Ask the Readers: What’s on Your Checklist?

Editor’s note: We’re starting a new series where we ask readers their take on a single bass-related or music-related question each week and then feature the answers and people who share their responses. If you want to see some examples, check out our What Makes a Great Bassist? series.

Here’s the first question:

When you’re buying a bass, what’s on your checklist?

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  1. Put a strap on it, put it on, see how it hangs/feels……..

  2. play it off. a good bass should sound great on off mode. then check it on to hear the pickups and tone offer.

  3. 1) Initial attraction as seen from across the room, 2) feel in the hands, especially neck and neck finish but also how the right hand sits on/over the body, strings and pickups, 3) tone and tone options, 4) quality/assembly of joints, finish and component parts, 5) trust in the brand or luthier, 6) trust in the seller.

  4. See how it feels , first sitting, and then standing. Make sure its a color that I would be happy with in a few years time and whether or not I would like it once it has some wear. Listen to the pickups to see if I like the tone, then look into how easily I could get replacements. Lastly, I look at the hardware to make sure it is in good shape and does what its supposed to do.

  5. first off, sound..cuz if you ain’t got that you ain’t got squat..Second, playability ease of movement up and down the neck, Third, weight too heavy no fun.Fourth, style gotta look good on and off you.Fifth, Maker..sometimes labels mean a lot.sometimes not..

  6. good neck feel is priority

  7. Plug it in! Then… 1. Feel and shape of the neck. 2. Weight distribution when standing/sitting. 3. Pick up(s) placement 4. Fret and string spacing 5. Fret buzz and intonation 6. Tone and controls – highs, mid-range and lows. 7. Appearance 8. Durability 9. Brand name – there’s a reason why Fender, Music Man, Gibson have been around for eons… 10. Is it fairly priced given the brand, design, wood etc. 11. Will it appreciate in value?

  8. Feel is the first thing. How thick does the neck feel? Weight and balance, Fret spacing, Tone both unplugged and plugged in, Shape of the body and color. Hardware options.

  9. weight, and the way it sits as well as the neck thickness.

  10. How does it sound, if it doesn’t sound good when it’s not plugged in it is not even going to be considered.

  11. I play it unplugged, if the natural sound is right, then onto to step two, plug it in.

  12. Neck size, then how it feels holding it standing up.

  13. Try it in various musical settings (good shops will allow you a test-period). What sounds great in the storemay not work in practice

  14. The first question would be: Do I have any money in my checking account?

  15. Feeliing, look, sound and comfort… and of coz price :P Rest is in my hand ;).

  16. A straight neck with a comfortable radius. Active pups / electronics (active / passive switchable o.k.), clean pots (no scratching / static when knobs are turned). Long scale (24 frets nice but not required). I prefer neck through basses, love the sustain.


  18. Hand and neck feeling, first of all…

  19. At this point, tone control; I really like to be able to manipulate things from the bass. Also the way everything feels. Depending on the store, I like to find the amp I use and sometimes even bring a set of strings that I’d put on and go ahead and do it. It’s ALL important.

  20. The feel of the neck. The look. Weight when strapped on. Are the pick ups in the way of my right hand thumb when slapping? String space. Intonation. Plug in, check different styles and sounds. Finger play, picking, slapping, even light tapping.

  21. I don’t have one like that one.

  22. First thing is always my budget, then sound, the feel, and then how it looks. Check out my blog @

  23. It’s been my experience that price has very little to do with what makes a good instrument. I put it on, unplugged up against my torso and play it. If I can feel the resonance in my upper body, it’s a good bass. Ifmy hands fall into a good place automatically, It’s a good bass. If it makes you want to play, Its a good bass. Then I look at the tech stuff. Quiet operation, good loud pups, any neck or construction roughness. that’s it

  24. Scale length is considered. I prefer 34″ however , I have played 35″ that were laid out in such a way that I did not feel like I was stretching. Neck through or bolt-on construction. If my finances are favourable then I consider wood selection and grain orientation. Quartersawn woods are the woods selected on fine acoustic instruments and are conducive to less movement due to humidity. Grain orientation is also a component of better sound transmission. What does the bass sound like? Does it get the sound I need through my own rig? What tones can I generate through it using my fingers and pick in consideration to the music that I will play with it. Tone and variety of sound are the most important considerations to me. Next is pickup selection. Humbucking, stacked humbuckers, lipstick(single coil). Is this an active or a passive circuit machine? Can you fallback on the passive settings if your battery fails? Quality of tone and volume pots. Selection of machines…..are they responsive? The fret job….is it clean? High mass bridge with or without body through stringing ability. Do I need this in a 4 or 5 string configuration?

  25. Don’t be drawn in by how it looks…simple is always better…one good pick up is a great start..less to go wrong, less to mess up….simple volume and tone controls like a P Bass are a safer bet than cheap active electronics…

  26. something I feel importat is the weight and what kind of pick ups it has, but weight won’t matter if sound is what I expect.

  27. It needs to be a bass that feels and looks so good that I will spontaneously pick it up just to touch it.

  28. before plugging it in try playing when its unplugged, if it sounds good when playing unplugged it’ll better when its plugged, also do a little research on the construction method of the bass, the type and amount of wood in it, don’t forget that 99% of the bass is made of wood, so the type will affect the sound you’re looking for.
    neck shape and fell is important, you should be able to run freely across the neck, also the scale is something you should pay attention to, if you have to stretch out to reach the 1st and 2nd fret, its not healthy! also check how your plucking hand is placed on the body, if you need to make a 90 degrees in joint you’ll experience pain and you might develop Arthritis.

  29. 1. Playability
    2. Sound
    3. Looks
    4. Price

  30. Weight is first (I play a lot 3-4 hour gigs where you feel it). Must have active EQ. bridge and mid pickup. controls layout – no stacking, easy reach tone/blend. Feel. Looks. Price. Build quality (bridge hardware, fretwork, access) Then optional is neck material (prefer maple for slap, satin back) rosewood otherwise, veneer, etc. I spend more $/time on Strings, EQ: 90% of the sound so I bank on that more than in-store tryouts.

  31. Some times it is not depend on the price I’ll go for the bass that will fits what my heart and ears looking for…

  32. For me it’s about the X-factor. Played a lot of guitars of all prices and qualities. Been shocked at how something with all the right credentials doesn’t feel right and more shocked at not being able to put a “lesser” guitar down. I suspect it’s about the closest feel to the guitar I first started learning on along with the sound of the bassist I most loved listening to.

  33. Got your current bass? Money? Tuner? Zoom H4n? Check!

    If possible, take your current bass with you and compare between it any any basses you try, through all of the following:

    Plug into a good 4×10, tune up and set the Zoom to record – you want to be able to listen back to this.

    Set everything flat and play across the whole range of the instrument, pay attention to the tone and timbre of every note and check for dead spots and any irregular buzzing – could indicate a warped neck, worn out frets or a bad setup.

    Check all controls for noise & check the output jack for a secure connection.

    Play through some familiar pieces/riffs, using all the techniques and sounds in your arsenal.

    Play seated – is it as comfortable as your current bass? Play standing – how does the balance compare?

    Ask the dealer/seller about warranty and returns policy – can you have it on approval? Ideally you should try playing a set (or at least a rehearsal) with the new bass, – you need to know how it sounds (and looks) with your band before you splash your hard-earned cash!

    Do as much research as you can before committing. Is the price reasonable? Are there known issues with the model that you might need to ask about (sticky truss rods, dodgy finish, bad fretwork etc).

    Most importantly, don’t be afraid to take your time making your decision, or to leave the shop if you’re being pressured into buying or no returns are accepted. Good basses cost money…and you’ve worked hard to save yours, so spend wisely!

  34. At the risk of sounding shallow, the first thing is looks. Hear me out. Tone, balance, spacing, etc…are all very important to me but, my first consideration stems from advice my father would give to his customers when they were buying a car from him. If people were torn between choosing the car they wanted and a second less expensive choice he would point out that they aren’t saving money, they’re wasting every dime they spend because every time the see that car in the driveway they are going to hate it. So if I don’t absolutely fall in love the moment I see a bass my money stays in my pocket rather than my wasting it on something I’m going to resent every time I pick it up.

  35. Get a budget and stick to it.
    View some in that price range.
    Choose two or more to try.
    Feel the weight, and the way it’s set up. Make sure the hand slides easily on the neck, and that its comfortable.
    Decided? Now work a deal with the store, and extras are good!