Finding a brand-new instrument that has the attributes you’ve been seeking can be the light at the end of the tunnel. Before you write the check, make sure you’ve “played the tape all the way through” (an anachronistic aphorism from the days of tape).
Are you buying this instrument from a dealer? What is their objective opinion on its eventual resale value, and value for the price? They should respond with alacrity and several options, giving you perspective on alternate instruments you could choose for your long-term goals. A bass (violin/viola/cello) may have a bright future as far as retaining its value, or may be considered a “player’s bass” that sounds and plays exactly as you want it to, and is being sold inexpensively for its attributes, as it is not expected to have a resale value equal to or above its current price. You’ll want to make this purchase only after having this discussion. Several workmanship indicators are listed below; a dealer will be able to talk through these with you on any instrument you’re considering, and substatiate how they affect the price.
The dealer should be offering setup and adjustments to make the instrument play properly, some warranty, even if it’s a consignment, and willingness to take the instrument back on trade or consignment when you’re ready to buy up. If the dealer seems reluctant to eventually receive the bass back in his showroom, there will be reasons why.
Are you buying this instrument from a maker? You’ll need sufficient answers to:
If you can check off all the boxes, and you feel this bass will work for you and all your current information indicates it's worth the asking price, take it on approval and take it to a reputable violin luthier unaffiliated with the maker. Have it looked over for all the above aspects, plus anything else the luthier can see. A violin person will be likely to have the highest expectations regarding workmanship, and a qualified double bass specialist will know more about setup. Would it appraise for the asking price? Is it the quality of instrument they would feel good about representing in their own inventory?
If everything gets a green light, congratulations! If not, don’t feel compelled to take on an instrument that is anything less than the highest level of craftsmanship and design. There is no stigma in instead choosing a workshop-made instrument until such time as you are ready to get on the waiting list of one of the world-class makers. The high-end workshops across the world (there are also workshops that are not high-end) produce quality-controlled, consistent instruments by highly experienced makers with apprentices and journeymen working under close supervision, many of whom become fine makers in their own right after years of superior tutelage and many instruments produced. Due to their capital advantages, workshop instruments sell for less, relative to their quality, leaving you the savings to purchase upgrades and accessories for your new instrument. All the above-mentioned workmanship points apply to the value-to-price ratio, and advisability, of any instrument from any source. Should you ever buy an instrument with workmanship that’s less than stellar (a “player’s bass”?) As long as the value-to-price ratio is reasonable for the current market, and your expectations of its resale value are clear, you may find one suits you perfectly.
Additionally, if you don’t happen to see an instrument that meets your needs in a shop, make certain to ask! The shop may have incoming inventory or consignments. Good dealers have interactive relationships with the workshops and/or makers they represent, and should be able to obtain special-order models, and sales staff who keep tabs on instruments that are soon to be available. You’ll get better results teaming up with the dealer and waiting for them to bring in an instrument for you than skimming the inventory of every shop and settling for an instrument that’s only sufficient, but not ideal.
Articles on basses, setup, technique, teaching and more, by Quantum Bass Center staff and guests