Buying Your First Bass

A First Timer’s Bass Purchasing Guide

Buying a bass for the first time is an exciting event. It can also be a bit overwhelming. A visit to a major instrument shop or an online retailer puts you in front of dozens of choices from multiple manufacturers. Two basses may look very similar but have very different prices. How do you choose? This buyer’s guide will steer you in the right direction.

Body and features

Most bass guitar bodies are made of woods chosen for their tonal quality. Basswood and maple are common choices. Necks are made with woods known for their extreme durability, and fretboard woods are chosen for their playability.

Electronics are a crucial part of an electric bass’ makeup. There is always a volume knob and typically at least one tone knob. The pickup is essentially a magnet that transmits the vibration from hitting the strings into a signal through a cord and to an amplifier. There are many different types of pickup, each one creating a different sound. Many basses have two or more pickups, along with switches and knobs that allow for a wide variety of tonal choices. The switches allow you to move between pickups or combine them, while the knobs allow you to adjust the level of each used pickup for complete control of your tone.

Most basses have passive electronics, which means non-battery-powered. These tend to have warmer tones. But you have limited control over the output. Active electronics give you more control over the sound coming directly out of your bass. They are usually powered by 9-volt batteries.

When you are starting out, you will be just fine with passive pickups. You can always alter the sound using pedals or the controls on your amplifier (more on that in a bit).

Strings are usually made of stainless steel or nickel and come flat-wound or round-wound. These terms describe the way the nickel or steel is wound around the core of the string. Round-wounds, which are more common and have a brighter sound and more sustain. Flat-wound strings are typically easier on the fingers and have a deeper, “thumpier” sound.

Strings come in a wide variety of gauges, or thicknesses. The lighter the gauge, the brighter the sound. The heavier the gauge, the deeper the sound. New basses are usually sold with medium gauge round-wound strings. These are fine for beginners. After playing for a while, you will be able to decide what will work best.


Vital accessories for your bass include a strap, a case, a cord, and an amplifier. You will need to budget for these items. If you are just beginning, a soft gig case is fine. The amp does not need to be huge when you are just beginning to learn. A small-to-medium size amp will do fine. Remember, you have to lug it around with you, so start small.


We saved this part until close to the end for a reason. It should not be your primary concern. The bottom line is that you can start with a perfectly good bass, an amp, and accessories for as low as $300 in total. Of course, if you are able to afford better, by all means go for it. Just remember that it is a good idea to stick to a relatively simple model while you are learning rather than to spend money for features you will never use.

Where to buy

Music stores are the best choice for first-time buyers, as you will be able to try different models and see how they feel and sound. When it’s time to upgrade, then check out online merchants and see what they have to offer.