A subscriber recently submitted a great question: “What do you look for when you buy a vintage bass?” It’s a simple question, and I never really gave it that much thought. The funny thing is that it has a very complex answer. In reality, I have to view myself as three different buyers: the collector, the player and the dealer. Granted, there is common ground between all three hats, but all have very different objectives. Let’s explore.
ears ago, I had quite an extensive collection. At the time, my purchase criteria was that it had to play and sound great, and have the “it” factor. In fact, at one time I may have had the largest collection of custom-color Thunderbirds on the planet, plus a major sweet tooth for dot neck Jazz basses, older Precision basses, checkerboard Rickenbackers and B00 Stingrays. There was no separation between the player and the collector at this point; I played all my basses. Keep in mind, however, that this was in the day when these basses were within financial reach. I was not all that critical with my purchases, other than originality. If I didn’t like the bass, I could sell it the next day.
Well, a few things happened. First, basses became brutally expensive. All of a sudden you needed $5000 to buy a nice sunburst ’65 P-bass. And because they became so expensive, I was less inclined to play my premium pieces. The biggest impact on my collection, however, was my decision to buy a home. I needed to sell 80 percent of my collection to come up with a down payment, closing and move-in costs. Two dealer friends bought my custom-color T-birds, and a few parties bought my Ricks, Music Mans and my secondary Fenders. About a week before closing I still needed to raise another $5000, so my good friend Greg Calvert bought my mint 1962 Jazz bass. That was 12 years ago. He still owns it. I’m glad it went to a good home.
Ok, so why the history lesson? Of my 10 existing collector basses, all of them are Fender. So, if I’m going to pick up an additional collector piece, something from the existing stash needs to go, and it’s hard to sell a piece that you’re attached to.
That said, today’s price range between a nice bass and a great bass is very close. And I want the most for my money. For me, the bottom line is that the bass has to be 100 percent original, right down to the case and solder joints. She also has to play absolutely fantastic, and have that “look.” The patina has to be “right,” and the wear has to be minimal. The bass needs to speak to me. And to be honest, I’ve seen dead-mint, perfect basses that were priced right that I did not purchase for the collection—because they didn’t speak to me. Personally, I’m in a bit of a flux with collection buying right now. All of a sudden buying collection pieces has become like stocking a portfolio. The bottom line? Kevin the collector wants a pure pedigree that’s highly functional and properly priced.
As a dealer, I want to buy a bass and have the ability to sell it for more. But while that is the ultimate objective, it is not the equation. Eighty-five percent of my inventory is sold sight unseen though my website. So when I purchase a bass for retail I have to keep in mind that if I can’t describe it in 30 seconds over the phone, I’ll never sell it. I need the ability to say, “She plays great, sounds wonderful and looks fabulous.” If I can’t say that, I can’t sell the bass.
My clients are players or collectors who want the same thing I do in a bass. I have major star-level clients who will ask me to send a bass directly to a stage 10,000 miles away overnight. There can be no excuses. Pedigree issues don’t concern me when I buy a bass. My concern is, “Does the dollar value match the pedigree?” I try to spend every dollar wisely so I can offer value. I also hope to turn my gear over every x amount of days. So, I may pass on a great deal because my inventory will be out of balance, or because of shelf-life concerns. I also changed my philosophy on projects or basses that need work, because by the time I’m done with the cost and bench time of a major repair I’m usually soured on the bass. I try to avoid these all together, unless the deal is too good to pass up. Since I primarily sell vintage basses, I need to stay in a price point that people are buying in. The bottom line? I need to buy great playing and sounding basses while keeping a somewhat balanced inventory and retaining a proper retail margin.
The Low Down It’s not as easy as it looks. I’ve probably purchased over 10,000 instruments, and I can tell before the bass is out of the case if I’m going to buy it or not. Next month we are going to visit Kevin the player—which is really what it’s all about. I am also going to share some tips on how to buy a vintage bass. So, until next time, drop the gig bag and bring the cannoli!
Kevin Borden has been a bass player since 1975 and is currently the principle and co-owner, with “Dr.” Ben Sopranzetti, of Kebo’s Bass Works:kebosbassworks.com. He can be reached at: Kebobass@yahoo.com. Feel free to call him KeBo.
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