Caveat: Let me start off by saying “I am not a bass player”. Try not to be too critical of the neophyte thoughts below.
I’ve been going through a little bit of a “bass thing” lately. Maybe it’s been a desire for something different. My wife has been learning bass as well and she is progressing quickly. (I’ll do a review of her awesome Squier Jaguar Short Scale bass soon)
Basses look like a lot of fun to play and it’s clearly a very different instrument than it appears to be on the surface. The more I listed to familiar music, the more I found that the bass was doing something I’d never really heard before as a guitar player.
I’ve been on a GAS quest for an inexpensive, non-Fender bass. I’m familiar with Fender Jazz and Precision basses but wanted to see what other brands might have to offer. Sterling/ Music Man and Ibanez had caught my eye. These are very different types of basses…. apple vs. elephants. After doing a ton of forum reading and YouTube watching, I thought that these basses might be right for me – but I needed to play them to see what I liked best
Tonight, I made a quick visit to Guitar Center and started pulling basses off the wall. Lots of them. Luckily, I was completely ignored by the sales help and free to explore. I tried a few different Ibanez Sound Gear (SR300, SR500, SR700 series). These had skinny necks but felt really nice to play and the fretwork was surprisingly good. Unfortunately, as most gear is abused at Guitar Center, parts were loose, batteries dead, etc. I ended up with one good battery that I moved from bass to bass. There was a nice mahogany SR 500 with active electronics that sounded great….modern and very un-Fender. There were a couple of sharp fret ends but nothing that a quick touch up with a file wouldn’t correct. And it looked and felt REALLY sexy and balanced perfectly in my lap.
Then, over to the Sterlings/Music Mans. Sterlings are the less expensive Indonesian versions of the American-made Music Man basses. There were a handful of Sterling Sub 4 models with nice colors. A surf green one with a maple neck stood out. That’s my look! Unfortunately, it had a nasty buff through on the back of the neck and sloppy fret ends. A shame. The plain black one with a maple neck sounding great and played the easiest. With no obvious flaws…..it was right. At $280 it was hard to beat the price. No, it’s not as pretty as the Ibanez but seemed to have much more character to the tone. This was a utilitarian instrument…it meant “Business”.
Yet, my snobbery caught up with me. What did the $1800-$2000 Music Mans play and sound like? I pulled a few down and marveled at the fancy neck wood. These were boutique grade instruments in every way. The necks, fretwork and finish were impeccable. (it should be at that price) Yet, in my awkward guitar player hands, they didn’t sound much better. The bottom end was tighter but other than that, not tonally very different. I’m clearly not at the level to make the most of a high-end Music Man.
With a half hour to closing, I figured I’d see what 5 string basses did. There was no shortage of them…in fact, there were only a few 4 string non-Fender basses hanging up. I pulled a 5 string Music Man down and started messing around. First discovery….you don’t play the open B string. It flapped around in an ugly, unmusical way. (doh). I could see how playing halfway up the neck on that extra big string did add some cool low end punch. There was something to this extra fat string. The 5 stringer was a big instrument and the neck was heavy and wide. It didn’t balance well and the headstock seemed to yearn for the floor. I tried an Ibanez 5 string…a Fender…a Gibson…same thing. I guess 5 string basses are something that grows on you? The 6, 7, and 8 string basses looked even more ungainly to me then.
So, a Sterling SUB 4 string might be in future. The right one – as only one out of the five I played seemed great.
Instead, I found a set of bass strings in the discount bin – $4.99. I’ll put those strings on my 10 year old, Series 10 Chinese Precision Bass copy. It’s butt ugly but it works. I’ll learn how to play a bit more bass before taking that next step.