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Let's Make a Deal!

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?”

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 bass-buying dilemma!

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 You can reach Kevin at Feel free to call him KeBo.