Used Versus New?
Used and new, both are great choices!
- If a bass is new it is a blank canvas waiting for your fingers to shape its tone.
- If it is used it has a story to tell. Are you its next chapter?
But if you do buy used… keep in mind:
The Most Important Thing to Watch out for When Buying a Used Bass
Is the truss rod okay? Even the best basses in the world are completely useless if you cannot adjust the neck relief. Maybe the setup and action are perfect as you take the pre-owned beauty out of its box – but over time the wood will do what wood does and contract and expand with the seasons.
Then you may be in for a rude awakening: you try to insert the Allen wrench into the truss rod and – whoa – are unable to make the tool have a good grip, and hence cannot adjust the bass! Escrow is long closed or the 30 day return period has passed months back? Ouch.
Too many times I have seen otherwise fine basses with worn out truss rods. It happens easily – a few forced turns with a tool that is slightly too small or forcing one that is a bit too big in there – and the bearing is worn out! You may think one can’t possibly get that wrong if you have a nice full set of small Allen wrenches, but there are sets in inches and sets in millimeters, they look the same to the bare eye, so yes, it does happen!
A worn out neck screw makes the bass quite useless. The truss rod goes through the neck of the bass and is responsible for adjusting the relief, ie, how far away the strings are from the fretboard.
- Too tight and you get a buzz
- Too lose and you get uneven and hard to play action
Where is it?
You can find it at either end of the neck – sometimes covered up by a little plastic or wood cover, sometimes tugged away right at the base of the neck.
So, when you get that big box in the mail and are getting ready to test it , make sure to take a good look at the truss rod.
Have an Allen wrench multi pack ready in mm and inch sizes (you can get both at Home Depot or Lowe’s or even on Amazon) and see if you can insert the tool and if it fits snuggly. Some basses come with their tools – ask the seller to include them, if possible!
Bad Grip – Bad News. Yet, not all may be lost…
In some cases, it is possible for a skilled metal worker to redrill the neck screw to the next size Allen wrench. I have seen this done, but depending on where on your bass the truss rod is accessed and how “bad” it is, this may not be possible. Worth a shot, though!
Help for Good Set Ups: Action Ruler Gauge
Here is a nifty tool that can help you find your favorite action: with this string action ruler gauge you can find the perfect number for your playing needs.
- Lots of tapping? go thinner on the strings and set towards a lower number.
- Grooving hard? higher end and thicker strings! To be able to do both, find a compromise that works for all situations.
Other things to watch out for
Of course there are plenty of other items to examine; you want to check if the neck is twisted, what shape the frets are in and how much they have left on them, if all the buttons work and what they do, if the pickups are okay; you want to open up the battery case and look for signs of corrosion or a leaked battery and of course diligently test the bass overall. But the truss rod disappointment is a biggie, so:
The Most Important Take Away
- If you go somewhere to test a bass, ask the owner to have the tool ready or take a set of these guys with you!
- If you are in escrow on ebay – test right away!
Don’t fall in love with a bass with a worn out truss rod. You will regret it down the line!
Enjoy your new (old) bass to the fullest with technique exercises and bass line creation:
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