The Non-Bass Player’s Guide To Buying A Bass
Choosing the right tools
There comes a time in nearly every composition’s life-cycle where the focus turns to bass. Bass, together with drums, provide the driving force behind most tracks, so it’s important to get it right.
However, it’s not always as simple as it looks. Or, at least, as simple as the professionals make it look. Speaking from experience, as an often solo recorder, getting bass right is a real skill. Particularly if you’re not a natural bassist.
But for home studio enthusiasts, having a real bass guitar to hand can be a life-saver. Having struggled on for years trying to make various plug-in instruments, or samples, approximate a real bass guitar sound, I took the plunge and got a real one. A Squier Vintage Modified Jazz Bass, if you’re interested. It’s very nice indeed. Would recommend.
With that in mind, we wanted to put together a guide for non-bass players on what to look for should they also decide to branch out. We’ve decided to keep a budget in mind – under £500 – seeing as we imagine this is a leap of faith for many and going all-out top end at the start may well be out of the question. Let’s go.
Guitarists will know about choice. Choice when it comes to body shapes, brands, tones, genres and features. For bass players, it’s the same only nowhere near as broad. Largely, there are a few mainstays in each major brands’ line-ups, with slight deviations between each.
Fender, for example, has its two big hitters; the Precision Bass and the Jazz Bass. Often, the Precision Bass, or P-Bass as it’s known, is what beginners gravitate towards. It comes in at some extremely competitive prices at the lower end of the market, is comfortable to play, and its thicker neck allows for more to grip onto.
That said, the Jazz bass has some definite benefits of its own. Its body is more ergonomic, for a start. This means its theoretically easier and more comfortable to play sitting down. It also usually features two pickups, which can deliver a broader range of tones.
Away from Fender, you’ve got classic shapes like the SG-style Epiphone EB-3, the Epiphone Thunderbird, and the Musicman Sterling. Each will offer different tones and playing experiences and, being designed for a life on the road, will easily cope with being propped up in your studio.
For metal fans, it’s happy days. Ibanez is your friend here. As arguably the second biggest name in bass – behind Fender – Ibanez has a huge range of incredible instruments and, naturally, metal players are in for a treat. Look for active pickups – like on the excellent Ibanez SR305EB – to deliver that huge, powerful tone.
When it comes to features, you have to think about what it is you’re intending on using the bass for. If it’s to be used in a live setting, then you’ll want rock-solid tuning, a powerful tone that sits nicely in a live mix, and a bit of confidence that the general build quality is good.
For studio settings, the requirements are perhaps slightly different. You basically need it to sound good. It has only one job, after all, and that is to give you a tonal platform that you can work with when you’re mixing.
More so than with a guitar, you can ‘get away’ without relying on an amp in a studio setting. So, if this is your goal, concentrate on finding a bass that has that specific sound – or sounds – you’re looking for.
A bigger consideration when choosing a bass as a ‘second’ instrument is that of versatility. As home recording musicians, it’s not uncommon for us to switch between different genres of music as our whims change. That could mean one minute we’re putting bass down alongside guitars, the next with synths or pianos. So you need something that can offer up a bit of variety.
For our money, we would point you towards the aforementioned Squier Vintage Modified Jazz Bass. You might think that biased, but it is a solid recommendation. For a relatively low price, you get a lot of bass guitar. It features two pickups, with individual volume controls for each so you can sculpt your sound the way you want it. The build quality is exceptional and, let’s be honest, it looks fantastic.
As the backbone of so many different styles of music, it’s important to get the bass right. If you’ve slaved away using samples or soft-synths, then maybe now’s the time to investigate having a bass to hand. It still amazes me to this day how adding a simple bassline, from a real instrument, over a track has such an impact. It brings weight, girth and a real kick to any track.
If you already play guitar, then having a real bass is a no-brainer. Having the right bass, however, takes a bit more thought. Hopefully, this guide will have helped point you in the right direction, and you’ll have a clearer idea of what it is you need.
See our full selection of bass guitars here.