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Finances & Money

Trying and Buying Musical Instruments the Wrong Way

washburn xb925 bass guitarHere’s a little history. Back in college, I had the grand idea that I would learn to play guitar, join a band and have some fun. I didn’t have any dreams of making it big, just of having a creative outlet. How did I go about trying to achieve my goal?

I bought a bunch of guitars and bass guitars on credit.

my no name 4 string and ibanez 6 string bassYep, before I even knew how to play, I was buying musical instruments. This pattern is probably pretty common, but I sort of took it to an extreme. In the summer of ’99, I lived by myself, had no cable TV, no car and had a part-time job to keep busy. So I went down to the music store to check out their deals. I bought a Fender pack with a guitar, small amp and some “learn to play” books.

I gave up trying to learn the electric guitar fairly quickly because I just couldn’t get my fingers to contort on the strings. Failure #1. So my next idea was to buy a 4-string bass guitar. Hey, had to be easier, right? So back to the music store I went and traded in the guitar towards a bass guitar. I don’t remember the brand of the first few basses, but here’s the quick synopsis:

  • Got bass #1 for a few hundred dollars after exchanging my electric guitar
  • Got a 6-string bass for about $800 because it looked cool. More strings had to make me a better player, right? So now I had 2 bass guitars
  • Sold bass #1 on a local auction site. Left with just the 6-string
  • Bought another 4-string bass for a couple hundred because it sounded good in the shop. It was crappy quality though, which I soon found out. Back up to 2 bass guitars.
  • Sold the 6-string for about $450 to the bass player of BlueSuedeGroove (I know at least one of you remembers this State College band!). Back down to 1 bass.
  • During my last semester, I bought the 5-string Washburn XB925 (the one I was trying to sell all this year) for about $1,100. Back up to 2 bass guitars.
  • After college, I realized I’ll never have the discipline needed to both learn to play the bass AND join a band (why else would you play bass?), so I went to a music shop in Virginia, traded in the crappy 4-string bass and got a 6-string acoustic Washburn guitar (not a bass) for about $350. Now I have a bass guitar and acoustic guitar.
  • About 5 years later, early this year, I decided to put the Washburn XB925 bass up for sale.

There were finally some updates about the bass sale this past weekend, but that’s for another time. All in all, I’ve spent a couple thousand on musical instruments, and never even knew how to play. Sure, I could play some cool, long riffs on the bass, but it never translated into anything more.

my 6 string ibanezSo what should you get out from this?

  • Don’t buy before you know why. Figure out WHY you want to play an instrument first. Talk with friends and people who already play that instrument.
  • See if you can rent the instrument vs owning it. Had I chosen to just rent a guitar, perhaps I would have realized quickly that it wasn’t for me, and just gave it back. However, I was on a buying spree, and never even thought of renting. I wanted to OWN it!
  • If you HAVE to own the instrument, pay cash. Part of my $12,000-15,000 debt when I left college was this”musical chairs of instruments” routine.
  • Get one instrument and stick with it.
  • Take professional lessons. That’s unless you’re ALWAYS the motivated type to teach yourself something on your own. However, back in college, I didn’t even have the money for the instrument, much less $50 per hour classes! I bought books and tried to learn off tablature. It was like tracing a picture vs drawing the full thing from scratch for yourself. So find a teacher and thank me later. Takelessons.com is a great place to start looking or you can ask your local music shop if they offer lessons.
  • Learn the fundamentals first. Don’t think you can buy a guitar, join a band and be a hero before you can read music (usually). Obviously there are exceptions to this rule, but you’re probably not one of them. Sorry.

Any other tips from my fellow readers?

UPDATE!: I added pics of my second 4-string and my 6-string bass guitars. The first picture is my 5-string Washburn bass.

About the author

Clever Dude

14 Comments

  • Good advice.

    My parents had it pretty well worked out for our musical instruments. We started on the piano, which we already owned, since my dad played it. Then after 2 years of learning to read music and such, we could switch to the instrument of our choice.

    They rented me a violin until I grew into a full size and I actually wanted to keep going. So then they bought me one for about $400 (cheap! but decent for a kid).

    I saved up $2000 when I was 16 and bought myself a higher-quality one. No credit and I was sure I’d actually use it. I played it for maybe 4 years more…now I pick it up sometimes but don’t take lessons anymore. But it was worth the upgrade.

  • I also bought a guitar when I was at Uni. I’ve still got it, I never really learned to play, I don’t think I’ve got the patience and enthusiasm for learning a new instrument.

  • borrow before buying 🙂

    its like, when you would borrow a video game from me and i would give you another in return…or even cd’s…then i just end up buying the album off of you cause i loved it so much (ministry’s psalm 69)

  • Join and be a part of a small church praise band to learn to play the instrument of your church. I learned to play the guitar and drums by doing that. Eventually I ended up as the drummer for a while.

    I eventually bought a decent guitar on eBay but I get usage of the drums at church for free. 🙂

  • We went with the rental plan on my son’s trumpet before considering a full purchase. We agreed on a purchase price before renting, and all the money from monthly rental fees apply toward the purchase if we end up buying it at any time. These are great programs if you actually manage to negotiate a price.

    Also, we recently got an old piano from a friend of a friend for FREE just because we advertised on a few billboards that we were interested in getting one for our kids who were interested in taking lessons. It’s amazing how much these things aren’t worth to some people that have had them for a long time and not used them!

  • This is a little freaky. I didn’t know six-string bass guitars existed until today, and you’re the second person I’ve heard it from!

    My question that I asked the other guy: is the additional string low or high? Is it a high C or really low?

  • MBH, it’s an extra HIGH C (a skinny little string on the bottom). I had to do some research to find out the brand of the bass (Ibanez Soundgear). I put up 2 more pictures that I found from back in college of the 6 string and my second 4 string.

    That 6-string was insane. The guy I sold it to is a dead-ringer for the brother on Everybody Loves Raymond, so his hands definitely fit the bass.

  • As a beginner guitar player, you don’t need to know a lot of different chords to learn guitar … Learn to play guitar with free guitar lessons that makes learning guitar easy .

  • I found that if you are going through instruments without patience or real desire to learn, is due to the fact, that the instrument is cheap and produces a bad tone. When one plays a good instrument that produces a good tone,(angels singing)(very beautiful) one tends to desire to make the instrument sing. Many, many good future musicians are lost to bad sounding, cheap instruments. Before you buy, listen to the sound of a $200-$600 instrument and listen to one that sells for $1000-$2000.
    I know it is a lot for a brginner to ponder. BUT, the tone alone will keep you glued to the instrument if you have even the slightest desire to play any instrment, whereas a bad tone will cause you to quit and will not know why. This is why. Bad tone kills desire.

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