Is One Bass Guitar Enough?

I recently read an article online about owning guitars.  The author’s belief was that there is always ‘room for one more’, but I disagree.  After a certain amount of instruments (the exact number will vary for each of us) you exceed the number that you can use and/or maintain on a regular basis.

So Many Choices

As bass players we’re lucky to be living in a time when we have many options to choose from: four, five, six, seven or more strings are available.  Electric, acoustic, upright, fretted and fretless – a case could be made for having one of each!

But how many basses do you truly need?  For years, many professional bassists got by with one or two basses – often a  Fender Jazz or Fender Precision bass.  Most of the recorded electric bass performances for decades were played with one of those two instruments.

Want versus Need

If you’re a professional bassist that:

  • plays live and in the studio
  • performs with multiple groups or artists
  • performs original and cover songs

…you’ll need more basses.  You need to be able to cover many sounds to do the job – that’s what you’re being paid to do!  Plus you’ll need ‘spares’ if you’re on the road a lot.

The vast majority of bass purchasers don’t fit this profile and could probably get by with one or two basses at the most.  If you want more and can afford it – more power to you.  However, I believe there’s a line that you cross where having an instrument stops being about the music and more about collecting instead.

Are you a Collector or a Player?

If you’ve:

  • Ever bought a bass and were too afraid to take it out of the house
  • Bought a bass for the main purpose of its resale value
  • Paid good money for a bass 100% on how it looks

…chances are you’re a collector (or on the dark path to becoming one).

I’m definitely a player, but even I could make a case for owning four or five instruments to cover ‘all of the basses’ so to speak.  Who doesn’t like to own nice things?  From my experience (ie. not pro and not rich) I know I wouldn’t be able to maintain that many of instruments.

For a few years I owned three basses simultaneously: my main five string, my backup five and a four string electric/acoustic bass.  When I was at my busiest, I managed to get the strings changed on my main bass about three times a year.  My backup was lucky if it got new strings once a year, the acoustic had the original strings on it for more than four years!  I couldn’t afford to keep all three basses in ‘live performance’ condition.

I started to feel like I was neglecting the other two basses. “What if…”, I would think to myself, “there’s a street kid out there who could be the next Jaco Pastorius, but he doesn’t have a bass to play?”  Meanwhile, I have two perfectly good basses sitting unused 90% of the time.

Quality versus Quantity

When it came right down to it, I’d rather trade all three of my basses for one bass.  The ‘one’ would cost more than the others combined to have all the features and customization I’d want, but it would be cheaper only having one bass to maintain. I also wouldn’t be haunted by the basses I wasn’t playing anymore.

Sure I’d like to own a fretless one day, and I’ve been curious about trying out a six string, but in truth I need neither. I’ve already sold the acoustic and the backup five while saving up for my ‘ultimate’ bass, and I did it with a clear conscience.

I feel the greater good is served by having my bass played by someone else rather than collecting dust in my basement.  Maybe they will inspire someone to become a truly great bassist, or pass through the hands of a bass legend? If you love (your basses) set them free.

There are lots of basses I want, but only one that I truly need – and maybe a spare – just in case.

  • Thank you for sharing this. I’ve been having similar thoughts as yours, but in regards to guitar. You make a lot of good points!

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