Buying a bass on the Internet can be a risky and somewhat scary experience. Unfortunately, there are many dishonest and unknowledgeable people online selling basses.
Some are outright scammers, while others simply don’t know what they’re selling.
I’ve personally bought several Fender basses online over the years, and I’ve learned some valuable tips on what to look for and what to avoid.
Whether you’re searching for a vintage Fender on eBay or buying a new one from a dealer, there are several things you should know before you jump in and commit to a purchase. The biggest problem with buying online, of course, is that you can’t actually hold the bass and play it. You don’t get a feel for the weight and balance, and you don’t get to hear how it sounds. There will always be some risk buying this way, but I’ve purchased a few great basses online, and I’ve never gotten a dud.
The first thing you need is really good pictures and many of them. If the seller only has a couple of pics and they’re blurry or far away, that’s a red flag. With today’s technology, there’s no excuse not to provide good quality photos. Generally speaking, you want good, clear pics of the entire body, neck, headstock, tuners, bridge, and electronics.
If the year and authenticity of the bass are important, make sure you get pictures of the serial number, any code numbers on the pots and the date stamp on the neck heel and/or neck pocket. If you’re unsure how to read these dates and numbers, you can send them to Fender for verification or use Fender’s online forum.
Lots of Questions
Ask many questions about the bass. This is probably the one thing that most people fail to do. It’s easy to assume that everything is perfect with the bass, especially if you’ve already decided you love it and want to buy it. Make sure you ask about the condition of the neck. Is there any twisting or bowing? Be sure the frets are not worn down and the tuners are not bent.
If you have any doubts, ask for more pictures, especially a shot from the headstock to the body to make sure the neck is nice and straight. Ask about the electronics, make sure there is no scratchiness in the pots and that the pickups are not micro-phonic (noisy when touched).
Ask about the history of the bass. Is the seller the original owner? Where did they get the bass? Have there been any repairs or modifications done? Some people are afraid to ask lots of questions, they might feel they’re being annoying, but it’s very important to get as much info as possible, and in general, the seller appreciates the interest. They’ll know that you’re a serious buyer.
Do some research on the Fender model you’re interested in. Get a good idea of how much that bass and year is selling for and why.
Familiarize yourself with things like headstock shape, decal style, body contours, pickup placement, and finish colors for that particular model. This type of knowledge can be very helpful for spotting fake Fenders, refinishes, and modifications. The more you know about the bass model the better. A good overall understanding of the instrument can save you major headaches later on.
Always ask if there is any return policy offered. Almost all major dealers will have some sort of return policy available, but most private buyers won’t offer it. It doesn’t hurt to ask though, and some will offer at least a 24 hour approval period to inspect the bass. I strongly recommend Paypal as the payment method as they offer some buyer protection in case it goes horribly wrong.
Carefully read all the shipping information, including the price and method of shipment. I’ve seen several cases where the seller is offering a great deal on the bass but is charging an astronomical fee for shipping.
Also, make sure the bass is being sent by a known shipping company and is insured properly. If the bass is being sent via the Postal Service, I would be very wary. Their package tracking is not very good, and in my experience, they’re much less reliable than FedEx and UPS.
The last thing I would recommend is just plain old common sense. If there’s something about the bass or description that just doesn’t feel right, then move on. It’s better to be safe and wait another day than to stress out over some good money or get ripped off.
Hopefully, everything goes well and you’re happy with your Fender bass! However, you may still want to sell it online later. I’ve done quite a bit of that too…but that’s for another article.