Tips for buying an older bass

Been shopping for an affordable stingray style bass for a while now, and just had a really cool looking Sterling by Music man SUB4 pop up used in my area. I hadn’t seen any in this color, or with this particular thumb rest, so that got me looking into the serial number… looks like the SN is from 96. It being so old explains why I haven’t seen this dark natural color or thumb rest.

Long story short, we have already settled on a priced I’m good with, and will meet up this afternoon so I can try it quick before buying it. The pictures make this thing look mint, so I’m assuming it has sat in a closet for a decade or two. Any tips on what I should be checking before buying?

3 Likes

Generally you want to ask about the truss rod and the overall state of the neck. As long as the truss rod isn’t actually broken (which is unfortunately possible) or the neck badly warped then you are probably ok, other issues can be addressed as repairs if needed.

Asking about electronics is a good idea too - what you are interested in is if they work at all, don’t occasionally drop out, etc. Lots of used basses will have some scratchiness or popping when turning the pots and so on, but that’s common and you can fix that yourself. As long as the thing works when plugged in, it’s probably ok.

You could also ask about fret wear - an older bass, if it has been played a lot, may eventually need a fret job done. This mostly depends on the type of frets and amount of use.

7 Likes

Not that I am an expert, or anything close, but the obvious, check the electronics are working satisfactorily. Check the visual condition of the body, neck, frets, fretboard, electronics, etc. check action, look over the bridge and tuners, and then play it and see if it feels and sounds right. By right, I mean, to your liking.
Now the real experts can answer while I pose another question along the same lines of yours.

I too like and would like to own a stingray, but I am not in the market for anything over a few handy right now.

But…

A couple Sub’s and OLP stingrays have shown up locally on “Let Go” and “Offer Up”, and they are quite photogenic.
The question.
Thoughts on SUB Stingrays?
Thoughts on OLP (that are officially licensed by MM)?

I will see if I can post a PIC or Two.

2 Likes

I’m looking for a used bass as well. I’d be watching the thread for tips. I’m not able to remove string buzzing from the one I own now. It’s driving me nuts. Plan to change the strings and attempt setup to see if it’d help.

3 Likes

If it hasn’t been set up recently it almost assuredly just needs a setup. It could also be technique as you learn, fretting position, etc. I wouldn’t sell the bass just yet :slight_smile:

We’ve posted Marcelo’s video in a few threads but his explains everything you need to do your own setup:

some nice 'Ray action in that video too :slight_smile:

2 Likes

I also suspect this may be the issue. I’m still on Module 7. Maybe I’d see some improvements on my fretting at the end of the course.
I’d need to upgrade my bass though.
Thanks for the video link.
I saw that

3 Likes

Thanks guys. Unfortunately I think the person selling it knows little to nothing about bass, so I don’t think I’ll learn anything by asking. I plan to bring my headphone amp and headphones so I can hear the electronics. The photos have this thing looking mint condition cosmetically, so I guess my biggest concern is the truss rod.

4 Likes

There’s oftentimes no way to know completely what you’re getting when you go to a private seller’s place, because, there’s not a ton of time to try everything, you’re in someone else’s space, not your own, and, the bass may not have had a setup or maintenance for a time.

But, the advantage is that you do get to try it out in person, and, if there’s anything that you flag on it, you can always negotiate. Stuff I’ve looked for is fretboard and neck issues, as was mentioned before, as those can be costly to fix, and really affect playability. Play it as much as you can, maybe try all or most of the frets. Bring a little tuner with you, and a strap. See if anything feels really off, and that everything is in general working order. See what similar basses of that year are selling for on Reverb or other similar sites.

If you like it, go with your gut - these cash deals are pretty final, but can be great if you find a gem like that, that just sat in a closet for years.

4 Likes

Just remember if it doesn’t feel right when you test it, it probably won’t ever feel right. It can be tempting to buy something because it is aesthetically appealing, but you might not enjoy actually playing it (apart from having a beautiful instrument in your hands). I know this from experience unfortunately…

4 Likes

Thanks everyone, I bought the bass. At first I was worried that I couldn’t get a clean tone out of the E string, but I realized it was because they had the bass knob boosted to the max, and these Sub series have a known issue of having a really hot output, so those two combined overpowered my headphones. Brought both knobs down to center and she sings beautful! The guy said he bought it a few days ago to learn bass, but decided that bass hurts his shoulder too much… so unfortunately he knows nothing of its history, but it looks feels and plays great. I’ll post pics soon.

4 Likes

Congrats, @BassFaceDisgrace . . . :+1:

Good luck with it :slight_smile:
Cheers, Joe

2 Likes

Thanks for all the tips anyway, but now that I’m home with it, it is petty obvious that it is fairly new, and is in mint condition. They don’t call it the SBMM SUB anymore, it is the Ray4 now, so with that in mind it is at least a few years old. The SN does not seem as useful to finding the date as it is on my other basses, and that is what led me to thinking it was a '96, but I don’t think these were even being made back then. Either way I’ve got myself a new bass to play with.

3 Likes

Congrats.

2 Likes

Awesome! That’s a good feeling when it works out! Enjoy the new bass.

2 Likes

Can we see some pictures?

2 Likes


6 Likes

That iss Beautiful.!
looks like you got a great deal.:+1:t2:

2 Likes

I would actually disagree lol. I think you should buy out of feeling more than looks, but I bought a used Fender MIM jazz bass for cheap and I hated the feel at first. Now its my favorite bass and it feels great. It just took me like a week to get used to it.

2 Likes

Entirely possible. I know I’ve just bought some instruments on looks mainly in the past and then been disappointed afterwards. Would rather it just feels good from the start. I know I like the feel of a J-Bass for the most part though, so would buy a J-Bass on looks as I’d expect it to be the normal J-Bass feel.

2 Likes

@Schmeep, first of all, I’m seriously glad that it worked out for you, but I really have to go along with @JT on this point . . .

I wanted a Gibson SG bass for many years, and they didn’t have one in stock at the local GC, so I tried the Epiphone version on display. I immediately disliked it . . . but I talked myself into thinking that the “real” Gibson would be better, so I bought one on-line, because it was so aesthetically pleasing to me personally and I wanted it so badly :roll_eyes:

When it arrived, I really tried to like it at first, but I should have gone with my gut feeling in the GC store when I tested the Epiphone. As the weeks and months went by, I played it less and less, disliking it more and more, and now it just sits there next to my desk. :frowning: . . . . (It does look great, though! :wink: )

See my blog at Gibson SG vs Fender J-bass

Bottom line: if it feels great when you test it, and it feels right when you test it, and you like it right away, then you will probably enjoy it for a long time to come.

Cheers, Joe

3 Likes