all about that bass
February 5, 2019 4:55 AM   Subscribe

This is the year I will finally start to learn the bass guitar. I have been looking at used ones on Craigslist. Other than one that will stay tuned, what do I need to look for/stay away from? And amps?
posted by jtexman1 to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (25 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Difficult to answer this without more info on what kind of music you want to play, where you intend to play, what your budget is.

Fender Squires - either Jazz or Precision - are great beginner basses, are widely available and affordable. Go to your local guitar store, play a few, and see what feels right. If you're buying a practice amp, a headphone amp or something small with 25-50 watts should be fine. If you plan on playing with a drummer, I would recommend an amp with at least 100 watts. Anything less and you'll run out of headroom.
posted by gnutron at 5:45 AM on February 5, 2019 [5 favorites]

Ultimately, you want to find something that inspires you to play. Fender Precision and Jazz basses are pretty much the standard and are a good place to start. I'd suggest going to a music store and trying a bunch of stuff out to see what feels right. Jazz basses have slightly smaller necks (width, not length), and sometimes people with smaller hands find them more comfortable. Smaller people also often like shorter scale basses (like a Fender Mustang). The only way to narrow things down is to play a bunch. And, there are plenty of other brands besides Fender (and Squier, they're lower end brand), but they're so common that it's a good baseline.

Then, you can start narrowing your search and seeing if you can find anything used. Make sure you plug it in and turn all the knobs. If the knobs are scratchy, it's usually an easy fix, but lets yo know that the thing wasn't played regularly, and could be a bargaining point. Things like a warped neck will be harder for a a novice to identify. Another tough thing about buying used is that people have different tastes and may have the strings set super high, or the strings might be dead, and that stuff may make it hard to tell if it's a decent instrument.

As a beginner, you might be better off buying used from a music store rather than Craigslist (unless you have a bass playing friend who can go along with you and check the thing out), since you'll most likely be able to return it if there's a problem.

As far as amps go, unless you're planning on starting to play with a drummer immediately, you can get away with something small. Guitar Center has a bunch of decent, low-priced amps by Fender, Acoustic, and Traynor. If you start playing with a drummer, be prepared to get something much bigger. While a guitarist can get away with a 50 watt amp and make your ears bleed, bass needs a lot more power, and something in the 300 watt range is usually sufficient.

If you have questions about specific classes or amps, feel free to memail me.
posted by jonathanhughes at 6:05 AM on February 5, 2019 [2 favorites]

Or yeah, what Gnutron said.
posted by jonathanhughes at 6:05 AM on February 5, 2019

Forgive the sit. I don't know what musical style I would enjoy as I am a total newb. (of course I want to play like Geddy Lee or the late Chris Squire. I kid)
But for the time being no, I won't play with a drummer and I am willing to spend about $300 or so, not including an amp
posted by jtexman1 at 6:14 AM on February 5, 2019

I was going to recommend a Monoprice just for getting started, and my daughter likes hers, but bass purists will be aghast, and there have been mixed reviews outside of the Monoprice site. I agree that if the instrument is not a pleasure to play, it will impede your progress. Then again, a crappy instrument didn't stop this guy.
posted by mecran01 at 6:28 AM on February 5, 2019 [1 favorite]

It's a highly subjective, personal choice, as others have said. But if I were going to buy myself a bass, it'd be a Squire P-Bass. It's super-common, so there should be plenty available, and it's not very expensive new, so used options should be pretty cheap. Squire makes reasonably good instruments for beginners, and the P-Bass shape is what you imagine when you picture "bass guitar" in your head.

I own a Squire Strat, so I'm not completely pulling this out of my ass.
posted by kevinbelt at 6:46 AM on February 5, 2019

Since you're a total noob, don't over think it. Spend $100 - $200 on any 4-string bass that works. Have a local music store do a setup on it for another $40.00 or so. Plan on upgrading in a year once you know a little bit more of what you want. If you can find a well-known brand like Fender you'll probably be able to sell it for the same price you bought it for.

It can be really intimidating when you don't know anything about instruments. But at this stage you're not going to need to worry about switching pickups, about dialing in your perfect sound, about being heard over drums, or anything like that. You want something that you can go plunk plunk plunk plunk on for a half hour a day. After you've been playing for a few months, watching YouTube, reading magazines, and learning a few songs, then you can start thinking about all the bells and whistles.

Just buy a bass and get started.
posted by bondcliff at 7:02 AM on February 5, 2019 [5 favorites]

I'd push back against gnutron's amp wattage range. If you're starting out and just learning to play, you don't want anything bigger than 25 watts. Honestly, 15 watts is probably as big as you need. It always stinks to have more amp than you can use.

Seconding the recs for Squier basses, though. They're great for starting out and figuring out if this is for you.
posted by the phlegmatic king at 7:15 AM on February 5, 2019 [4 favorites]

I think checking a random craigslist bass is a little difficult unless you've already got the experience to know what a bass should feel like. So unless you've got an expert to bring along with you, I'd go with a new bass from a music store with a good return policy. There are tons of choices, but to start I'd take anything with 4 strings, frets, and a solid body. Entry-level instruments are surprisingly good deals. They'll probably start around $200, for a real instrument that may well last you for life.

If possible I'd also budget for a few lessons. A teacher can get you pointed in the right direction, and also tell you if there's anything obvious wrong with the bass. Most such problems are fixable with some adjustments (probably around $50 if you take it to a professional); for anything more serious, you've got the return policy.
posted by floppyroofing at 7:24 AM on February 5, 2019 [2 favorites]

(PS: I adore the bass guitar. Inexpensive, portable, great for playing with people, easy (compared with many instruments!) to get started with, but you can spend a lifetime learning it. A good bass line is such a great fusion of rhythm, harmony, and melody, and there are so many great bass lines to learn from. My only regret about my first bass is that I didn't find it much earlier. Have fun!)
posted by floppyroofing at 7:34 AM on February 5, 2019 [5 favorites]

Shorter scale basses are so much fun. (Fender mustang) I don’t know if you can find an inexpensive short scale bass but it is so much fun.
posted by nikaspark at 7:37 AM on February 5, 2019 [3 favorites]

I'm gonna second the idea of going to a music shop. If nothing else, you'll get to put your hands on a couple of different options and find one that feels right to you. Most music shops will also carry used gear, which you can feel more comfortable about being in proper working order than some random Craigslist bass.

If this is just for tooling around and not performing, either get a 15-25 watt practice amp or a headphone amp. For performances with a proper band, you'll definitely need a bigger amp, but you can save up for one later if you decide that's something you want to do.

(I'll lay my cards down as a big Fender Jazz fan. If you need a more P-bass sound, you can always turn down the bridge pickup. Used to be you could get the "Mexican" Jazz for like $300 new, but it seems that's no longer the case. Used Standard Jazz Basses go for around $330, based on a really quick search.)
posted by tobascodagama at 7:55 AM on February 5, 2019

Used to be you could get the "Mexican" Jazz for like $300 new

I bought one new in about 2004, and it was, I think, $500.
posted by thelonius at 7:57 AM on February 5, 2019

squire. perfectly reasonable for you, and plenty of people use them to gig out if it ever comes to that. go to your local music store if they have a selection or guitar center and play a few different styles. pick them up, plug them in. adjust the knobs. find the style you linke and then buy used from the gc website. they will ship it to your store.
posted by lescour at 8:43 AM on February 5, 2019

I'm going to buck the trend and recommend against a Squire. Unless something has drastically changed in the last few years Squires are damn near the bottom of the barrel and if it turns out you actually do want to be a bassist you're going to need to upgrade basically immediately.

An actual Fender P or J will serve you much better, and if you're willing to buy used it shouldn't be more that a few hundred more expensive than a Squire. People get married and have kids and get new basses all the time and the "I need this thing out of my house" market is generally pretty good.

Get a better (but not amazing) bass to start out with.
posted by East14thTaco at 9:01 AM on February 5, 2019 [2 favorites]

"Unless something has drastically changed in the last few years "

It has. Squier has consistently been putting out quality instruments for the last several years. I don't think they were ever near the bottom of the barrel (except maybe their Affinity series), but they certainly aren't now.
posted by jonathanhughes at 10:17 AM on February 5, 2019 [3 favorites]

Huh. I stand corrected. In the early 2000s the will of God couldn't keep a Squire fret straight.
posted by East14thTaco at 11:20 AM on February 5, 2019

Any opinion anyone has about the relative merits of any musical instrument line, in general, is fightin' words to somebody else.

That said, a Fender Jazz or Precision (P-bass) is basically the de-facto standard electric bass. Squire is Fender's budget line, and TO SOME DEGREE you get what you pay for. But the recent basses are legitimately decent instruments, and for the money you are talking about you'd be very happy with a Squire Jazz bass or P-bass. A solid, legitimate instrument. They look and sound great and you can get a lot of use out of it before you decide you need to upgrade. As for Jazz vs Precision, sheesh, just pick the one you dig. Personally, I'd recommend a Jazz but simply because I like the way they look and I feel like the pickups are a little more flexible but, again: them's fightin' words.

Worth noting: Geddy Lee and Chris Squire both have to varying degrees been associated with Rickenbacker basses. An actual Ric is out of your price range, but a Chinese knock-off is very much IN your price range. I've heard good things about them and, really, for $300 it might be worth a shot. My main bass is a Ric and I could not love it more but it can be persnickety. I can only imagine that a knock-off might be MORE persnickety.

Wild card: I borrowed a friend's Gretsch Junior Jet bass for a few months and LOVED it. It's a short-scale, budget friendly bass with surprisingly good tone. I'd love to get one. Brand new it's $299. Classic, slick looks and the thing is just sexay. Short scale might be handy to help learn.

Good luck!
posted by dirtdirt at 11:37 AM on February 5, 2019 [2 favorites]

Also: a strong recommendation to go futz around with the basses at your local used instrument shop. Some funky old-timer, a modern Danelectro or what-have-you, could be there, in your price range, and give you a measure of personal connection and quality that a cheap but new bass won't have.
posted by dirtdirt at 11:42 AM on February 5, 2019 [2 favorites]

I think it's kind of subjective? So all you could do is research your potential purchases and then play it plugged in and see if it feels right for you?

+1 for local used instrument shop purchases because the instrument will be restrung, neck assessed, and set up. It would be hard, for an unschooled person (such as myself!) to really be able to assess the value of a craigslist/internet purchase when so many instruments are sold in various states of disrepair, but fixable ... you wouldn't want to get stuck with the instrument that needs a rebuild to get it running.

For anecdata, why no love for the Ibanez? My first BASS bass was a 5-string SR, $270 new, and so easy to negotiate for me, I hadn't thought I could play one before I tried it. And while I can't recommend that particular model, as my low string bridge always gets outta whack, I would recommend it if you are metal AF like I am, and do recommend Ibanez as a perfectly cromulent maker of 4 string basses should the possibility arise.
posted by Rube R. Nekker at 2:07 PM on February 5, 2019 [2 favorites]

To help Rube balance out all the Fender love above, I’ll add that I own a Schecter and an Ibanez and think that both companies give you great value for your bass buying dollar.
posted by doctord at 6:51 PM on February 5, 2019 [3 favorites]

Squire, Ibanez, I've had good luck with old Epiphones for cheap bases. My main gigging bass is an Epi I bought 14 years ago from a music store for a hundred bucks.
posted by drezdn at 7:21 PM on February 5, 2019 [2 favorites]

I would strongly echo the advice above to get the instrument set up properly by someone who knows what they're doing -- either a luthier or an experienced bassist. There are plenty of options for decent basses at very reasonable prices these days, but both new and second-hand basses will be much more comfortable to play when properly adjusted.

I'd start with a 4-string, fretted, passive, Jazz-style bass. Nearly every company that makes basses has their own version of this, and most of them offer better quality for the money than Fender; if possible, find a shop that offers a range of brands and see what they recommend. (Mine's a 90s Tokai. If I were buying new, I'd be looking at Sire, Yamaha and Schecter.)

Things to look for: run your thumb down the full length of the edge of the neck -- you shouldn't feel any sharp edges, either from the edge of the fingerboard or from the ends of the frets. A luthier can fix this but on a new bass it should be correct from the factory -- anecdotally the higher-end Squier basses are better than Fender Mexico at this at the moment.

I wouldn't buy a new amp -- small amps are cheap and easy to obtain second-hand. Also budget for a new set of strings, a good-quality instrument cable and a comfortable, adjustable strap.
posted by offog at 2:56 AM on February 6, 2019 [1 favorite]

You guys rock, thanks. Looks like I will hit the stores rather than Craigslist.
posted by jtexman1 at 4:55 AM on February 6, 2019 [1 favorite]

Adding to the pile, I would also go with a modern Squier purchased from a store (yes, the quality control has improved immensely, although any two will be somewhat different they don't suffer from the playability problems they did in the early 'aughts). Neck scale and style is a personal preference but I would shoot for something with active pickups (requiring a battery). PAY FOR A PROPER SETUP.

You absolutely do need an amp to practice the bass guitar. I would start with something powerful enough that it can get too loud, whatever that means for you. Having to bang away to get volume will teach you bad habits that aren't easy to unlearn. This is also where active pickups will help a little - IME the old-skool P-bass with passive pickups really needs significant juice and often a preamp to really shine, whereas active coils will sound better on a less-powerful amp, but still scale up nicely if you end up getting some massive butt-shaking 1000W stack later.
posted by aspersioncast at 1:28 PM on February 6, 2019

« Older We CAN handle the truth.   |   Idle thoughts about a pickup! Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.