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How to Choose Your Next Electric Bass by Igor Saavedra

How to Choose YourNext Electric Bass… In this article I’ll give you an ordered list starting by the most important factors, in my opinion, that we have to consider when it comes the time to purchase our next bass. I think that this article is really very important, because many times I’ve seen students or even colleagues taking this really important decision based on criteria that in my opinion is completely wrong.

Price

Definitely, this is the first factor to take into account, and I’m saying this in the most practical sense you can imagine. “You can only buy a Bass that you have the money for”, and that means that the entire search for a new Bass has to be circumscribed within the range of your budget. The rest is just day dreaming…

Sound

Once we established our budget limit, a completely realistic search for the very best Bass we can buy has started. This is about music… you can do certain concessions about another factors or characteristics of your Bass, but in my opinion you can’t do that with sound… that’s the main factor you have to look for when it comes to making the best investment of your money. “Always” check the instrument with completely flat eq on the amp and on the Bass.

Ergonomics

We already know which basses are the ones that sound the best based on our sound preferences, so now it’s time to see which of them are “ergonomically acceptable”. Within this category I think it’s proper to mention which are the main aspects to consider on this context. Those are: Balance, weight, shape of the rear part of the body that has to fit comfortably on your belly or your chest, neck size, string separation and scale (331/2”, 34”, 35”, 36” etc.). Balance is also one of the main aspects to consider on a Bass when it comes to ergonomics… an unbalanced instrument that you’ll have to be holding by the neck every time you play will considerably and negatively affect your playing.

Construction

I could have placed Construction before Sound because of one specific aspect that in my opinion is even more important than Sound, and that is the “fret correct placement” for perfect intonation (not applicable for fretless basses – hahaha), but now with all those CNC machines which are being used to build even those $200 basses, that’s something almost impossible to go wrong these days. Other really very important construction aspects are the hardware quality; avoid key pieces like the Nut when they are made out of plastics. It’s also better to have the Truss Rod accessable “from the body” and not “from the headstock” so that way we can avoid removing or loosening the strings every time we want to adjust it. Obviously that doesn’t apply to my humble “invention” the RTA or Rear Truss Rod Access that’s available in all my custom basses.

Wood

This factor affects durability, stability and obviously… Sound. We already addressed the Sound factor, so I’ll be putting more attention here on the other two aspects. Some good quality woods for building a Bass are generally Maple, Ash, Walnut, Rosewood, Ebony, Mahogany, Wenge and Bubinga. These woods will have the tendency to last more and be more stable, and when I say “Stable” I mean the proper stiffness that won’t allow them to twist or bend for no reason and they’re less likely to swelling with humidity or crack from dryness. When I say durability I’m referring to their capability to resist hitting and scratches.

Electronics

Without getting into the more theoretical aspects, and also because it was already assumed on the first factor of this list that you already liked the sound of your instrument, I will mention the problems or failures you just don’t want on your Bass electronics. First of all try to check your instrument at a very decent level so to be able to notice how much is affected by radio frequencies and electric noises like the ones produced by the dimmers. I always remember that I had a great 6 string Bass back in 1991 and sometimes I could literally tune different radios on it… and I tell you it was a great Bass! Also, with the volume on, get the pickups close to some old TV or old computer screen so to see how much is affected by that. You can also get your instrument closer to the amp speaker, which is in fact an output or active transducer, and see how easy or difficult is to get that “70’s rock style retro alimentation buzz”. Try different positions of the Bass… I tell you, that’s a very good test to perform so to see how well delimitated is the magnetic field produced by your instrument’s pickups, that’s called “Hum” noise. Also check the female connector of the instrument by moving your cable male connector inside so to see if it doesn’t have the tendency to make strange noises. Also, even though it’s strictly related with the price of the instrument… some Mini Toggles for being able to select within passive or active, and also being able to choose the configuration of each of your pickups between Single Parallel and Series wirings is something really desirable to have.

Design

Let’s accept it… this is also something we care a lot about… but sometimes more than what’s logical and necessary, because in my opinion this factor shouldn’t be considered on top of any of the other factors already mentioned. After you have chosen the basses that comply with all the previous aspects, within those you can choose the one you like the most in terms of appearance. This is the same as choosing a car because it looks great but without even caring about all the technical aspects… I think all of us will agree that this wouldn’t be a very intelligent thing to do.

Details

This aspect is somehow related with esthetics, but not exactly, because we can find a really handsome Bass but sometimes if we get a closer look at it we’ll find that the gluing, the painting, the screwing, the sharp fret edges due to compression of insufficiently dried woods, and the damage due to negligent care are too much to finally keep that supposedly nice looking Bass.

Brand

Somehow a “good brand” of an instrument should imply a synonym for quality, in the sense that it’ll be less likely that some failure may occur… of course some of them can also fail, but I repeat it’s “less likely”, so in general terms the better the brand the less the probability of a failure. On the other hand, when it comes to reselling your instrument, a good brand is something that will help you out on that. As you can see, I’m considering the brand as the last factor of this list.

My final advice for your next G.A.S. attack specifically related with the purchase of the Bass itself, is to take all the time that’s necessary… to be diligent, to observe and consider every detail and every factor, don’t let the seller try to urge you, don’t waist your important instrument’s evaluation time trying to impress the people in the store with your lastest chops till it’s too late and the seller tells you that is enough and asks you for the instrument and if you are going to buy it or not… This tiny detail can make it that you’ll end up buying the Bass that you don’t need.

See you on the next my friends!

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Raul Amador

    Raul Amador

    February 9, 2012 at 12:28 am

    Excellent points Igor,

    We are always looking for that perfect instrument to be able to express our “Bass Voice”

    This is probably why we end up with more than just one! 🙂

    Bien hecho!

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