Small Bass guitars that have shorter necks and scaled down bodies used to be considered bass guitars beginners or folks that had shorter arms and smaller hands. Nowadays these instruments are actually preferred by many pro bass players because of the lighter weight and the lower tension on the strings. This allows for a lot more play in the strings to get bended notes.
Check this out: Inexpensive basses from Rondo Music
A lot of these are still packaged and sold as beginner models and starter packs, so a lot of good deals can be found on these smaller sized basses, but if you put some extra care in choosing one that is sturdy and made well, you can come out way ahead. On the other hand, some of these are just junk, made of particle board and with poor quality fit and finish.
There are a couple of different sizes that are classified as smaller basses, first being 3 4 scale or short scale basses, and then there are the medium scale basses that are only slightly smaller than a full sized bass guitar. Both make excellent starter bass guitars for beginners, or a smaller more comfortable bass for those of us who have smaller hands and shorter arms (and also for guitarist who just want to dink around with a bass, and it feel more like a regular guitars scale. )
So what are some of the factors that determine the price and quality of a short scale bass?
Well, one big factor in both the price and quality is the country of origin. American, European and Japanese instruments are both expensive but of the finest quality. You are going to pay quite a bit for even a stripped down model, but you can pretty much guarantee that it will be rock solid.
The guitars made in developed countries such as China, South Korea, and Mexico are of varying quality, but with the emphasis on newer machinery and industrial processes, Chinese factories seem to produce decent quality basses that have cheap prices. The Korean guitars seem to have a great value on detail work such as burst finishes and inlays, decorative stuff…
In developing countries, like Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand, etc, not many instruments are made for import to the U.S. and U.K. but some really cool ones are made for local and regional markets.
So what features affect the prices?
One thing is the level of decoration the body neck and headstock have. Big block mother of pearl inlays cost more than pearloid dots on the fretboard. Unique finishes such as bursts and quilt maple tops cost more than the same models with less appointments.
To me there are a few things that are essential, though, when looking at any small bass guitar.
One of these is that it has to be made from solid wood, not plywood or particleboard.
This bass guitar features a solid alder body (not plywood) and a beautiful maple neck with maple fingerboard and 20 frets which helps deliver excellent tone and sustain:
There is also the hardware to consider. Any bass guitar neck should be reinforced with a truss rod, and it should be a strong one at that. A warped neck on a bass is a real mess.
Fretboards for short-scale bass guitars are usually made of rosewood, maple, or ebony. Of these, ebony is generally the most expensive, with some varieties of rosewood being rare as well.
Many players have distinct preferences about the fretboard and the way it sounds and feels. On fretless basses this is really important, where on fretted instruments, the quality of the fretwork also is important.
I have had axes in the past that had poorly finished frets, keps snagging my fingers on the edge of the neck. What a pain.
There is also the matter of the bass guitar bridge, bass tuning pegs, and the nut. The materials that these are composed of will affect the sound and playability of your bass.
It also helps to have a high gear ratio so that they are not so hard to turn.
The other major thing to look at is the pickups and electronics (knobs and switches). You can choose between an active or passive pickups, the active seem to have less sound interference and seem more lively but they also cost more for the most part.
There are Split coil, p-style, and humbucker type pickups on electric basses. Investing a little more to active is well worth it, altho some prefer the vintage sound of the passive pickups.
Anyways, for more info on some really good but cheap basses: Rondo Music
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