How Do I Buy a Custom Boutique Bass Guitar?

F Bass: A fine example of a boutique bass guitar

If you’ve ever wondered to yourself how do I buy a custom boutique bass guitar? There are several ways depending on whether you want to buy one brand new or used.

Buy your boutique bass directly from the Luthier

The first way to buy a boutique bass guitar is to deal directly with the luthier, but perhaps surprisingly this isn’t always the most affordable way - which I’ll get into in a minute.

The advantages of dealing with the builder is that you get to speak directly with the expert when it comes time to build a customized bass for you. Depending on who the luthier is, you’ll be able to choose the amount of strings, the type of hardware, pickups, neck, fingerboard and body woods along with the finish and any cosmetic extras like the ever-popular LED dot position markers (okay, I’m kidding about this...sorta).

You might think that dealing directly with the builder would give you the opportunity to save some money, but you’d also be wrong. You see, the more time the luthier’s have to spend dealing with individual buyers the less time they have to build bass guitars - so you’ll often end up paying more money for the privilege to deal with them directly. However, you may be able to negotiate better with the luthier as well as get added perks like photo updates on the progress of your bass guitar, getting a chance to tour the shop and pick from a number of different available woods to build your bass from.

Buying a Boutique Bass Guitar from an Authorized Dealer

So why would you deal with a store to get the bass of your dreams, especially if you’re within driving distance of the luthier? While it’s true there are some great perks when you deal directly with the luthier there can be a significant cost savings when you buy the same exact bass from the authorized retailer.

This was my scenario, and in my particular case dealing with the authorized retailer saved me a cool 20 to 25 percent off the price I would have had to pay the luthier directly. When you’re dealing with a bass guitar that costs several thousand dollars, that 25 percent adds up fast and may allow you to go for some extra frills (birdseye fingerboard, or perhaps a specialty finish) that you couldn’t afford otherwise.

If you’re dealing with an experienced retailer, they will also be an excellent source for feedback on the composition of your dream bass guitar. They may not be the expert in building the bass guitars, but they will have helped numerous other customers with their orders and have often played and observed the finished result as well as having dealt with any potential warranty issues that may have occurred.

While you may fore go the production photo updates of your bass and the one on one experience of working with the luthier, chances are you’ll end up with an excellent bass while saving yourself a significant chunk of change at the same time.

Buying Used Boutique Basses

Of course if you really want to save money, buying a used or “previously enjoyed” bass guitar is the way to go. There are a variety of ways to do this, some luthiers have a sale page on their site where they sell used basses that they built. This can be a great way to get some of the experience of working with a luthier, getting a top notch bass and spending perhaps half to two-thirds of the new price.

You can also keep a close watch on Ebay or on for sale threads on popular bass guitar forums like Talkbass.com. Setting up a Google Alert for the make and model of the bass guitar that you want can save you a lot of time hunting online - as soon as Google knows about a new instance of the bass guitar you’re looking for - you’ll get an alert sent directly to your inbox. How’s that for a time saver?

Of course, the drawback is that you’ll have to deal with shipping and spending large amounts of money with potentially a complete stranger. Make sure to do your part and thoroughly research a purchase online before sending money. Use an escrow service if possible and remember that if something sounds too good to be true - it usually is!

A gorgeous MTD 535 boutique bass guitar

Having said that, there is a pretty robust used market online for high quality boutique instruments from Sadowsky, Nordstrand, F Bass, Fodera, MTD and more - some in fact prefer to buy and sell used boutique basses until they find the one that is perfect for them in everyway. So don’t be too afraid about purchasing online, expensive bass guitars are bought, sold and shipped all over the continent on a daily basis with few mishaps.

Getting a New Boutique Bass for a Steal

Lastly, if you have the money in advance and you’re patient and not particularly picky - there are opportunities to pick up a new boutique bass guitar at a discount.

Let’s face it, the economy isn’t doing all that well the last few years and it doesn’t look like it’s about to change anytime soon. Most luthiers require a fifty percent deposit prior to starting to build the bass and fifty percent on completion, if something has changed where the original buyer can no longer honour the deal the opportunity exists to pick up the bass at a significant discount because half of it is already paid for up front.

Also, retailers who may have ordered boutique basses for their store prior to the economy tanking may now find it difficult to move bass guitars upward of $3,000. If they’ve been there for a few years with little or no interest, the owner may be open to selling it for less just to get it out of the store.

Again, having the cash in advance and being patient are keys to making this work. While you won’t get to choose all the specific details of a custom bass guitar this way, you’ll still get an amazing bass guitar and have the benefit of trying it or seeing the finished product before having to pay money (unlike those building from scratch).

The other cool thing is that you’ll avoid the six month or longer wait time required for having a custom bass guitar made for you - a definite plus when you’re eager to get that new high end bass guitar in your hands!

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