Cheap Bass Guitars and Bass Gear – Beware

When it comes to cheap bass guitars, do you get what you pay for? Below is a cautionary tale for anyone that is looking to buy cheap bass gear.

The weather is getting colder, the days are getting shorter and before you know it, it’s going to be that time of year again – Halloween.

Cheap Bass Guitars; trash or treasure?
Cheap Bass Guitars; trash or treasure?

So what better way to celebrate than by sharing some scary stories about cheap bass guitar purchases that have gone wrong.

Now don’t get me wrong, cheap basses aren’t necessarily a bad thing – as long as you buy one with your eyes wide open. Sometimes you might want one as a backup that you’ll never use, or you might want to get one as a project bass and attempt to modify the bass yourself. And when you’re first starting out and the money’s tight and you just need to get your hands on a bass – any bass – then going for a cheap used bass guitar is often the best way to go.

That’s the way that I started and here I am almost 19 years later.

My first bass guitar was a copy of a Fender Precision bass guitar that was very used, and cheap. I bought it for about $172 Canadian back in December 1990. Having that cheap bass helped teach me about overcoming obstacles in your way. The bass had stripped screws on the single pickup which caused me plenty of grief! In order to get any real gain out of it, I had to raise the pickup almost as high as it would go to get it as close to the strings as possible. It then sounded merely okay…as long as I didn’t accidentally hit the pickup with my bass pick or my fingers because then it would crash down into the body cavity and I’d be forced to stop mid-song. Not cool. It was this bass (along with a horribly set up Fender Jazz bass at my high school) that put me off Fender style basses for years!

Another cheap encounter I had was with a bass instrument cable. I made the mistake of asking my dad to pick me up a new cable back when I was first starting out. The small town that I lived in didn’t even have a musical instrument shop, but my dad usually drove through several cities each day while working, so it seemed like a good idea at first; he could pick me up a cable and I’d get it a lot faster. Well, my dad knew nothing about musical instruments and he figured that any old patch cord was the same as the next, so he decided to get me the cheapest one around – it was made by a company called Series A. It lasted maybe a month tops, I’ve never had a cable die so fast on me! So even though it probably cost half as much as a decent quality bass guitar cable it was going to cost me more to replace it with a good quality bass cable then if I had just bought one in the first place.

I believe that it was that same bass cable that was involved in the most embarrassing audition that I ever had. My brother and best friend had just formed a band and applied to perform in a talent show in the town I lived in and we had to audition to get in. We had to set up in the music room of the local high school and play a song to show that we were good enough to be a part of the show. I plugged into the amp they provided and was sickened to discover that I couldn’t get a sound out of the bass! There was no time to figure out what was wrong, there were lots of auditions and next then I knew we had to start playing right away. I played along with the band, but there was absolutely no bass sound at all and I avoided making eye contact with the judges who were watching us.

We finished the song and the nervousness set in – would they let us play the show or not? One of the judges (the high school music teacher that would teach me a year or so later) rendered the verdict: we were in! Then he pointed at me and said; “You – get a new guitar cord.”

The last cheap instrument horror story I’m going to share with you today took place a few years later when I was in my high school music class and had finally graduated to a quality Ibanez bass guitar. There was a second bass player that I didn’t know very well in the same class, we both plugged into a two channel Peavey amp. One day he shows up with a bass guitar that I hadn’t seen before, but it had a similar style as the one I was playing (his wasn’t an Ibanez though). He sits down besides me and holds up the bass and says something like, “Pretty nice bass eh? I got it for only $100!”. He then proceeded to plug it into the bass amp and tried to play it – only no sound came out of it. It wasn’t a cable problem this time either!

I mention these stories just to share the notion that it doesn’t matter how much money you save if you end up with a piece of junk. No matter if you’re talking about cheap bass guitar amps or a cheap electric bass guitar I’ve learned that more often than not, you get what you pay for. Before you justify making a cheap purchase, make sure you factor in the amount of money it’s going to cost you when you have to repair, upgrade or buy another bass, amp or even bass guitar cable down the road. When you look at it that way you’ll often realize that the cheap deal isn’t really all that cheap after all!

These items are also known as budget amps or budget basses, and they’re not necessarily bad investments – but do your research first. Is the cheap bass amp loud enough for the music that you play, or will it melt because you have to crank it all the time just to hear it? One of the main things to look out for is PLASTIC. The more plastic that there is on the bass, the cheaper it is. You don’t want to buy any piece of bass gear that uses plastic in any place that sees a lot of action. On a typical bass guitar two such places that come to mind are the input jack and the nut. You also don’t want a plastic input jack on an amp. Think about it, you’ll be plugging in and out probably hundreds of times in even your first year or so of ownership – is the plastic going to stand up to the constant wear and tear?

I’m not saying to never buy anything that’s cheap, I realize that not everyone has the cash to buy new and high end gear. I also realize that people who are just starting out need to start with something and often that’s going to mean investing in some cheap gear. If this is the case, do a lot of research and if possible, consult with a more experience bassist or bass teacher before you spend the money. I recommend that if you’re even someone sure that you’re going to be playing bass guitar for the long haul and especially in a performing band – that you try to aim to spend around $500 or so for an instrument that should be able to last you a few years of serious playing.

If you have to start out with cheap bass guitar packages, then go with a brand name that has a good warranty; Fender and Ibanez usually offer decent quality equipment in even the budget range. If you’re going to buy a used bass make sure that you plug it in to make sure that it works (unless you’re buying a used acoustic bass guitar and you don’t ever plan to plug it in) otherwise you could end up like that bass player I talked about earlier who got a ‘great’ deal on a bass that emitted zero sound!

There are always some cheap bass guitars at

Thanks for reading this rambling post on cheap bass guitars and gear. I’d love to hear your horror stories of cheap bass purchases gone wrong, or maybe you found or inherited a piece of bass gear that ended up being worth much more than you thought?

  • Cool post….I forgot about some of those stories…ah but the lessons learned will never be forgotten eh? Priceless “you – get a new guitar cord”.

  • Hey Mark,
    Thanks for taking the time to check out my post about cheap basses – I’m sure you could write about some similar cheap drum kit horror stories!

  • Thanks for the post. The 6 on the site ive read about basses and similar subjects have been very helpful and insightful. I suppose I was lucky when in 10th grade bought a “starter kit” by Silvertone. Just a basic 4 string P-style bass with a 15 watt amp, paper thin gig bag, tuner, picks, and beginner DVD. I’ve had the bass just over 7 years now without an issue. After reading the horror stories consider myself very lucky! I am happily making a slight upgrade to a Squier Vintage Modified Jazz bass and hopefully a suitable amp in the near future. Thank you again!

  • currently playin 10.00 bass i bought at junk yard in junk pile an refurbished….got 50 bucks into it…mostly pickup cost….i play in a band an is the only bass ive ever played….but tomorrow goin pawn shoppin for another bass….thanks for info

  • Most of what you mentioned can easily happen to expensive instruments, and so I find your commentary to be off base. The detriments of cheap gear are, in reality, different than what you described. I feel that you might unintentionally mislead people by only giving part of the required information.

    Some instruments that are $300 are “better” for various reasons and purposes than others that are over $1,000. I own a pair of very high end MTDs as well as a Rickenbacker, but I wouldn’t go anywhere without my Epiphone EB-3.

  • Hey Johnny,
    Thanks for the feedback, but I disagree for the most part. Cheap bass = cheap hardware which is more likely to fall apart, especially if you only own a single bass and need it to be your workhorse instrument.

    Are more expensive basses 100% free from defects from the time of purchase to infinity? Definitely not, and over spending for a crappy quality instrument isn’t going to protect you (crap = crap no matter how much you pay for it). I’ve heard some people say that they’ve had Mexican made Fender basses that sound better than the American Standard versions – but often with the mention that they’d still rather upgrade the hardware.

    I’d love to hear more about your experiences with the Epiphone EB-3…how’s the hardware on that puppy and how much did it set you back?

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