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Bass Emporium - Austin, Texas

Bass Emporium
Having spent over twenty years working in retail music stores and frustrated by the experience of not being able to locate the products that he wanted to utilize, John Files established his own bass specialty storefront, Bass Emporium, in Austin, Texas. Since its opening in 2002, Bass Emporium has become one of the worldwide leaders in the sale of professional bass gear. Along with a premium collection of exotic and investment-grade instruments crafted by some of the finest domestic and foreign builders, Bass Emporium's extensive inventory features audiophile-class amplification systems and a broad assortment of bass-related accessories. Files and his knowledgeable staff are bass fanatics who are passionate about superior quality and the reliable equipment they sell. Regardless of your playing level or preferred style of music, Bass Emporium stocks the products needed in order to cover every performance application from the stage to the studio.

In this interview, John Files discusses the gear and services available at Bass Emporium.

How did the opening of Bass Emporium come about?

I started playing bass when I was about ten years old, and I've always been a "gear hound." I began in music retail in 1975, and I sold gear that today comes through the store as vintage pieces. I was one of the first Alembic dealers in the country in the 1970's, and it was great to be a part of an industry which was in its infancy in regards to bass gear. I continued in music retail for many years while also pursuing undergraduate degrees in english and anthropology. I moved to Austin, Texas to work on my Ph.D. in linguistics, and when I finished my studies, I couldn't find a teaching job so I went to work for Apple computers. I wasn't passionate about computer technology. I wanted to be involved with playing bass and being around bass gear so my wife encouraged me to do something that I had talked about for ten years. In October, 2002, we opened Bass Emporium.

Which bass and amplification manufacturers do you normally stock?

In terms of basses, we stock Elrick, Fender, Hofner, Ken Smith, Lakland, MTD, Michael Kelly, Modulus, NS Design, Rickenbacker, Ritter, Roscoe, Sadowsky, Spector, and Turner-Renaissance along with vintage and used basses.

For amplification, we carry Acoustic Image, Aguilar, Ashdown, Avalon Design, Bag End, Bergantino Audio, Crest, Demeter, EBS, Eden, Epifani, Gallien-Krueger, Hiwatt, Millennia, and Summit Audio.

In addition to basses and amps, can you tell us about the accessories in your inventory?

We have effects, strings, cables, straps, publications, and pickups. Our effects are made by manufacturers including Demeter, EBS, Fulltone, Keeley, Moog, Tech 21, and Visual Sound. We also have over 160 different bass string sets and a lot of single strings from D'Addario, DR Strings, Hofner, NS Design, Rotosound, Sadowsky, Ken Smith, and Thomastik-Infeld on our shelves. We carry Monster Cable and Evidence Audio as well as custom cables that we build for clients. Replacement pickups and preamps consist of Aguilar, Bartolini, EMG, Nordstrand, Seymour Duncan Basslines, and Seymour Duncan Antiquity.

What are your best-selling product lines?

In the bass area, we are the #1 dealer for Sadowsky basses in North America and one of the top dealers for Lakland, Ritter, and Elrick basses in the country as well. These product lines are some of the best available and represent a huge part of our business. Bergantino Audio and Ashdown amplifiers have been a very big part of our business, too. Quite a bit of our amplification business also comes from the boutique brands like Avalon Design and Millennia Audio. We recently picked up Summit Audio and expect them to be a really great product for us.

Do you sell only high-end gear or do you offer equipment across all price points?

We don't only sell high-end and vintage gear, but that is the biggest portion of what we do. On the lower price point products, we only carry basses that we consider are a great value for the money, and those products also have to come from caring manufacturers. We stock some of the cooler low-end Fender and Squier basses, but I would say that most of our bass sales start at about $1000 and up. I still feel that, for the money, the Lakland Skyline is an exceptionally great value. The same can be said of the Spector Professional and Euro Series basses. Many of the Fender Japanese basses are also brilliant. I have been selling basses for 33 years, and I truly believe that this is a golden age for builders. I have never seen as much bass for the dollar as is currently available today.

Are bassists purchasing more 5-string instruments than standard 4-string basses?

We used to sell far more 5-string basses than 4-strings, but now they seem to be at about even parity. We really do great business on 6-string basses as well, but it depends on the brand. Since there are so many Fender players in this region, that stacks the numbers in favor of 4-string basses.

Do you accept orders for custom-crafted basses?

Bass Emporium We do a lot of custom order basses. This is something that is dear to my heart. My first custom bass was an Alembic in 1976. It was a Series I before they called it that. It cost $1250 and came with an ATA flight case. That was a lot of money back then, and I had to wait eight months for it to arrive. I still remember how I felt ordering that bass so it's always cool to help someone order their first custom instrument. Down payment is usually about 25%, unless it's a crazy piece or the builder requires a hefty deposit on the wood. Delivery times vary from builder to builder. Most turnaround times are between four to six months with the Ken Smith basses coming in between six to eight months. The Ritter basses tend to take the longest to build which is currently twelve to eighteen months for standard models, and some of the Rickenbacker basses can even take up to two years.

How much of your business comes through internet sales?

I have never really broken down our business to compare internet sales to in-store sales because we get all kinds of traffic through our store from guys on tour, and customers drive in from Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, and so forth all the time. There is a lot of music happening in Austin all the time so some of our internet customers are people we have dealt with in our store before or after a sale. We have a few really good customers that we see during the Austin City Limits Music Festival and SXSW every year that come in from somewhere else in the U.S. or other parts of the globe, and they usually find something that they take home or that we ship to them after the fact. It feels like a much smaller world than 30 years ago so they are simply our customers. We do quite a bit of business with the online store portion of our web site in terms of accessories such as strings, DVD's, and so on, and that is what we really refer to as our "internet" business.

Is worldwide shipping available on all of your products?

Worldwide shipping is available on almost all of our products. Some instruments or amplifiers cannot be shipped outside of the country due to dealership restrictions, but 99% can be shipped. Some items are simply not worth it due to the price of shipping them. If they are vintage pieces, then the price may not be a concern to the player. I have shipped two 1970 SVT amplifiers overseas because they were just not available there, and the customer was willing to pay whatever price needed for shipping just to get them. I have two very good vintage collectors in Australia and one in Japan, and they realize that $400 or so extra for shipping is just part of the price of the bass.

Can you provide instrument repairs?

We do most instrument repairs including refret jobs, but we do not have an amp shop on the premises. We do many instrument setups for our local customers and some from other parts of the state. Chuck Rainey is a good customer and a dear friend so we do repairs and setups on his basses quite often. He is about three hours away, but it's really not a difficult task to get things back and forth.

Do you purchase and sell used gear?

We sell, buy, consign, and trade used and vintage gear in the shop. I rarely buy amplifiers, but we will buy basses if they really interest us. Buying used gear is a stressful process for a music store and a player because we have to offer a lower percentage amount so we can sell it to make some profit, and this can lead to some hard feelings on the part of the seller. We try to lay it all out, and we usually end up selling the gear on consignment where the seller can make more money than selling it to any store. We also take trades if it makes sense to both the customer and to us.

Can students take private lessons through your shop?

We are currently offering lessons about four days a week. On Saturday, we have electric and upright lessons taught by Glenn Schuetz who has been with us for about two years. On Thursdays, Fridays, and some Wednesdays we have the great Ed Friedland who teaches privately as well. We also have the legendary Chuck Rainey teaching once a month in the store. All of the lessons are private, and we strongly recommend an hour lesson. Reading and technique are strongly stressed. We don't just teach songs. There are plenty of places who will offer that, but it isn't what we do.

Are there any upcoming bass clinics scheduled at your shop?

We are having a bass guitar clinic in the store with Stuart Spector on July 25th at 6:00 PM. If you haven't already met Stuart, he is a super nice guy! Some of our past clinics have featured Chuck Rainey, Michael Manring, Gary Willis, Adam Nitti, Ed Friedland, Jens Ritter, and Brian Bromberg. We have many other clinics planned. It's just a matter of getting everyone's schedule lined up.

Contact Information

Bass Emporium
1720 W. Anderson Lane
Austin, Texas 78757-1336
Hours: Tuesday - Saturday 10:00 AM - 6:00 PM
Toll-Free Phone: 800.445.5578
Web Site:

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