When students ask me for advice about purchasing a new bass, (either a step up in quality or a different style), I invariably tell them to shop for a used one. Used basses are a better value than new ones, but you won’t get a warranty against defects.
A broken truss rod, cracked neck, faulty electronics, and bad frets are just some of the things you can encounter while shopping for a used bass. But if you know what to look for, you can get a great deal on a high quality instrument. This post will give you some helpful tips for finding that hidden jewel.
Below is a good article by Jeff Renaud, originally posted atActiveBass. This article is a good resource for shopping for used basses.
Used Basses: What to Look For
by Jeff Renaud
Many bass players are confused about what to look for when shopping for a bass. This applies even more to used basses, as the buyer cannot be entirely sure what the previous owner(s) did to the bass. Fellow ActiveBass member Jacob Chandler asked about some pointers concerning used basses. I responded with something that I thought would be good for an article. So, if you’re heading the used bass way on your next buy, you might to look at this article. While I’m not an expert, here are some things I inspect before buying any bass (used/new):
1. Check the neck pocket (on a bolt-on). There shouldn’t be any gaps around the neck where it meets the body. If there is (even only .5mm), don’t buy that bass, since it was sloppily built or repaired. You’re buying a bass, not trouble. If it’s a neck-thru, the wings should be glued properly and free of cracks.
2. Neck relief is crucial on any bass, especially on used ones. Many quality basses go unnoticed because of a poor set up. If you don’t like the neck relief or the feel of the neck, ask the store luthier or clerk to set it up to your liking. If the neck doesn’t get any better, it’ll never will, so don’t buy it. Also, if the bass neck is of multi-wood construction, check that the grain in each piece goes at a 45 degree angle against the grain in the next piece. This will ensure you a stable, better feeling and better sounding neck. If the neck is graphite, you’ll be saved all the hassle.
Sight for Neck Relief and High Frets.
3. Fretwork is also very important for the feel/sound of a bass (fretted that is). Check every fret for wear, oxidation, and that they are properly set. Sight the neck and look at the relief and check for high frets. Ask the clerk if the bass was refretted and if the answer is yes, where and by who (was it professionally done). Often, a bass can be ruined because of poor refretting. Alas, if the frets are bad, the bass is also, so don’t buy. Steer clear of any fretless conversion, basses like this are usually banged up (fretboard especially) and have chronic neck problems.
4. Truss rod should be in one piece (duh). Ask the clerk where and when the last set up was performed. It will indicate if the bass is a good one. If the action is 1 inch high and the clerk proudly announces it was set up 1 week ago, don’t buy it, the neck is warped. Or ask for a new set up, just to be sure. Knocking on the neck can announce a broken truss rod. If some weird noise comes out of the neck, the truss rod may have a problem. Again, you want to stay away from basses with truss rod problems.
5. Bridge saddles should be tightly in place and non oxidized, same thing with hardware (knobs, tuners, pickups). If there is some oxidation, try the faulty pieces, if they feel good anyway, go for it. Older (and killer) basses sometime have this problem, but it’s no biggy. If it’s a new bass, chances it wasn’t stored properly or was abused, so don’t buy.
6. As said above, pickups should be in nice condition. If they feel too high/low, ask the clerk to set them up to your liking. If the pickup(s) seem loose or banged up, start worrying. If poles are missing, or even a pickup is missing, I would say that the wiser choice would be to leave this bass alone. Also, if the pickups sound noisy, check out for fluorescent lights, TV, radio, etc… If some are near, ask the clerk to shut them, just to check if the hum is coming from there.
7. Action and fretboard condition should be perfect. Action will surely not be to your liking when you pick up the bass, so ask a set up to be performed. If it cannot be set up to your liking, don’t buy. The fretboard should be clean, without cracks (check for hairline type ones, they are the worst) or dings. Always be sure the fretboard is in perfect condition before buying. Be sure not to confuse wood texture with dings, though.
8. Overall appearance should be decent. If the pickguard is missing for example, you might want to buy it anyway, but if tuners, knobs, bridge, pickup, or input jack is missing or faulty, you should probably keep looking. The paint job should be original or professionally redone. Be aware that a ”non-original” bass can make the owner reduce the price dramatically.
9. Upgraded basses shouldn’t be more expensive than standard ones. We don’t care if the previous owner changed the bridge, pickups, and nut on his standard Jazz since it can be a source of problems later if the modification was homemade.
10. Double check everything before buying: fretboard, action, pickups, appearance, neck dings, intonation, hardware, etc… Also, if the bass is active, talk the clerk/owner into changing the battery so you check that the electronics are working properly.
Things to remember:
Always try to talk the guy down, even for a couple of dollars, you’ll be surprised at how an incredible deal you can sometimes get this way.
Never go: “Ho! I was looking for this bass for ages”, as you’ll have a harder time talking the seller down after.
Pretend to know nothing about basses, as the seller will then maybe make a mistake and say something like : “Well, the electronics aren’t original, but this shouldn’t matter” and you’ll be able to talk him down.
Try to test the bass with a rig similar to yours or of lesser quality than yours.