THE LOW END
What’s Going on in the Bass World?
Around this time each year, I do my “state
of the union” address for the bass world.
Long story short, 2010 was quite possibly
the strangest year I have ever seen in the
vintage bass world, since there was a thing
called a “vintage bass.”
In the fourth quarter of 2009, I was optimistic that the top side of the market (the
$10k-and-up range) was going to make a
comeback. In December 2009, my shop
moved quite a number of big-ticket basses
both to the general public and to other
dealers, and we bought a famed 1960 stack
knob Jazz bass once owned by Walter
“Uncle Bookie” Booker (the purchase was
detailed in the March and April installments
of this column), along with some custom-color Jazz basses. This brisk, high-end dealing
continued right through the Orlando Guitar
Show, which was held in late January 2010.
Fast forward several months, and you’ll find
that great basses are reasonably priced right
now (if you could call a $15k bass reasonable),
but are practically stagnant. To quote my good
friend and colleague, Jim Singleton, “great,
super high-end items will sell, provided they are
priced where they should be.” The problem we
are facing now is that a lot of the bassists buying in this range either do not have the capital
to invest, have the capital, but have no faith in
the future, or previously financed their passion
with a second mortgage. By far, the last group
was the majority, and those days are long gone.
I have a very rare, custom-color slab board
Precision bass. I’ve known the whereabouts
of this bass for about a decade, and know
that it sold twice in prime markets in the
mid-$20k range. I’ve had the bass for a year
and cannot pull mid-teens on it. Likewise,
big Thunderbird basses, once commanding
mid-teens to the low-20s, are now pulling
less than 65 percent of value.
68 PREMIER GUITAR NOVEMBER 2010
Just where is the top side of the market
going? I’m not going to venture a guess,
but I cannot see prices dropping further. I
believe everything has bottomed out. An
interesting barometer to follow is the vintage auto market. Prices on big cha-ching
autos are rebounding, and in the past,
other collectible markets followed suit—this
includes the bass market.
Previously, the lower and mid-priced segments
of the market featured basses that were “
flavors of the month”—models that got molten
hot and then leveled off quickly. I have not seen
that in the past year. There was a period of time
when you could screw a Rickenbacker truss-rod
cover to a dead armadillo and sell it for big
money and then some, but Ricks have cooled,
plain and simple. Generic 4001s and all 4003s
are retailing at almost the same price, and a
lot of them remain unsold. I have a newer, near
mint 4003MG that I decided to blow out on
an online auction site for $1699. I had it listed
three times and it never made reserve. Last
year, dealers were paying that money.
Other than older Thunderbirds, Gibson
basses have been selling for less than
expected. The good news is that they are
selling—they’re just priced a little less than
last year. Music Man basses I’m not getting at all. A dealer friend sold a Cutlass
for $3500, and another dealer friend cannot pull $3000 on an Inca Silver. Personally
I’m seeing generic B00-B02 series basses
in nice shape and okay colors retailing in
the high-teens to low $2k range. Notice I
said retailing, not listing prices. Black B00
Stingrays are not $3000—they never were
and are not going to be any time soon.
There have been two steady swingers in the
market over the past year. Fender basses
from 1982 and earlier have been constant
sellers, and the prices have not budged up
or down, provided they are in the $800 to
$10,000 range ($1500 to $4000 is still the
sweet spot). My old favorites, early G&Ls, are
selling very quickly, and are my bargain pick,
coming in at under $1350 for the most part.
The one segment that has taken off is the
used, traditional boutique bass. This is
because of increasing list prices on new boutique basses, and because buyers know they
are going to take a beating on “weird” boutique models come resale time, causing them
to flock to used examples. Right after
Premier Guitar published an article on five
builders of pre-CBS bass emulations last summer, interest in all of those manufacturers
increased drastically. Players are looking for
modern conveniences without the worry of
taking a $10k bass to a $50 gig. If for some
reason you don’t think vintage guys are flocking to boutique basses, stop by the Warrior
booth at any guitar show—they’re jammed
The stagnation has affected me too. Maybe
it’s because I own a bass shop and I can grab
and go with any bass desired (provided my
business partner hasn’t grabbed it first), but
I haven’t purchased a vintage bass for myself
in the past year. My one purchase was a
Mike Lull T-Bass, which was custom ordered.
I bought that bass for a band I was in, and
expected to have some heavy work for it. No
sooner than the bass arrived, I got launched
from the band. I now have a sad reminder and
a MasterCard bill. Fortunately, a very good
friend of mine gave the bass a good home.
Next month, I will be having a roundtable discussion with a pile of PG readers who I know
from several forums. I’ll be sharing their take
on spending habits, expectations, and the
downfalls of the past year. See you then.
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.