Kevin has the scoop on five great vintage basses under $1500.
Let’s face it, most of us can’t afford to throw down $6000 on a vintage bass. If we’re heading down to the local music store, the median price on a new bass purchase will be right around $1500. Believe it or not, there are extremely good vintage basses for under $1500. Take a look at my top five vintage basses for under $1500, in no particular order. Two rules make up my criteria. First, the basses had to be mass produced and must be readily available today; second, the bass has to be over twenty-five years old. The information below will guide you to some excellent, no-excuses basses. Let’s see what I came up with…
Gibson L9S Ripper
The Ripper was introduced in 1974, along with the Grabber and G3. The Grabber and G3 look similar to the Ripper, but are not the same bass and are not included in this segment.
Rippers are long scale basses complete with varitone-equipped electronics and dual pickups. There are a wide variety of tonal choices from the varitone, but only a few of them are really useful. The construction of the bass is bullet proof, but beware of broken or doctored truss rods. The bass balances extremely well
and has neutral wrist positions. A Fender player can strap one on without concern.
Some of these basses are extremely heavy. I’ve seen some necks get a little wavy over the years. It’s fairly common to see neck sets become unstable, and be aware of proper relief with a bottomed-out bridge and high action. Some of the early-issue basses have a funny neck angle I’ve mentioned in other articles.
These basses are terrific, very usable and usually with no design or construction quirks. Expect the black and sunburst basses to demand a premium. The natural basses can be in the low-teens, and if you’re patient, you might see grade basses for around a grand.
Silvertone Model 1444 – Dolphin Nose Single Cut 4-String
This is your Christmas catalog bass—sold to little Jimmy when he was thirteen back in the sixties. And I’ll admit this is not the bass for everyone. However, these are tone monsters!
Holy smokes, these basses sound great! Several of these were used in the studio when they were first introduced, and are still used today. The tone of these is very creamy and totally smokes the Dano reissue of today. The very interesting feature is that when this bass is used with a pick, it has quite a different personality from when used fingerstyle, but both work fabulously! This bass played through an Ampeg B15 or direct into a console may be the tone of the gods.
Quite frankly, the basses are made of construction scrap—now remove the ‘s’ from scrap and it’s more appropriate. Masonite, lag bolts, soft wood, and deck paint does not make D’Angelico quality. The bass does not intonate. It has a straight wood saddle for all four strings. The hardware is a joke, as is the fit and finish. I’ve seen necks fold up into bodies because the tension of the strings could not be supported. Let me remind you this was a budget catalog bass.
It’s all about the tone, and these basses ooze tone. Just make sure the bass is not going to implode. The vast majority of these are black, but there have to be green, red and yellow ones out there, too (those would be the bomb). Expect to pay around $900 for a really good one.
G&L L1000, first variant from 1980 – 1982
I worked in a shop back in late eighties that sold these new. Actually, I should say we “tried” to sell these new. These basses have all the sex appeal of a beige four door Plymouth Valiant. They were so dowdy that folks went right past them.
Outside of a great pre-CBS Precision bass, this may be the best passive bass I’ve ever played. It has very usable tone for onstage or in the studio, and it has a typical Leo Fender, no B.S. design and quality. One pickup is placed right in the sweet spot, and playing one of these through an old tube amp is close to nirvana. These basses also sound great through a modern bass rig. The neck profile on the early models is close to a ’63 “wide ‘n’ flat” P-bass. The more familiar rounded C-neck wasn’t introduced until later.
The only real mention here is that over the years, I’ve repaired some badly twisted and humped necks. Also, be certain the neck is original to the bass.
These are absolute great basses. If you want to be the center of attention, go buy a BC Rich; if you want tone and feel, this is it. These basses retail at about $1095.
G&L L2000E, first variant from 1980 – 1982
This bass is the Valiant that someone slipped a big block motor into. Other than the same body shape and neck profile, this is very different from the L1000.
In my opinion, this bass will destroy a Musicman Sabre, and hold its own against a B00 Stingray, if not perform better. It comes complete with two pickups, a deadly good preamp in a bulletproof package—and it’s a killer player. This is one snotty tone plank. I prefer the rosewood board over the maple board, simply because I think it works better with the hyperactive preamp.
Ditto the comments on the L1000. Be careful the preamp is still original and functioning to spec. If it sounds shrieky or shrill, there’s a good chance the 28-year-old IC chip is cooked. You’ll be able to find a functional replacement chip, but not an original.
I have seen terrific basses with mahogany bodies in great colors for as high as $2000, but a generic cool alder bass is about $1295. Trust me, in two years today’s prices on these will seem cheap.
Ibanez Musician MC940 “Sting” Bass from the early eighties
What’s there to say? Great woods, great build quality, sexy as heck. Sting loved his, I love mine, and in the grand scheme of things, these are dirt cheap.
Premium woods, great hardware and great electronics were used to create a bass with a great neck and superb ergonomics. This bass has a custom-made feel to it that other basses in the group do not seem to have. Out of all the basses in this category, this by far gets the “most bang for the buck” award.
Like all basses of this vintage, the electronics might wear and parts can sometimes be nearly impossible to replace. The original cases were one step above junk, and I’ve seen damage to the basses because of this. I have also seen wood delamination, which is not a cheap repair in some instances.
This bass kills in all aspects of tone, components, feel, construction and price. These typically sell for anywhere between $875 and $1095. If this is still out of your price range, I’ve seen painted versions of this bass that retailed in the $250 to $400 range. I suggest buying one of these that is fully functional and not in need of any work. The repair bill will offset the value.
The Lowdown Wrap-up
Five basses, five distinct personalities, and all solid values. Vintage does not have to equal expensive. I’m not saying replace your ‘64 P-bass, but like most of us on a budget, you do not have to dream of owning a vintage bass when there is still value to be had. In my opinion, if purchased right you should not take a loss come sale time.
Big thanks to Greg Gagliano for the picture of his May 1981 L2000e and his 1980 L1000 that was made on the first day of production (as confirmed by Dale Hyatt). These are two special basses indeed! Until next time, drop the gig bag and bring the cannolis.
Kevin Borden has been a bass player since 1975, and is currently President of Goodguysguitars.com.
Feel free to call him KeBo.
He can be reached at Kebobass@yahoo.com
Looking for more great gear for the guitar player in your life (yourself included!)? Check out this year's Holiday Gear Finds!
D'Addario XPND Pedalboard
DR-05X Stereo Handheld Recorder
Wampler Pedals Ratsbane
Flare is a dual-function pedal with a tube-like booster and a 1970s-style ring modulator effect that can be played separately or together.
Flare’s ring modulator is based on the iconic tone of the original Dan Armstrong Green Ringer. This vintage classic was made famous by Frank Zappa who loved the unusual modulations created by generating a harmonic octave over notes. Messiah’s version offers two control knobs: a “Sparkle” tone attenuator and output Level control. Its taupe-gold body, purple and green knobs and stick-figure rock ’n’ roller holding up a flame convey an appropriately rockin’70s vibe.
In a unique twist, Messiah’s Flare pairs the ringer with a warm tube-style boost instead of a fuzz. Flare feeds the booster into the ringer for an extra punch, while preserving the Green Ringerspirit. The ringer side also turns any fuzz into an octafuzz, and it has the ability to quiet signal background noise fed through it.
The booster side features a single Boost knob to control the MOSFET circuit, making it very tube-amp-friendly with a warm, organic boost and gain of up to 32dB.
The pedal is a distinct improvement over the 1970s pedal that inspired it. “Most ringer pedals don’t track well,” Tom Hejda, owner of Messiah Guitars. “The player can’t rely on repeating the same effect even with the most consistently played notes. We carefully matched the components, so our ringer follows your every move, producing that slightly dirty octave you expect on demand.”
Messiah developed this vintage octave pedal with flexible features so that people who love that messy, dirty Zappa-esque sound can get there with ease but there’s also something for those who have not fallen in love with fuzz or the Green Ringer alone. Flare offers an array of sonic options while retaining simplicity in the controls.
Each Flair Pedal Includes:
- 3 control knobs: Boost, Sparkle, and Level
- Two effects – Ring Modulator and Boost – can be used together or separately
- Space-saving top side jacks
- Durable, cast aluminum alloy 125B enclosure with fun artwork
- Easy to see, illuminated True-bypass foot switch
- Standard 9V pedal power input
Flare Pedal Demo
Messiah Guitars pedals are designed with an explorative player in mind. Like their custom guitars and amplifiers, Messiah’s pedals are hand-crafted in Los Angeles for a long life with guaranteed quality.
Flare retails for $199.00 and can be purchased directly at Messiah Guitars or you can hear it in person at Impulse Music Co. in Canyon Country, CA.
For more information, please visit messiahguitars.com.
This feathery little guy is a joy to play because of its incredibly quick response to your right hand - much faster and more expressive than your typical auto-wah pedal.
If it looks like a duck, acts like a duck, and QUACKS like a duck, then it must be a duck. That's how we came up with the name for our new envelope filter. This feathery little guy is a joy to play because of its incredibly quick response to your right hand - much faster and more expressive than your typical auto-wah pedal. Trevor explains how this is possible in the launch video, as well as gives a demo on Le Canard’s operation.
The attack control determines how quickly the filter responds to the envelope, and the decay sets how quickly the filter releases afterward. The range controls which frequency spectrum the filter does its magic on. Add to this relay-based full-bypass switching with failsafe, and you've got one crazy little quacky beast. It is so expressive that you'll want to give up on your rocker-wah forever.
The MayFly Le Canard envelope filter features:
- Super fast responding envelope follower. Touch it and it jumps!
- Range control to dial in the character of the filter
- Attack control to control how fast the filter moves on that first touch
- Release control to control how slowly the filter slides back to baseline
- Full bypass using relays with Fail SafeTM (automatically switches to bypass if the pedal loses power)
- Cast aluminum enclosure with groovy artwork
- MSRP $149 USD ($199 CAD)
Introducing the MayFly Le Canard Envelope Filter
All MayFly pedals are hand-made in Canada.
For more information, please visit mayflyaudio.com.
Outlaw Effects introduces their next generation of NOMAD rechargeable battery-powered pedal boards.
Available in two sizes, NOMAD ISO is a compact, versatile tool that offers the convenience of a fully powered board plus the additional freedom of not having to plug into an outlet. NOMAD ISO is ideal for stages with limited outlet availability, quick changeovers, busking outdoors, temporary rehearsal locations, and more.
NOMAD ISO builds upon the legacy of the ultra-convenient and reliable NOMAD rechargeable pedalboard line originally launched in 2018. The brand new NOMAD ISO editions feature eight isolated outputs (1 x 9V DC, and 1 switchable 9V/12V DC) for even more versatility and clean, quiet power. With an integrated lithium-ion battery pack boasting 12800mAh capacity, NOMAD ISO can fuel a wide array of pedals, and will last over 10 hours* on a single charge.
Each NOMAD ISO pedal board includes adhesive hook & loop pedal-mounting tape, eight (8) standard DC connector cables, and one (1) reverse polarity DC cable, giving you everything you need to build your ultimate "off-the-grid" rig. A rugged, road-ready padded gig bag with shoulder strap is also included, to safely protect your gear while you're on the move.
NOMAD ISO S
NOMAD ISO S: MSRP $309 / MAP: $249
Dimensions: 19 ¼" x 5 ¼"
NOMAD ISO M
NOMAD ISO M: MSRP $349 / MAP $279
Dimensions: 19 ¼" x 11"
More info: https://www.outlawguitareffects.com.