Bass Guitar Packages as a gift for Christmas or other occasions

(Dave Molter | Posted 2009-12-12)

Bass Guitar Packages as a gift for  Christmas or other occasions

As I write this article, it's only two weeks till Christmas, so I’m going to make a couple of recommendations about things to consider when purchasing a bass/amp package for beginners as a gift.

- If you’re buying a bass starter set, you will need at least a small amplifier unless the package includes powered headphones. Parents, just because you have an amp doesn’t mean the music has to be loud. Besides, most small bass amps have a headphone jack that allows for silent practice. Yes, there are acoustic bass guitars, but that’s not what most players want or need as a beginner.
- Make sure that the player understands that he or she is not going to be able to take the bass to a party and have everyone sing along. Despite the number of high-profile bass soloists, bass – especially for a beginner – is a background instrument. If you want to single-handedly be the life of the party, you’d best buy a guitar.
- Don’t fall victim to the myth of “bass is easier because it only has four strings.” Although bass and guitar share tuning over the lowest four strings (bass is one octave lower than guitar), learning bass is a skill unto itself, and most players develop a mentality entirely different that that of a guitar player. (Which is good! Trust me.)
- Consider the size of the player when purchasing a bass. A full-scale bass is normally a 34” scale, this being the length of the strings from the bridge (on the body) to the nut (at the top end of the neck). However, for a child or even a small adult, 34” can seem huge. Several manufacturers make ¾ size basses, usually with a 30” scale. For reference, I know many women and even some men no taller than 5’6” and who play 34”-scale basses without difficulty. However, if your player comes in at under 5 feet, I’d recommend a 30” scale bass.
- Consider adding a lessons package at a local music store to your purchase. Unless the player is a prodigy, figure on at least eight lessons (two month’s worth). This will start the player off correctly and will allow a long enough time to see if he or she is really interested. Many new players don’t understand that music demands a commitment. Most teachers recommend one, 30-minute lesson a week and daily practice of at least 15 to 30 minutes. Lessons average about $15-$20/half hour.

Now that we’ve covered some basics, I’ll recommend a few bass packages that offer quality workmanship and decent value.

Full size (34” scale) basses
Fender Affinity Precision or Jazz Bass
Both packages include the bass, gig bag, tuner, strap, instrument cable, a “getting started” manual and the 15-watt Fender Rumble amplifier. Including a tuner is a smart move: when I got my first bass in 1965, I broke a string within five minutes because I had no tuning reference (in 1965, tuners cost around $200). The amplifier has a headphone jack for silent practice. The Precision Bass has a single pickup and a slightly wider neck than the Jazz Bass, which has two pickups. Either is fine for a beginner. Available in black, metallic red or metallic blue, Average street price: $300
Peavey MAX Bass Stage Pack
Better known for amplifiers than basses, Peavey nonetheless offers a good package at a price slightly lower than Fender. The package features the Milestone bass and MAX 126 amplifier (10 watts) as well as a strap, gig bag, tuner, cable and DVD. Available in red or black. Average street price: $260

3/4 size Basses These basses for smaller players usually are not sold as part of a package, but you may be able to “urge” your local dealer to put together a package at a discount – often they will throw in a strap and/or cable – or maybe even a tuner -- at no extra charge. Figure on spending around $25 for a padded gigbag and another $100 for a reliable amp (see below)
Fender Squier Bronco Bass 30” Scale, usually available in red or black only. A single pickup bass that sounds remarkably good! Average street price: $150

Practice amps
There’s no need to have tons of wattage in your first amp – anything up to 25 watts will do nicely. However, when faced with the choice between a more powerful amp and a lower-powered one for the same general price, go for power. It’s important for bass.
Fender Rumble 15 15W Average street price: $129
Peavey MAX 126 10W Average street price: $79
Behringer Ultrabass BT108 15W Average street price: $69

One final word about strings: They break, or go dead. Although I’ve broken only one string in 40+ years of playing, I am the exception rather than the rule. But eventually, you will need to replace either one string or an entire set. Strings are like clothes – everyone has a preference. For beginners, it’s not so tough, though. Figure on spending anywhere from $20 to $40 for a set of roundwound strings, which most beginning players prefer and which come on almost every new beginner bass. Individual strings can be bought, but not every music store carries them. If they do, it may set you back almost as much for one string as for an entire set, so why not buy the set? Popular, inexpensive brands that almost any guitar store should carry include D’Addario, Ernie Ball, Fender and GHS.

Good luck! Start jammin’!

Dave Molter has played bass professionally in and around Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, since 1965 in too many rock bands to list. His bass of choice is a Lakland 55-94 5-string. When he’s not doing communications for a church in Pittsburgh’s South Hills, or playing bass, Dave moderates the bass-related forums for MusicGearReview.

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