What to "play" in a guitar store?

I know a lot of you do this on a regular basis… go to a guitar store and test drive basses. Awesome!

Personally, I haven’t really worked up enough “courage” yet to do this more regularly, mainly because I really don’t know what to play/noodle when I stand there and half/all of the store is listening. I don’t want to look like the complete newbie twerp I feel I am and scrape together a C major scale or some simple riffs, which get annoying/old after 10 seconds max.

This is all a bit silly perhaps, but, really, what do you play in such a case? What gives you the feedback you want? What is the best strategy for a beginner to “half-badass” bass player to test a bass in a store? What tone settings should you use on the bass/on the amp?

Also, what riffs/melodies/lines do you absolutely NOT want to play under any circumstances?? Apparently, guitar players get shushed/shown the door if they start playing “Stairway to Heaven”…

Looking forward to a good discussion :smile:


Funny you should ask, @joergkutter . . . I happened to go to the local music Guitar Center last Sunday and tried a short scale bass.

I just played my usual ‘warmup routine’: essentially extended scales up and down the entire neck loosely formed into progressions of A, D, and E major. I can get a sense of the tone and playability of the bass, and a good feel of the neck . . . without worrying whether anyone is listening to me or not, because I’m not playing a “song” they know . . . :slight_smile:

I used their Rumble 100 amp set the way mine is.

HTH and all best, Joe


@joergkutter -
I can help!
I worked in a music shop for years, and I still teach at one a few days a week.
Let me tell you a few things:

You won’t do anything in the store that will shock, dismay, or awe the staff or customers. Everyone is there for their own reasons.
The staff has heard everything a million times.
Most common bass things played:
Blues patterns
Something slappy
Tool riff (usually Schism)
Noodling in either major or minor pentatonic

You can rest assured that, unless you are Marcus Miller and wear a shirt that says “I’m Marcus Miller” - it won’t matter how ridiculously bad or good your store noodling is - the staff will remain apathetic, aloof and superior.
Or - what’s sometimes worse - they’ll lay on completely dead and empty compliments in an effort to endear you to them and their sales-men like ways.

Occasionally (like, never) you’ll get a decent person who is pleasant and enthusiastic. And, because they are decent people, it won’t matter what you play because they’ll be basically decent people and will meet you wherever you are on the bass journey.

So -

Think about what to play on a new bass while you’re playing your current bass. Are there phrases that feel awkward? Places the neck feels too big/narrow/wide, etc? Frets that poke out over the fingerboard? Spacing too wide? Nowhere for a thumb? Not enough growl or attack from pickups?
Make a list of things you want from a new bass, and think about what to play to test those qualities.
Then do that in the store, and ignore everyone else around you. Like everyone always does in a music store.

Go get 'em!!!



In my case, there’s no way to avoid looking like a newbie twerp, and I think the store personnel know this right away. Luckily, many people in a guitar store are actually noobs too - just from the fact that there’s a continuous stream of people who get into guitar/bass, then quit after a fairly short time for one reason or another. As for the egoic “pros” laughing at me, I just tune them completely out, I mean, I’m in my own world, and it’s my experience, not theirs (yeah, so I’m just an ego-centric beginner then :wink:) They’re probably tuning me out too, and just don’t care, in all reality!

As for what to play, well, my arsenal is pretty limited to scales, “Don’t stop believing”, “Billie Jean”, and some “Love will tear us apart” to test the higher registers. I’ll go in there as a serious buyer though, and I’ll at least buy a set of strings or something from them, especially if I tortured them too much with my playing :grin: And man, I just try out all kinds of settings on the amp, why not?


All I have right now is a big bodied Dean Electric/Acoustic Bass. I had all kinds of plans on what I was going to get. (I’m looking at you Yamaha TRBX604 with the Dark Cherry Red Burst. You beautiful beast) Then my mother needed four new tires and mom’s tires take precedence over a new bass. So, if I want to practice on an electric bass I go to the Guitar Center across the street.

I was pretty uncomfortable at first but I made myself keep going back until I was less uncomfortable and I will keep forcing myself to go back until it feels like I’m in my own living room.

I smile. I am polite to everyone. I ask a million questions and I play with whatever I feel like playing with and often try things I’m not interested in just to see what it’s like. Sometimes I plug in. Sometimes I just want to feel the instruments without worrying about it.

What I play:
Blue Orchid by the White Stripes for the low end.
Dramamine by Modest Mouse for the high end.
Drinkee by Sofi Tukker just because it feels weird to me.
Mountain Song by Jane’s Addiction
Some slides, some scales, and some minor noodling.

I play all of the above poorly, at best, and I try to play unapologetically poorly. Not being a jerk. I’m just not very good yet and I want to enjoy the whole learning experience rather than be intimidated by it. It helps that I have no problem laughing at myself.

I think most people worry that some self important want-to-be musician with an inflated sense of their own self worth is going to either say something shitty or make it obvious they’re talking shit about you. Those people are irrelevant and deserve nothing more than your own laughter and an increase in volume on your amp. I haven’t had this experience but I am prepared with laughter and volume, just in case.

Anyone who’s opinion might matter will probably have a good understanding of where you’re at and won’t be a dick about it.

So, either way, don’t be intimidated by going to play at your local music shop. It’s fun and it’s worth it. :slightly_smiling_face:


Thank you all so much for sharing your insights and experiences! It was both entertaining, refreshing and inspirational to read your takes on this!

On to the guitar stores… :smile:


How true. I remember a long time ago before I could even manage a decent major scale, one of the shoppies picked up a guitar and sat next with me to try to jam a little with me: what a positive gesture - that must have destroyed his soul when he realised how bad I was.

Truth! Having tried numerous basses while still unable to hold anything together for more than 4 bars, I’ve spent a lot of time being intimidated by the good players in there showing off. What anybody who has spent time test driving guitars will tell you (if they’re honest) is that there’s always somebody better than themself, and they might be in the store at the same time, so stow your ego and stick to trying the instrument out for yourself.

Spot on! We are what we are, and every person in the shop at the time has been in the same place. If you think they are looking down their noses at you and laughing at your noob ways, just remember that they were there too, and one day you will be the proficient player who seems intimidating to a noob. What would you do: laugh at them or give them some space to feel comfortable in their exciting stage of picking a new instrument?

Next time I go to the shop I plan to use my practice routine: it’ll bore anybody there into tuning me out: who wants to really listen to a novice play 30 different scales then a few bars of numerous cliche bass lines like Another One Bites The Dust? They’re not there to listen to me anyway.


Sorry to revive this topic, it I think I might learn a version of Stairway on Bass, and go to the local GC and play it.
I think that whole “no stairway” thing is as true as it was funny in Wayne’s World. But I wonder if anyone played it on bass before.
Maybe I will just to be funny in a sarcastic way.

If not, maybe @JoshFossgreen can work that bit into one of his YT videos, be Noob Josh and play a quick “stairway” guitar intro on bass.


The bass equivalent is probably the guitar intro to “Smoke On The Water.” Or maybe “Another One Bites The Dust”.

Or “Hysteria”. Which I am guilty of even if I can only do it at like 2/3 speed, it’s like my go-to bass store test. Which probably gets me lots of eyerolls :slight_smile:


Yeah, smoke on the water is probably the equivilent. Or my sharona ( which I thoroughly enjoyed learning)


In remembrance of the lockdown, I’m going to work up a totally re-worked version of “My Sharona” that nobody will ever hear, and I will never play publicly.

I’ll name it “My Corona”.


That was excellent, Pam @PamPurrs . . . . :wink:


You won’t be the first one. Let me see if I can find it…


That doesn’t surprise me. As much as I like to think I’m the only humorist genius in the world, I have to concede that there are others :laughing: :laughing: :laughing:


this reminds me of the time my son and i went to guitar center to look at some gear true story guys. im a bass player however my son plays lead guitar with 14 years experience and can play most anything. he was looking to buy a high end strat .so he had picked one to play we were doing the oh u awe thing looking at this guitar. and the salesperson said well lets see here let me pick a amp that suits this guitar. he sets us up and this is where it gets hard for me as a father to keep my you know what together. my son looked at me after making a few amp adjustments leans over and whispers this one is for you dad. and busts into yellow ledbetter. it sounded amazing things got blurry my nose started to run my heart beat fast. and it was like you could hear a pin drop as he played on that busy Saturday afternoon. after he played the whole place was clapping! and one of the clerks behind the sales desk sang out that ever so famous line and that my friends is the moments we live for. oh and yeah we bought what we refer to as old yellow true story


I thought I made My Corona up too! Then I saw the comments section of the song on Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BR2JtsVumFA


I’ll bet I’m the only one who got a new bass during the lockdown and named her Corona…


oh hells yeah pam gj i bet she is a fender!


Honestly, nobody cares what you play. You don’t have to worry about it.
My advice is to stay away from Guitar Center. Most of the "experts” there aren’t any better than you and aren’t much help.
Go to local, smaller shops. They are more helpful, carry less trash gear and are generally more informed and experienced.


I generally don’t rely on the staff at a music store to guide me in my decision; I’ve pretty much already made up my mind by the time I get to that stage. As far as making the final decision based on playing the instrument, that’s a decision that only I as the buyer can make.