THE LOW END
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.
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.
So, What Would Kevin Do? (Part I)
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.
Years 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.
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
they didn’t speak to me.
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!
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.
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
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.