THE LOW END
So, What Would Kevin Do (Part 2)
Last month I discussed two sides of my buying spectrum, as a collector and as a dealer.
This month we will visit Kevin the player, the
side that has the strongest demands as a
purchaser. I will also give you some tips on
purchasing a vintage bass.
As a player in my late 40s, my instrument
demands are unwavering and very focused.
As a player in my younger days, I used
every vintage bass for no other reason than
that I could. I’d gig with every brand, every
model—it really didn’t matter. Now after 35
years of solid, steady playing, my instrument
demands are pinpoint. This is due to physical
demands and as well as ease and consistency.
Some of you younger guys have not experienced back problems, tendonitis, wrist issues,
etc. For gigging and recording, 100 percent
of my basses have to meet the following
criteria: they must play like a vintage Fender,
hang like a Fender and have the Fender neck
radius; they must engage the muscle memory
of either a P or a J bass. I guess I’m only
using vintage Fender products!
My main bass is my trusty ‘ 58 P-Bass. I will
also use my ‘ 62 J-Bass on occasion. So what
exactly do I look for when buying a vintage bass? I can tell literally in 20 seconds
whether or not I will buy a particular bass. I
like my action on the low side, but it cannot
choke when played aggressively. The neck
must have a consistent relief curve. I’m not
a big stickler on originality with my player
gear, especially when it comes to frets and
other items that wear. However, the neck
must have a proper set of old-school frets
perfectly installed. I also will not play a bass
with a refinished neck. To me, it drastically
alters the feel. I prefer original hardware,
but as long as I can revert back to vintage-style hardware, I’m ok.
When I wrote a “ 5 Builders” piece for PG a
few months ago [“ 5 Pre-CBS-Inspired Bass
Builders You Should Meet” Sept., 2009], the
vintage builders all agreed that you must
use the vintage-style tuners and bridge
assemblies or it alters the instrument. I
agree. A must on an old Fender bass is original pickups. If a rewind was correctly done,
that doesn’t bother me in the least. I guess
what I’m saying is: as a player, give me a
good pre-CBS bass, have it play great and
let it be somewhat original and I’m okay. I
use refins all the time, as long as the neck
has the original finish. This sums up what I’m
going to use—but what I will hold onto is a
whole ‘nother story.
What I will keep forever and use consistently
is my version of the “Truth,” a beat-to-death
old Fender bass that has a perfect neck, original finish and mostly original components.
My forementioned ’ 58 P fits the bill, except
that bass is 100 percent original down to the
case and the covers. This ’ 58 P is the second
best P-Bass I ever played; the best was a ‘ 60
that I sold to Tino Sanchez in Boston in order
to buy my ‘ 58. I’ve begged, I’ve wallowed—
Tino will never sell this bass! This sums up
what I demand in a personal player bass.
Tips on Purchasing a Vintage Bass
Let’s make something perfectly clear. No
one needs a vintage bass. Putting an amplified bass through a PA system… lets face
it, 99 percent of the people will not hear a
difference. Quite frankly, other than other
musicians in the audience, no one knows the
difference between a P-Bass and a peanut.
The recording studio is a different story, but
realistically what’s your ratio between live and
studio time? Buying a vintage bass is a purely
selfish act—but boy is it ever fun! I do it all
the time! This is a want, not a need. With that
being said, here are the questions and tips
for buying your next pride and joy.
Determine your budget: How much can you
actually spend on your bass? Did you include
sales tax, shipping and luthier work? Can you
justify your budget? Avoid buyer’s remorse at
all costs. I’ve seen many deals get unraveled
when the spouse finds out or the bill comes in.
Know that you can use what you want: This
is not a simple issue of whether you want a
Precision or a Jazz Bass. This is more of a “I
really want a BC Rich Bich 8-string bass, but I
play in a traditional jazz trio” sort of question.
Don’t buy something you know nothing
about: We’ve all done it, but play one first!
We see the great looking bass that we
have to have, but when it comes in from
the big brown truck or we get it home, we
ask ourselves “What did I do?” I see this a
lot with first-time buyers of a bass they’ve
never owned. It happens especially with
Rickenbackers because the muscle memory is
missing playing the neck. It also happens with
Thunderbirds due to the sheer size of the
thing, the neck dive issue, lack of intonation
above the 10th fret and the subdued highs.
The Low Down
Bottom line: indulge! Enjoy! There’s nothing like owning a great vintage bass. About
two years ago I sold a deadly ‘ 64 “Truth”
P-Bass to a friend in New Orleans. He was
gigging at a bar and another friend heard the
ungodly tone of this bass while walking down
the street. He went into the club and was
floored. This story made quite a few forums,
and that’s what it’s all about. The tone and
feel cannot be emulated, as demonstrated by
my Custom Shop vs. Real Deal series done
a ways back [“The Four Rs,” Feb., Mar. and
Apr., 2009]. Next issue, tips on how to try out
and buy vintage basses. Until next time, drop
the gig bag and bring the cannoli!
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.