Tips for Buying a Bass Guitar at a Music Store

Visiting the biggest music store in your area, where you can look at the most bass guitars in one place, is the best way to start your search. You can check out the small music stores after you’ve settled on a bass. You can always ask for recommendations. Just remember, you’re the one who’s going to play it, so make sure you choose what’s best for you.

When you come face to face with a salesperson, say that you’re looking for a bass guitar and that you’d like to try a few. Ask to check out a Fender Precision and a Fender Jazz. These basses are considered the standards for comparison. They sound great for any style of music, they look great, and they’re real workhorses, too.

If you can afford them, stick with the Fender basses made in America; their quality is better than the quality of the imported models. Even if these basses are beyond your present budget, they give you a standard to compare other prospective basses to.

The salesperson is going to ask you what you’re looking to spend, so come in knowing your budget. Also, prepare yourself to walk out of the store bassless (leave your wallet at home if you have to). You’re trying to get an idea of which bass feels and sounds best to you.

When you’re ready to try out a new bass, first give it a once-over. Check to see whether the finish is even and the seams are tight. Also make sure the strings are evenly spaced on the fingerboard: The G string should be about the same distance from the edge of the fingerboard as the E string, and all the strings should be about the same distance from each other.

When you have the bass guitar in your hands, check to see whether the neck is securely attached to the body of the instrument. The neck can be attached to the body in one of three ways:

  • Bolt-on: The neck is screwed onto the body with large screws.

  • Set-in (or glued-in): The neck is seamlessly glued into the body.

  • Neck-through: The neck continues through the entire body of the bass, and the body wings are glued to the sides of the neck piece.

    [Credit: Photo by Steven Schlesinger]
    Credit: Photo by Steven Schlesinger

If the neck is bolted on, be sure that the neck doesn’t shift when you push and pull it from side to side. (Don’t try to break it; just move it lightly.) The neck and the body need to be solidly joined.

After you determine whether the bass is solid, ask the salesperson whether you can plug the bass into the best bass amp in the store to get the truest response from the instrument. Tune up the bass and start playing. Play every fret on every string so you can make sure the frets don’t have high spots that make the strings buzz.

Next, play some music. If bass playing is new to you, just play a few notes and listen to the sound. Do you like it? Does it feel good? When you finish testing the bass, move on to the next one. After you try all the basses in your price range, thank the salesperson and leave. Make sure you know which models you like best and what they cost.

Try to resist the urge to buy a bass during your first trip to the store. You should take all the information you gather and mull it over carefully before deciding which bass to buy. You may want to search out some other stores to see what else is available.

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