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The State of the Nation of Bassdom

Every year folks make a pilgrimage to Mecca. For me, the pilgrimage leads to the Dallas International Guitar Festival. By combining my recent touring experience and time at the Guitar

Every year folks make a pilgrimage to Mecca. For me, the pilgrimage leads to the Dallas International Guitar Festival. By combining my recent touring experience and time at the Guitar Festival, I have a good impression of the vintage bass market. I knew something was going to be different this year because dealers sometimes get a gut feeling about a show even before it starts. Your gut is usually correct and this year was no exception.

As we were about to land at the DFW Airport, the flight was diverted from its scheduled landing pattern. Only four minutes from being on the ground, our detour turned into a five and half hour trip due to tornados that touched down near the airport. As we flew past some super cells on the way to Oklahoma City, I knew it was a bad omen for the show.

Eventually, we got to our destination, but instead of arriving at 8 p.m. as expected, we showed up at the hotel at 1:30 a.m. Exhausted and shaken (but not stirred), we attempted to go straight to our rooms. The problem was you had to walk past the hotel bar to get to the room elevators, and the first cat we saw was none other than “The Gilvis,” aka Gil Southworth. The omen would be exorcized – the world, back on its axis.

The prior evening’s glaze wore off the minute I arrived the next morning, as the show was quite emotionally sobering. I’ve been attending guitar shows since 1989 and my first trek to Dallas was sometime in the early nineties. Back then, Dallas was blackguard heaven; any instrument you desired was there. When it was the Dallas Guitar Show it was a musician’s event. A few years back it became the Dallas International Guitar Festival and it evolved into a concert/music event, replacing the musician-driven vibe.

As a concert event, the fest was outstanding. For a minimal cover, you were able to see artists from five feet away on terrific stages without the hazy bar atmosphere. My favorite part of the show was 10 Under 20. It featured ten bands with members all under the age of 20. These young guns were great, but I didn’t go to Dallas to see bands – I went to buy and sell vintage basses. This year the buying field was quite honestly barren. I bought 85 percent less than last year, but my sales were on mark for expectations. A very good friend of mine had an extremely high-end booth where a 1960 ‘burst was on display and priced to move. When the guitar was still there at noon on Friday, we looked at each other and knew something was wrong. A year prior, people would have been jumping over each other to buy this guitar at the posted price. Was it the event? Was it the market? Let’s take a look at few possibilities.

The Low End
The state of the market meant that many instruments went unpurchased at this year’s
Dallas International Guitar Festival

The Collectibles Market
When I’m not elbows deep in the guitar market, my other hobby is vintage American cars. I stay on top of the market because I act as a consultant for a major vintage guitar dealer who has a nice dealership. A few months ago, the main car collector magazine published this quote, “The prices of the high-end items are dropping while the prices of the lower-end, pedigreed items are going up.”

This is a strange but interesting phenomenon. The guitar market seems to be consistently six months behind the car market in terms of trends, and six months later the guitar market followed suit. Friends in other collectable markets are experiencing a similar parallel. I don’t think the bass market will collapse. However, I do believe the market is in a state of correction.

Let’s face it; you do not need a $10,000 bass. You need food, shelter and clothing. A lot of folks used their home equity lines to finance their basses because bass market value was outpacing the equity percentage. We all know what happened with those home equity lines. The value of high-end basses outpaced working musicians and now salaries are sinking in a thinner market; hence the lower prices. As player gear went up, high-end basses also went up. The difference is that there are more players than collectors, and, while not cheap, the $1200-5000 market is still within reach of players. Furthermore, the bass market has lagged behind the six-string market in terms of value. For those reasons, I still believe this is the safest market segment, a segment that will experience additional growth.

Next month I’ll break out my crystal ball and give a thorough market analysis. I will also discuss guitar shows in general and where I see them heading. The above information is based upon my observations and my conversation with other dealers and collectors who have their fingers on the pulse of this ever-changing market. This is not a scientific prediction on the future of the instrument market, nor will our observations be true of what other folks might be experiencing. Please use this information as a tool and not as gospel. Until next time, drop the gig bag and bring the cannolis!

Kevin Borden
Kevin Borden has been a bass player since 1975, and is currently President of
Feel free to call him KeBo.

He can be reached at