Buying a Bass: There’s More to the Budget than Meets the Eye

Bass rig

Photo by Abel Martinez

Investing in a new instrument is a lot like moving into a new house. You have a budget in mind, a good idea of the amenities that you want and need, and a few sources to help you find the perfect place. Finally, you find the right home; it’s in your price range, you sign the lease, and prepare for the move in date.

And then, something hits you: You need to hire movers, guilt trip your friends into helping, and prepare a few pizza orders.

Then, you have to buy rugs for the hardwood floors, a new couch for the living room, and magically acquire lots and lots of boxes and packing tape.

So what does this have to do with our four-or-more stringed friend? Well, creating a budget for a new bass is a lot like budgeting for a move. The monthly rent or mortgage payment is an important figure to consider, but you certainly can’t rule out all of the other expenses. Whether you’re investing in your first bass, your fifth, or your thirtieth, remember to leave extra cash in your wallet for some tweaking and accessorizing.

Let’s say you’ve had your eye on a particular bass for months, or even years. Perhaps you’ve found it at a music store, maybe you’ve stumbled upon it on Craigslist, or you decide to spring for a custom-built instrument. The day arrives and the bass is now in your hands! What now?

Well, it has to be carried in something… perhaps a gig bag or maybe a hard shell case. Depending on the durability and how much you’re willing to spend, you can drop anywhere between $20 and $200 on this particular item.

Once you’ve got a case, you may need to outfit it with other goodies, such as a tuner and instrument cables (if you’re just starting out). It’s also a good idea to have the right tools with this bass, just in case you need to adjust the truss rod, the bridge, or change the battery.

Already, this purchase is starting to add up.

It just so happens that the bass needs a new strap and strap locks, because you don’t want to drop it as you perfect your stage antics. And when you bring the bass home, you’ll want to have it out on a stand so that it’s always at the ready. Better pick up another one of those too.

Once you’ve got your bass, you play it for a few days and realize that the action isn’t quite right. Time to take it in to the music store or to your “bass guy” for a set up. You may get lucky and walk away with a simple adjustment, or, you may need to get a new nut or a fret job if it’s a vintage instrument. Either way, it’s another expense.

Again, you take your bass home and you’re ready to play! A month goes by and you like the sound, but you’ve got a feeling that the electronics could use a bit of revamping. Time to invest in some new pickups. If you don’t feel comfortable swapping them out yourself, you may have to call your fixer friend one more time.

Okay, okay, you get the point. This list doesn’t necessarily apply to every instrument purchase, but it is realistic. If you’re a collector and you have plenty of extra goodies lying around, you probably won’t have to invest in another guitar stand. However, if you’re taking the leap from a beginner instrument to something of better quality, do consider some of the basic accessorizing (strap, gig bag, cables). Updating some of your gear is never a bad thing, especially if you have your eye on a new product or if you’re purchasing professional quality equipment.

In terms of other gear purchases, there may not be as many accoutrements when it comes to amplifiers, but there’s always something. If you’re going from a combo to a separate head and cabinet, remember to purchase a new cable or two. And, if you transport the gear on a regular basis, you may want to invest in cabinet covers or a case for the amp.

Now this may be common sense to many of you, but it never hurts to be reminded of how much you invest in your craft, hobby, or profession. Musical equipment isn’t cheap, and with anything of significant value, we do want to have some way of protecting its worth.

That brings me to the final expense: insurance.

It’s very possible that at some point, your gear may not be where you left it (or you left it in your basement that is highly susceptible to flooding). Instrument insurance ranges in price, depending on how much you have to insure and if you’re bundling it with other policies, but it is absolutely worth it once you acquire some high quality gear. So, just like you invest in homeowner or renter insurance, be prepared to treat your gear the same way.

Moving in to a new house or purchasing a super cool bass can be a lot of fun, but it’s not without a little bit of headache and expense. Hopefully, at the end of the day, you’ll get to enjoy your new digs, your new rigs, and maybe even a few new gigs.

As always, I love hearing your take and stories. If you have something to share on this topic, please post in the comments.

Ryan Madora is a professional bass player and educator living in Nashville, TN. In addition to touring and playing sessions, she fronts an original music project, The Interludes and teaches private lessons. Visit her website to learn more about her music or to inquire about lessons.

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  1. I remember swapping my starter “cheap-brand” bass & amp with a Fender Modern Player Jaguar and a Fender Bronco 40 amp. I had all the cables, tools, gigbag, tuner… Then I started thinking: do I REALLY want to use my “no-brand” cables, tuner etc with a Fender? Suddenly all my cables were new, my tuner was new, the standard gigbag my new bass came in was replaced by a DeLuxe… The total cost was a bit more than planned, but I think I am more satisfied with my choice than I would have been with keeping the old…

  2. This is true; every new instrument needs a new case, strap, etc. A few years ago I bought a bunch of padded “guitar research” bags from Sam Ash when they were on sale, wrote the name of each instrument on the front pocket in silver marker (eg “Fretless J”, “6 string”, etc) and put all my basses into those bags. Now I just check the front, grab and go.

  3. One should always add at least $100 dollars to your budget, because we musicians always need a new gig bag, strap or cable. As for me, I don’t have an extra gig bag lying around. So, when I get that new bass I’m thinking of, I will need all the goodies as well.

  4. Anyway, we always need an “excuse” for buying some new indispensable goodies that we were looking for! :-) No matter how old is a man/woman, the only thing that can change is his/her toy´s price!

  5. A guy at my local music store gave me some great advice: 2 black rubber washers work perfectly as strap locks — just secure them outside of the strap. No need to put any new screws in the bass or buy anything expensive. Best 32 cents I ever spent on my bass.

  6. I have to say I was a bit surprised just how much stuff goes along with a bass guitar. Coming from trumpet, all I really needed was a music stand, metronome and a couple of mutes. Thanks for the great article, especially the point about insurance.

  7. As someone who has pulled apart a few basses in my lifetime, I can opine from experience that if you do the research, be patient, and check out as many instruments as possible – from sound to play-ability to weight distribution – you will find a bass that is perfect for your playing style.

  8. Insurance, the smallest real expense, the biggest life saver. If you keep your gear at home all the time, it’s pennies. Years ago my van was stolen, along with my gear inside. £3500 plays £20 a month insurance (which I didn’t have at the time).