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4, 5, or a 6 string???

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by pcon, Feb 15, 2012.

  1. pcon


    Nov 8, 2009
    San Diego, CA
    Hey Everyone.

    I need some advice. Currently I am in a modern folk rock band (Think Jason Mraz, Jack Johnson, etc) and I play a 4 string Fender Jazz Bass. In my band, I don't do a lot of soloing or chords. I kind of stand back and "enhance" the sound. What I would like to eventually do is step out a little more. Maybe throw in a bass solo some day or some arpeggios and nice bass chords someday. Now I am not what you call a "master", but I'm really working on my technique and expanding my horizons.

    I am thinking of purchasing a new bass soon. A 6 string sounds appealing to me, but I don't know if that'd be overkill or not.

    What should determine whether I play a 4, 5, or a 6 string bass? Any suggestions?

    - Philippe
  2. I bought a 6-string for hoping that it would "broaden my horizons" a bit with my bass-playing abilities. Unfortunately, it really wasn't my thing. The neck was huge, the spacing was too small, and then you have 2 new strings to get used to. Again, this is just me being a whiny 4-string purist, but the number of strings does not influence how technical or talented you can be with the general instrument. Get more than good with the instrument so you can play all your solos without any hesitation. One on the only reasons why bassists use five strings is to get an extra five notes below the staff, and the sixth being to allow for less movement up the neck for higher notes. But that's just in general use. You CAN use a 6 for a lot more...just master the 4 before you go any further. You can play arpeggios, chords, et cetra with no problem on your Fender. How do you think Jaco did it? :)
  3. This. Exactly this. I've played multiple styles of music strictly with four strings. I was taught as a baroque and classical bassist, and even use an electric in that style at times, as well as playing blues, jazz, hardcore punk/goth punk (my passion), general classic rock etc. all on my four.

    Work on learning the fret board well and knowing your scales, chords, modes, etc. before you consider doing anything more personally. You'd be surprised the amount you can accomplish on a four when you really get down to it. Once you get there, if a five or six seems to offer things you want out of it then it'll be worth investing in.

    A Jazz bass will sound nice and stand out in the mix when you start breaking into solos and more fancy bass work.
  4. Wrilley


    Jan 2, 2012
    Detroit, MI USA
    4 piece or massive kit. Double pedal or double bass. Deja vu! I think all musicians go through this, I know I do. I think you can accomplish what you want on a 4 string. In my experience it comes down to whether you are seeking a new musical idea or a new musical sound. You, I think, are looking for ideas, and gear won't help you there. You can write a solo, play chords etc on a 4 string no probs. If you want something to shake things up try a different tuning (the bass equivalent to rearranging your drum kit). There's something about tinkering that helps you over a creative hump sometimes, and it's cheaper than buying new gear. Double win!

    Now if on the other hand you want a new sound, i.e. you need a bass with a low B or high C or both, then there's no way around it. But do that only if you run into that specific issue while you're writing.

    Hope this helps mate =)
  5. Exactly.
  6. Bryan R. Tyler

    Bryan R. Tyler TalkBass: Usurping My Practice Time Since 2002 Staff Member Administrator Gold Supporting Member

    May 3, 2002
    Terrible advice. You'll never master the 4-string, or any other instrument. There's always more to learn. You'll just be spending time and energy getting used to a different instrument than the one you want to play, making the transition that much more difficult. You don't play a guitar with 4 strings for years before moving up to 6, you don't play a piano with 12 keys for years before moving up to 88. If your end goal is to play a 6-string, start on a 6-string as soon as possible. Same goes with any other instrument. Getting acclimated to it will only grow more difficult if you spend all of your time practicing on a 4.
  7. darkstorm


    Oct 13, 2009
    When you can play the stuff your hoping to someday. Then would be the time imo to think about expanding to 5 or 6 string. In what way could either be really useful for you now and with your current music making thing? If your planning to up your playing now, then getting a fiver or sixer can make sense if thats geared to doing stuff that needs either of those. Otherwise Id say your better off sticking to 4string and expanding your playing ability with it. The vast mojority of famous bass players who broke the rules and made new headway in bass playing, have used four string basses as theyre main or only bass type. You dont need anything but 4 string to do those things your saying your wanting to learn to play.
  8. Mystic Michael

    Mystic Michael Hip No Ties

    Apr 1, 2004
    New York, NY
    One factor that should influence your decision is the type of playing you're likely to do in future, i.e genre, style, types of ensembles, etc. etc. NOT just the band in which you happen to find yourself at this time.

    So look at the long term & big picture... :eyebrow:

  9. bassbenj


    Aug 11, 2009
    + 50

    Just WHERE did the common story that you have to start on a 4 string and then "move up" to a 5 or 6 string come from anyway? It's wrong. Think of it like this: There are two different instruments one is a 4 string bass and one is a 6 string bass. You can learn to play either one or both.

    My personal advice is to get a 6 string first rather than a 5. The wide neck, extended ranges and cross-neck scales will show you right away what ERB is all about. In fact a 6er will FORCE you into the right mode. A 5 string then becomes a 6 string with the upper range trimmed a bit. This is really what a 5er is all about rather than the common idea of a 4 string with a few extra low notes. That is the WRONG way to think! That makes you lose all the advantages of a 5er (other than the few low notes)

    I listened to your example bands on Youtube. I have to agree with you that a 5 or 6 string bass would really fit that kind of music well to expand your baselines and what you are doing.
    I say go for it!
  10. Hi Philippe.

    A few years back I was facing a dilemma since the cover band I was in took a few "modern" pieces played with a 5 string into our repertoire. I had played 4 stringers for two decades, so I was facing a choice. The long story short, I got a cheapo 6er because it was IIRC 7€ more expensive than the 5er :). Then I bought another ;).

    The C really wasn't for me, so I eventually strung the "better" of my 6er's F#BEADG.

    In "modern" music it's IMHO nice to have the ablility to play 1-5 "country" progression so the 5 is lower than the 1, something a 4 banger isn't quite capable of. To me anyway, too much in the guitarists alley.

    So, my vote would go for a 5er in Your case, unless You want to venture into either F# or bass baritone area.

  11. tylerwylie


    Jan 5, 2008
    Dunwoody, GA
    This. 100x over.
  12. Randyt

    Randyt RAAPT Custom Wood Productions

    Jul 21, 2010
    Barrie, Canada
    Embrace the power of the 6xer...
  13. FunkMetalBass


    Aug 5, 2005
    Phoenix, Arizona 85029
    Endorsing Artist: J.C. Basses
    When I become a trillionaire, I'm going to hire a crack team of bass assassins to destroy any 4-string and 5-string basses selling for under $2000, as well as bribe all of the major bass manufacturers to exclusively reserve novelty basses (4-string and 5-string basses) for the expensive custom shop. Within 5 years, my mob-like antics will make 6 strings the norm and only those rolling money piles can afford 4's and 5's.

    Better get used to 6 now. It'll make the change easier later.

    In all seriousness, get the 6. It does everything a 4 and 5 can do, plus 1.
  14. Mojo-Man

    Mojo-Man Supporting Member

    Feb 11, 2003

    Like many have said, get a 6er. Going from 4-6 is a big step.
    If you adjust to a 6-string, a jump down to a 5-string will be a breeze.
  15. bzmnt


    Aug 29, 2010

    +1 You can start right away with any kind of bass if you want to. To me a six-string bass is not a four with some extra strings to noodle around with. It is an instrument of its own. And by this I don't mean it is better than a four, just a bit different. And I think you can develop your playing to something more original than most of other bassists if you start with a six-string right away, because then you don't play it like it is a four with just extra range.
  16. I like having a 5er because you can always use the low B. I've never had much use for a 6er because I can always just play a little higher up on the neck of the 5er and get virtually the same result (within reason) and I just don't have the need to play much in the guitar register.

    It can be a big adjustment going from a 4 to a 5 just based on neck width and string spacing. Depending on the 6er you buy, the size of your hands, and the quality of the instrument it can be an even bigger adjustment. If you think you want a 6er, play as many as you can get your hands on before you buy and decide if that extra string is really worth it to you.

    After all, you can always buy a 5er and if you don't get much use out of the low B, you can just set it up with a high C instead.
  17. lfmn16


    Sep 21, 2011
    charles town, wv
    My advice would be to go straight to a six string. If you are looking to solo, the high C would probably be more useful than the low B.

    There are a lot of great 6 string basses out there that you can buy used for under $500. If it turns out not to be your thing, you can always sell it.
  18. oldsalt


    Mar 14, 2011
    Lowell, MA
    Nothing should determine it except for which one you want to play. If you want a six, because it's appealing to you, go get a six brother.
    There is no rule book in this day & age of bassists & playing that says when & where a particular number of strings is acceptable & appropriate. You are the bassist. Don't let anyone tell you how to ply your trade.
    I can offer my own experience. I started learning on a six. Simple logic lead me to it. Six strings, twenty four frets meant one hundred & fifty notes. I wanted to learn all about the bass that I could. So, I started with the biggest. It has been much easier for me to play fives & fours since. I already know the names of all of the notes on the fretboard because I learned them & more on the six. It was nice. Also, one of the things I had never known prior to studying was about scale patterns. The three note per string patterns are actually seven string patterns before they repeat. So, a six helped me learn all of these more easily because I could see it better. Now, this is just me.
    I'll say that I have my own process that I go through when I choose which instrument to take out on a gig. But, string spacing, neck size & mastery of a four string have never once weighed in that decision. String spacing, I've personally, never experienced a situation where it came into play. I know what I prefer, but there are fives & sixes out there with fender string spacing. Neck width wasn't an issue because my hand was tuned to it from years & years of practice. I got my first six in '91. Mastery of a four? Yeah, ask me when I'm dead and gone. Maybe then, after all these years of honing, achieving, learning, bleeding, crying & sweating, I might have met a master or two. Not me, though. I'll never be bold enough to call myself that.
    So, my advice is to get what you want because its what you want. Does it speak to you? Can you speak through it? I make a damn good living with basses of every string number. Fours are just as awe inspiring as sixes are to me. I just never have to defend my decision to play one here. No one in my career has looked at me & told me I couldn't play a particular bass in a particular situation except for here at TB. Good luck in your decision!
  19. My advice I change when the bass you use now no longer suits you're needs. I moved to a 5 string as soon as I started craving some extra low notes in my groove. When you start reaching for the low B get a 5, or when you start looking for higher notes, get a 6. It's something you really have to decide for yourself. However I can no longer survive with out my low B :)
  20. khutch

    khutch Praise Harp

    Aug 20, 2011
    suburban Chicago
    Listen to some really excellent 4 string bass players (double or electric) and you will conclude that 4 strings are sufficient to go places most of us only dream of going. So I don't think you have to change from four unless you want to. It sounds like you want to though and it sounds like you want to try a six so go with the six. When it comes to a decision about a choice like this when you come to the end of your life you will regret the options you didn't try more than the ones you tried and eventually discarded. In my case I want to go with a five but I realize that with a BEAD or CGDA tuning I could accomplish a lot of what a five would do for me on a four. After thinking about it for a good while I am leaning to the five. In the long run I may well try both. Treat it as an adventure, go forth boldly and don't feel bad if you decide later it was a mistake because it will have been a mistake worth making.