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Buying Your First Double Bass (Upright Bass): Part 2

Double Bass
Photo by takomabibelot

Now that we have had a short introduction into the various sizes and materials of double basses, we are ready to get our own upright bass. Here are a few thoughts on the final steps.

Renting

For those folks who aren’t ready to commit financially, renting can seem attractive. If you are just dipping your toes in the water, this might be the road to go. If so, I’d rent from a bass specialist (see below) and see what their policies are on applying previous rent to a future purchase.

Buying

For those of you who are ready to take the plunge, there are two basic options: You can either purchase a bass from an individual, or purchase it from a business.

Just a note: For this discussion, I’m considering individuals who buy, sell and repair instruments for a living as businesses. When I’m talking about “individuals” I’m thinking of a guy off of craigslist, or a local bass player, for example.

The main benefit of buying from an individual is that the cost tends to be lower than buying from a business. Certainly you can get a great deal buying from your local bass player, or someone who just wants to get rid of this instrument that their cousin had. The risk, especially for the beginning purchaser is, knowing if there are hidden issues with the instrument, and if you are actually getting a deal. Sometimes you are getting a great deal, sometimes you aren’t.

Buying from a business will, generally, cost a few more dollars at the outset. However, if it is a reputable shop, you can be reassured that the instrument is set up well, strings are fresh, everything is in working order, etc. Also, you will know that, if there are issues, you have someone who can address them quickly and easily. Most reputable bass sellers stand behind their instruments and can easily repair them. My local luthier, for example, will fix any concerns that come up (no related to damage, etc.) in the first year.

A final note of businesses: If you are buying from a business, I suggest finding a shop/luthier who specializes in basses and who can do repairs at their shop. I would avoid buying from a business that specializes in violins, guitars or some other instrument. There are many specialized pieces to the upright bass puzzle and you want to have a knowledgeable person to fix any problems properly, etc.

Checking things out

Whether you are buying a first bass from an individual or a business, here are basic things to look for on the instrument.

Cracks/Repairs:

As a first time buyer, I wouldn’t buy an instrument with open cracks.

Previous repairs can be okay, provided they look solid and are reflected in the price. If you are unsure have a professional look at it.

For a first time buyer, I wouldn’t suggest buying an instrument that needs repair. It can get costly quick, especially if you aren’t certain of what you are looking for.

Tuning Pegs:

Make sure they operate smoothly. Nothing should be bent, etc.

Bridge:

  • Make sure it is not warped or bent
  • Make sure it is cut with enough curvature. Especially if you are going to use a bow. You need enough clearance so that you aren’t constantly hitting three strings simultaneously.
  • Make sure the feet are flush with the top of the bass
  • Fingerboard
  • The instrument should be easily playable and the strings free of buzzes. Fingerboard buzzes are a tiny thing that can get expensive to fix. Best to avoid them if you can. If you are buying from a business they should be able to make this adjustment easily.

Endpin:

  • Make sure the endpin works and looks to be in good repair.
  • Nothing bent, easily adjustable, stays in place, etc.

Strings:

  • If the strings need replacing, you are looking at hidden costs. Currently, a standard set of steel strings can run anywhere from $150 to $300. If you are looking at a low-end bass, this can be a significant extra investment to consider.
  • Accessories
  • Don’t forget to get a case, bow, rockstop, etc. These things can add up. Especially the bass case.
  • Local help
  • If you know an experienced upright player or teacher in your area, see if they will take a look at the bass you are considering, or are familiar with the shop you are looking at.

Good luck on buying your first bass! It’s a journey of a lifetime.