THE LOW END
The Year in Review: The Time to Buy is NOW!
It’s December, and another year has passed
us by. I don’t know about you, but I sure am
glad to say farewell to 2009. In February, I lost
my day job and I lost my shop, which forced
me to join the other 9.5% of Americans on the
unemployment line. Thankfully, my stint on the
unemployment line was brief, and my new business opened a few weeks later.
But to sum up the rest of the year, especially in
regards to the vintage market, 2009 may have
been the first time in 30-plus years that this
market was not “economy proof.” Today, the
market is—to say the least—weird. Knowing
that, let’s look at what’s hot and what’s not.
The Top Side
I once considered the top side of this market
to be $25,000 and up. Now, I consider the top
side to be about $10,000 and up. In a word, it’s
a buyer’s market. A lot of the players currently
in this market seem to be speculators that are
optimistic the market will turn around. These
folks are “getting in” to basses at prices that
seem to have hit bottom. Clean, pedigreed
basses, however, are still capturing buyers.
Add a custom color to the equation and you’ll
get a sale, provided the bass is priced right.
Previously, a lot of the action in this market
involved players trading up into a better bass.
This activity, however, has been drastically curtailed. Unless you have a rare piece, prices have
dropped like bricks in this segment—a 20-to-
30% price drop seems to be the norm over
prices from two years ago, and some pieces
have dropped as deep as 40%! Ask my friend
that spent $18,000 on a super nice 1964 Tbird
IV in October 2007.
Like I said, it’s a great time to buy that
dream piece. Big Tbird prices are soft; big
Rickenbacker prices are soft but stable; and big
Fender prices are all over the map. The crazy
thing is that some of these items are still priced
at 2007 prices, and are still selling. This is not
the norm. Personally, my shop’s inventory in
this range is currently at about three percent. It
used to be as high as 30%.
Basses in the $5000-$10,000 range are still
holding their own, but they’re slow movers.
62 PREMIER GUITAR DECEMBER 2009
Players are looking for superb playing basses
with a 90-to-100% pedigree. Fret jobs and a
changed pot are becoming accepted. Prices
are roughly where they were a year ago, but
circumstances are forcing some sellers to
aggressively price these basses. Many basses
that were previously priced at just over $10,000
have now found a new home in this range.
Horseshoe Rickenbackers, Gibson Thunderbirds
and second-tier vintage Fender basses have
slipped to the high side of this level. Common
custom color basses are now commonplace
for under $10,000, too. Again, quality sells and
imposters remain “guitar stand art.”
Over the long term, I
think sales will pick up,
but I think pricing will be
more in control [at least
for the short term]. As for
the bass market, people
still need basses, but not
basses that cost more
than their car.
Basses priced from $1500-to-$5000 seem to
be the sweet spot. Early ’70s vintage Fender
basses are hot, provided they’re in nice condition with a great neck—and they don’t weigh
as much as a toddler! Some Fender refins from
the ’60s dropped in price and can now be
found for the same price as a new Masterbuilt.
Rickenbackers that previously grew wings and
flew out of the store are now sitting at between
10 to 15 percent below what they were selling
before. Gibson EB, RD and ’ 76 Tbird series
basses have all dropped too. The funny thing is
Fender-esque boutique basses seemed to have
settled price-wise and have been selling quite
briskly. Oddly enough, older Stingrays are all
over the map, ranging anywhere from $1500
The Bargain Bassment
People, $1500 and under is where it’s hot!
Fender vintage RI basses, Ripper Series, ’70s
EBs, early Top Loader Stingrays, and the
occasional early ’80s Fender basses are all
nestled near the top of this price point, and
are all dead-on steals. Player-grade examples
can be found here too, including early G&Ls,
which are a total party and the biggest bargains in the market.
The Low End Wrap-up
Back in January, I was optimistic at the Orlando
show. The show was brisk and nicely attended.
But for whatever reasons, my show attendance
in 2009 was down. I did have representation at
most shows, but show attendance was off all
year. By my estimates, dealer attendance was
off at least 20% at the summer Philly show, and
walk-in traffic was way down. Other shows had
Over the long term, I think sales will pick up,
but I think pricing will be more in control [at
least for the short term]. As for the bass market, people still need basses, but not basses
that cost more than their car. Do I think the
collector market will come back? As soon as
folks go back to work, I think we will see some
movement. But I think the days of mortgage-busting basses are well behind us.
Until next time, drop the gig bag and bring
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.