Whether by phone or email, I’m most frequently contacted with this question: “I have three basses sitting in front of me, and I’m trying to decide which one I’m going to buy. What’s the best deal?” I usually can’t answer this question for several reasons: One is due to liability, another is I don’t know what’s right for you, and finally—and this is crucial—I don’t have the instruments in front of me, which makes it difficult to evaluate them properly.
To help you reach a decision
the next time you’re pondering
a purchase, I’ve summarized
three actual deals in which I
assisted the potential buyer. I
hope this information will help
you if you find yourself in a
similar position. You may have
some money for a bass burning
a hole in your pocket and
you’ve found several to choose
from. You need to ask yourself
if this bass is going to be a player,
a closet queen, or a financial
asset. Once you answer this
question, your decision usually
gets whittled down. If it doesn’t,
that’s where Uncle Kebo’s Logic
(aka UKL) comes in.
Deal One. My friend “Greg”
called me and said, “Kev, I
found three basses. I want all of
them but I can only afford one.”
Greg is a fine player who uses
everything, but it has to play
and sound great. This is what
he’d found: (1) A 1958 P bass
with a body-only refin and all
parts present, but it had a refret
and a new case. (2) A 1965
sunburst P bass in exquisite condition,
frighteningly clean, no
excuses, and 100 percent original.
(3) A 1971 P bass finished
in Firemist Gold, in nice, but
not great shape. Each bass was
a buck away from $6000—valued
somewhat properly in my
opinion—but each needed to be
looked at on its own merits.
The 1958 is my favorite
Fender of all time and my personal
number-one bass is a ’58 P bass
in beat-to-death condition. What
this bass had going for it is that it
was a ’58, all the parts were original,
and it played and sounded
great. The body-only refinish job
was done by one of the best and
was artificially aged to match the
patina and wear of the neck—so it
looked great too. This was a “fool
your friends” refin, but the negative
was that it was still a refin.
The ’65 was put under a bed
when new and was so clean it
glowed. All it needed was a level
and dress of the frets for no
other reason than it appeared to
have been uplayed since 1965.
We did not even need to open
this bass up it was so honest,
but the negative here was that
the bass was really too clean to
play—and Greg is a player.
The ’71 was a tough one.
On the plus side, it was an
all-original bass in a super-rare
color that also played fantastically
well. The drawback here
is that the bass was competing
against P basses from the ’50s
and ’60s for about the same
money. Had the ’71 been a sunburst,
it would not have even
been in the mix. So what to do?
The ’71 was ruled out
because unless you have the collection
and needed the color, it
just wasn’t as good as the other
two. However, Greg still had a
big dilemma. The ’65 was a relative
bargain, but it would never
be used. While the ’58 was a
fantastic bass, it was a refin and
’58s are quite common.
In the end, Greg ended up
with the ’65. It was one of the
cleanest basses I have ever seen.
In fact, I may only have seen
two basses ever from this era
that were cleaner. The ’65 was
a once-in-a-lifetime find, and
in my opinion, the price was
light by about $3000. While
the ’58 was a deadly good bass
and fairly priced, Greg had four
other basses he could rely on.
So Greg’s closet has a new item.
Deal Two. “A regular customer
of mine, “Joe” was looking
at two Gibson Thunderbirds.
One was a nice ’64 T-Bird IV and
the other was a really nice ’64
T-Bird II. The Bird IV was a sunburst
and 100 percent original,
but had a very mild headstock
break, though the break was
nicely repaired and would not
be noticed by a casual glance.
The price on the T-Bird IV was
$7000. The Bird II was super
clean (8.9 condition) with no
excuses, no breaks, 100 percent
original, and priced at $7250. I
knew both basses and thought the
T-Bird II was crazy good—better
than 90 percent of the others
I’d seen over the past five years.
The T-Bird IV was nice, not
great, and it was repaired. But if
I was deciding between the two,
I would have opted for the IV if
it was priced $1000 lower. As it
stood, it was a tough choice with
no wrong answer. Ultimately, Joe
opted for the T-Bird II and ended
up paying $7000 for it.
Deal Three. This is a deal that
involved none other than me. A
few years back, I wanted a nice
Ricky 4001 to use in a power-pop
band I was with at the time.
Almost immediately, three basses
found their way to my computer.
One was a crazy-clean ’71 in
Burgundyglo for $4000. The
next was an original, fair-condition
’68 in Fireglo for $9500.
The third was a ’67 Jetglo with
some changed parts for $4500.
The ’71 was a super-nice
bass, but it was full priced and
I knew I was going to use it—I
did not want to make a player
out of a collector bass. The ’68
was intriguing: The bass was
great and the price was right by
a few grand, but I just didn’t
want to spend that type of
money on a player bass. The ’67
was also very intriguing because
it was in my price range, it had
newer, vintage 4003 pickups
installed, newer tuners with
extra holes, and a newer tailpiece.
Essentially, the body and
finish were real and everything
else came off a 4001v63. It turns
out that a prior owner swapped
parts from the two basses and
sold the ’67 off as “real” to an
unsuspecting customer (who
later received a rude awakening).
So I had to choose between
the ’71 that was too nice and
fully priced, the ’68 that was a
light bargain, but too expensive
for my needs, and the ’67—a
nice bass with no real pedigree.
I ended up buying the Jetglo
’67 because the bass fit my
needs and it fit my budget. It’s a
great player and did everything
I needed it to do.
I hope these examples provide
some useful perspectives
you can use to solve your next
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
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