Part 2 of How To Buy a Bass Guitar
Here's the link for part 1 How To Buy a Bass Guitar Part 1
Where to Shop
My personal preference is to find a guitar shop that you really like and go there often. The big stores l can be difficult for beginners, but they often have a much broader variety of guitars and amps, and generally better prices for new equipment. I you may find they are more willing to help you out. If you are in a band, try and get everyone to agree on one or two stores to patronize. You may be able to save a little money by shopping around and searching the internet, but you still need a guitar tech (we all do) and someone to rescue you when you have an emergency - like a big gig tomorrow! Support your local merchants.
In the real world, some stores are really pretty bad. Don't shop at a store where you do not get a reasonable amount of product selection, quality service, and respect for your ability and situation. While I am not a fan of shopping for major items on the internet, it's better than giving good money to a bad store.
How to Shop
Before you go shopping, think about what type of bass you are looking for. How many strings? What style of pick-ups? Do you want low and dirty or warm and jazzy? Frets? What color (seriously)? Search the internet for various guitars (see the list below) and read all the words. You should have a general idea of what you like and don't like, but do try not to go in with preconceptions. You may find yourself missing out on a great deal for the silliest of reasons.
And try to figure out how much money you can spend.
I recommend the "two trip" approach. On the first trip, you are there to learn, and that's what you tell the salesman - don't tease the salespeople! You are not adversaries, you both want you to buy the best bass you can afford. Music stores (all stores - except maybe car dealers) survive because of repeat business. They need you to succeed as a musician and as a band, so you can come back and buy more stuff!
If you can, try to avoid the really busy periods (after school, Saturdays), and set aside a block of time to really talk and listen and learn from the store keepers. You should let the salesman play the instruments first, don't play them yourself. The salesman should show you the various tones, and explain the features of each guitar. He should always play through the same amplifier, and without effects. Later, you should "try them on" for weight and balance, but don't spend a lot of time playing them. You need to decide whether you can hear the different tones, and which ones you like best.
Before you leave, ask to see any used basses that are similar to what you have been looking at. Don't be nervous about this - they need to sell the used stuff too, they just don't get quite as much profit from them.
Try and come away from the first trip with the names of 2 or 3 basses that you could be happy with. Get the model numbers and prices, and any literature.
Go home and check the internet for reviews. Post a question on our Forum, or search the archives over at ActiveBass. Check eBay! for the current auction prices for used models. Remember that the prices you see on the Internet may be 10-20% lower than in the store, but don't forget the absence of professional service, and the shipping charges.
Armed with all this information, plan another trip to the store - this time with the intention of buying a bass. Try and find the same salesman (if you liked him), and tell him which 2 basses you are most interested in. Have him pick out the best of the used basses as well, if there is one. Make it clear that the question is not "if" you're going to buy, but "which one". After he shows you the features of each guitar (including the bridge), you should play them yourself. Don't try to get fancy - you're not there to audition. You should have some songs or riffs in your head that are easy to play. Play them casually, listening to the tone, noting how the neck feels. Play standing up, so you can compare the weight and balance. Play the same songs on all the guitars you are considering.
It is helpful to bring a friend to help you evaluate the various characteristics if each bass, but the final decision should be yours.
When you have selected your bass, let the salesman know, and tell him that you need a case, and a new set of strings (you have no idea how old the existing ones are) and whatever else you want. The more stuff you put into this purchase, the easier it is for them to discount the total price. (Note: some salesmen do the opposite; they discount the bass, and charge list price for the accessories - pay attention) If the price for the bass is a lot more than you found online, mention it to the salesman. A 10-20% difference is typical; much more is probably too much.
Be sure that your purchase includes one free set-up. Ask if they recommend that the set-up be done right away, or after a couple of weeks. I know it's tough to buy a guitar and then leave it in the store, but it's worse to bring home your new axe and get frustrated by fret buzz or high strings.