A look at where bass players stand on vintage instruments

Recently, I wrote a series about where I thought the vintage bass market was heading, as a hobby and as a marketplace. I received an overwhelming response from readers on the matter. Most correspondence came from forum guys, so who better to discuss this with than the forum members themselves? This series of articles could not have been done without the help of the moderators and members of Talkbass.com and Badassbassplayers.com, where I was able to post my questions and solicit responses. In this and the next issue, you will find questions asked, a summary of responses, and my “two cents” as a final comment.

Part 1. It’s all about you: the discussion participants
How many vintage basses do you own? What are they? The response to this question was surprisingly static. I expected to see everything from 3 to 30. Answers, however, fell into four distinct groups:

A) No vintage basses. The pattern of responses was: “I just don’t like old basses,” “the entire vintage bass hobby is pure crap,” or “monetary reasons keep me away from this segment.”

B) 1 vintage bass. Most of the players in this group owned a 1970s vintage Fender. For most, it was the only vintage piece they needed or desired.

C) 5 – 6 vintage basses. Players in this group were split into two segments. The first segment owned a few boutique and multi-string basses and used them primarily. The second group used the vintage stuff exclusively and just wanted the old school tone. The majority of the players here had Gibson, Fender, Musicman and Rickenbacker products, mostly from the late sixties and seventies, in their stash.

D) Serious collector types with 12 – 30 basses. For the most part, this was the Pre-CBS, T-bird and Horseshoe Ricky crowd.

I was highly encouraged to find that an overwhelming percentage of the folks in categories A, B and C did actively play in bands or ensembles. I asked this question in order to better understand the perspective of those who responded.

I gig / don’t gig with my vintage basses, and why?

This was the one question that generated a lot of passion. The players who did not own vintage basses could not understand how anyone could own one and not use it. Basses are tools, and you use your tools at your job site. The three main reasons for non-use were: 4-string basses did not fit the present situation; I’m not taking a five thousand dollar bass to a forty dollar gig; the bass is mint, and part of the 401K.
Personally, my two main basses are a ’58 Gold Guard Precision and a ’62 Candy Apple Red Jazz. I will leave these basses home if I cannot secure them at a gig. I have two or three basses that will never see gig time, but only because they are irreplaceable in terms of sentimental value. This question was asked to get a perspective on the players and their usage. It was encouraging to see most vintage bass owners regularly gigged with their vintage basses.

Over the next 12 months I plan on changing this aspect of my collection?

This question was initially asked in July and August of 2008. Gas prices were nearing $4 per gallon. Presently, the stock market is in the toilet. I asked a select group of folks the same question at the Arlington and Philly guitar shows and the answers have slightly changed. The overwhelming initial response I received was that most players were going to keep their bass stash somewhat static unless there was a trade to be made. For the first time in a very long time, many cases of Gear Acquisition Syndrome (GAS) seem to be in check. Getting to work seems more important than getting a new bass. Not surprisingly, most guys are not even thinking about changing gear until after the new year. A decent percentage of folks are hoping they do not have to sell their backup bass or downsize their main bass to get the bills paid. In years past I’ve had many chats with my player and collector friends and clients about this very topic. In 2006, a common topic was, “Do I trade my transition logo custom color P-Bass for a slab board sunburst?” That chatter never came up in this go-round. I’m sure before long we’ll have this conversation again.

The Lowdown
What can I say? I initially received about fifty emails on the series in which I shared my perspective on the vintage bass market. The forum responses and subsequent emails generated about two hundred additional replies. This tells me two things: first, bass players are passionate about their love and hobby, and second, I’m doing my job. In the next issue, I’ll explore deeply the vintage bass arena from the concerns of players to those of collectors, and the positive and negative aspects. 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 Goodguysguitars.com.
Feel free to call him KeBo.

He can be reached at Kebobass@yahoo.com
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