  little wheels.. which are very helpful. But for now.. you won’t need to worry about lugging around a huge amp.

One last thing about amps.. some come with USB out ports. This is not a necessary feature, but great if you ever want to record your bass music using computer software. The USB port will allow you to plug into a computer, and use Garageband or whatever music software you choose. Even some of the small practice amps have USB ports.

Bass Effects.

As far as I can tell, most bassists don’t get into effects nearly as much as guitarists do. You’ll often find bass players plugging their instruments straight into their amps, or only using one or two effects pedals. But, if you want some effects to play with while you are learing, but also want to buy a small amp, you can separately purchase a multi-effects unit (also called a multi-effects pedal). This is an external device that you plug your bass into, and then run another cable from the unit into the amp. You change the amp’s sound by changing settings on the effects unit.

Digitech makes some pretty good ones. Some come with expression pedals (these look like attached gas pedals), which allow you to alter sound settings with your feet. Cheaper models don’t have expression pedals, but expression pedals can be bought separately if you want. I’ve owned several Digitech models, but none with expression pedals attached, because I’ve heard the pedals break. However, I’ve only heard this from a few people.

Guitar multi-effects pedals will work fine with bass, or at least, they have for me. I currently have a Digitech RP155, made for electric guitars, not basses, which costs $99. You don’t need one as expensive as that to change your sound though. You can get the RP55, which costs $49.95.

Before buying a multi-effects unit, make sure it has a USB out port, so you can plug it into your computer if you want to.

Single effects pedals are also available for bass, but these each only do one thing (such as create a chorus, flanger, or distortion effect), and with a multi-effects unit, you can change your sound in many ways. Musicians who perform usually buy separate pedals, and mount them on a pedal board. This is a much more expensive way to go than using a multi-effects unit, but performing with individual pedals on a pedal board is easier to do. For beginning bassists who want some effects to play with, I strongly suggest going the cheaper route, and buying a Digitech multi-effects unit, or one made by Zoom. The cheapest Zoom model for bass is the Zoom B1, which sells for $59.95. I’ve never used Zoom products, but they tend to get good reviews.

It’s possible some stores may have bass effects units you can try out, but many stores will not. The majority of display space in rock-oriented music stores is always dominated by electric guitars,  and the amps and accessories that go with them. Bass stuff usually gets a lot less floor and wall space.

If you are wondering what multi effects unit or individual pedal to buy, check out some demos and reviews on youtube.

Pedals and (most) multi-effect units either run on batteries or are powered by AC adapters that you’ll have to plug in. Even if you aren’t using any effects, I suggest using a surge protector to plug your amp into. A surge protector is very useful if you plan on using effects. You can use batteries, but batteries tend not to last long at all. The effects devices use up a lot of power. If you are going to use batteries, buy rechargeable batteries. If you are going to perform, I strongly suggest not using batteries. You don’t want those wearing out and shutting your sound down in the middle of a song.

There is a device called a One Spot that is great for powering many effects. It uses only one space on the wall socket or surge protector. It is made up of a chain of little cables that are attached to each other. Each little cable functions as a power adapter. This is a very helpful accessory. I have a One-Spot, which I bought back when I was still regularly playing electric guitar. The One-Spot worked well. I don’t use it now though, because I almost never use effects that are not built into my amp, and when I do use effects, I only use two. I have enough room on my surge protector to plug in two adapters.

Connecting your amp to a PA system or extension speaker.

If you are a beginner, this is something you won’t be doing right away. But, I thought I should add that some bass amps, even a few of the small ones, have a line out port of some kind. Either a 1/4″ outport or an XLR (three prong like a mic connection port). Both can be plugged into a PA system.

Extension cabinets tend to be connected via a 1/4″ standard instrument cable, but some might have an option to attach an XLR cable.

Connecting an mp3 player to your amp.

Most, or at least some practice amps will have some way for you to connect an mp3 player. This is a good feature, and you should look for it. You can plug your ipod right into the amp, and jam along with tunes.

This feature is usually called “auxilliary input (aux input) or cd input. Fender Rumbles have an aux input in the form of two RCA jacks.. the same kind you will find on your TV. To plug your mp3 player into a Rumble amp, you will need a little cable from an electronics store that has to RCA audio plugs (male ends – red and white) on one end, and on the other, a 1/8 inch input.. like you find on the end of most headphones.

Some amps have 1/8 aux inputs. To plug your mp3 player in this way, you will need what’s called a male to male 1/8 inch cable. I’ve found these items at Radio Shack.

If the aux input is a 1/4 inch jack, you’ll not only need the little cable I just mentioned but a little 1/8 to 1/4 converter.

Plugging your bass into a computer.

If your amp does not have a USB port, you’ll need some type of interface to plug your bass into a computer. If you have an interface, you won’t need to plug into your amp first. An interface is a little device that allows you to plug your instrument cable on one end, and plug the other end into a USB port. The kind I use is called Apogee Jam. It is made for macs. I don’t know if it will work with PC’s. I have used PC computers sometimes, but have not done any music with them.

There’s another interface called an iRig. This is cheaper than the Jam, I think, but, like the Jam it might also be good only for use with macs. I’m not sure about this though.

There are larger devices made to plug in both microphones and instruments into computers. I don’t know much at all about these except that most feature two mic inputs (called XLR) and two 1/4″ inputs (for guitars or basses), and that there’s a large price range.

I have a USB microphone, and two guitar/bass USB interfaces, so I don’t need a larger multi-instrument/mic interface. There is definitely an advantage to owning one though. With my current setuup and software, Garageband, I can only record one track at a time (I think?) With a larger interface device and different software, I could sing into a mic (record that track) and make a guitar track at the same time. I can’t sing well and play well at the same time regardless, so for me, at this moment, my setup will be more than adequate.

Before I bought an Apogee Jam, I used my Digitech multi-effects unit to plug into my computer. It has a USB out port that works well. I had to buy a special USB cable, but it didn’t cost much. And, the Digitech can be used with either mac or pc.

If you are using your computer and music software, you are probably hearing sound through computer speakers. These might be small speakers. Remember that you are playing a bass guitar, and keep the volume on your computer speakers fairly low. Computer speakers with subwoofers will be a little better at handling bass guitar frequencies than smaller speakers.. but regardless, be careful. Better to practice with a bass amp, and keep the computer speakers fairly low when you are playing through or recording with your computer… unless you’ve got expensive, large, pro-grade monitor speakers.. those could probably handle bass guitar at a louder volume.

For computer speakers, I’m using a small, old desktop/bookshelf-size stereo plugged into the headphone jack in back of my computer. To hear what I’m playing on the computer, I use the auxiliary channel (AUX). Works just fine as long as I don’t crank up the volume.

Playing with headphones/earbuds. 

Almost all amps come with headphone jacks. Some are 1/8 inch size,  but most are 1/4 inch.

Some headphones come with 1/8 inch size ends, but some high quality headphones come with 1/4 inch ends. If you have headphones with a 1/8″ inch end, you might need a 1/8″ to 1/4″ adapter. If your headphones have a 1/4″ male end, and the jack on the amp is for 1/8″ male ends you’ll need a 1/4 to 1/8 adapter.

If you choose to buy a multi-effects unit, and want to use your headphones so no one else can hear you, you can plug your both your bass and headphones into it the unit. If you do this, you won’t need to plug either the headphones or the effects unit into your amp. I’ve done this before. It works well. But if you want to wear headphones that you can wear while playing standing up, you’ll need headphones with a fairly long cord. Trust me on this one. I’ve tried using headphones with regular length cords, and then attempted to practice standing up.. this did not work very well. It is possible to buy a headphone extension cord.

Cables.

You won’t need to try to locate a cable that is made especially for bass guitars. I don’t even know if such cables exist. Electric guitar cables will also work for bass. All such cables that are used to plug a bass or guitar into an amp or effects unit are called 1/4″ cables. The 1/4 inch refers to the diameter of the tip of the cable, as far as I know.

Instrument cables come in many lengths, and in a ridiculous amount of price ranges. The cheapest cables will probably be alright, but, it’s better to spend a little more money, and get a brand name cable.

Before you decide on the brand, choose a length that suits you best. If you don’t mind standing right next to your amp when you practice, and plan on standing all the time while practicing, then a 5 ft. cable will be alright. But, if you plan to sit down, or want to move around a room, then get at least a 10 ft. cable. That will allow you to sit in a chair while practicing. Practicing while standing up is very important, but sometimes it is good to sit down, especially if you are trying to learn from a music book or a DVD.

If you are practicing in a very small room, a 10 ft.cable will be good enough. But, you might want to wander around some with your bass, and for that, you will need a 20 ft. cable. If you get a 20 ft. cable, but it feels too long, you can purchase a pack of little velcro straps used to hold cables that have been rolled up. Just roll your cable halfway, then put a strap around it.

Cable brands.. wow.. lots to choose from. If you want quality without spending much money, Planet Waves is a good brand. I have some Planet Waves cables. Fairly cheap and good. Fender cables are also not very expensive, and are also good. The brand I use most is called Pro Co. These are fairly pricey, but are made in America, guaranteed for life, and not as expensive as some other brands. Other brands that are good (but expensive) are Monster and Mogami. Those are high-end pro brands.

If you use effects, you’ll need a cable to go with each effect pedal or unit. When I’m using both my Digitech and wah, I plug my 20′ cable into the wah, then use a 5′ cable to plug into the Digitech, and a 5′ cable to plug that into the amp. (I almost never use effects though, except for two that are built into my amp).  If you are attaching two effects units/pedals together, a cable as short as one ft. will be fine. Even with really short cables.. it’s good to buy one made by a reputable cable manufacturer, like those I mentioned in the previous paragraph.

Drum Machines.

You might want to get something to plug into your amp that makes drum beats. Multi-effects units usually have built in drum machines. You won’t be able to program the beats, but will at least be able to choose from a variety of beats and also change the tempo.

You can buy drum machine apps for your smart phone or ipod touch, and plug it into the auxilliary port. That’s a cheap way to go. There are tons of drum machine apps, and I haven’t yet used any of them, except for one for the ipod and iphone called EZ Rock Drum Beat Machine. Don’t buy that one. It’s terrible.

There are a variety of drum machines that you can use to program beats. You can plug these into an aux input. I’d like to buy one of these, but don’t have the money for one right now. I have no idea which ones are better than others, and I’ve never owned any.

Metronomes.

Playing with a metronome is a good idea. You can find old fashioned metronomes that require winding up, or you can buy digital ones that are about the size of a cigarette pack. Some guitar tuners have metronomes built in.

Metronomes are not all that loud, but if you don’t turn your amp up very high, you will be able to hear the metronome.

Even if you use a drum machine to practice with, a metronome is still good (although less fun) to use to improve your timing. Besides hitting the right notes, your timing is most important. Being a bass player, you are part of the rhythm section. You NEED to develop accurate timing.

I have a Korg MA-30 metronome. It works well. It was under $30. It’s a discontinued model, but you can still find some new ones on ebay.

Tuning your bass.

As I mentioned above, some tuners come with metronomes built in, but many do not.

Electric guitar tuners also work for basses.

There is and astonishing variety of tuners available. Some cost under 10 bucks and some cost several hundred dollars. Chances are, if you buy a tuner for $19.99, it should work ok. That is how much I paid for my tuner, a Seiko SAT800. It is bigger and bulkier than most tuners, but is built to be very durable. There are many other good tuners on the market in this price range.

Besides Seiko, one of the better tuner brands is Korg. Boss is also a good brand. I for a short time had a Planet Waves tuner, which I had purchased for $16.99. It was too cheaply made. Planet Waves is usually a good brand, but I didn’t care for that tuner. I would say your best bet is either a Seiko or Korg. Some of those models are pretty small. I’ve never  used Boss tuners.. they tend to have some extra features, like a built-in metronome, that I do not need. Also, Boss tuners tend to be bulky.

Some tuners are built to clip on to the headstock of your bass.. where the tuning pegs are. I had one of these, made by Intellitouch. It was not very good. For electric bass, you will not need a tuner that clips on to your headstock. Those types of tuners are, in my opinion, best for acoustic guitars and mandolins.

The other tuner I am using lately is another one made by Intellitouch. It is a handheld model, not a clip to headstock model. It can be used without plugging in an acoustic instrument. There’s a mic built in. The model of tuner I bought is the PT10XL. I bought it as a package deal that also included a clip-on microphone made by Korg, which I plug into the Intellitouch.

Some tuners that clip right on to the headstocks of instruments are quite good. I’ve seen videos of live performances with guitarists and bassists just leaving their tuners clipped on. I don’t know which brands of clip on tuners are best. You’ll have to do your own research to find out about these.

Some amps have tuners built in, which is nice, but these amps are not the cheapest. Usually, amps with tuners built in cost around $300.

Multi-effects units have tuners built in, which is useful.

Straps.

When shopping for a bass, go through the selection of straps, find some you think you might like, then bring the straps over to where the basses are, put on a strap, and play standing up, even if you don’t know how to play. Try different straps with a variety of basses, see what you like.

I have gone countless times to various music stores. I have never seen anyone go pick out a strap, put it on a guitar or bass, and play standing it up. It seems crazy to me that no one else does this! Beginners and experienced musicians do practice some of the time sitting down, but you will want to practice at least some of the time standing up. Also, once you start performing, you are going to be standing up. A lot. Don’t you want to know how the strap and instrument feel while you are playing while standing?

If you have a light bass, like an Ibanez or Tobias, chances are a regular, 2″ wide guitar strap should do just fine. If you have a heavier bass, you might want to try a 3″ wide leather strap, or any of a number of padded straps. You can also buy strap pads that attach to straps with velcro, but these tend to look kinda silly. Sometimes even padded straps will not alleviate shoulder pain, if you are playing a rather heavy instrument.

There are TONS of different straps to choose from. Some are especially made to redistribute the weight of heavier instruments, such as basses. I have owned a great many straps, including some expensive ones, such as the “Betty” strap made by Mono, which is supposed to help greatly. I’ve worn a thick pad made by Planet Waves that can be attached to any strap. Planet waves also makes a bass strap with a pad already sewn into it. I’ve tried the Neotech bass strap, with stretchy neoprene pad.

With the heavier basses I’ve had, such as the Schecter Stiletto and the Peavey, nothing has really helped much. The Mono strap was very pricey, looked cool, had lots of padding, and I still got a sore shoulder. Neotech was no better.  The Planet Waves bass strap with the pad sewn in.. was worse. The way I had the Planet Waves bass strap adjusted.. in such a way that the bass was at the right height for my playing style.. the pad didn’t even rest on my shoulder. Stay away from the Planet Waves 3″ wide bass strap with sewn in pad, unless you are quite a bit shorter than I am. Even then, it might not make a difference.

I am currently using a discontinued 2″ Planet Waves strap with an adjustable pad on it, but not sewn into it. The pad isn’t that thick, but it helps a little. My bass is heavier (edit 8/11/14: the bass I had at the time I first wrote this post.. in 2013,  was a Spector Performer) than the cheaper Ibanez and Yamaha models, about the same weight as some Schecter models, comparable to the weight of a Fender P-bass, and lighter by far than the Jazz bass.. and I get a sore shoulder pretty quick. But the strap is decent. You can occasionally find a used planet waves 2 inch padded strap on ebay. I bought mine used. If you are buying a used strap, make sure to ask the seller if the strap smells like cigarette smoke.. unless of course you are a smoker and all your stuff smells bad already.

There is a new brand called Wide Rides that I have not tried. Their straps have pads sewn in, and the pads are wider than on most straps. Maybe this is a good brand. I don’t know. You can google them if you want. These straps look really dumb in my opinion, but they might help with shoulder pain.

If you don’t care about padding, and want something original and really cool, check out Couch guitar straps online. They are vegan, and many are made from salvaged materials that were manufactured to line trunks and inside panels of cars. Couch straps are made in USA. Other interesting boutique brands are Souldier and Trophy. You might also want to try the arts and crafts site Etsy.com, for handmade straps. Quite a variety on that site!

There are some straps on the market, made of leather, mostly by a brand called Levy’s, which might be fairly comfortable. These straps are usually 3 inches wide, instead of two. Sometimes the extra width helps. I’m tall, and these straps are not long enough for me, but for most people, the length should be fine.

Levy’s makes an insane variety of straps. Some are the old style leather straps, some are vinyl or made of cotton. Some are the standard 2″ wide, some are wider. It’s amazing how many styles and designs of straps this company makes.

Planet Waves makes a ton of different style straps, but most of theirs tend to be 2″ wide and not padded.

If you want to find a really cool and unique strap, check out Etsy.com. Etsy is a site for arts and crafts people and small business owners to sell their wares. You can find tons of stuff on etsy, including custom-crafted straps. Some of the most expensive straps will run over $400. But there will be some great straps for just under $30. I’ve bought two straps so far from an etsy merchant called Artifacthandmade.

The woman who uses that business name takes plain black vinyl straps, and sews unique fabric patters onto them. Comic book heroes, Star Wars, Asian designs and more.Her selection varies, depending on what fabrics she finds. I purchased one with a cool Asian design last year. A few weeks ago I bought one with fabric that has cartoon sock monkeys on it. Yeah, I’m a bit odd. This merchant only sells non-padded 2″ wide straps. There are some merchants that sell wider, padded straps.

Besides etsy, you can find handmade straps on ebay. Type in “handmade guitar strap,” or “custom made guitar strap” on ebay, and you’ll find some. And some of the larger merchants on etsy also sell their straps on ebay from time to time.

Edit 8/21/14: To go with the 5 string bass I bought, which, although not heavy for a 5 string, is not super-light either, I bought a 3″ wide leather strap made by Franklin. Franklin is a very good brand of straps. Very basic looking straps for the most part.. most made of leather, some made of cotton with leather ends that attach to the instrument strap pegs.

I bought this strap because the width and the leather make the bass feel better on my shoulder than other straps I tried in the store.

The strap I bought is mostly made of something called “glove leather.” It has “tooled leather ends” – stronger, decorative leather in a saddle-style pattern.  The strap is not suede. Suede straps tend to leave suede shavings.. little bits.. almost like a cat shedding.. all over my clothes. I hope not all suede straps do this, but the ones I’ve tried have. Be sure to actually wear a suede strap before buying one.

Strap Locks.

Once you find a strap you really really like, you might want to have strap locks put on. These are little metal fasteners that keep straps from slipping off. Strap lock sets usually cost around $15 or more. The two most common brands are Dunlop and Schaller. Installing the strap locks on your instruments requires the use of a drill. If you are not handy (I’m not), have a pro or technically-inclined friend put them on for you.

Even if you are not gigging yet, but move around a lot, you’ll likely want strap locks. It is no fun to have the strap slip off, and your instrument go crashing to the floor. Your bass could get a bad nick, or be damaged even worse than that.

If you are just practicing at home, and not jumping up and down like Flea,  you may or may not need a strap lock. Some straps stay on better than others. Depends on the brand and model of the strap. Straps made by Couch, Mono, Planet Waves, and Get’M, for example, are likely to stay on really well. You might not need a strap lock to go with those, unless you are gigging. Same goes for some Planet Waves straps.

The old style leather straps like those made by Levy’s and Franklin.. these are a bit tricky, because of the way the back part of the strap is made and adjusted. Instead of having a buckle, these straps are made of two parts, a thick part and a thin part.. two straps attached to each other.. a thick strap with a thin strap looped through it on the back. The back part of the strap has three or more holes punched in it for the strap button on your bass to fit through.

If you have a strap lock put on and through one of these holes, you’ll have to make a good choice as to what hole you use to attach your instrument with. The strap lock end is going to be put on that hole, and you might not then be able to loop the thin part through the main part of the strap anymore. That means you might not be able to adjust your strap to a different length.

The front part of these straps will likely hold the instrument securely, but the back part will probably slip off fairly easily. Something to consider.

I don’t currently have strap locks attached to my Franklin strap. I just practice in my room, and don’t move around much. However, if I ever start jamming with other people and gigging, I’m definitely going to get strap locks put on. I have my strap attached at the longest length possible for the Franklin strap, and it is long enough for me, a tall guy. I don’t feel the need to adjust the strap to make it shorter, so having a strap lock put on the hole at the longest length of the strap won’t be a problem.

Gig Bags/Cases.

Most beginners opt to buy gig bags. These are soft bags with backpack straps (some also come with handles) that have padding in a varying degree of thickness. There is a huge variety of bass gig bags to choose from. Generally, the good ones start at around $49.99. The most common brands are Road Runner and Gator.

Gig bags are great if you are walking or biking to your lesson or jam session. The downside to gig bags is that some do not have much padding. Even the most padded do not offer as much protection as hardshell cases. If you drop your gig bag, your instrument might not hold up so well. Also not good if someone sets something on top of your gig bag enclosed instrument.

I found a decent off-brand bass gig bag on Amazon for $29.00. It’s just called Deluxe Extra Padded Bass Guitar Gig Bag. It’s made by a company called Perfektion Music. Since I only took my bass out to jam with friends once a week, this gig bag was fine. You might want one with more padding.. maybe not.

Once you start performing, you’ll likely want to buy a hard shell case. These start out at $34.99 on musiciansfriend, but most cost a lot more. If you are planning to take your bass on an airplane, you’ll need a heavy, super-durable ATA case. ATA stands for Air Transportation Association. All ATA cases should be listed as such on music websites. If you are not going on an airline, a basic hard shell case should do.

If you buy a bass with an usual shape, such as an Epiphone Thunderbird or Dean Metalman, you might need to get a gig bag or case that has been specially made for the shape of the instrument. The bags and cases for these instruments are likely to cost more than other bags and cases.

The same might be true for some 5 and 6 string basses. Sometimes basses with more than 4 strings have somewhat wider bodies than 4 string basses. Some regular gig bags should be roomy enough though. If you buy your bass in a store, try out some bags and cases. One or more might work out well for you.

Bass stands.

A bass stand is something you rest your bass on when you are not using it. There are many many types of bass stands on the market. Some are so small, they can be folded down and stuffed into a pocket of a gig bag. Most are not so portable. A simple bass stand should work fine for you. If you are taking bass lessons, a responsible teacher should have an unused bass stand ready when you walk into his or her teaching room.

Some bass stands come with little rubber or other plastic fasteners that will keep your bass from falling off the stand. This is a good thing to have, in case somebody bumps into your instrument by mistake.. which can easily happen. You might find yourself bumping into your instrument.

I keep my bass on a stand when I am not using it. This is not especially wise to do, because basses sitting on stands can collect dust. Dust gets into the electronics, and eventually can cause problems. I’m really not that worried about it. I have a cheap bass, and I do wipe off the dust sometimes.

If you have small kids, keeping your instrument out of reach, and in a gig bag or case when you are not using it is a good idea.

Customer Service: In Store.

The sales staff at any music store should be: 1. Friendly. 2. Helpful. 3. Patient. 4. Knowledgeable. 5. NOT pushy. They should also be honest. If a person seems shady to you.. trust your instincts. Not all sales staff who are covered in tattoos or who have multi-colored mohawks or piercings are shady characters. Some might actually be good to talk with. Some clean-cut and conservative looking sales people might be crooks who just want your money. Again. trust your instincts.

It is a good idea to at least know a little about bass guitars before going into a store. Since you’ve read this far, you already know more than what you did before you started reading. If you study the info in this post, do further reading online, and check out youtube videos, you will be far more ready to talk with sales staff at music stores than if you know nothing.

If buying in a store, make sure to find out if the store has a policy of meeting or beating the price of any local or large online competitor. If you find a cheaper price online than you do at the store, and you bring this up, the salesperson (at a store where they meet or beat prices) will check online (so don’t lie), then probably sell the item to you at the same (or tiny bit lower) price as the online price. You will still likely be spending a bit more on the item if you buy it in a store because: many online vendors have free shipping which will not cost you extra, and 2. in a store you will have to pay tax.

Even stores that are willing to meet or beat competitors’ prices will not do so if the price you found is on craigslist or ebay. If it’s an online merchant, it has to be a major one, like the ones I’ve previously mentioned.

Customer Service: Online Vendors.

It also helps to know at least a little about basses and gear if you contact customer service of an online vendor.

Ebay vendors can generally only be reached via ebay messages (email on ebay). Some vendors will be very helpful, and some not helpful at all. If you find a bass being sold on ebay by a major online seller (musiciansfriend, etc., then go to that seller’s site if you want to talk to them by phone. If you just want to email, you can do that through ebay).

Buying though Amazon.. If the listing for a bass you are looking at on Amazon says Amazon Prime on it, that means the item is being sold directly by Amazon and not through a third party vendor, such as Music123. I don’t know if Amazon has any people on their staff to field questions about musical instruments. I doubt it.

Some basses being sold on Amazon are sold through third party vendors. If you want to contact one of those vendors, you’ll have to leave the Amazon site, and go to the website of the vendor.

Buying from other sellers.. Besides Musiciansfriend.com WWBW.com and Music123.com, there are other online sellers, such as Sweetwatersound.com, Elderlyinstruments.com (both new and used gear), Samash.com, and others.

I’ve bought instruments and/or gear from Musicianfriend, WWBW (woodwind and brasswind), Music123, Carvin.com (which only sells Carvin products), Sweetwater Sound, Amazon Prime and various vendors on ebay.

Calling to talk with staff at online vendors.. you might get mixed results. Some people manning the phones are helpful and knowledgeable, but others are not.

Here’s my experience with Musiciansfriend.com during 2009. First order.. I placed the order online.. for a Fender electric guitar. I was shipped an Ovation acoustic/electric guitar.. completely wrong instrument. I called customer service .. a helpful person on the phone, got the order sorted out, got an email sent to me to print out a pre-paid UPS shipping label for the box to return the guitar.. I drove down to UPS with the bulky box.

Next, I was shipped the proper guitar.. but it was defective. I called again.. told the (different) person guitar was defective. I told him I decided I did not want to order another guitar, but wanted a djembe (African-style hand drum) instead. Got another email with pre-paid shipping.. back to UPS.

The djembe I was sent was not defective, but was of poor quality. I made another call. Musiciansfriend staff was nice enough to send me a pre-paid shipping label email even though the product was not defective (normally I would have had to pay return shipping, since the drum was not defective.. I just didn’t like it.. poor quality is considered a matter of opinion). I’m guessing I was sent a pre-paid shipping label as a way of making up for sending me first the incorrect guitar and then a defective one. Back to UPS. Again.

When I called about not wanting the djembe, I talked with the next salesperson, asking about a bongos/congas package deal. I asked if the color they had online was the one they had in stock. I was told yes. I was then shipped medium size box and two rather large ones. I opened up the medium-size box. The bongos drums were the wrong color. I figured the congas would be as well, since this was a set.

I called … again. I explained my problem. This time, I said.. OK.. that’s enough mistakes.. I want a refund. The salesperson agreed to give me a full refund, and sent me pre-paid UPS shipping labels for all the boxes.. and I made a 4th trip down to UPS, lugging these boxes into the car… drove to UPS.. unloaded the boxes, brought them into the store, waited in line, dealt with the clerk processing the shipments and leaving.

I am guessing most people who buy from Musiciansfriend have not had as terrible experiences with them as I have, or else that company would have gone out of business many years ago.

I had mostly good customer service on the phone with Music123, except the last time, when there was much confusion.

Sweetwatersound.com. I only purchased one item from this company, a pair of headphones which I returned. I received bad customer service on the phone, and I did not order anything else from this company.

Carvin.com. I had helpful customer service from the people I spoke with at Carvin. Unfortunately, the first amp I bought from them, a guitar amp, was defective, and I just sent it back and got a refund. Years later, I ordered a bass amp from Carvin.. one of their cheaper ones (the vast majority of products Carvin sells are made in USA, and therefore, are not cheap. Even one of their cheapest bass amps was $399.)

The Carvin bass amp was not defective, but was of poor quality. I decided to keep it anyway, because after much amp shopping I wasn’t sure what else to buy. And the amp wasn’t terrible.. maybe I should say it was of mediocre quality. At least the people on the phone at Carvin were helpful, including when I called to change an order at the last minute. The guy on the phone was very helpful and went out of his way to change my order for me. I think he even had to put me on hold, run down to the loading dock, and make sure the amp I’d previously ordered did not go out on the truck. He was really helpful.

I’ve not bought anything from Elderly Instruments, nor spoken to anyone from that company, but did get questions answered promptly when I sent in emails.

I’ve ordered fro WWBW a few times, but have only had interaction with them through email. They were helpful.

Regardless of where you shop.. stores or online vendors.. your customer service results may vary.

Returns:

Music stores: ask staff about return policies.

Online vendors: The main ones all similar return policies. Free return shipping if item is defective. If what you bought is not defective, and it is something you just don’t like, it will have to be in perfect condition for it to be accepted as a return, and you will have to pay the return shipping charge.

Return policies from ebay vendors vary. Some accept 30 day returns, but might charge you double shipping cost. I explained that earlier in the post. Some offer a 30 day refund policy, some have one that is for 14 days, and some vendors do not have any return policy.

Some ebay  vendors have a return policy that is for exchange only.. you will not be able to get a refund. Others have a policy that states they will only accept a return if an item is defective. These folks will not accept any returns if you just want to return an item because you don’t like it.

Some ebay vendors will charge you a re-stocking fee if you are sending back an item just because you don’t like it. The re-stocking fee will likely be either 10% or 20% of your purchase total, not including shipping, if there is a shipping charge.

Read the ebay return policies carefully. If a vendor is offering free shipping, ask that, in the event that the merchandise is not defective, but you want to return the item anyway, do you have to pay both the return shipping, and the shipping cost the vendor paid to ship it to you.

As I mentioned before, I found out about this the hard way. I received a Yamaha electric guitar. It was of good quality, but the neck was uncomfortably narrow for me, and I wanted to send it back. I contacted the vendor via ebay email, and was informed that if I wanted to return the guitar, I’d have to pay a double shipping charge. The cost of the double shipping charge was over half of what I’d paid for the guitar. I decided not to ship it back.. tried to sell it on craigslist.. that didn’t turn out, so I sold it to a pawn shop for half of what I paid for it. Better I should have bought an instrument I’d played in a store.. would have known I’d liked it.

Warranties.

Some people like to buy warranties, others don’t. I am a person who worries a lot, so I almost always buy warranties. Guitar Center and Musiciansfriend.com have warranties for various charges that cover accidental breakage. I just checked Music123. It’s unclear to me if their warranty plan covers accidental breakage.

Guitar Center does not offer accidental breakage coverage as part of their warranty for used gear. I asked about this recently when I bought a used electric guitar amp made by Epiphone. The GC sales guy told me that for used gear, which does not come with a factory warranty (one provided by the manufacturer, not the store) the GC store warranty is like getting a factory warranty, except that with a factory warranty, I’d have to ship the instrument back to the manufacturer for repairs, and with the GC warranty, I just would have to bring the instrument into the store, and they would fix it there. Accidental breakage is not covered, but any mechanical defect is.

I plan on buying the violin bass from Guitar Center, which I mentioned earlier. I will buy a warranty for it, so that if, for example, the pickups start malfunctioning, they are covered. I did not buy a warranty for the used amp though. I got the amp for such a cheap price that I figured if it stopped working, I’d just buy another one. The amp was under $65. The warranty would have cost something like half the cost of the amp. The bass is just under $150. I think the two year warranty costs $29.00. I’ll pay that.. probably won’t need the warranty, but the $29 buys me two years of peace of mind. Sure wish GC offered accidental breakage coverage on used gear.. but they don’t.. oh well.

Sweetwatersound.com has a complimentary two-year warranty (nice not to have to pay for it), but the warranty does not cover accidental breakage.

Independent stores are likely to have their own warranty plans. Ask someone on the sales staff about this.

Ebay sometimes offers warranties on certain items. You might see an ebay listing for a bass guitar that offers a warranty. The warranty company is called Squaretrade. If I remember correctly, Amazon offers warranties through Squaretrade too.

I’ve never (knock on wood) had to use any of my warranties, but I still buy them.

Whether or not you want to buy a warranty for your bass or for your amp is up to you. Make sure you thoroughly understand the warranty policy before buying the warranty.

Lessons.

It is up to you whether or not you want to take lessons. I don’t think bass guitar lessons are necessary. There are some good instructional materials out there. I’ll recommend some in a moment.

If you can afford a teacher (I can’t).. try your best to find a bass teacher who plays bass as his or her main instrument. The majority of bass teachers out there will be guitarists who just dabble in bass. They might be just fine as bass teachers.. but some won’t be. I think finding a teacher who is a serious bass player is ideal.

Instructional Materials.

Find something that has at least some video instruction that you can watch on your computer or TV.

There’s a decent course called eMedia Bass Method 1 Version 2.0. It’s a CD-ROM. It will teach you a lot. But, most of the tunes you will be working on will be silly songs like you’ll find in beginner piano books.. “go tell aunt rhodie,” “camptown races,” that sort of thing. Good enough for practicing and learning. The eMedia listing you’ll find online says you’ll be able to jam with lots of songs, and several cool songs are mentioned.. what is not mentioned is that almost all the songs are not rock songs. I was disappointed to find this out. Other than that, the software is pretty good.

You can buy the eMedia bass method CD-ROM from many sites, but the price will likely be the same everywhere.. $49.95. If you have a mac computer, you can download the software from the app store.. but the price is the same. I don’t have a windows computer, but I am guessing windows computers have app stores too, and the emedia software might be in those app stores as well.

There is an instructional website called Truefire.com. The vast majority of their materials and teaching programs are for guitarists. However, they do have some instructional materials and video tutorials for bass players. I purchased their bass basics video instruction. I haven’t used it enough yet to determine if I can recommend it or not. The teacher on the bass basics video is an incredible bass player named Stu Hamm. He’s more personable than the guy on the emedia software. Not sure which course is more useful though.

There are LOADS of free tutorial videos on youtube. There’s a company on that site called “expert village.” Regardless of what you are trying to learn.. bass guitar.. auto repair.. whatever.. “expert village” videos are generally best to avoid.

There are hundreds of bass books out there, and some of them are worth buying. But, I recommend not using just books. If you don’t go for lessons, than at least use some sort of video tutorial like you’ll get with eMedia or Truefire.. or youtube.

It is important to learn not just songs, but where the notes are on the fretboard. This takes lots of memorization, and can be very frustrating. I know.. I haven’t even learned where all the notes are on the first 5 frets. But, I need to learn.. I might even work on this tonight. There are books out there that are for fretboard memorization. I’ve looked through some, and read reviews. Didn’t find any I really wanted to buy.

There are some fretboard and other bass guitar apps available for smartphones and tablets that might help some. I’ve found Guitar Toolkit (for ipods and iphones.. maybe non-mac phones too, but I don’t know) to be very useful. It has fretboard diagrams for chords and scales, as well as other features. There’s an app called ireadmusic, which is also useful. You can choose what kind of fretboard (bass, mandolin, guitar, etc.) and be quizzed on what note is where.

Learning where the notes are is important and worth doing, but not very enjoyable. Learning songs makes playing bass fun, as long as you don’t start out on songs that are too advanced for you. Go easy.

There is a series of songbooks called “bass playalong.” There are somewhere between 20-30 titles just for bass players. The best thing about these book/cd-rom sets is that the disk comes with software that allows you to slow the demo and play along tracks down to half speed without changing pitch. VERY helpful.

There is one book in this series called “easy songs.” Here’s some info from the product listing.. sorry, I don’t know how to make the font smaller.

The Bass Play-Along series will help you play your favorite songs quickly and easily! Just follow the tab, listen to the CD to hear how the bass should sound, and then play along using the separate backing tracks. The melody and lyrics are included in the book in case you want to sing, or to simply help you follow along. The audio CD is playable on any CD player, and also enhanced so PC & Mac users can adjust the recording to any tempo without changing pitch! This pack includes: All the Small Things • A Hard Day’s Night • Roxanne • Runnin’ with the Devil • Smells like Teen Spirit • Sunshine of Your Love • Wild Thing • With or Without You.

This book is a very good one to buy if you are starting out.

I really really like a band called The Police. That’s the band Sting used to be in. The Police have some bass lines which are very easy. As you might have noticed, The Police tune “Roxanne” is one of those included in the easy songs book. I decided I’d rather learn several songs by The Police than the songs in the easy songs book besides “Roxanne,” so I bought The Police Bass Play Along songbook instead. I am in the process of learning “Roxanne.”

Once you get better, you can dig through the many many titles of bass play along books to find more styles and songs you like.

Ebay is a good place to shop for these books. Some sellers have prices a little lower than other sellers. Some sellers charge less shipping than others do. Shop around on ebay.

I bought The Police songbook on ebay, from a seller called jklutherieco. I don’t recommend this seller. The book was not packaged well, and arrived bent and somewhat creased. The cd-rom was not damaged though, so I did not send the book back. But, I’ve ordered songbooks in the past from various sellers, and never had this problem before. I ordered from jklutherieco because they had a good price, but should have bought the book from another seller.

Amazon is selling this book for $13.49. You can get it for $3 cheaper on ebay, but you’ll have to pay for shipping. You’ll have to pay for shipping from Amazon too, unless you have Amazon prime.. which is one of the best deals I’ve ever encountered.. for a yearly fee of $79, everything you order directly from Amazon (and some other sellers as well) will get to your place within 2-4 days, and there will be no charge for shipping. I buy tons of stuff from Amazon, so this is good. Also, with prime membership, you get access to lots of TV shows and movies.. and they pack their stuff well. I should have bought the book from Amazon. Oh well.

Anyway.. if looking for a teacher and you know some musicians, ask around. Maybe a friend might even be willing to teach you for free. If so, take that friend out for a burger or a beer (or both) once in awhile. If you want a professional teacher, try to find a bass teacher who actually regularly plays bass. If not taking lessons, get some video tutorials, try out some easy songs, check out books from the library.. your library might have a great selection..worth looking.. also thoroughly look over bass books before buying.

Alrighty then..

I sure hope this info helps you. If you have any questions or want to leave a comment, go for it. Thanks for reading.

———–

Just in case you’re wondering..

Basses I’ve owned.

1. Squier P-Bass Special Made in Indonesia. I received this new as a gift. Had not previously played it.  This model is not made anymore as far as I know.. current equivalent is the Squier regular scale model with P&J pickups. The P-Bass Special had a P-bass body, J-bass neck, P&J passive pickups. Great tonal versatility, very good appearance, overall good build quality. A bit of fret buzz on one of the strings. A mostly good bass, worth keeping, except the neck was uncomfortable for me to play on (because my fingers are so long). I donated the bass to charity.

2. Samick 5-string. Made in Korea. Not a famous brand. Purchased used online. Did not try bass before purchasing.  Samick is a South Korean company that made guitars that other brands put their names on. This is a fairly common practice, I guess.. famous names such as Fender and Epiphone contract with various overseas companies to get cheap instruments made. Samick still sells their own brand of instruments. Passive pickups on this instrument.. not a good idea for a 5 string.. not enough power to send frequencies to an amp. Not enough tone spectrum (meaning some strings could be heard more than others due to passive pickups in combination with 5 strings). Weight.. not bad. Body and neck were fairly comfortable. Action was a bit high. I bought the instrument on ebay. I sold it on consignment at a music store.

3. Silvertone bass. Made in USA. Purchased used online, did not try before buying. In decades past, Silvertone made cheap instruments in America. The bass I bought was short scale, very light and small, made sometime in the 1960’s. I bought it on ebay. I got ripped off. Some of the  electronics didn’t work. I didn’t feel like paying to have it fixed, so I sold it on craigslist without using it much at all. I sold it at a cheap price, and made sure to put in the listing that the bass needed work. The guy I sold it to told me he knew how to fix basses. Wish I knew how. I would have kept the bass.

4. Schecter Stiletto Elite 4. Made in Korea (model might be made in Indonesia these days.. but I’m not sure about this) Rented new, tried in store before renting, did not notice things right away that I eventually did not like. Bass was pricey (over $500). Powerful (too powerful) active humbucking pickups. Bass EQ turned up all the way overloaded high quality amps. Neck-thru body construction instead of having a bolt-on neck like most basses. This supposedly makes the tone better. It certainly makes the price higher. Ugly paint job. Unconventional but comfortable body style. Comfortable neck. Fairly heavy. I was renting this one, decided to return it.. didn’t like the pickups and how they overloaded the amps I was trying.

5. Ibanez SR505 5 String. Made in Korea. Purchased new after playing in store. Very well-made. Came stock with humbucking active Bartolini brand pickups (this is a brand of pickups that are rather good and don’t come stock on most instruments. They are generally after-market pickups which bassists have installed after they’ve removed the stock pickups on their instruments). Light bass for its size. Good tone, great appearance. Good action. Pricey (over $600).  Great bass except for one very odd problem. (Not likely a problem for most people). The type of wood the neck was made of was not the typical maple. The neck was made of two kinds of wood my hands were allergic to. The skin of my left hand became irritated every time I played the bass. I sold it on ebay. Too bad. Was a good bass.

6. Peavey Forum. Made-in-USA. Purchased used after playing in store. Fender-style bass, but with only one active pickup. Only three knobs. I prefer at least 4 on an active bass.  Tone was ok. Bass was incredibly heavy. I only bought it because it was a made-in-USA bass with a comfortable neck and body shape with decent tone and a very cheap price. Bought many straps that supposedly helped distribute weight of heavy basses, making them more comfortable to play.. those straps did no good. Got very tired of the weight of the bass (very sore shoulder after playing for just a few minutes), and not all that pleased with having an active bass with only one pickup and 3 knobs, so I sold it to a pawn shop. Another musician had earlier on the same day brought this model into the pawn shop I went to, just a few hours before me.  Not a good bass.

7. Harmony Bass Guitar, model unknown. Made where? I don’t know exactly. Purchased used after borrowing it from a friend. Only paid $75. Harmony is a company that might not be in business any longer. They started out decades ago in Chicago, if I remember correctly. For years, their instruments were made in USA, but eventually, Harmony instruments were made overseas. I don’t know where my bass was made, but it was definitely somewhere in Asia. Black boring paint job, P&J passive pickups, good tone, neck tapered quite a bit like a J-bass neck, but was just wide enough to play. Low quality electronics. Kinda heavy. But, I still liked the bass. Lost interest in playing for several months though, and donated the bass to a charity shop. Wish I hadn’t done that.  I still miss this bass.

8. Silvertone 5 string, model unknown. Made in either Korea or Indonesia, I can’t remember. Purchased used after playing in store. Silvertone, like many other companies that started out in American, eventually had their basses and guitars manufactured overseas. I don’t remember much about this bass, because I only kept it for one night, then returned it. Quality was ok. Nothing wrong with the instrument, but I still had the Harmony at the time, and decided I wanted to stick with a 4 string bass. I returned the Silvertone 5 string to the music store.

9. Spector Performer. Made in Korea. Purchased used online. Had not played this exact bass before, but had tried two similar models in stores. 2 passive humbuckers. 2 vol., 2 tone controls, one mini-switch to make the bridge humbucker sound a bit thinner like a J-bass pickup (after-market modification, which didn’t make enough difference). Very comfortable and unusual body shape. Fairly comfortable neck, though it was thicker than the necks on any other bass I’d played. Fairly lightweight for its size. I did not like the passive humbucking pickups.. not very good tone, and too strong a signal for many amps. I sold this bass on craigslist.

10. Rogue VB100 Series II Violin Bass. Probably made in China. There’s no sticker or stamp on it saying where it was made, but I found one listing for it online saying it was made in China. I bought it used for $149.99 at Guitar Center. The Series II model is no longer in production. The new model is just called VB100, and sells new on the musiciansfriend.com and on ebay (musiciansfriend is a big seller on ebay) for $219.99 for the right-handed model, and $229.99 for the left-handed model.

This bass is an Asian-made version of the Hoftner violin bass made famous by Paul McCartney.  Two vol. knobs, and three switches.. one to turn off each pickup and/or influence the tone a bit, and one switch that is a volume boost/cut. The bass is the most unusual I have owned. It has a hollow body, and is very light and easy on my shoulder. It has two mini-humbuckers, which (fortunately) produce a signal and tone that is less strong than full-size humbuckers, yet sounds a bit different from single-coil-equipped basses. Beautiful finish, excellent build quality. Not the most tonal variations possible compared to many basses..  it’s limited in that regard, but by messing around with the switches and knobs, I can get enough tones out of it to suit me.

Unfortunately, the odd violin-style  body shape made the bass rather uncomfortable to play. I didn’t notice this in in the store. I purchased it on 2/26/14, and returned it on 3/2/14. After playing it for awhile at home, my right arm and wrist became sore, because of playing at awkward angles. Also, the bass is rather neck-heavy. When the body is rather light on some instruments, the neck will slide down toward the floor when the musician is standing up and wearing a strap. The neck slides down the shoulder, and has to be supported by the left hand somewhat. (The opposite  if you are left-handed). I was able to get around this problem by using the palm of my right hand to hold the bass in place and thereby keep the neck elevated without using my left hand to not only fret the strings but support the neck. However, this made playing with my right hand even more uncomfortable. Guitar Center has a 30 day satisfaction guarantee for used instruments (maybe for new ones as well). I returned the violin bass, and and VERY glad I did.

11. Ibanez Gio GSR205SM. The bass I just bought. Made in Indonesia. 5 strings. Light for a five string bass. Maple neck, rosewood fretboard, mahogany body with spalted maple top (no two spalted maple tops look alike, as far as I know.. which is cool). Passive pickup humbuckers that sound tons better than the ‘buckers on the Spector, with an active signal boost knob (makes bass sound louder without having to turn up volume on amp, somehow different from the volume controls on the bass.). 9V battery installed for the active electronics. Comfortable neck, beautiful finish. Lots of great tones possible with this instrument. $299.99. Purchased in a store. I lost interest in playing a 5 string, so I sold this one.

12. Ibanez Gio Soundgear GSR 200 discontinued 4 string bass with passive pickups. This is the bass I currently own and play.

My current set up.. The Ibanez bass, a discontinued Planet Waves strap factory-sewn on pad, an Epiphone Slingshot 25R electric guitar amp (which says 28 watts on the back, not 25.. odd), and a 10’ Pro Co cable. I almost always play using my fingers, but if I use a pick, I like the Dunlop Gator Grip pick.

If I want to use effects to change the sound, I plug in my Digitech RP-155 (made for electric guitar) and Custom Audio Electronics/Dunlop wah pedal (which works for either electric guitar or bass). Each effect requires a separate adapter which as to be plugged into a wall socket or surge protector, and each requires a small instrument cable to plug into the instrument, other effect unit, or amp. I use Pro Co cables to plug into the amp and to plug in the effects units.

To plug into the computer, I can either attach the bass to the Digitech (or to the wah pedal, and then to the Digitech), and then attach that to the computer. Or, I use my Apogee Jam guitar interface, if I just want to use the software effects on the computer, and not have the sound be changed by the Digitech.  Usually, I just plug in the Jam.

Alright then..

Chances are, if you’ve read this post all the way through, have done some other research that I’ve recommended, and have tried many basses and gear and accessories that go with them, you will find what is right for you.

13 Comments leave one →
  1. smudge523 permalink
    July 29, 2014 12:58 PM

    looking at getting into playing bass after dabbling many years ago, found this very helpful and informative. Nice one!

    • tomschronicles permalink
      July 30, 2014 10:56 AM

      Thanks! I’m grateful for your comment. I put in MANY hours over many days working on that post. It is very good to know someone has found it helpful.

  2. Jason permalink
    December 4, 2014 9:55 PM

    Just read almost every word. Great article and write up of your learnings and experiences. Very helpful in my Bass education so far. Thank you VERY much for writing all of this up and keeping it updated.

    • tomschronicles permalink*
      December 6, 2014 9:29 PM

      This is one of my most popular posts. Several hundred people have read it. You are one of only two who have written to say thank you. And to you sir, I say thank you so much for letting me know you appreciate the post! Glad I could help. Happy bass playing!!

      • Bruce Bannerman permalink
        December 9, 2015 4:19 PM

        This has been a very useful post! A lot of regular info that can be hard to gather otherwise, or not so regular, that is obviously hard earned! I will say my experience with sweetwater has been first-rate. I always use the same person to solve problems or ask questions (Sales engineer… There are many good people there.). Thanks again to you for your hard work and thoroughness!

  3. May 30, 2015 7:58 AM

    Very informative, thank you!

    • tomschronicles permalink*
      June 2, 2015 12:40 AM

      You’re very welcome! Glad you like the post.

  4. T Mcbride permalink
    August 8, 2015 4:39 PM

    Thank you for the personal story and the information. It is an authentic heartfelt post and I respect the experience that you had in assembling the post.

    The thing that I am interested in knowing is why the basses in general so much less expensive than the guitars. Is it simply the tolerances for the build are less or is the market smaller and less resistant to hype because even less expensive basses sound quite good.

    I have the sense form your post that passive basses may be better for the beginner. i.e. you are less likely to damage the amp and you are somewhat forced to make the most of your ear.

    Thanks again

    • tomschronicles permalink*
      August 11, 2015 12:35 AM

      I have not noticed basses being less expensive than electric guitars. I suppose that depends on where you are from and where you shop. There are many electric guitars that are very cheap, and some of them are of reasonably good quality. Ibanez in particular makes some excellent guitars that they sell cheap.

      As you mentioned, there certainly is a smaller market for basses than electric guitars. Very true. Low demand for basses, therefore low supply, and prices stay reasonable. If bass becomes trendy, for awhile there will be high demand, low supply, and the prices would go up. But I do not anticipate this happening.

      Less hype regarding basses. Yes, that is true as well. There isn’t much hype surrounding bass guitars, for the most part. There was for a little while in the late ’90’s (or was it the early 2000’s?) when the band Korn was popular. The bassist from Korn, named Fieldy, developed a rather unusual style of playing, and used an Ibanez 5 string bass. The two guitarists from Korn used 7 string Ibanez guitars.. lots of hype surrounded that band and those instruments.

      Other than that, not much hype. Almost every bassist I’ve seen on TV or youtube playes a Fender. Flea from Red Hot Chili Peppers plays a Modulus or sometimes a high-end Musicman.. prohibitively expensive basses. RHCP don’t enjoy the same popularity these days as they used to, though some people from my generation (in their 40’s mostly) are still RHCP fans. When Flea was especially popular, I’m guessing more basses, whether they were cheap or expensive, were sold and enthusiastically played.

      The amazing Jazz bassists like Victor Wooten tend to play very expensive basses that most folks cannot afford. Also, Jazz, regardless what type of Jazz, has never been a mainstream genre since the advent of rock and roll in the 1950’s. Before that though, Jazz was king, from the beginning of the 20th century, until Chuck Berry, Elvis, and later The Beatles became massively popular. After that, Jazz became what it is now, an acquired taste.

      There is a bit of demand for the Thunderbird basses by Gibson/Epiphone, I suppose, because of Motley Crue’s Nikki Sixx, but people from a younger generation than the one I am part of are mostly unaware of Motley Crue (which is not a bad thing, really).

      Gene Simmons of Kiss never came out with one major signature model, that I know of. Sting plays a Fender, but last I read, the Sting model for years had been poorly made. Sting, like Gene Simmons, is a rock legend. However, both these men are not well known to the younger generation. That generation being the millenials, the largest generation in this country.. people who were born between 1982 and 2000.

      Paul McCartney usually has played a bass guitar shaped like a violin. It is possible to find a few of these in some stores, but that model never really caught on much. I owned a bass with this body style for a week. It was uncomfortable to hold and play. Not surprising violin basses are not in high demand.

      I’ve been thinking more on passive vs. active basses for beginners. I don’t think it matters that much anymore. There are some starter basses, such as those made by Ibanez and Tobias, which have active pickups and are both cheap and good basses. One thing to be concerned about is the cheap Ibanez basses that have passive pickups and the active boost switch. Some beginners might crank up the volume too much using the boom switch.

      There isn’t a drawback otherwise, regarding active pickups, except that some beginners forget they need to take the cable out of their basses if the basses are active. If the cable is not removed, the basses are on, and the battery in each bass runs down.

      Other than that, beginners should do fine with active basses, unless they get some with pickups like those on Schecter basses, which can easily overload amps. And, beginners will usually have at least one more knob to deal with (4 or 5 instead of 2 or 3). Dialing in the tones and levels will take a little more practice with more knobs, but not much more practice.

      Making the most of your ear, yes. Since I first wrote this buyers guide, it seems technology has improved some. It’s quite possible to clearly hear music made on active basses.

      Thanks very much for your comment. I realize my reply is quite long, but as you have no doubt guessed after reading the bass guitar post, I like to be thorough.

  5. tomschronicles permalink*
    December 10, 2015 12:37 AM

    Bruce, I’m glad you liked the post. My most recent experience with Sweetwater Sound was good.

  6. tomschronicles permalink*
    December 10, 2015 12:38 AM

    If anyone is curious about harmonicas, please check out my harmonica buyer’s guide here on this blog. Thanks!

  7. Phoebe'smom permalink
    January 28, 2016 7:36 AM

    Thanks! Newbie bass player on a borrowed Ibanez and need to buy a bass of my own soon. Lots of info for me to digest and consider, and I have taken many notes from your article. Love your thoroughness and I’m sure this will be very helpful as I shop around. Very much appreciated!

    • tomschronicles permalink*
      January 28, 2016 11:19 PM

      I’m going to amend the post to include some info right upfront for those who don’t want to read the massive amount of words I’ve written.. (But I’m glad you read them and found them to be helpful).

      My top four bass recommendations (which I will soon put on the top of the post):

      1. If you can find a used Ibanez GSR 200 (also known as Gio Soundgear.. this is the cheap version of Ibanez Sound Gear bass models. Gio is the Ibanez cheap line) in good condition, especially if you can try it out in a store and pay $150 or less for it, buy it. I just bought one of these two weeks ago. It is rather good. Comfortable body shape, fairly light as basses go, passive pickups. Natural sounding tone instead of processed active pickup tone. I’ve seen these sold in black, red, and blue.

      2. A new Ibanez GSR 200. The pickups on the new model are active, not passive (if you buy one of these, go easy on the volume boost knob.. don’t want to blow out your amp). I personally prefer passive pickups. Otherwise, this is a great model. I almost bought one, but I found a used version and bought that instead. White, red, blue, black, or my favorite, walnut flat finish (nice wood grain look and texture) for $199.99. Spalted Maple (fancy) top in either natural grey burst or chocolate brown burst for $249.99. I had a 5 string version in natural grey burst ($299.99). It was a beautiful instrument, but I decided I’d rather play a 4 string, and sold the 5 string.

      3. Tobias Toby Deluxe IV. This one I also almost purchased recently. Active pickups. It felt a bit less comfortable than the Ibanez GSR models, but had better tone than the new Ibanez. This version has a reddish, semi-transparent walnut stain finish that looks good. It sells for $249.99. It also comes in black or red. Same price, usually.

      4. Yamaha TRBX174 (the violin sunburst is especially nice). Passive pickups. A bit heavier in weight than the others, but solidly built, and great tone. I might buy one of these sometime. These sell new for $199.99 in violin burst or red. For $219.99, you can get one in root beer, trans black, or tobacco brown sunburst.

      Amps..

      Quite simple.. get a new Fender Rumble with the shiny silver grill cloth and the old fashioned knobs. These are great. If I didn’t already have an old Epiphone amp I’d bought for $40, I’d buy a Fender Rumble.

      If you for some reason don’t like the Fender, and want a new amp, an Ampeg practice amp should be fine.

      If you can find a used (don’t buy unless you’ve tried it) or new/old stock Peavey Max 158 with a vintage/modern switch, this is a good choice.

      Don’t buy one of the more recent Peavey Maz 158 or similar model practice amps though. The new ones I tried in stores aren’t nearly as good.

      Acoustic is the house brand of Guitar Center. I was not impressed with the Acoustic practice amps I tried. They seemed poorly built. I talked with a tech awhile back. He said Acoustic amps were often brought into his shop for repairs, and that I should not to buy one.

      Hope that helps! Thanks for your comment.

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