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4 or 5 string for a newby

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by BMan3488, Apr 9, 2015.

  1. BMan3488


    Apr 9, 2015
    Frisco, TX
    I'm looking to start taking bass lessons in the near future. I am going to purchase a bass soon and was wondering if it's better to start with a 4 or 5 string bass?

    Thanks for your time!
  2. BassyBill

    BassyBill The smooth moderator... Gold Supporting Member

    Mar 12, 2005
    West Midlands UK
    That's purely a matter of personal choice. Try out a few basses in your price range if you can and go with whatever feels like something you want to make music with. I really love playing 4 string basses and don't enjoy 5 strings at all - I own one and rarely if ever pick it up. Other people are the exact opposite.

    Not that this should influence you in any way, it's merely an observation, but I think there's probably about a 60:40 split in favour of four strings amongst the USA players who post on here. Over here in the UK that would be 80:20, or even 90:10. Just one of those tiny little cultural differences, I suppose.

    By the way, it sort of helps people posting if they know a little about who they're talking to, so if you could fill out your profile with a few details including location that would be great. Thanks and welcome to TalkBass!
    BMan3488 likes this.
  3. Jazz Ad

    Jazz Ad Mi la ré sol

    There also is a money issue. A decent 5 string bass costs a lot more than an entry 4 string model and the amp need more power to handle it.
    If you're on a tight budget stay away from 5 strings for now.
    mambo4 and BMan3488 like this.
  4. AFRO


    Aug 29, 2010
    I am the opposite of BassyBill, I learned on a 4 but once I played/bought my 5 I never went back. 5 has so much versatility having the B string just opens up a lot of positional options that I feel the 4 lacks.

    If I had it to do over, id just start on five and tame that beast early on. if you have no experience on a 4, then you are basically at block one anyhow. so if you take lessons (and you should ) they should show you proper ergonomic form for how you and the bass fit together.

    Yes it will be more in cost and string replacement fee goes north too, and it is considerably harder to get used to muting the B strings girth and over tones...but just go to guitar center or a pawn shop and test the feel of 4 vs 5. make a decision based on how comfortable each one feels when playing, sitting or standing..
    T-Funk, gabrielvv7 and BMan3488 like this.
  5. RedMoses

    RedMoses Supporting Member

    Jul 4, 2012
    Learn on a 4, one less string to worry about, once you feel comfortable in your playing get a 5 and slowly transition it into your playing/practice, then you can decide if you are a 4 or 5 guy or both.
    BMan3488 likes this.
  6. fearceol


    Nov 14, 2006
    Perhaps you are correct...perhaps not. IMO if you are starting form scratch, one more string should not make that much difference. It is when you get used to one or the other, then try to change, that problems of adjustment occurs. No such problems when you start from ground zero.
    thabassmon and BMan3488 like this.
  7. Why 4 and why 5 perhaps should come into the picture.

    Kinda depends on what music will you be playing... Meodic bass lines and lead breaks playing the tune I'd point you to the 5.

    Standard notation, piano music, will have some low ledger notes lower than your E string. If you had that B string you would be able to catch those low ledger lines. With out the B string you have to transpose up an octave to use that sheet music. Transposing on the fly is not one of my strong points so here the 5 string would be IMO the best choice.

    Most of the instruction books and videos will be for the 4 string.

    The 5 string pretty well gets two octaves of notes in the same 4 fret area of your fretboard.

    When I play out in public I never am using standard notation it's all fake chord sheet music and I never get lead solo breaks so a 4 string does everything I need.

    If you decide on the 5 string the learning curve for the 5 is not going to be that much harder than a 4 string, it's just more bottom end notes at your finger tips. I would recommend starting on the 4 string and a couple of years from now get yourself a real good 5 string, i.e. grow into the 5.

    Good luck.
    Last edited: Apr 10, 2015
    BMan3488 likes this.
  8. BBox Bass

    BBox Bass Supporting Member

    Apr 2, 2011
    NW Pennsylvania
    As others have said, it depends on what you want to do. I played a 4 for 25 years and had zero interest in 5. Then I joined a band that played modern rock covers with bass lines that contained a lot of low notes and reluctantly restrung one bass to BEAD. It was frustrating at first, but I eventually got the hang of it and bought a 5 when I tired of switching between BEAD and standard basses. These days, 4s feel strange to me and I seldom play them.
    thabassmon likes this.
  9. SamJ

    SamJ Founder - Fender MIA Club

    Apr 22, 2006
    PDX / SFO / HNL
    I'm no expert as all I've ever played was 4... Almost all the music I like and listen to is on a 4... so I just play a 4. But there are some on here that are almost religious about 5's and even more strings... You need to listen to the music you like carefully and decide if you need that low B or not.
  10. drumsnbass

    drumsnbass Bassic User

    Dec 13, 2004
    Phoenix AZ area
    You can start on a 5 and use the 5th as a thumb rest until you learn enough to use it.

    But you can never add a 5th string to a 4 banger.
    thabassmon likes this.
  11. fearceol


    Nov 14, 2006
    No, but you can add a thumb rest. ;):thumbsup:
  12. BMan3488


    Apr 9, 2015
    Frisco, TX
    I'm still not sure what string to get, but I do know what questions to ask and what to look for when I test them out!! Thanks for all the suggestions and info! I will post a pick of the bass I pick!!

    Thanks for the welcome!
  13. DrVenkman


    Jan 22, 2010
    Pacific NW
    If you do get a 4 string, I'd recommend still using techniques that will carry over to a fiver. Primarily I mean floating thumb. A big challenge many have when going from 4 to 5 is muting the extra string. IMHO proper floating thumb technique from the start makes that much less of an issue.
    BMan3488 likes this.
  14. gabrielvv7


    Mar 10, 2013
    i began on a 4 string. therefore i have no problem when using one. however, i now have a 5 stringer. i still usually move around mostly on the "main" 4 (e-a-d-g), and use the low-b when i play certain kinds of music; quite often it comes in very handy to have the extra range.
    as mentioned before by another poster, moving from a 4 to a 5 (or even 6) is not that difficult, you just have to make sure you can manage your extra string(s) and be able to mute it when you have to.
  15. thabassmon


    Sep 26, 2013
    New Zealand
    I like the idea of starting on a 5.
    If it's comfy - cool
    If it's too much - go 4
    If it's not enough - go 6

    I am almost tempted to say start with six but the OP stated four or five.

    I played four for a long time, switched to five, changed tuning of five (over 10 years of tenor tuning E-C). I'm switching to six soon (tenor E-F).

    Because I am so used to five, when I play a four string now it feels like I've broken a string and the neck is so tiny.

    A lot of people will tell you start on four and work your way up, they are not wrong and that's the way that I've done it.


    If I had to do it again I'd start on a Five.
  16. tfer


    Jan 1, 2014
    I play a 6, because I decided that after playing a 4 for 20+ years, that if I was going to have to adjust to new string spacing, I was only doing it once - so I decided on a 6. I do enough soloing and chording that a 6 seemed the way to go.

    But, I truly believe that a 5 is the new standard. If I was starting today, I'd start on a five.

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