Re: Cheap basses

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Posted by Bob Gollihur on January 18, 2000 at 17:04:32:

In Reply to: Cheap basses posted by Dennis Smith on January 17, 2000 at 06:34:02:

: I'm in Prince George, British Columbia, Canada. I play electric, and like many of the bassists who have posted messeages, I am interested in learning to play an upright acoustic. I've read various postings on the internet have seen a general dissatisfaction with having to pay thousands of U.S. dollars for a bass. In my searches I have found plywood basses for as low as $695.00 (Cremona) and a few others all under $1000.00 U.S. Quesry: what's wrong with these basses. Didn't us electric players all start with something from Sears for $89.95? My first electric was a Fender Music Master. I purchases it for $200.00 Canadian in 1978 and played the hell out of it (now the "classics" and fetch $800 plus in Canada. I would like to here from anyone who has actually played these "student model" basses and tell my what their short comings are. I am well aware of the preferece for solid spruce tops over plywood. I have been told by some that a plywoold bass is actually preferred for the bassists who actually "gigs" and lives in changing climates (as I write this, it's 20 below celcius and zero humidity). I want to buy one of these cheap basses but I am afraid to considering all the talk about $15,000 basses being the only thing worth playing. I would be boosted by hearing from any Cremona or Strunal players, or anyone who has bought a Frankfurt bass from Jimlaabs (they are currently a bargain).
I certainly know what you mean, Dennis. The double bass with which I began to learn was a US Navy surplus aluminum-bodied "instrument" (using the term loosely) and my first electric bass was a cheapie.

You certainly don't need a $15,000 bass to learn, and frankly, few need such a heavy-duty instrument for most play. And your point about plywood vs. carved is well-taken. I have both, and will often take my Kay rather than jeopardize the Juzek-- carved basses are both more fragile and more sensitive to the environment and you can wind up with expensive repair bills.

One caveat about the current crop of inexpensive basses is the fact that many are not suitable for play "out of the box" -- and often, that's the way you get them. Unlike an inexpensive electric, which can be acceptable with a few twists of a screw and with the possible luxury of a new $20 set of strings, some of these double basses are coming with pretty lame strings and no setup. And a setup for an URB is a good deal more dear than an electric, with around $100 for a set of strings plus much more work.

Again, your point is well-taken, that they needn't be works of art or the best bass available, but functionality is important, because the physical challenge of taking up the upright needn't be further complicated by a lousy instrument.

I usually recommend that seekers of double basses try to locate a luthier rather than do a mail order store deal or even a deal with a retailer that has no on-site repairperson. More often than not, they will have used student level instruments, or even new ones perhaps in the category you mention, but at least you can be reasonably assured that the instrument is playable. Having access to a good bass repair guy is golden-- and you will need them along the way, plywood, carved or whatever, and also when you want to upgrade in the future. I also note that Kays and similar plywood basses have come down a little in price and are more accessible-- these have increased or held their value, and will continue to do so in the long run IMHO. Just a few bucks more will be worthwhile -- kind of like recommending a low end or used Fender to a newbie rather than a third-tier no-name brand electric bass.

I've been compiling a list of luthiers on my web site; URL below. Even if it means a little travel, it can well be worth the trip. I only have a handful of Canadian luthiers, and some are high end, but it may be worth a phone call to one who may be able to refer you to somebody in your area- specify that you are looking for a plywood student instrument.

Good luck in your URB adventure. It can be a great ride!

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