I’ve had quite a few visitors to this site that have an interest in taking up the upright bass, but need some advice on how to shop for a bass. The best way of course is to have a proficient upright bass player help you in your quest or going to a reputable shop that deals with upright basses. 95% of you in the world probably aren’t anywhere near a reputable shop, so here are some guidelines. Rather than discourage you and tell you that you’re screwed since you aren’t near a bass shop, I’m going to go against the grain and give some advice that may not be ideal, but are practical in your situation. There’s only so much that I can convey to you over a computer, but just to help you get a start. By this point, you’ve probably have already read so much advice that your brain is close to an information overload.
Most beginners aren’t committed to spending thousands on a bass, so let’s start here. You should set aside at least $1500 for the bass. Don’t buy that $500 bass you saw on Ebay, there’s a reason that it’s $500; it’s guaranteed unplayable and problematic. I’ve heard stories of how people have purchased super cheap basses that imploded unexpectedly or the tuning machines stripped themselves. Once that happens, then what are you going to do? If you take it to a reputable shop, your repair bill can end up more than the bass is worth. You’re ultimately going to have to start saving for another bass. At this $1500 price range, you’re looking at plywood (laminate) basses. Should you get a carved bass? You should if you want to spend the money for it, but otherwise as a beginner a plywood bass will last you for years and since you are nowhere near a shop that can work on an upright bass, the durability of a plywood bass is a big plus.
You’ll have to order a bass from someone who sells AND can properly set up a bass. There are “bass specialists” on the Internet who are clueless about how to setup a bass. They know that basses need to be setup, but they just don’t know how nor do they have anyone set them up. The labor involved with setting up a bass isn’t cheap, so some places use that as a corner to cut to get their prices lower. Just because they bought inventory and created a website doesn’t make them a reputable dealer. A proper setup is the difference between being able to play a bass easily and being completely discouraged from playing bass at all. I’ve tried playing many basses from the factory and most were utterly unplayable, so they do need to be setup prior to being delivered to you. If you don’t, there’s a very strong chance that you’re going to quit because you feel that the upright bass is too hard to play; string are hard to finger on your left hand and you get buzzes on certain notes. In reality it was only hard to play because the bass wasn’t setup properly. You will hear chatter on-line that a bass needs to be adjusted whenever it travels to different climates. Ideally yes, if you can. This is true, but with plywood basses, they are less reactive to climate changes so you should have a easy to play bass.
The best On-line Bass shop that can send you a bass that is properly setup in this price range is The String Emporium. I don’t have any affiliation with The String Emporium except the bass that I had purchased from them. I’m just another customer and I’m recommending them because they provide good product, good service, and a good price. Steve at The String Emporium ships so many basses that he also gets a really good rates on freight also. Another recommend store is Upton Music who sells the Samuel Shen bass in this price range. Samuel Shen basses aren’t exclusive to Upton so you might get a better deal elsewhere, but they do good setup work. They both play well if setup right, but I would recommend the Thompson bass over the Samuel Shen bass, considering that it costs less, sounds better, and looks way better.
Hopefully my recommendation and advice helps you beginners find your new upright bass.