diminishing returns?

The law of diminishing returns suggests that the closer you get to the very top end of the pricing for any item, the less extra quality you get for your money. It’s something I often remind people of when they are looking for new basses and ask me ‘which is better brand A or brand B’. As a general rule, there are very very few basses beyond the 2 grand mark that aren’t any good. The companies wouldn’t stay in business for long if there were. There are some who charge a lot more for their name, and each of them have differences, for sure, but in terms of measurable quality, the differences are pretty minute.

And alongside this story of a violin worth 3.5 million pounds, 8 grand for a top end bass seems pretty reasonable. I mean, you can pay more for a bass – I’ve seen them for up to about 25,000 dollars, but normally that’s cos they are covered in hideous mother-of-pearl inlays, or made with some really rare wood that shouldn’t have been harvested in the first place, not because they actually sound any good.

I wonder what the most expensive bass guitar of all time is? Probably one of the ones said to have been owned by Jaco… I think his classic beaten up Jazz fretless went on sale at some point, but I can’t remember what it fetched at auction… tens rather than hundreds of thousands, I think… Some of the very early Fenders are of similar value…

So we’ve a long way to go to catch up with orchestral musicians, where even rank ‘n’ file section players will take out a mortgage on a new fiddle. I’ve heard a couple of great violins up close, and the difference is marked from a run of the mill 5K one, but we’re back to the diminishing returns. How much better would it have to sound for 3.5 million?

I guess the other big difference is that with any electric bass, you’re factoring in the electronics side of things – if your electronics are running on one or more 9V batteries, there’s a glass ceiling on the kind of quality you’re going to get… Maybe we can convince SSL or Neve to start making phantom powered onboard preamps for basses…

I’ve yet to hear a bass with a sound I like more than my 6 string Moduli, or one that plays as well, in any price range. I feel very fortunate to have such delicious instruments to make noises with.

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