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4 vs. 5 string-advice?

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by emblymouse, Aug 31, 2008.

  1. emblymouse

    emblymouse exempt Supporting Member

    Jan 22, 2006
    Hey, I'm not sure where this post fits...

    I am auditioning for a spot in a funk band formerly occupied by a 5 stringer. They have original tunes out on CD.
    I am a lifelong 4 stringer. My concession to the 5 string phenomenon was to get a Kubicki ExFactor which gives me room down to D. I've always believed I can express whatever I need to within those 4 strings, however...
    As I work on this material I keep bumping up against 5 string only parts which has me concerned. I've never had a specific reason to go 5. My gut feeling is to stick to my 4 string guns like always, but I do want this gig. It may not be an issue with the band, so far it's just the little voice in my head.
    I am admittedly an old dog looking at a new trick here. I have never given a 5 string much of a shot. Aside from having to buy a new bass I am also wondering if this road will make all my other basses obsolete,(that is a scary and sad thought).
    Just writing this down was a good excercise, but I appreciate any perspective you all can give.
  2. My advice, since you want this gig, is to try this.
  3. I played 4 strings for 20+ years. Once I went to 5 (and 6), I couldn't go back to 4's. For me, there was just something missing after playing 5+, so I sold or traded all my 4 strings away (including a Ric).

    But the key is to find a 5 string that works for you. There are different string spacings, and it all depends on how the addition of the extra string was done. Some can be narrower than what you are used to, and will make everything feel too cramped. That will take come gettin' used to. It's all a preference thing. Play before buying.

    You can always use the low B for a thumbrest until needed...
  4. I certainly wouldn't buy gear that you wouldn't ordinarly use for a band. Bands can promise ya the world and break up the next day.

    I play 4, 5, and 6 string fretted/fretless bass. I grab what I want for a song and nothing will change that.
  5. amper


    Dec 4, 2002
    If they're writing parts for a 5 string, then you need to get a 5 string. It won't make your 4 string basses obsolete.

    I started on 5, and now have two 4 string instruments, as well. I have no trouble switching back and forth, but I just have to remember that the B string isn't there and modify my playing. I mainly only use the B string as "low frequency FX", anyway.

    An interesting alternative is to tune your 4 string in fifths, CGDA, but that means completely relearning how to play...
  6. LDonnie


    Aug 3, 2008
    That is quite a trouble you have there. One thing is clear: You need a 5-stringer.
    I'm pretty sure it won't make your 4-stringers useless. Just get a not too expensive 5-stringer. There are enough quality options.
  7. SteveC

    SteveC Moderator Staff Member

    Nov 12, 2004
    North Dakota
    I use a 5 for this very reason. There are a number of songs in our set list that requires a 5. I guess I could bring a 4 and a 5 and switch, but why? A 5 does everything a 4 can do - not so much the reverse.

    I really want to have/justify a nice 4 string P bass, and it would work great for many of my gigs - except for when I need the B string. I have gone the "get one bass that covers all your gigs" route. That's most practical for me at this point.
  8. If you need the lower string, you could try tuning BEAD.

    Of course, you lose the G that way.
  9. emblymouse

    emblymouse exempt Supporting Member

    Jan 22, 2006
    My brain would explode if I tried different tunings at this point in my life! Even a Hipshot D tuner is too weird for me, that's why I got a Kubicki.

    I guess what worries me most is whether I can go back and forth between 4+5. It seems like some can and some can't very easily. I an totally a creature of habit, hence my concern.
  10. Ric5

    Ric5 Supporting Member Commercial User

    Jan 29, 2008
    I grow organic carrots and they are not for sale
    A 5 can do anything that a 4 can do ...

    I used to only play 4 string passive basses ... but I got in bands situations where I needed a 5 string bass so now I only play 5 stringers and I prefer active electronics.
  11. RickenBoogie


    Jul 22, 2007
    Dallas, TX
    I have 1 5 string bass for exactly the same reason. All the drop tunings of the day make it a necessity, I think. Once you get comfortable with a 5 string, it's no problem at all switching between the two.
  12. Really? It can be strung with 4-string sets? :p
  13. Darkstrike

    Darkstrike Return Of The King!

    Sep 14, 2007
    BEAD, if you don't like fives.

    Could go all Billy Sheehan and have a double neck bass tuned BEAD EADG!:D
  14. Yeah......very convenient alternative to a 5 string. :p
  15. Darkstrike

    Darkstrike Return Of The King!

    Sep 14, 2007
    Works for him.;)
  16. winston

    winston Supporting Member

    May 2, 2000
    East Bay, CA
    Ask the folks in the band if they're really attached to the bass parts as played on a 5. If you were trying out for a metal band that tunes down to A flat it might be essential, but who knows. Lots of non-bassist musicians get turned off by B string overuse and for all you know they may be relieved that it's not even an option 'cuz you play a 4.

    Also if there's a keyboardist they may be able to handle the super-low notes. If you're a good player the number of strings shouldn't matter too much, as long as you're satisfied with your instrument.

    I've found it helpful to use 5 strings with the same string spacing (19mm) and scale length (34") so that switching back and forth between 4 and 5 isn't too jarring.

    If you do decide to try a 5 it's important to mute the B when you're not playing it. This may require some right/left hand technique adjustments. I find floating thumb technique (as practiced by Steve Lawson and Todd Johnson) very helpful for this.

    Some people can't go back to 4 strings after playing 5+, but I really came to appreciate the simplicity and sleek playability of 4s after dabbling with 6 and 7 string basses. Plus it means there are literally millions of more basses to choose from!:bassist:
  17. dandbassman


    Aug 26, 2007
    Waxhaw NC
    There was a Bass Player Magazine article around 2001 entitled " Fear of the Five" , or something close to that . Roscoe Beck was the author or at least collaborated in the writing.
    I too have 4 ,5 and 6 string basses. I have gravitated to the five most of the time. I don't know if I agree about the idea of parts specifically written for a five string, but I do know that a bass player has a function to perform in any given context and the tool that is brought to perform that function is secondary. In standard five string tuning, you only pick up 5 additional notes on the lower range of the instrument compared to the four string.
    With guitar players tuned a half step down from concert pitch, a five string bass can do the job without retuning.

    Rosce Beck's archive from 2000-2002 has considerable discussion on the matter, including my post from that time which I post again here:
    I wanted to respond to the latest 5 string bass article in BP mag. Following the inspiration of Anthony Jackson and Nathan East, I purchased a 5 string bass, a Yamaha RBX 5 in 1986. I later obtained a Carvin LB76 and LB76F and 4 other 5 string basses. The five string allows for a lower extended range of 5 notes. Having played certain "cover" tunes in the late 1970's and early 1980's, I began to notice the expanded range of the bass guitar as an overall trend. First, there was Loggins and Messina's "Angry Eyes" with a bass breakdown that made it obvious that a tune down to 'D' of the 'E' string was necessary. In the 1980's, Huey Lewis " Walkin on a Thin Line also seemed to infer that a lower register, a low 'D' was again needed. Then there was 'I'll Always Love You" in the 80's and later " Black Velvet" which cried out for a low E b. Bottom line is we need the 'B' string now more than ever and having it also makes playing some things easier; having fewer position shifts necessary to play the same stuff. I think that the five string is the new standard. The six string, on the other hand, extends into the upper range which no longer seems to serve the same bass function. Although this upper register may allow for additional melodic or chordal content, it's use in the higher range does not support the traditional function of providing the bridge between the rhythmic and harmonic elements. This is not a value judgement , but an observation of current evolution. To the extent which the six string bass may play a role in the context of solo performance, typical ensemble function continues to suggest that it is the lower extended range that really speaks to the essence of bass.
  18. Good point! And you can still do alot with only 4 strings.

    I wouldn't worry about a 5 string making your 4 stringers obsolete. It hasn't happened to me, I wouldn't want to be without my 4 bangers and I play them regularly. If you do decide to buy a fiver, get one with a good B string that's useable.
  19. Also, don't forget all the synthesizer bass parts in pop music that go below low E. I think this played a big role in the development of the 5 string.
  20. allexcosta


    Apr 7, 2004
    If you make your 4 stringer sing and groove your a** off they won't care if some notes are one octave higher.

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