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Each year, from the fourth quarter and into the first quarter of the following year, many vintage dealers go into heavy trade-show season. Along with the typical buying and selling, we track trends in both sales and price points. With our experience and tools, we attempt to determine accurate pricing. We all know the world went off-axis in 2007 primarily due to the mortgage crisis— affecting home prices, investment portfolios, and vintage everything—including instruments, cars, artwork, etc. We saw prices drop as much as 75 percent on many instruments, basses included.
We used to see people take second mortgages, buy expensive and over-valued basses, play them for a few months, and then sell them—paying back their credit lines and ending up with a tidy profit. They would then essentially buy a bass for “free” with the leftover bread. Well my friends, the dance has ended, and many folks are sitting on expensive basses they want to sell to buy something else, trade to get something different, or just cash out.
Many gorgeous basses were presented to me at the trade shows I’ve recently attended, but I couldn’t meet the sellers’ pricing. One was an absolutely immaculate, one-owner ’58 P bass with an asking price of $16,000—too pricey given the value is only about $12,000. Another that comes to mind was a ’65 Fireglo 4001 in great shape for $25,000. For that price, I thought the owner was selling three of them! Interestingly, many of the sellers—including some Premier Guitar readers—were asking me for advice on how to move a seemingly unmovable bass.
The bottom line is that you are not alone. The stagnation seems to be hitting the higher end of the market. The purchase frequency is off by 70 percent, and I’m now retailing high-end basses for less than I used to pay wholesale. The problem here is very simple: There’s just less money in this segment to spend. Jobs are fewer and they pay less, and gigs are following suit.
An average ’64 Jazz Bass will run about $8500. Hypothetically, let’s say an average reader makes $60,000 per year. Today, a guy simply cannot justify spending 12 percent of his salary on a non-appreciable item. It’s incredible that just five years ago, the value of this bass would probably outpace an average 401k. A few weeks ago, I was reading some dribble from a “finance wizard,” far removed from our market, that there is an index showing an annual escalation of 20-22 percent for an investment portfolio of blue-chip guitars. Sure, that was a accurate analysis until the bottom dropped out four years ago. Don’t get me wrong, these are still true blue-chip instruments, but they are way down in value compared to 2007, and non-appreciating in my humble opinion. So, where does that leave us?
Remember that the price on the tag does not represent the sale price. I could tag a lump of coal for a million dollars, but it doesn’t mean it’s worth that price. For accurate pricing, do your homework by going to a major trade show and find four or five identical items. Track the pricing, throw out the highest and lowest price, and the middle price will be your starting point. Keep in mind that a dealer can usually get another 10 percent off the “civilian” price. Also check completed sold items on your local e-auction, and you’ll get a feel for what the market can handle for your bass.
If you don’t want to cash out, but you want or need a different bass, you just need to change your mindset. The bass you want to buy today is as devalued as the bass you are selling today. Many guys have said, “I’d love to buy that bass, but I’m not taking a 30 percent hit.” So, let’s re-evaluate. Let's say you paid $8000 for your gorgeous ’65 P bass in 2006. Today, the retail for that bass is about $6000. And now you’re lusting heavily for a ’66 Fireglo 4005. That Ricky would have retailed at $12,500 in 2006, but today should run you $9500 or so. As long as you’re “washing” basses, you are making a lateral move. Using this philosophy will keep you sane.
If you want to level off a loss, you have two alternatives, but odds are you may not be able to do it in one move. The first is making a great trade up in value, even if it’s for something you may never play—as long as you can sell the item you traded. The second is selling your bass and then buying an instrument you could resell with a little padding built in. Eventually, you can break even.
Occasionally, you have to bite the bullet and just take the loss. When basses went nuts, the car market also went nuts. I bought a vintage Corvette and sank deep money into it. Now I’m looking to sell it at half my investment. Sometimes, the only way you can get through such a hit is to just not let it make you crazy. Remember “this thing of ours” is supposed to be fun and not drive us nuts!
Kebo’s Bass Shopping Tips
• Never believe the hype that the bass you are looking to buy is a surefire investment.
• As stated in previous columns, the market has bottomed and pricing has remained flat.
• Buy the best example available and get the bass you want! Do not settle by purchasing a bass in need of tailoring to your liking.
• Have it verified. If you are unsure of what you are buying, have the bass sent to an expert before it is sent to you. Most dealers will have a 24- to 48-hour approval period. I’ve had many basses sent to me for verification and would say roughly 35 percent are not as described, and 5 percent are grossly over-described or just plain bogus.
• Spend the extra bucks for your peace of mind.
Kevin Borden has been playing bass since 1975. He is the principal and co-owner, with “Dr.” Ben Sopranzetti, of Kebo’s Bass Works (visit them online at kebosbassworks.com). You can reach Kevin at firstname.lastname@example.org. Feel free to call him KeBo.