I am looking to buy my first bass. What are the various aspects to look out for? I see the neck length as one. An other is the number of knobs it has. The minimum I usually see is 2. One for the volume and one for something else. Other basses have 3 or 4 knobs? But do you need them it you will use an effects pedal? Or with an amplifier it effects? So with the guitar knobs, pedal, and amplifier do you get diffent spots trying to do the same job? Could you not just use the pedal to do all the effects? I ask this cause I see it as cheaper to get a medium bass, and then a good pedal. Rather than a good bass with more knobs, and a medium pedal.
First of all I would recommend buying a used one since you will get better value for the price. Also if you decide to stop playing you can still sell the bass for roughly the same as you bought it for.
The Knobs you are referring to are the tone and volume pots (which is short for "potentiometers" or electric circuits that enable the attenuation of a signal to produce a change in volume or tone). Basically if a bass guitar has two pickups it usually has 2 or 4 knobs as well as a pickup selector. This will give you an almost infinite amount of possibilities. The tone knobs as well as the sound knobs can drastically change how your amp will behave for example. So they are not useless!
But, Still many people prefer not to use them at all, i.e. always using full volume and tone.
Others on the other hand like to fine tune their sound and hence mix with these. There are sound possibilities that you can't get to with any effect(a bit general!) without the tone knob.
What is more important than the number of knobs is the quality of the pickups. If you have bad sound from the beginning, no pedal will make it great.
So you should definitely go for a good bass and no pedal.
However a Bass with 4 knobs is not better nor worse than a bass with two knobs...
Get a bass that is comfortable in your hands, and which sounds nice in the shop. Don't buy anything without trying it first.
It's worth playing a bit on a borrowed instrument, until you can at least play a simple bassline in the shop. That gives you the ability to know what feels right to you.
One of the first ways they skimp on cheap basses, is in the neck. It's expensive to construct a neck that can support the tension of bass strings. The cheap way is to make the neck thick and heavy. If you don't have large hands, that can be a big impediment to playing. You'll notice the difference immediately in a shop.
If you have small hands, a short scale bass will feel much easier to play. Some people dislike the more muddy tone, but it's subjective -- go by what you hear, not what people say.
If you're on a budget, and you're a beginner, it's better to have a good quality instrument with fewer features, than a low quality instrument with more features. So just one pickup might be a good compromise -- you can't fiddle with the tone as much, but you may have a better instrument to learn on.
Don't forget to budget for a half-decent amp too. Also test this in the shop. The amp is an important part of the sound creation. It's very unsatisfying to play bass without being able to hear the low notes.
A multi-fx pedal gives you a lot of flexibility, but may not be necessary for a while, as you're beginning. At first it's enough just to play the notes. Later you may want to fine-tune the sound.
No matter what bass you buy, and whether it is new or used, you should immediately take it to a qualified repair luthier and pay them money to perform a setup. In a setup, the repair technician will make adjustments to the nut, bridge, frets, and truss rod on the neck to assure that the bass can easily be played with the minimium of effort, and that the bass will play in tune on all notes in all positions. The repair technician can also identify any defects in the instrument that may require repairs.
Many new musicians buy a bass or guitar and play it for months, not realizing that the instrument has not been set up correctly. The instrument is thus hard to play and does not sound in tune, which leads to frustration on the part of the new musician who does not realize that professional adjustment for a modest fee would have resulted in an instrument that is easy to play and sounds good.
Also, setups need to be performed periodically through the life of the instrument. Many things can go out of calibration due to the effects of seasonal climate, humidity, temperature, changing to a different kind of strings with different tension requirements, and other factors.
I will echo some sentiments; the bass you should buy is the bass that feels best in your hands.
Here are some tips from a Bass Player magazine article on the topic of buying a bass: