Playing and owning an upright bass is something I’ve been considering for a long time, but recently, it seems to have become more of a necessity. So, the prospect of buying an upright will soon be a reality for me! At six feet, one inch tall (3/4 size), they can be a little intimidating, but I want one terribly bad. And in an effort to be an educated consumer, I’ve done a lot of research on the instrument and compiled a “Pros & Cons” list for myself, which I’m going to share with you, and hopefully you’ll be able to take something away from it.
- The Sound – upright basses have a very distinct sound. They sound “full” without overpowering. They blend well with other acoustic instruments, which definitely helps with the anxiety I get when I pull out my electric bass at an acoustic show.
- The Versatility – The first time I heard a bass was on a rock album. I’ve heard them used with jam artists, country artists, rockabilly artists, alternative artists, and of course classical artists. Despite being associated with either Classical or Bluegrass most of the time, the upright bass is very versatile, and can fit well with just about any genre
- The Weight and the Wood– I know, I know. You may be asking yourself why weight is under a “pro”. Well, despite some misconceptions, many upright basses aren’t very heavy. I just played one at a Sam Ash that was very easy to carry. Of course, they might get heavier with different kinds of wood, but overall, weight is not that big of an issue.While we’re on the topic of wood, I just want to throw in that you may not need to go with a more expensive wood. At Sam Ash, I played a plywood bass, which are usually the least expensive basses, and it had a more resonant sound than the mahogany one sitting next to it. That was the second plywood bass I had played that sounded better than the more expensive one. More resonance and a cheaper price tag definitely appeal to me!
- The Size Options – There are so many different options when picking your upright bass. The first thing you should know about is size. A ¾ size is the most common size bass. I’m 5’7 and that’s the most comfortable for me. However, ¼ sized and ½ sized basses are made as well. So, if you are shorter than I am, have no fear. Of course, if you are taller than me, 7/8 sized basses are also made. Size options let you find the upright bass that is most comfortable for you.
- Size – I know I just listed “Size” under “Pros”, but it’s also a “Con”. The most common sized bass, ¾ size, is 6’1 and its width is 2’1. So, yeah… it’s big. Now, for someone who is pressed for space, this can be a real issue. Besides having space for it in your house or apartment, there’s also the issue of transporting it. Currently, when I tour, there are at least four of us packed in a minivan with six suitcases, a full sound system, carryon bags, a full drum kit, and Payton Taylor merchandise. Granted, most of that is packed into a trailer that has been made out of the bed of a truck, but it’s packed tight. If I had to add a 6’1 bass into the mix, that would be like adding another person.
- Cost – Cha-Ching!! For most of us “starving artists”, money is tight. So, if you’re considering an upright bass, things are about to get tighter! If you find a bass that is in good condition, has a decent sound, and is less than $800, Take It. No questions asked, it is worth it. The cheapest I’ve seen a new beginner upright bass is $1,000. Of course, the majority of that cost comes from the amount of wood needed to create the instrument, the extra length of the flat-wound strings, and of course the craftsmanship. Another thing to think about is, if you have to transport the instrument, you’re going to want a hard case, which can cost almost as much as the bass itself. Other costs to think about are: strings, which could cost anywhere between $50 and $100, and Pickups, which run between $80 and $200 (You could buy them used for much cheaper). My wallet is already hurting and I haven’t bought anything yet.
- The Switch – If you are beginning on upright bass, this may not apply to you. If you are switching from electric to upright, you may find that switch to be a little difficult at first. The finger board is about a foot longer than the fingerboard on a standard electric bass, causing the notes to be much farther apart. This can be awkward at first, but you really have to use your ears and try to find where each note, or position, is placed. I will admit that as I begin to play I may have to put little stickers on the fingerboard to familiarize myself with the positions. A salesman at Sam Ash told me a great trick… he said to play with a tuner so that you can find the perfect place for each note.
In my opinion, the pros outweigh the cons. I am definitely taking the plunge sometime soon, and I’m sure I’ll blog about it more in the future. I encourage anyone thinking about getting an upright to do your own research and to definitely “try before you buy!”, but hopefully, this post helped a little with your decision.
If you have any questions about anything stated, please feel free to contact me on my “contact” page.