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I want to start learning bass.

I'd like to buy an inexpensive bass, because I'm not ready to spend 2000$ on a new guitar.

But I often hear opinions that it's better to buy the most expensive instrument that you can afford, so it will cover all possible future needs. Also it will have better pickups, wood, electronics, whatever guitar made of.

What do you think?

Would cheap\inexpensive instrument set some limit on my developing guitar technique? Should I start from inexpensive one, or should I buy the most valuable instrument I can afford?

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closed as primarily opinion-based by Richard, Shevliaskovic, Dr Mayhem Mar 4 at 10:24

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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What is your budget ? Apart from under $2k. You may/not need an amp. too ! –  Tim Mar 2 at 13:03
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Get a reasonably cheap guitar, but get yourself an amp too, even if it's only 15W. Playing unplugged and playing through an amp sounds different, and playing through headphones sounds different again. You want to know what you´ll sound like through an amp. get the tone right, deep but not muddy. And don't be smashing those strings into the pickups, they'll click! –  steve verrill Mar 2 at 15:14
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@steveverrill I love to play through Guitar Rig. It's a software, that models an amps, cabinets, and a lot of effects. –  Jesus Christ Mar 2 at 15:42
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You don't know what you like in an instrument until you can play reasonably well, so just get a cheap instrument first up. Your tastes will probably change over time anyway –  wim Mar 2 at 18:19
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@JesusChrist Software is great, but with bass a decent speaker system is critical. Taking your laptop, hifi and speakers to your friend's house for a quick jam will get old very quick (and sharing an amp you will find you can't pick out who is playing what.) You know best your situation, but i'd be willing to bet that you buy an amp soon. Good luck! Another thing to remember is that the more processing you do, the more can go wrong and the more you can muddy the sound. –  steve verrill Mar 2 at 19:33

9 Answers 9

up vote 10 down vote accepted

Any answer to this must be opinionated, can't help that. Whilst there are many good basses out there, $500 for your first is more than enough.There is no need to spend that sort of money.I've said it loads of times, but why buy new ? My first bass cost me £15. O.k., I had to mend its broken neck, but it kept me going for the first 8 or 9 years.

I recommend looking at Bass Collection (SGC Nanyo) made in Japan in '80/'90. Most examples I've seen or played are still excellent - probably due to them being so good, they were (and still are) cherished.(Look on ebay now). Whatever you pay now, in the future you'll get that money back - if you sell it. Chances are you won't.20 yrs on, I haven't seen a replacement for mine worth having for less than £1000.

Having a 'cheap' bass to start with will hardly make much impact on your playing, if it's set up properly, but it may discourage you from playing. Save money - get a pre-loved bass.

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Absolutely totally agree on this. If you can't play at all, you can't judge what you want in an instrument. So get a cheap one (provided it is not a total lemon) and start learning. Once you can play, you will have a better idea what you want. And even now I've only ever bought one new guitar, though I have bought new amplifiers. –  steve verrill Mar 2 at 15:08
    
Used is the way to go, especially now when it's the buyer's market. –  Meaningful Username Mar 2 at 15:32

I think this would be opinion based up to a point, but anyway.

I think you should get a decent one. That doesn't necessarily mean expensive. On Thomann you can find some decent Squier or Mexican Fender basses from 100 to 300 Euros.

Generally Fender basses are good. I had a Mexican one for a couple of years,and I did enjoy it and it also helped me develop. Like I said, it isn't the best bass. This means that it might hold you back on your technique a little.

Note: It won't damage your technique, it won't worse it. The outcome just wouldn't be as good as the one you would have with a good quality bass.

Also, note that low quality instruments have a smaller lifespan.

I,personally, wouldn't get an expensive bass as my first bass. I had an Ibanez that I bought for ~100 euros, and now that I look back, it was pretty crappy. It helped me develop my bass skills up to a point though . Then I got a better bass and continued.

Also, I wouldn't give a lot of money for my first instrument (generally), because I might not like it. I would buy a decent one and practice,and if I like it, eventually I would upgrade

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When starting out, the key issue is that you need two things which the very very cheapest instruments don't have: (1) it needs to be 'tunable' - i.e., with a bad instrument you may get issues that at some fret ranges you'll be out of tune no matter how the instrument is adjusted; and (2) it needs to have a reasonable physical quality - for example, I've seen "beginner" basses where the lowest non-buzzing action is so high that they'd be physically very, very hard to play for beginner non-trained hands.

The sound nuances won't matter to you yet, but in order to practice properly, you should be able to do the proper physical movements, and get an in-tune sound if you did everything properly. If you are unable to play with proper technique because of the instrument - then you can't learn proper technique. If the proper technique brings the wrong note because of the instrument - again, you won't be able to learn.

$500 basses already tend to be okay, but in the very lowest range manufacturers tend cut so many corners that you have an item that looks like an instrument but doesn't really function like one. However, there are very decent used instruments available for similar prices - you won't be able to tell if a used instrument is good or not (say, it might be damaged/warped in a way that a non-player wouldn't know), but if you can get someone who knows how to play to come with you, then it should be a great way to get a first instrument.

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I don't play anything with strings so this is going to be philosophy rather than specifics...

The rule of thumb is "don't get a cheap instrument" Low-budget instruments will generally be harder to play and make learning more difficult and more discouraging. They also do not retain their value, if you decide it isn't for you after all and you want to sell it off later. (Or if you decide it is for you but you want to upgrade.)

If you have money that you can afford to tie up in it, a top-quality instrument will be most responsive, and may gain value -- sometimes surprisingly rapidly if it's an instrument that happens to be under heavy demand. But then you have to think about how willing you are to travel with that instrument, risk it being knocked about, risk it being stolen, and so on... which may mean you also have to think about how much you're willing to pay for an insurance rider that covers it. I know someone who had an expensive instrument (not a bass) triple in value in a decade, and you'd better believe he has it insured... and he didn't buy it until after he was pretty sure he'd be playing it for the rest of his life.

For most folks, the mid-range (and gently used if you can get it) is the right answer. Good enough that it won't make learning harder than it should be and that someone else will eventually buy it for a reasonable price when you're ready to upgrade, cheap enough that you can afford it and won't be completely heartbroken should a a disaster occur.

One other thought: Guitars vary enough that an instrument which fits one person may not fit another. It's definitely worth taking someone more experienced along with you who can remind you of things you might not have considered -- from checking the action height to looking at how the thickness of the neck fits your hand size.

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I did this exact thing about 15 years ago. I wanted to learn bass and could afford a reasonably priced bass.

I brought a musician friend with me to the music store. A guitar player who also played bass, and who would be able to do a much better job than me at picking out a reasonable starter instrument. We both tried out numerous basses, from low-end to high-end. We also tried out a few amps and pedals.

In doing all of this, I ended up buying a lower-end bass. Not the cheapest, but what I'd call second-tier. Something that would be good enough for me to practice and learn and would be good enough to use in an actual gig (of which I had 0), but also something that wasn't too costly if it turned out I didn't like it (I did) or didn't spend enough time on it (I didn't). The best way I could describe it would be calling it the cheapest bass that was tunable (to steal from @Peteris' answer).

What I didn't buy was an amp. My friend convinced me that the money would be better spent on a bass pedal and a decent pair of headphones. His theory was that if I decided I was serious, I'd want to spend more money on a quality amp rather than waste money on a cheap amp, and that living in an apartment, I'd really want a way to practice properly without an amp, which could be done with the pedal/headphones.

My total cost for everything was approx. $500 (1998 money). I don't know how that would translate to today.

This is an example where I was very glad not to spend too much money because I never gave it the time I would have needed to (started traveling too much for work and that was the end of it). It would be nice to see the perspective of someone who did something similar and had a more positive outcome.

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I am not a musician so I am answering this from a budget and hobby perspective.

It depends on how much disposable income (or savings) you have, whether you know this is something you will want to pursue and love or whether you are dipping your feet and may get tired of it.

Many will give you answers about whether it is of high quality or not, I say think about it like this, will you regret this purchase? Will you forego other things to get this item and is it more important to you than them?

Try renting one and see for yourself whether you enjoy it as much as you think you will. We often make fad and unreasonable purchases, convincing ourselves we need something because it is high quality enough to warrant it and forgetting we don't need it to be.

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Just an anecdote: I decided to learn button accordion. The accordion I first got required an overhaul and the accordion builder around here said it would take half a year. So I looked for some reasonably affordable and comparable substitute and found that there was a "Morino, similar to Artiste VI" on offer in Switzerland on a sale for something like EUR500. Can't do wrong much with that. Pictures looked suspicious: quite unusual controls, but the instrument was supposed to be playable. It wasn't really: the bass section was probably lubricated with some sort of oil (which is a terrible idea to start with and becomes worse as the oil gets old). So I spent a multiple of the starting cost with more than one different accordion makers to get the instrument in working condition.

Still quite cheaper than a new instrument. And I've been playing it since then. Turns out this "cheap" instrument intended for temporary use was likely built for a renowned soloist in 1960 (his name is part of the mechanics inside), probably to convince him to try playing a more customary single-note bass system than the one-of-a-kind system he was playing at the time (he was good enough that Hohner never had him pay for any instrument). There is no evidence of him ever playing this instrument.

But it was a pretty good pitch. The bass system likely having scared most buyers away allows for 168 different registrations which are, astonishingly, pretty much all workable for some purpose. I have test-played some high-end new instruments for interest, expecting to come to the "well, if one ever had the money, this would be nice to have instead" conclusion.

But I was wrong about that. Yes, the mechanics are quieter, the instruments are less heavy. But you play a large crescendo, and the sound is like turning a volume control. And it's not like the volume control on the bass and the treble section have the same characteristic.

With my old instrument, it is more like a drama control. The sound unfurls, like a bowed string instrument. And except for some outlandish registrations (like 10-reed bass on single-reed treble...), you get musically useful results.

To get back on-topic: playing this kind of instrument makes it reasonably straightforward to see how you can be better. It provides positive feedback rather easily. And yes, it teaches you some things that you then know to look for and get to some approximation from cheaper instruments. There is a reason that music conventions hire some of the best players to sell mediocre instruments: those players know what they want to get from instruments, and they are good at fighting the instrument until they get it.

But as a beginner, you are not able to fight an instrument. An instrument outclassing you will not make you a good player. But it makes it easier for you to recognize when and how you improve, and makes the way more rewarding.

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In general, it's always a bad idea to sink a lot of money in to a new hobby until you're certain that you will A) stay interested after the honeymoon period ends and B) know what you want and if you even want/need more expensive gear for you hobby.

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Personally, I think no, and it's based on many years of picking up and losing hobbies.

I used to love roller blading, and One birthday I got a pair of K2 250's, which to my mind were the best skates around at the time. As soon as I had them I felt like I had 'completed' roller blading, like there was nowhere higher to go, and so my interest in the hobby died. The same thing happened with scuba diving as soon as I'd done the first dive.

There may be people here who disagree, but personally I am so glad I started on a crappy guitar. You know it's crappy, so you let it off a bit. You get to learn it's crummy little imperfections, but hey, you're only just starting. I think it gives you a good grounding as to what is and isn't a good guitar, because you learn all the problems of a really cheap instrument. Then, when you shell out and buy bass number 2, not only do you have a good idea what to look for, but you're more invested in the instrument because you'll have played longer.

Perhaps it's just my psychology, but I think you're actually more likely to stick at it if you start at the bottom and work your way up...

..and ask questions on SE of course ;)

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