For anyone who plays bass guitar, buying a new instrument is an important decision. Ideally, the guitar needs to suit the player in terms of both performance level and budget. A little research is all that is required to ensure that the match of musician and musical instrument is a harmonious one.
About Bass Guitars
The roots of the modern electric bass guitar reach back as far as the 1930s. However, it was not until the 1950s that the advantages of the smaller horizontal fretted guitars saw them begin to replace their much larger upright acoustic counterparts. The swinging sixties saw an explosion in the popularity of these guitars, with many new manufacturers producing models with greater performance and increasingly avant garde styling. Over the years, seemingly every possible variation in the number of strings, frets, pickups, body styles and materials has been tried, usually to good effect, but not always.
Today, there is a great deal of variation in the bass guitars that are available. The first task of any prospective purchaser is to familiarise themselves with these differences. This will enable them to make an informed decision about which features will enhance their playing experience and which they can do without.
Bass Guitar Variations
The particular bass guitar a player chooses is governed by many factors, such as the style of music they intend to play, their budget, and their level of experience. The main considerations when choosing a bass guitar are as follows.
Number of Strings
The most common arrangement for a bass guitar is to have 4 strings that tuned E, A, D, G from low to high. A 5-string bass usually has an additional lower string tuned to B. 6-string basses usually have an another higher string, usually tuned to B or C. The most affordable of these will be the most common configuration of 4 strings. It is also the most suitable for a beginner and will therefore likely retain its value well.
Acoustic or Electric
Electric bass is easier to play than acoustic bass for the simple reason that the strings are generally closer to the frets and therefore easier to push down to get a clean sound. Acoustic basses use heavier gauge strings as these are needed to resonate the body of the guitar to produce the required volume. However, acoustic basses have the advantages of a warmer sound, and that additional equipment, such as an amplifier, is not always required. For a beginner, ease of playing means that the electric bass is almost certainly the better choice.
Perhaps the most important factor affecting the choice of body style is whether the bass is to be played seated or standing. If the guitar is to be mainly played seated, the bass should be shaped to rest comfortably on the leg. If the bass is more likely to be played standing, the top of the body should easily accommodate the arm passing over it. If looking at more outlandish finishes, it is worth considering whether these could affect resale value and so eventually make the bass harder to sell on.
Pickups and Controls
Some bass guitars have two pickups, while others have only one. As each pickup will usually have its own volume control, this allows the player to select a mix of the two. While the dual pickup guitar may be more versatile in the sound it can produce, the single pickup model has the advantage of being easier to pick up and play. The number of pickups does not greatly affect the price of more affordable guitars, so the choice of how many pickups are desirable will be down to the individual player.
There are two kinds of pickups to choose from, passive and dynamic. Passive pickups have a warm, full tone while active pickups are clearer and more percussive. Active pickups offer more control at the expense of some of the fat, punchy sound of the more traditional passive ones.
Fretted or Fretless
Bass guitar necks can be devoid of frets like the acoustic basses from which they were originally developed. Playing a fretless bass requires more skill and therefore should only be a purchase consideration for the most experienced of bass players.
Choosing an Affordable Guitar
The level of experience of a player and the size of their budget will determine how they go about getting the best value for money. They will also need to bear in mind how to ensure the instrument holds its resale value. In the future, should they ever need to trade in the guitar, it will then be able to make the best contribution possible to the cost of any future upgrade.
The Beginner Route
Buying a used bass guitar can offer greater value for money but should probably not be the first choice for a beginner. Part of the experience they will gain as a bass player will be the ability to determine a good second-hand bass and to correctly assess its value.
A better route for a beginner looking for the best value is to look for a new bass as part of a package. When buying a guitar as part of a package, the instrument is bundled with other equipment, such as, for example, an amp, tuner, stand, and gig bag. If the budget allows it, buying these together can work out significantly cheaper than getting them individually.
As the player moves from beginner to intermediate in their playing, they will begin to realise the limitations of the instrument they are playing and wish to upgrade. Buying and using the stand and gig bag that come with most packages will ease this process by helping to preserve the guitar’s resale value.
The More Experienced Player
Buying a good affordable guitar suitable for an experienced player is altogether more tricky. The budget will necessarily be larger, perhaps partly compensated for by the sale of their outgoing equipment. The new guitar will likely be subject to more exposure to the hardships of transportation, so it is a good time to consider upgrading from a gig bag to a hard case.
If the budget permits, upgrading to a premium name should be the aim. A branded guitar will give the expected level of performance at the given price point and will also retain its value better. It is also worth considering insurance when buying a more expensive instrument, particularly if it is to be relied on for income.
Buying a used guitar can result in a better instrument for the money. However, the buyer will need to do their homework and know exactly what they need to look out for. Stretching the budget in this way can be a route to achieving the best sound for your money if it also allows the amp to be upgraded at the same time.
Find Bass Guitars on eBay
To buy a new bass guitar, go to the eBay homepage. Begin by opening the All Categories tab and then clicking on the link for Musical Instruments followed by Guitars, and then Bass. View the bass guitars for sale, or refine the search further by using the options on the left side of the page. For example, it is possible to view only the bass guitars which fall within your particular budget. Another alternative is to enter specific terms into the search bar at the top of any eBay page to locate a particular instrument or brand of interest. For example, to find an unused Fender bass guitar, simply type “Fender bass guitar new” into the search field.
Which particular model appeals to an individual bass player will be a personal decision for them, largely based on the style of music to be played and their personal taste. However, buying an affordable bass guitar is no different to buying anything on a budget and is inevitably going to involve some degree of compromise. Whether a prospective buyer chooses to buy a new or used instrument will depend not just on their budget, but also on their ability to assess whether the used guitar represents good value for money.
Beginners should focus on getting the best value for money they can, but not at the expense of a guitar that will soon become an obstacle to making progress with their playing. Bundles and packages can offer a cheap way to take that first step. More experienced players can use their greater knowledge to source a good used guitar, which will give both greater affordability and performance for a given price point.
No matter which particular bass guitar is chosen, taking good care of the instrument can significantly affect the overall affordability of the purchase. When the time comes to trade it in, an instrument that has been cared for will hold far more of its value than one which has been neglected, meaning the next bass guitar can be that much better.