Friday, November 1, 2013

Used Basses: What To Look For

Many a bass player is confused about what to be on the lookout on a potential "bass buy". This applies even more to used basses, as the buyer cannot be entirely sure of 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 in 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 space left. If there is (even only .5mm), don't buy that bass, since it was sloppily repaired or built and since you're buying a bass, not trouble. If it's a neck-thru, the wings should be glued properly... 

  2. Neck relief is crucial on any bass, especially on used ones. 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. Many jewel basses go unnoticed because of poor playing set up. If the neck doesn't get any better, it'll never will, don't buy. Also, if the bass' neck is more than one piece, check if 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. 

  3. Fretwork is also very important for the feel/sound of a bass (fretted that is). Check every fret for wear, oxidation or simply to check if they are properly set. 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 poo, the bass is, so don't buy. Steer clear of any fretless conversion, bass 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'll 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, 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 come out of the neck, it isn't properly balanced, or it's truss rod may have a problem. Again, you might want to stay away from bass with truss rod problems. 

  5. Bridge saddles should be tightly in place and non oxidated, same thing with hardware (knobs, tuner, 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 properly stored or was abused, 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 they (it) 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 jack is missing, you might not experience the full potential of this bass, so take this into consideration if you wish to buy anyway (you shouldn't, but if a Warwick comes out at $400 with a missing knob...). The paintjob should be original or professionally redone. Be aware that a "non-original" bass can make the owner go way lower than he'd wish. 

  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. Don't worry about brand names, try basses that seem nice to you (pickup configuration, number of strings, etc...). Many copies are as good, or even better, than the original bass (and are much cheaper). Older Ibanez basses are notorious for their excellent copies of Rickenbacker, Fender and Gibson basses. Unusual basses or great deals I'd recommend (these are rare, please don't rule out any bass because it isn't listed here):

    • 80's Squiers (Bullet, Jazz, Precision, Proton)
    • Pre-Fender Guilds (70's ones are especially nice)
    • Godin (BG and SD special)
    • Gibson's obscure basses (Grabber, Artist, Ripper)
    • Harmony (older ones are pretty cheap and nice if you can find a clean one)
    • 70's 80's Ibanez (lawsuit copies of Ric and Fender, Artist, Eagle)
    • Lado (if you can find one...)
    • Ampeg BA reissue (I own one, it rocks)
    • Vantage P-bass copies (laminated ones are the better)
    • Older Arias (Pro II)
    • Peavey (T-40, Fury)
    • Ovation (Magnum II)

    All these basses are great and might go for very cheap. 

  11. 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 can experience the bass at its fullest potential.

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.
  • Be respectful, but firm.

Remember, as a buyer, you're responsible for asking the right questions to the right person. With this in mind, may your experience in the realm of used basses be a good one!

Article Source:  Article by: Jeff Renaud