What to look for when buying a bass

Ok, so you’re looking to buy a bass.  The chances are – whether you’ve looked at our website (thanks for stopping by) or you’ve explored other options – you’ve probably seen so many fantastic models, that you’ve been left wondering where to start and how on earth you’re possibly going to choose just one.  With so much choice, it can be overwhelming (even for seasoned bassists) so that’s where we come in.  We’ve pulled together some top tips to help guide you through what to look for when purchasing an electric bass guitar.

First up, you’ve got to ascertain what you’re really looking for and what’s going to meet your needs.  Are you a beginner seeking your first ever bass? (If so, congrats and welcome to the club – you’re going to love it.)  Or maybe you’re looking for a stellar model to perform with, or you might just fancy a change and are looking for something new.  (Incidentally, if you are a beginner looking to buy your first bass, watch out for next month’s blog for a breakdown on the best bass guitars for first time buyers.)  Essentially, it’s important to pinpoint what you want to play and/or achieve musically with your bass; you’ll then have more clarity on what you want, and what brands or styles might be more suitable for you.

Once you’ve established this, the next thing to do – before you get overexcited at seeing all the shiny basses available – is to be honest with yourself (and any potential sellers) on what your budget is.  You’re setting yourself up for a mighty fall if you find your dream model and then discover that it’s way out of your price range.  There are basses for every budget, with many fine basses available at the lower end of the spectrum, so don’t lose heart if your budget is fairly small.  At this point it’s also a really good idea to involve an experienced bass player in your search.  If you’re just starting out then you’ll benefit from their knowledge and experience, and if you’re already an established player, it’s always useful (and fun!) to have a second pair of eyes and ears, so either way, it’s a good move.

Start with the basics and think about the size and shape you require.  Regardless of whether you’re buying your first bass or your 100th, it’s crucial that the bass guitar ‘fits’ you as the bassist.  If you’re going to part with your hard-earned cash to purchase a stunning model, in our view, unless you’re planning on putting it up on a wall somewhere (and where’s the fun in THAT?) you need to be able to play it comfortably so you can enjoy it.  So, assessing whether you want a large scale or short scale bass is a great place to start.  Then, it’s a good idea to check the neck width; if you’re a beginner or a younger player (or perhaps your hands are on the petite side) then a narrower neck is a wise choice as it’s easier to play.

The next thing to consider sounds a bit obvious, but ask yourself: does the bass stay in tune?  Try it and see – if you’re buying from a store, don’t be afraid to follow the old adage of try before you buy.  Play it, get a feel for it, and see whether it stays in tune.  Generally speaking, basses stay in tune much better than standard electric guitars due to their larger strings, however, there’s no harm in testing it out anyway.  And while you’re doing so, take the opportunity to make sure that the electrics all work properly.  Plug the bass into an amplifier and test the volume and tone controls to check that they adjust the sound as they should.  If there are any faults, dodgy electrics or loose wiring, they’ll make a crackling noise (and not in a classic vinyl records way).  If you’re buying online, request a demo and make sure you buy from a supplier that ensures that your bass is fully set up and in top notch condition before it’s sent to you (that’s us, by the way).

Make sure you consider the action too.  If the bass has high action (i.e. the strings are high in relation to the fretboard) then it will be more difficult to play, so if you’re a beginner it’s definitely worth looking for basses with an action high enough above the strings so that they’re easy to press down and play clearly.  Basses with a low action aren’t ideal either, as the strings will make an annoying buzzing sound (and no one wants that).

Next – the frets need to be level.  If they’re uneven they’ll play dodgy notes at different sections of the neck, so the best way to check this is to run your hand up and down the neck of the guitar.  Not only will you look like a pro doing this, you’ll also be able to tell if the frets feel even and smooth.  If they do, then you’re all good.  If you’re having an online demo, then it’s a good idea to ask the demonstrator to test the notes all the way up the neck.

So, you’ve found ‘the one’ and you’ve followed all of the advice above…what’s next?  Well, if you’re buying in a store, you want to make sure that your chosen model is set up properly before you buy it and take it home.  This means checking that the truss rod is functioning right and that the action is adjusted correctly for you.  It’s important to get this sorted before you head home – this is where having an experienced bassist with you will come in really handy.  If you’re buying online, make sure that you’re buying from a site where all of these checks take place.  At Bass Bros. all of the models we sell are fully set up and personalised for each customer before they’re shipped out, so when your bass arrives with you, it’s ready to go.

So there you have it – a guide on what to look for when buying a bass.  Follow these tips and you’ll find your perfect partner in bass lines in no time at all.  Happy shopping.