Forget All Your Trebles: The Electric Bass Market

by Christian Wissmuller • in
  • March 2019
  • Roundtable
• Created: March 15, 2019

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Along with drums & percussion, the electric bass is essential in establishing the beat, groove, and harmonic progression of songs in virtually all popular genres of music and beyond: jazz, pop, R&B, rock, funk, metal, punk… In other words, these instruments and the musicians who play them are huge drivers of contemporary culture.

However, the electric bass often takes a second-seat to its flashier, more high-profile sibling: the electric guitar. When looking over the past year-plus of MMR, I was dismayed to realize that even we had been giving somewhat short shrift to this instrument family of late.

To address that situation, we recently connected with representatives from five of the most popular and significant brands of electric bass on the market today to learn about trends in instrument design and build, players’ buying habits, and what particularly successful bass retailers are doing in 2019 to generate profit.

In your estimation, are sales of electric basses up, down, or level when compared to this time in 2018?

Brian Ball: Electric bass sales have increased significantly for Music Man in the past year, mostly due to the launch of our reimagined and redesigned Sting Ray Special basses

 

 

 

 

Hans-Peter Wilfer: We expect about the same level of sales in 2019 as we did in 2018, however, we have noticed a larger interest in the higher-level instruments.

Yoh Watanabe: Sales of electric basses are up, especially for higher-end models.

Allen Abbassi: Overall, 2018 was a successful year for Fender bass sales. As expected, sales momentum usually continues to pick up as we approach the holiday season.

Vinnie Del Buono: So far in 2019, electric bass sales are doing very well for us. Overall electric bass sales are trending up and we are enjoying a significant lift over 2018 sales. For Dean, basses have always been a successful division and in 2019 we launched two new styles of 4-, 5-, and 6-stringed models with our new Select Series. We have seen an overwhelmingly positive response to these new models and we expect that trend to continue.

Yuichi Hirayama: At least as it relates to Ibanez, we are definitely seeing an upward trend in sales as compared to this time last year.

For your brand, what are currently the “hot” models of electric bass?

HPW: The bass that both consumers and artists are going after right now is the Warwick Idolmaker.

VDB: Our main bass model is the Edge and has been for nearly 20-plus years. This year we’ve expanded the Edge lineup to include six new models from our flagship Select Series –three models will feature a gorgeous poplar burl/walnut top with mahogany body and the other three models will feature a more traditional walnut/maple top with a swamp ash body. All of them will be equipped with our custom DMT pickups and active 3-band EQ. We have also received a lot of requests for the Hillsboro bass to make a comeback utilizing Select Series features. Other “hot” models to note include our Rhapsody and Pace basses.

YH: The new SR500E and SR Mezzo series have been generating a lot of interest for us. The SR500 has always been a strong performer and we’ve updated the SR500E to include adjustable string spacing, Bartolini BH2 Pickups, and a new preamp. The Mezzo series has also become quite popular. The 32” scale, active electronics, and unique finishes seem to have resonated with players.

AA: The new American Performer Precision, Jazz, and Mustang Basses are very hot right now. We released those at the tail-end of 2018, and they are getting a lot of interest. Our American Elite, American Professional, and Player Series Basses continue to perform very well.

YW: TRBX basses are always hot for us. They continue to sell very well. We upgraded our BB bass guitar line last year and they have been well received by reviewers, dealers, and players alike. They are lighter and slimmer, and the full range of models are priced to move in the bass market.

BB: The Sting Ray Special is red-hot, and has been a huge favorite of artists and customers. Tim Commeford (RATM, Audioslave), Stefan Lessard (Dave Matthews Band), Joe Dart (Vulfpeck), and many others have taken a huge interest in our basses and helped broaden the appeal and exposure of our newest basses.

Have you been observing any notable trends when it comes to electric bass sales – either on the vendor or consumer side of the equation?

AA: It seems like there is a renewed interest in Mustang basses, and the models we’ve released recently have all been doing better than expected. There is a general trend in popularity with the non-traditional Fender shapes (Mustang and Jaguar) that is also really nice to see.

VDB: Yes. The biggest trend is multiple woods with oiled or natural satin finishes and blending different types of tone woods. There will always be a small spot for the neck-through, glossy, guitar-like bass, but right now the progressive bass players are really making their own trends with tone woods, performance specifications and parts. Since guitars are expanding their presence in dynamics by manufacturing multiple extended range instruments, bass guitars are doing that as well. Adjusting scale lengths, nut widths, and control variations change a traditional low tone instrument to become a more versatile piece of the musical puzzle.

YH: Well, on the vendor side – and this actually began a few years back – more boutique styles and features are now available on production instruments. Just within our own product line we now have single-cut and multiscale basses, figured top woods, and premium pickup brands. The trend is not exactly new, but continues to resonate across the bass market.

 

 

BB: We’re predominantly known for our active electronics, so I can only speak to our increases in our basses with those features, but maybe the passive pendulum is swinging back the other way a little more. I think bass players are also liking options outside of traditional colors (black, white, burst).

HPW: Going back to the higher-level instruments, people seem to have more refined tastes these days and are a bit more educated on what they are about to purchase. Consumers are doing their research via YouTube, web blogs, and Buyer’s Guides to find exactly what they are looking for.

YW: Interestingly, product trends in the bass market have been fairly constant recently, and that may be a sign that bass guitars are an opportunity category.

What are some approaches adopted and embraced by dealers who are especially successful with bass sales?

YH: The dealers who stock a wider range of our products and offer customers greater choices have been more successful. Overall, more options and diverse selection are what we have noticed driving success among dealers.

VDB: We have found that it always comes down to having the right personnel. Our most successful dealers have that special person on staff, so the bass customers coming in have an active bass player guiding their purchase to get them into the right instrument the first time.

YW: We have found that dealers who commit themselves to selling an especially wide selection of bass guitars have success. For example, some bass players believe that dealers who carry high-end signature models along with a full line of entry-level and mid-range products carry extra credibility. It reinforces the impression that they are focused on the category of instrument and, by extension, on them as bass players; that impression draws them to these dealers.

 

 

 

HPW: The best dealers supply their customers with the most information on the products they are selling. Knowing the product and who you are selling it to becomes a great marriage. Knowledge and research is the key to any successful business.

AA: Dealers that stock more options for bass players sell more basses. Naturally, it is a challenge to keep a complete offering of Fenders basses in any one store just due to the wealth of models we offer, but there is a relationship between number of SKUs stocked and sales. With the current trend toward increased Fender bass sales, dealers that increase their percentage of basses stocked verses guitars have shown an increase in their bass sales.

 

 

BB: Updated web pages, rich graphics, video content, and a social strategy to promote that you have the product. Having the inventory is obviously key, and if you can offer financing to the customer that’s a cherry on the sundae.

How significant are artist endorsement relationships when it comes to electric bass sales?

BB: We’ve always felt that the collaboration with artists helps significantly, not just in the development of new products with road testing, but also with launching the products and leveraging their stature as musicians that stand behind the new product.

HPW: Much like any business, the faces of your company are plenty important. We have such Warwick artists as Robert Trujillo, Adam Clayton, Mike Inez, Johny Chow, and we recently have signed up Shavo Odadjian. These are not only Warwick players but they are truly part of the Warwick Family. I have these people over to the factory in Markneukirchen, Germany and would have them in my home any day.

 

 

 

AA: Artist endorsements are very important for us. When a player can see their musical tastes reflected in the breadth of artists that use Fender, it undoubtedly influences them to want to play a Fender.

YH: Partnering with our endorsing artists is an important part of what we do on the bass side of Ibanez. Our endorsers are great ambassadors for the brand and they’re invaluable in helping to deliver our message to players.

YW: We have relationships with bass artists who are legends in their art form and have enormous followings, so we certainly believe that they are significant. They provide us with brilliant ideas and we strive to produce instruments that are worthy of their personal brands by working closely with them every step of the way so it’s more than just a matter of attaching their names. It’s an honor for us to be able to work with them, and the musicians who see the basses notice how involved our artists are in the development of these exceptional instruments.

VDB: Proper artist association really helps legitimize the brand and helps to demonstrate product quality and reliability in a professional setting.

Expectations for this market segment in the coming months?

HPW: I do not foresee any drastic changes. 2018 was a nice stable time for Warwick and I expect the same within the next quarters.

VDB: At Dean, we’ve always seen positive growth with our bass division and with our new Select Series we expect that trend to continue in this ever-growing market. Those who remain innovative in their approach will reap the biggest rewards.

YH: We anticipate we will continue to see steady growth within the segment along with continuing innovation with new products.

AA: If the current trend continues, I see our bass sales growing even more in 2019. We are constantly expanding our bass options for players worldwide, which should be a factor in continued growth.

YW: The steady trends in bass products released recently tell me the bass guitar market segment will remain similarly steady in the coming months.

BB: Strong and stable. Our forecasts for all of our basses including the Sting Ray Special look really strong, because sell through from the inventory purchased last year was really a highlight for a lot of dealers.

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