Buying Your First Bass
You have many options to look for when searching for your first bass guitar. As there are literally countless models available, it is good to have a basic idea of what to look for. In this article, we will discuss the basic things to look for, how much you should spend, and a few pointers on accessories for your new bass.
Number of Strings
Your choices for bass guitars are limited only by your budget and your imagination. When beginning, it is a good idea to start off with a basic model. Most basses are, of course, 4-string models. If you are just beginning on bass, this is the best type to start with. Remember, most of the professional bassists in the world still use 4-strings primarily, some exclusively. If after playing a while you find you would prefer a 5-or-more-string model, then that would be the time to invest the extra money. Not before.
Passive vs. Active Electronics
Most basses have what are called passive electronics, which means the pickup uses magnets to translate string vibration into sound signals. These signals travel to the amplifier, where they are produced into sound. Active electronics are used with a pre-amp built into the guitar and allow for a greater variety of tone. For a first-time purchase, passives are just fine. Just like with basses with extra strings, you may eventually decide to move up to active electronics, but like most bassists, you may find it perfectly fine to use passive electronics alone.
There are many guitar companies out there, and many styles and models available, from traditional “Fender” styles to trippy one-of –a-kind models. When you are beginning, it is usually best to stick with an established company such as Gibson, Fender, Ibanez, or Dean. (This includes subsidiary brands such as Gibson’s Epiphone or Fender’s Squier or Starmaster lines.) New models from these companies come with decent warranties and are easy to find replacement parts for. Try several different ones out at a music store to get an idea of the feel and sound of different models before you make a decision.
How Much Should You Spend?
While it is a good idea to start with a basic model, you will find that even the basic models have wildly varying price points. Factors affecting the price include brand, type of woods and other materials used, brand and type of pickups and other hardware, the quality of said hardware, and the country of manufacture.
Many guitar makers, including the ones listed above, offer complete beginners packages starting at about $400. These packages include the bass guitar, small practice amp, strings, picks, strap, and a “gig bag” (a soft fabric case). Most also include a tuner. All of them include a video or booklet with beginner’s instructions on how to hold and play the instrument. These packages cover all the basics you need to get started right away. These are remarkable values for both the beginning student and the player on a tight budget.
If you have a few extra hundred dollars to spend, you can move up to a higher-end model. Basses in this category are made from higher quality materials and are likely to last longer and stay in tune better.
As this is your first purchase, it is best to stay within these two categories. You could spend a lot more, but it just isn’t necessary until you have played awhile and know what you really need for the long haul.
The items mentioned above in the beginner packs are essential. In fact, it is a great idea to pick up a few extra picks and an extra set of strings, if you can. Other recommended accessories include a portable metronome, a string winder, and a guitar cleaning kit.
If you are purchasing an amp to pair with your bass, it is best to stick with a basic model for now. Start with an amp big enough for practice and (perhaps) performance in a small room. You don’t need a large rig for now. Although you can certainly purchase separate heads and speakers, many beginners find it easier and more portable to use a combo amp
If you are looking to save money, you may consider buying used equipment. Make sure you test the bass thoroughly before purchase. Take time to fully understand the retailer’s refund, exchange, and repair policies before you hand over the cash and ask any clarifying questions that come to mind. It will save you money and headache later.
If you make an online purchase, new OR used, the same suggestions apply. Check the reputation of the seller, or if purchasing on eBay, ensure they have a high rating and good recent reviews.
Play fair! If you spend a considerable amount of time with a salesperson in a guitar shop and then find the same item you have decided upon online or at a “big-box” store at a lower price, give the music shop a chance to meet, beat, or at least come close to the price. Most of them are happy to make a smaller profit rather than lose your business. In addition, many of these salespeople are commissioned, and depend on your purchases for their income. Good customer service is hard to find these days and you should definitely consider rewarding that.
This covers the basics of your first-time bass purchase. Happy playing!