Cheap Bass Advice?

January 22, 2011 3:02 PM

Suggestions for a cheap bass for a non-bass player to use for recording?

I have $200-ish left from Christmas money. I was thinking of maybe buying a cheap-ass bass for recording purposes only. The old bass that I got from the curb when someone was throwing it out is warped beyond playability, and I'm getting bored of faking the bass parts in my recordings with keyboards or cheesy Garageband instruments. I'm by no means a good bass player, but when taking the time to work stuff out I can play passably for a bass track; for the most part I like to try and figure out interesting bass parts instead of sticking to the root notes.
So my question is, is there any point in getting a bass in the $200 range? Is it just going to sound awful or can you eq/amp-emulate a shitty bass enough that it's worth the expense of one over a keyboard with a VST bass instrument.

I was checking out some Squiers online, specifically this (cheapest bass in the store!) and this.
Also this one was on Craigslist today.

For what it's worth, I probably wouldn't go and "test them out" in the store like I would with a guitar. I would feel like a total moron because I don't know what I'm listening for and I can't really play bass off the top of my head anyway, it's not like I'm can bust out "Boris the Spider" or some Yes song and go, "oh man check out that sweet tone."
Anyhow, advice/suggestions are greatly appreciated.
posted by chococat (23 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

The Peavey BXP is much better than the Squier P-bass if you ask me. Mine is teh awesome. I had the Squier before and it had weedy pickups and felt cheap. The Peavey is solid as a rock, lovely to play, and has a great smooth oomph of a sound. Doesn't feel like a cheap instrument at all. I got mine at Steve's so you can probably play one there.
posted by unSane at 4:25 PM on January 22, 2011


(All my basslines are done with this thru Guitar Rig and then the CLA bass plugin from Waves. It's way WAY better than samples.)
posted by unSane at 4:26 PM on January 22, 2011


If you get a bass what are you going to play it through/on?

I have an older Mexi-Fender P-Bass that was about $200. I love it. I've played it through bass amps and stacks and it sounds pretty kick ass. Nowadays though, I've been playing it through my Podxt and it's still pretty good. Takes a little tweaking to get the bass depth that I want, but it works well for being cheap/inexpensive.

Another way I use it is through my audio interface without any effects or amp sims. It actually has a pretty sweet clean bass sound. (Really good sound for acoustic oriented songs.)

Overall I'd say that it really nice to have a bass on stand by. Having played guitar for a few years it only took me a few months to start slapping, popping and thumping that thing. BIG FUN!

Of the basses that you linked to I like the first two and would actually get the Squire Jaguar...pretty cool. Sometimes off-name or no-name instruments are cool, that's always a little more risky, IMHO.

Looking forward to hearing the opinions of others!
posted by snsranch at 4:34 PM on January 22, 2011


Yeah, actually, DIing the bass and just sticking it thru a compressor does work really well.
posted by unSane at 6:33 PM on January 22, 2011


Also, I'd recommend going and sitting down with a couple. You don't have to play much, just a few notes. (I rarely play tunes when I check out a guitar). You'll get a good sense of how solid it is and how the neck feels, which is more important than you'd think on a bass as most basslines have a lot of diatonic runs in them, plus some big slides and stuff.

Also listen carefully to the intonation as you are going to be playing a lot of root notes at the octave and if that is sour it will be a disaster (obviously you can adjust this).

Listen for wolf tones from the pickups being too close to the strings -- more common than you'd think.

Most important -- check the balance between the strings. Lots of cheap basses have a honkin' low E and the other strings are weak. This sounds like crap unless you are playing a single-string bass line.

Listen to the acoustic sound. The more it sounds like a piano, the better in my view as this means you have a full frequency response.

The Squier I had didn't have much sustain (light body + not great joint with the neck) and it just felt and sounded cheap. In my experience the japanese Fenders/Squiers tend to have the pickups voiced differently from the North American ones, more top end and less bottom. Basses are not complicated instruments and the pickup is probably the single most important link in the chain.

I suspect if you go and pick up a few basses you'll swiftly discover that there are some things you like and some things you don't.
posted by unSane at 6:45 PM on January 22, 2011


I've got something like the Ibanez GSR200, and so far it's treated me well. It's built well, no connector or knob issues, and the sound quality is pretty good (obviously depends on the strings).
posted by spiderskull at 7:06 PM on January 22, 2011


I have a Fender JP-90 that I totally adore... I used it for the stretch where bass was my main instrument; it's a hybrid between the J- and P- bass. It sounds and plays really well, worlds better than the Squier P-bass I'd upgraded from. For whatever reason,* they sell really cheap... I see them for $250 pretty often... If you come across one, it's totally a steal as far as cheap basses.

*the only downside is that the pickguard is really cruddy and flimsy, and I see people get kind of snotty about that online sometimes.
posted by COBRA! at 7:51 PM on January 22, 2011


aww, nobody likes the squiers....
i bought my son a squier jazz bass a couple years ago. i thought it felt solid and sounded pretty tight for ~$220, but admittedly i'm no bass expert, not my 1st instrument. nice action, easy to play, i can dial in a bunch of different tones with the 2 volume knobs and one tone control.
haven't played too many other basses, don't know anything about the ones described above but thought i'd drop my 2 cents on the squiers.
good luck, let us know what you find !
posted by g.i.r. at 8:04 PM on January 22, 2011


my baby gave me cheap bass advice
she said "play it low, boy, and play it nice"
i said "honey you don't have to tell me twice!"
gonna follow my baby's cheap bass advice
posted by flapjax at midnite at 9:51 PM on January 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


aww, nobody likes the squiers

i love both of mine - i have a squier fretless vintage modified j bass that is very nice playing and a 89 korean squier standard p bass 5 string - j pickup for the bridge, p pickup for the neck - both were used and both came with flatwounds

as a general rule, yes, listen to the acoustic sound - if it sounds good that way, it will probably sound fine electric - but the 5 string sounds like dead rubber bands acoustically - and has a real nice thumpy deep sound when i plug it in, with just the p bass pickup - (i've got to say that the j bass bridge pickup is not that good - but that's what i have the other bass for)

the thing is, you're going to have to play a few before you find one that's good - in fact, i don't really like the way they sound with roundwounds - i suspect the 60s derived designs were made with flatwounds in mind and that's what they should sound like, as least to my musical taste - i know that the piano sounding roundwounds are the more popular sound these days and they have a place in heavy rock - as does sustain - but i'm kind of old school - i like a sound with more definition and less sustain - a thick worksock stuck under the strings at the bridge helps with this, when you want cleaner lines with only one note playing at a time - sustain can be muddy and murky when you're dealing with low bass notes, so i don't think it's everything

in any case, don't count out the squiers - you might find one that feels right to you
posted by pyramid termite at 9:54 PM on January 22, 2011


I also recommend the Peavey BXPs as mentioned above. I've had one for a few years that I use off and on and love.
posted by kingbenny at 1:27 PM on January 24, 2011


I have an OLP copy of a Music Man Stingray 5 that I got for under $200 several years ago. It's a super cheap bass but it has a humbucking pickup that a) has no hum and b) has a very high output and good tonal range for recording. I have never used it in a live setting. But for recording basslines, it sounds very good once you get a little preamp and compression on it.

But more often than not, I just use a simple square wave synth bass for a lot of my recordings instead of using a real bass guitar. I cringed the first time I saw a friend do that on a recording we were working on. But it can be quantized, has no yucky finger-on-string sloppiness, and the low frequency blends in really nice and sounds surprisingly real because of the frequencies used.
posted by The World Famous at 4:41 PM on January 24, 2011


yucky finger-on-string sloppiness

or, to put it another way, music!
posted by unSane at 6:36 PM on January 24, 2011


or, to put it another way, music!

Depends on who's playing, I guess. When I'm the one playing the bass, I'm not sure the term "music" applies!
posted by The World Famous at 7:03 PM on January 24, 2011


Really informative and helpful comments, all.
Amazingly, scruss MeMailed me on the weekend to say that he had a gently-used Squier P-bass that I could have. We picked it up earlier today. Isn't that totally awesome?
It'll do me just fine for the time being but I'll refer to these comments if I eventually decide to upgrade down the road.
In the meantime, any good playing/recording tips are welcome. I like that sock trick. I'd be going DI pretty much all the time.
posted by chococat at 7:29 PM on January 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


That *is* awesome. My tips for recording are to compress the hell out of it and play with the EQ around 200 Hz until your can really hear it on your HS50Ms. On playing, my big tip is to not be afraid to play the 3rd rather than the root, and rhythmically to make sure you are hitting the same downbeats as the bass drum. (I usually work out the bass part to some boring boom-tish rhythm then program or play the drums to the actual bass line that emerges).

Bass is one of the funnest parts of the whole recording process and getting it right can make the biggest difference.
posted by unSane at 7:49 PM on January 24, 2011


yucky finger-on-string sloppiness

if you're talking about squeaking, flatwounds pretty much eliminate that
posted by pyramid termite at 6:17 AM on January 25, 2011


I like to play my squire p-bass with fingers way down the neck, like over the 12th fret, to get a more acoustic sound, almost like an upright. Or play it with a heavy pick right near the bridge for a bright, funky tone. It's a versatile instrument, have fun!
posted by abc123xyzinfinity at 8:41 AM on January 25, 2011


My advice is to not play with the tone knobs and volume knob wide open. It depends on the bass but it can make a big difference in sound if the treble/mid/bass are rolled off some.

As far as recording definitely just do the DI because then you have raw material to change however you want. You can always run the sound through virtual amps/effects/etc after recording as clean as possible.

Your hands are going to make up a huge portion of your tone so that's going to be the biggest thing to work on. I can play a $3000 bass or a $200 bass and as long as they are setup correctly it'll sound like me playing.
posted by zephyr_words at 10:06 AM on January 25, 2011


I was just in a similar position and bought a Fender Squire P-Bass - which I run through and Art MP-Tube V3 Pre-Amp on the 'Bass' Setting. I kinda like the tone.

But I think its considerably changed by the Art Pre-Amp. And I think actual bass even a crappy cheap bass will sound so much better than any method of faking a Bass Guitar.
posted by mary8nne at 9:10 AM on January 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Wow, I really had now idea Music Talk was here. Any chance I could piggy-back on this? I've got a Japanese Fender precision, and I was thinking of switching to a jazz (damn these giant palms and their terribly stubby fingers) since the neck is thinner, and seems a bit easier to play on. I've only really ever had this fender, and a cheap store brand fender copy. Are there any other brands out there I should be checking out? If so, could you tell me why they'd be better than a Fender Japan jazz bass? I've seen a couple used for about $400, and have been told I could probably trade in my p-bass for about $300, so nothing outrageously expensive.
posted by Ghidorah at 2:32 AM on February 8, 2011


Welcome to Music talk, Ghidorah!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:05 AM on February 8, 2011


I'm still playing the hell out of my first bass, which is a Mexican Deluxe P-Bass Special like this one but passive. Jazz neck plays like a dream, and the P/J pickups give extremely versatile tone. It's got a good amount of chunky P-bass growl but also nice high-end attack thanks to the metal pickguard, maple neck, and J-bass bridge pickup.
posted by Existential Dread at 10:46 PM on February 26, 2011


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