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Bass Guitar Buying Guide

Whether you are buying a bass guitar as a gift or for yourself, there are many factors that you must consider before running off to the music store. This guide will help you weigh the differences and make the best choice for your situation.

The player

Of course, the first question to answer is who will play it. Is it a gift for a child or an adult? Is it for a beginner or seasoned musician? These questions will ultimately determine where you will shop and how much you should be willing to spend.

Knowing who will be playing it will also help you decide what type of bass you will be looking for. An advanced player, for instance, may be interested in a five- or six-string bass guitar, while a beginner would benefit most from the traditional four-string variety. Beginners definitely want frets to help them learn fingering, while established players may be ready for a fretless bass guitar. Depending on the type of music the player is most interested in, you may choose acoustic or electric. Determine these factors, and then move to the next step.

Bass guitar

Bass Guitar
Rancho Bernardo Guitar Lessons


A decent electric bass guitar may cost as little as $100. Prices may soar well into the thousands, with special edition, vintage, or custom basses costing tens of thousands. If you are buying a gift for a beginner, a budget of around $300 will work for you. Otherwise, set a budget you can work with and move on to the next step.


Even if you are not purchasing the instrument for yourself, you can determine whether it’s a good buy by playing around with it. Sit down with the bass guitar and feel its weight and balance in your hands. Try pressing the strings in the first few frets and determining if they are difficult to handle or if the strings make a buzzing sound. If it is an electric bass, fiddle around with every knob to ensure all the controls work. Check out the body and neck for cracks and scratches.

Look & Sound

Bass players always look cool, mainly because their instruments are pretty neat looking. You will have a particular style in mind as you begin your search, but don’t let this be the only consideration. You wouldn’t buy a car simply because you like the color, so take this approach when looking at body shape and style of the bass guitar. You may find a model that you love is offered in many colors and the purple one suits you best. When purchasing for someone else, stick to safer colors such as black, red, or natural wood finishes.

Much more important than the finish, though, is how the bass guitar sounds. If buying electric, most stores will give you a cord so you may try them out on an amplifier. If you are not a musician, ask them to tune it for you before you begin. It won’t matter if you are a pro or almost tone deaf, you will hear the difference.

Play around with the instrument. Again, you are looking for no buzzing of the strings. Try plucking, and even slapping the strings. Listen for richness of tones and overall fullness of sound. Remember, the player will ultimately determine the sound, but having a decent instrument sure helps.

Where to buy

Begin at the larger chains, such as Guitar Center, and your local music store. They will have the most variety and offer you ample opportunity to try out different brands, shapes, styles, and price ranges. You may find the perfect bass guitar there, or you may want to continue shopping at smaller, independent guitar shops. One of the advantages of dedicated guitar shops is that they offer the vintage and specialty instruments and generally offer repair, customization, and refinishing services. You may even find classes or private lessons to add to a gift package.

If you don’t find what you are looking for at the shops, or if you are looking for a used bass guitar that fits in a smaller budget, you may consider a pawn shop. Know that they will have inventory based on rotating clientele, and you may not be allowed to plug in. Still, you may just get lucky and find a great deal.

As a last resort – or if you have already determined the exact model you desire – you may shop online. While musiciansfriend.com or ebay may offer some great deals, you are at a disadvantage in that you cannot touch or hear the bass guitar until after you purchase it. Again, this may be a good alternative for you if you are pretty sure of what you want.

Take your time

You may be influencing a new player for life or purchasing an instrument that will be in your family for years. Don’t settle. With this advice and your instincts, you will find a bass guitar that will make you smile each time you play or hear it.

Glenn Sutton teaches bass guitar lessons for Rancho Penasquitos, Rancho Bernardo, Scripps Ranch, 4S Ranch, Sabre Springs and Poway. His studio is located in Poway, but also gives mobile guitar lessons in Rancho Penasquitos, Rancho Bernardo and 4S Ranch.

Phone Glenn Sutton at: 619-306-3664.

Services include:

  • Acoustic Guitar Lessons
  • Electric Guitar Lessons
  • Bass Guitar Instruction
  • Classical Guitar
  • Spanish Guitar
  • Learning to Write Music
  • Advanced Improv Techniques
  • Performance Techniques
  • TABS or sheet music



  • Rock
  • Classic
  • Folk
  • Jazz
  • Improv
  • Blues
  • R&B/funk
  • Metal


  • Rancho Bernardo
  • San Diego
  • Poway
  • Rancho Penasquitos
  • Scripps Ranch
  • 4S Ranch
  • Sabre Springs