Original Photo by Ian D. Keating
Like any other instrument, buying a bass guitar is more than a bit overwhelming. It’s hard for a beginner to know just what a good bass guitar is supposed to sound like. Another common stumbling block for the aspiring musician on a budget is choosing a guitar that won’t hinder their experience learning, but will also be cheap enough for them to justify the cost of the instrument.
Thankfully, this article should set you on the path to having all the information that you need in order to make an informed decision as to which bass guitar is the best choice for your needs.
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So thankfully, there isn’t too much terminology to go over for the bass guitar. An electric bass is actually a pretty rugged instrument all things considered, with few parts that really need to be explained in depth.
Active: An active pickup is a pickup that is powered by an external power source, generally a standard 9-volt battery. An active pickup will have a substantially higher output, and a crisper more “snappy” tone. This type of pickup is more suited towards heavier genres, like Thrash or Punk.
Passive: A passive pickup is the industry standard, and is used for almost every genre. It does not require an external power source.
Humbucker: A humbucker pickup is two single coil pickups wired together, which cancels out 60-cycle interference. It “bucks the hum”.
Single Coil: A single coil pickup only uses one magnet. It generally has a bit thinner tone than a humbucker, but it’s equally as capable of delivering a smooth bass tone as a humbucker.
What’s Right For Me?
The hard part about recommending any instrument to somebody is that it’s hard to really gauge what they’ll need in the long term. A well set up Asian import is always a great option for a beginner musician, but they’ll outgrow it very quickly.
An expensive American made instrument might serve a dedicated musician well, but if you’re more of the weekend warrior type it can be really hard to justify the cost.
But here’s what I would recommend. Get a bass guitar that inspires you to play when you look at it, and take it to a luthier to get it set up appropriately.
Aside from that, it doesn’t really matter what you buy when you get started. I would cautiously recommend that you try to find a bass with a humbucker in it because it will offer more flexibility. There’s nothing wrong with single coil bass guitar pickups, but they don’t handle higher levels of gain well. A humbucker is also equally as capable of delivering a suitable clean tone as a single coil.
As far as five or six string bass guitars go, I would recommend starting on a four string model. The reason for that is that you can hit every note you need to on a four string bass, and as a beginner the extra flexibility of a five or six string bass has a real potential to breed laziness.
However, once you get better and you decide to invest in a higher quality instrument, there’s nothing wrong with playing a bass that has more than four strings.
Also, don’t bother with an acoustic bass unless you really need one. If Doc Watson’s bass guitarist can use an electric instrument for a bluegrass band, odds are you can get away with it also. An acoustic bass doesn’t really offer much of a benefit to your tone or your band, and it’s nowhere near as flexible as an electric bass.
How Much Should I Spend?
As far as electric guitars and bass guitars go, I find that the $400 to $600 range will get you a gig worthy instrument out of the box.
If you plan on getting a bass that can follow you from the stage to the studio, expect to spend around $1000. That’s about where professional quality bass guitars start. If you don’t plan on gigging in the foreseeable future, just about any bass guitar in the $200 to $300 range will serve you just fine provided it’s set up well.
So, the recommendations below are by no means comprehensive. Also, don’t think that you have to buy a new instrument. There’s nothing wrong with buying used in any way, shape or form. And trust me, anyone who tells you otherwise doesn’t have your best interest at heart.
However, there is also a case to be made for buying new. You’ll be guaranteed to receive an instrument that hasn’t gone through the rigors that the average musician will put it through, and you’ll be supporting the instrument manufacturers that make being a musician an easily obtainable goal for the majority of people.
If you want a gig ready bass that won’t break the bank, you definitely can’t go wrong with the Cort Curbow 4-MR. Sporting a full 34” scale length, a slim maple neck, and die cast tune machines, the Cort is more than capable of performing admirably in almost any context.
Are you ready to rock? If so, the Dean Z Metalman Bass has a wide variety of features that you’re going to love, and it definitely won’t break the bank either. Featuring a basswood body and a maple neck topped with rosewood, as well as a high output humbucking soapbar pickup, this guitar will have more than enough tone to satisfy metalheads the world over.
Made from high quality swamp ash, the Warwick Rockbass Corvette is the perfect guitar for the musician who needs a great quality instrument at a reasonable price. Sporting two passive MEC MM pickups, chrome hardware, and a one-piece maple neck, the Corvette will be a great fit for any gigging musician.
From Hamburg to Liverpool, this classic violin shaped bass guitar inspired millions of musicians when it was played by Paul McCartney of the Beatles. And for the first time, a high-quality reproduction of this famous bass guitar is finally affordable for the average musician.
Sporting Hihner Staple humbuckers, a full set of traditional 500/1 tone controls, as well as flame maple back and sides, this retro looking guitar is a great fit for the bassist looking to recapture some vintage mojo.
If you’re on the hunt for a bass that will turn heads, look no further than the B.C. Rich Heritage Classic Mockingbird. Sporting a quilted maple top, genuine neck-through construction, as well as a an adjustable bridge with locking saddles, this instrument is more than capable of following you where ever your music will lead.
Choosing the right instrument is always a challenge, no matter what you play. But hopefully with the information that you’ve found in this article, you’ll have everything that you need in order to make an informed decision.