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  • Upgrading my amp or my bass first?

    I've found a few threads like this online, but I haven't really found any definitive answers, and have read conflicting opinions from different people. I'm 17 and have been playing bass for ~10 months. With Christmas coming up I've decided that I have grown to the point where I am just not getting as fulfilled with playing on my cheap equipment as I once was. I am going to ask for an upgrade as a Christmas present. Anyways my family isn't the most well off, and only ever playing and teaching myself, I can't really say I'm seriously pursuing the bass as anything more than a hobby. At first I played just guitar, then I bought my friend's old squier p-bass for $20 and fell in love with playing more then I ever did playing guitar. The thing is beat to hell, missing its knobs, and has rust on the pickups. Less then ideal, but it gets the job done. On top of this I have been playing on a 10 watt practice amp I got on sale (A Rogue G10 to be exact) which again isn't great but works. While i'm far from a perfect bassist, I feel like I have finally gotten to the point where I have outgrown my equipment. Should I upgrade my amp or my bass first? Ideally I would upgrade both, but I just don't know if that's really in the cards for jobless me right now. I am also looking for equipment recommendations in the $150-100 range.


    Thanks!
    Last edited by Phil O'Keefe; 02-13-2018, 05:10 PM. Reason: Edited to delete spam link - please don't post those!

  • #2
    10 months may seem like a long time but it actually isn't, especially if you are teaching yourself. Always remember its the ability to play well that counts, not the gear. I've seen GAS destroy many players passion to play well. They substitute gear as being the path to being great and while its a necessary element, its not where you must keep your focus. No matter what you own its simply a tool you wield, like a hammer to a carpenter. You can have a hammer made of gold. Its not going to magically drive nails in better for you. The skill to drive nails is with the one using it.

    The most important thing is learning to play well. The gear will come in time. How gear looks has no importance whatsoever, in fact its a fad today for people to make gear look likes its well worn.

    #1 You have a bass that can more then do the job. My advice would first be, take its and have it serviced. Squire bases are built well and can easily do a decent job. You want to make it play well so it doesn't impede your ability to learn to play well. You can do wonders restoring that one to working order. Knobs can be bought for $1 each. It may need a new set of strings and some elbow grease to clean it up and get it to sound good again. Key point is you want the action set up so its not going to impede your ability to play it. The most you may need to spend is $50 for a set of strings and a cleaning/setup.

    Its even better if you are there while the work is being done so the tech can show you how its done. Simply tell him you're story about being a beginner who wants to learn how to maintain his instrument. Take an interest and you'll find fellow players are willing to share knowledge and he may even cut you a break on the costs.

    Next you want to find an amp that's capable of gigging with a drummer. I suggest you stick with a decent used amp. Your preferences will change dramatically over the coming years and its better holding off buying new until you can earn the money yourself and buy what you actually want, not simply what you can. You'll take much better care of something you buy yourself too. Again it comes down to how much passion you develop. I can say mine was great. I worked an entire summer when I was 12 and saved every dime I had to buy my first real amp. Paid $150 for a slightly used Bassman 50 with its cab. Still own it today, 50 years later. I have plenty of other gear too, but that one stuck with me for some reason and It will likely stick with my son when its passed on.

    You need to decide is a combo or a separate head and cab would be better for your needs. Combo's have gotten better but they do tend to vibrate themselves to death. They wind up having electronic issues quickly and for bass they can be a bastard for weight. If you get a head cab combo, you have an easier path upgrading. You can buy a better cab or a better head as money allows. You can even take a cheaper cab and upgrade the speaker and save big.

    What to choose exactly is tough. You could shop EBay for the head and the shipping costs wont be too high. I'd surely do that so you get an idea of used gear costs. A wise buyer knows what gear is worth. Bass cabs would be too expensive to ship so I suggest buying that locally. You have used gear in music stores, Craig's List, Pawn Shops, Garage sales, Flea Markets, and word of mouth. You can put up a notice on a bulletin board in your music store and see if usually get someone whose got extra gear to sell.

    What brand specifically isn't awfully important. Whatever you come across you can Google up and read about it BEFORE you buy it. see if it has a good or a bad history and the selling costs. I's likely focus on either a single 15" or a 4X10" cab that can handle 100~300W and a head that can produce the same. You want the cab RMS wattage to match or exceed the heads wattage, usually exceed because bass beats the hell out of a speaker and the extra beef will sound better with less distortion. Stick with bass gear, not guitar gear. Bass heads are voiced an octave lower and its EQ will match the pitch of the notes. Same thing for that cab. Guitar cabs are "unturned" for the most part and do not resonate to bass notes well.

    Last bass head I bought was a 350W Ampeg Portaflex head that was practically brand new. Paid $200 with the shipping included. They are class d amps so they are very small and light. I had several bass cabs which I bought locally from other players who had upgraded and they were simply sitting around. Paid $75 for an EV cab with an 18" JBL and 2X10" speakers. The outside of the cab was gray carpet that was pretty beat up but its the speakers inside that were worth the money. I used some glue to fix the carpet and its still got a great tone. The guy threw in a 6X12" Sunn cab for free. Half the speakers were blown but I eventually found others. Its an excellent sounding bass cab but hauling it to gigs is a killer. It weighs a ton.
    I have others I've bought all at great prices. Bass gear especially sells low cost used because there are 10 times the number of guitarists for every one bassist and there's plenty of good used gear to go around. I don't see any problem finding what you need. You could likely find a 200W head for under $100 and the same for a cab. Just take your time and don't spring on the first thing you see. Educate yourself in the mean time so you can grab what you know to be a good deal when it presents itself.

    Of course if you can find an SVT head and matching 4X10 cab that's the sound most bassists die for. Its been a standard foe as long as I been alive with maybe the Older Portaflex for tamer stuff.

    Once you get a decent amp and have that bass fixed up, I highly suggest you take some lessons. Even if its only for a few months it can set you on the proper course. You learn how to learn instead of simply copying what others do. Then start playing with others. The sooner the better because its an essential element in playing. You'll find the pressure of playing for others transforms itself into creativity energy you never dreamed of until its put into action. Drilling for a live event is one thing. Actually playing events is where the rubber meets the road. Plus its fun as hell making others happy and having others appreciate your work.

    Don't know how helpful I've been, but keep at it. Good bass players dedicated to their craft is hard to come by. Good luck

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    • #3
      Short answer: the amp.

      Longer answer: there's nothing wrong with a Squier. Inexpensive instruments today are very well made, and that one should be able to take you a long way. But a 10 watt Rogue amp isn't going to cut it anywhere outside your bedroom. If you intend to play with anyone else, unless they're playing unamplified acoustic instruments, you're going to need more amp.

      Really long answer: see WRGKMC's post above.
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      • #4
        Used amp....longer answers, see above.
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        • #5
          Get your bass a little TLC and spend the rest on a used amp. As WRGKMC mentioned, knobs are cheap (but closer to $6 a pair for proper P-Bass knobs than $1 each) and elbow grease is free. You can do your own setup with a few hand tools. There are plenty of folks who can talk you through it.

          Forget keeping up with a drummer though. You'd need to double your budget to get anywhere near that volume. Forget a separate head and cab for similar reasons: You don't have the budget. You'll be able to afford a combo amp with 40-100 Watts. The amp I use at home is a 60 Watt combo with a single 12" speaker and it cost me $80 for an amp that cost $300 new. I found it on CraigsList and got lucky. The typical used price for that amp was $150 at the time. That's an option depending on where you are. Pawn shops have trouble getting rid of amps so they sell them cheap.
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          • #6
            The OP can go either way depending on what he finds. I did a quick search on heads and the first one I came up with was a 160W crate head for $60. Its a little beat up but who cares so long as it sounds decent. A little glue to tack the Tolex back down and even a little black bed liner epoxy to spiff the cab up will make it look better. The gray carpet used to cover cabs is $7.50 a square yard too.


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            Again, first thing I Goggled up was this Crate 1X15" cab at guitar center for $99. The cab looks to be in good condition. There's a little ripple in the grill cloth but no big deal. The cab is rated for 150W. So long as he doesn't crank the head full blast it should do OK with that head. The pair would work well enough together and he's be within the $150 range and have an excellent practice amp that he could gig with others. http://www.guitarcenter.com/Used/Cra...ass-Cabinet.gc

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            There are tons of great deals out there on used gear. You simply have to seek them out.

            As WRGKMC mentioned, knobs are cheap (but closer to $6 a pair for proper P-Bass knobs than $1 each)
            Again, I know my pricing and try not to mislead people on costs. I do allot of instrument builds and refurbs so I have shopped for these items before.

            Here are some Fender style knobs that will work on the basses of guitar for $.99 each with Free Shipping. https://www.ebay.com/itm/Metal-Elect...0AAOSwQPlV8S-N

            You can buy them in Black, Silver, Gold, Press on, Set screw, Round Top, Flat top etc all for a buck a piece with free shipping and its the same stuff you find used on Squire Guitars and Basses. You can also buy speed knobs, top hats, chicken heads of every kind and color including entire sets if you choose plus every kind of switch, jack, plate, pot, pick guard dirt cheap too.

            Of course if you want to pay retail costs with a 500~1000% profit markup go for it. I'm simply pointing out how you can do things on a shoe string budget and not get ripped off or deterred into thinking it cant be done. I know it can be done because I been buying and selling stuff as a profession all my life.








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            • #7
              Great advice in this thread. The amp needs the serious upgrade. I'd fix the squier little by little. PIckup changes, knobs, etc.
              HCBF Mesa Brigade Member #2

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              • #8
                Originally posted by WRGKMC View Post
                . . . first thing I Goggled up was this Crate 1X15" cab at guitar center for $99. The cab looks to be in good condition. There's a little ripple in the grill cloth but no big deal. The cab is rated for 150W. So long as he doesn't crank the head full blast it should do OK with that head. The pair would work well enough together and he's be within the $150 range and have an excellent practice amp that he could gig with others. http://www.guitarcenter.com/Used/Cra...ass-Cabinet.gc . . .
                And that's a nice deal on the cab, assuming the OP lives near Tulsa. Otherwise there will be shipping costs. You started out $10 over budget and now we're easily at $200 or more. Let's look at some Sold listings on eBay for examples. Here's an Ashdown head that went for a bit less than $38 if you live near South Orange, NJ (but closer to $86 with shipping): https://www.ebay.com/itm/Ashdown-bas...QAAOSwlptaQvJR.
                Here's another Ashdown that went for $70.00 but only if you live near Gilbert, AZ (otherwise $119 shipped): https://www.ebay.com/itm/Ashdown-MAG...cAAOSw8A1aVORx.

                Now let's look at cabs. Here's a Peavey 1X15 that went for $80 but only if you live near Merrick, NY since shipping wasn't available: https://www.ebay.com/itm/Peavey-B-15...oAAOSwnMRZ43f7. Here's an Avatar 1X15 cab that went for just over $82 if you're near Fulton, NY (but a bit over $144 shipped): https://www.ebay.com/itm/Avatar-B115...YAAOSwXaRaFNju.

                If the OP lives in Magicville, where cheap gear is plentiful and large, heavy items ship for free, that's great. If he lives in the real universe where I live he may have to make some compromises. I'm trying to respect the OP's budget and intelligence so I'm not talking about fantasy you-got-really-lucky deals (as I mentioned, my own amp was one of those) but what he can reasonably expect. A medium powered combo amp that's available locally (wherever that might be) is his best bet.
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                • WRGKMC
                  WRGKMC commented
                  Editing a comment
                  Think positive man. You're like a wet blanket when it comes to encouraging others.

                  I posted those as example of what you can find WITHOUT looking hard.

                  I have no desire to find the exact deal for him, instead show him the ropes of finding the best deal himself. You claim to play in a church group. You should be familiar with the term, "Teach a man to fish and he'll feed himself the rest of his life? That's what I do. Maybe you should too.

                  I posted those example to motivate him to look for "his own deals" by showing him great buys are out there. I also posted it as a rebuttal to your suggestion he couldn't afford a gig worthy rig and should settle for something less which is pure BS.

                  I also recognize his parents are likely footing the bill. I'd think they would appreciate him being taught how he can find the best bang for the buck instead of being told to give up and settle with less.

                  If he comes up with something he's not sure about then he can easily come back here and ask advice too. That's what this forum is for. Doesn't mean he has to take that advice either.

                  I also suggested the OP keep an eye on sources like the local Crags list, local paper/green sheets flyers, Pawn shops, music stores and even stick up a wanted add in that music store stating he's looking for an amp. Even Garage sales will be places to find gear.

                  The key is to actively seek the best deals possible and use the rule "Set your sights High and Buy Low". There's no reason to let someone with a defeatist attitude tell you that effort is futile. If one deal isn't suitable, there's "always" another just around the corner.

                  I know this for a fact because I been doing it all my life. I'm what you call a a prime example of someone who never had two dimes to rub together as a kid. I worked doing stuff like cutting grass or shoveling snow as an 11 year old for what ever I could scrounge up to buy a guitar. When others saw my passion they chipped in and I took my first $50 and bought a used Vox electric from a guy down the street kind enough to sell it to a good home.

                  From there I played with other musicians and traded "UP" deal after deal until I wound up with a 67 SG worth several hundred dollars back then. (If I had kept it, it would be worth several thousand dollars today).

                  Did the exact same thing when buying an amp.

                  You need to learn how to wheel and deal with music gear. Some people even make it their profession and do very well. You come across musicians all the time who buy toys then tire of them. They often sell them off for peanuts or simply trade them off for something they haven't owned before. To them its a good trade and even if its only for a period of time you can always trade back. If you're a good person with a compassionate heart you may even trade down is it suits both your needs. That's what the whole brotherhood of being a pro musician is all about.

                  I wouldn't be surprised if someone donated a decent rig to this guy if he remains passionate about learning and needing better gear. You have to be active. You cant sit in your house and expect others to come to you. I've had it happen to me so many times I lost count. Seemed like there was always someone there who recognized my passion and would rather donate a piece of gear to someone who appreciated it instead of then selling it for peanuts, or worse, simply throwing it away.

                  Its a core reason I became an electronic tech too. Allot of that gear I inherited needed repair and I simply learned how to do those repairs myself. Its also why I still do allot of charity work repairing other musicians gear. I know what its like to be dead broke and needing a hand up from your brother musicians. You'd be surprised how far selfless acts can still do wonders for others even if they don't turn full circle and benefit you directly.

                • DeepEnd
                  DeepEnd commented
                  Editing a comment
                  You seem to be under the impression that "Give a man a fish..." is in the Bible somewhere. It's not. The Bible doesn't teach self reliance, it teaches reliance on God. But let's move on.

                  Sure, there are deals to be had--sometimes in some places. My little SWR amp is an example, which I've mentioned more than once. I paid about half what I should have. But those are the exception, not the rule. The OP might get extremely lucky--or he might not. It's not being a "wet blanket" to recognize that. He can go look for an amp and look at everything that's available. He might find a nice head and cab for $150 or less--or he might not. Saying that isn't BS, it's reality. Let me remind you that you couldn't do it. Your "deal" was $10 over budget plus shipping. You say it's an example of "what you can find WITHOUT looking hard." and you clearly didn't look very hard.

                  Let's check Guitar Center since they have fairly typical prices and you can check nation wide. Here's an Acoustic 200 Watt head in Sugar Land, TX for $90: http://www.guitarcenter.com/Used/Aco...d-113920923.gc. And here's a generic 1X15 cab in Dallas, TX for $40: http://www.guitarcenter.com/Used/In-...ass-Cabinet.gc. No specs so no idea of power handling or impedance but we're coming in under budget, so whoopee! Let's assume $20 for shipping and we have $150 but for what?

                  Let's also remember that you told the OP to use some of that $150 for lessons. Now how much is left?

              • #9
                Just how badly is the Squier beat up?

                If it's got playability issues, then I'd repair or replace that first, but if it's all mainly cosmetic (normally a little rust on the pickup really isn't going to hurt anything, and new knobs are cheap and easy to install), then I'm with everyone else - upgrade the amp first.
                **********

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                - Bob Lefsetz, The Lefsetz Letter

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                • #10
                  Originally posted by Phil O'Keefe View Post
                  Just how badly is the Squier beat up?

                  If it's got playability issues, then I'd repair or replace that first, but if it's all mainly cosmetic (normally a little rust on the pickup really isn't going to hurt anything, and new knobs are cheap and easy to install), then I'm with everyone else - upgrade the amp first.
                  I mentioned elbow grease and someone talking him through a setup. With any luck, that's all his bass needs.
                  Official HCAG “Theory-Challenged Hack”
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