What's the best one of the bunch? Or are they all universally crap-o-la?
"Starter Pak" as in where you spend about $200 or less for an absolute-bottom-of-the-line guitarlike object that comes with a gig bag, a dinky little practice amp, some kind of instructional CD-ROM/DVD/AudioCD, a guitar strap, a pick, and maybe a few other odds and ends.
The rule of thumb for a bass is never get anything with a list price that's below $400. From my own experience, that rule should be engraved in stone!!! And when it comes to my main instrument, I'm so anal it's more like "$1,200" for me.
I'm guessin' that it more or less holds true for a geetar. As for bass starter paks, I wouldn't be willing to reccomend a bass starter pak to an uninformed parent whose kid wants a bass. I just couldn't do it. Even if the parents waste all kinds of money on the kid and he's just gonna get bored with the thing three days after Christmas is over with.
What would be the alternative if every last starter pak was too crappy even for a young kid?
Reminds me of sword afficionados... any of the stainless steel katana/"from the movie..." type things you get for 60 bucks are labeled "swordlike objects" by the practicioners who are in the know. You gotta pay about $200-$300 to even begin to be in the right neighborhood: we're talking something you'd use to do entry-level cutting practice on cardboard boxes, or that you'd dull the edge/tip and then use as a cheap "beater" for sparring in your filthy goofy ugly period-incorrect practice armor; and there's a very long list of criteria as to what makes a sword a real sword. A really good functional one will be $600-on-up... a custom job gets into several grand... if you get an "art sword" commissioned from a Toshyo in Japan, or someone who does it exactly the same way they did it in Medieval or Rennaissance-Era Europe or the Anglo-Saxon/Viking dark ages or whatever... better sell your house....
Int'l Sword Forum If you wanna know more.