5 or 4 string?

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by RJSBASS, Sep 5, 2005.


    RJSBASS Guest

    Jun 22, 2005
    New York
    I play Upright bass, and have a Warwick Thumb neckthru fretless4 string, and i'm thinking to get a fretted bass. I play alot of rock, funk, jazz, metal, anything. I'm looking to get a g&L L2000 bass but i just saw their 2500 model. Should i go 5 string? Even though i have a fretless 4 would it be hard switching between the two of them?
  2. When you play your upright, do you often find yourself wishing you had more lower range? If the answer is yes, then get a 5 string. If you play a 5 string, you still have EADG, you just have the added flexability of a low B or high C. The only difference is that the 5 will most likely have a wider neck and be heavier. Could be a good or bad thing.

    As for me, I play 4-stringers tuned CGDA. Best of both worlds.
  3. Iritan


    Jun 3, 2005
    Wilmington, N.C.
    This is a little off subject, but then again, he sorda already answered your question. But I gotta say, Discgraham, you don't play very many covers do ya?
  4. Chasarms

    Chasarms Casual Observer

    May 24, 2001
    Bettendorf, IA USA
    Switching from five to four is no big deal at all.
  5. adouglas


    Jun 23, 2003
    Bridgeport, CT
    I think the question involved going the other way...from 4 to 5. :D

    And it really isn't a problem. Here's why:

    A 5 string is exactly like a 4 string with the extra string on the bottom, out of the way. You can ignore it unless you need it.

    Think of it this way: Take off the B string. What do you have? A 4 string with spacing more or less like a Jazz bass. In terms of actual playing, there is no difference. Sure, the radius of the back of the neck is different, but that's not a factor unless you're in the habit of reaching around the neck with your thumb (bad habit IMHO).

    Contrast this to a 6 string...on that instrument, you have to reach over the C string to get at the E A D and G. Different feel entirely.

    The best single reason to go with a 5 IMHO is that it makes transposing downwards a no-brainer. Material that is otherwise unplayable because the singer can't hit the high notes becomes easy.
  6. Frank Martin

    Frank Martin Bitten by the luthiery bug...

    Oct 8, 2001
    Budapest, Hungary, EU
    Well, when switching from a 4 to a 6, the B caused me more problems than the C, so there goes your theory. It's more like you get used to that the E is the lowest/highest, and sometimes you subconsciously mix that up in the first couple of months.
  7. adouglas


    Jun 23, 2003
    Bridgeport, CT
    I respectfully disagree. It's not about getting used to which string is highest...it's about physically reaching that lowest string.

    I use my B string regularly, but by no means constantly...I DO use the EADG strings constantly.

    My hands just aren't big enough to be able to play that lowest string comfortably on a continuous basis. I could do it and play cleanly, but I'd rather not have to.

    This would be even more of a factor for someone unused to the instrument.
  8. danomite64


    Nov 16, 2004
    Tampa, Florida
    When I got my first 5, I had no difficulty getting used to it at all. I took it to a gig, plugged in and played. But, because I never had a low B before (and only tried it once or twice on the gig), I thought maybe I'd be better off with a high C. So, I bought a really thin string, changed it around, and proceeded to my doom! I don't think I ever had as difficult a gig as that one. I left that gig a much wiser man.....but, I have heard several people who have been thoroughly vexed by the low B, so I just chalk it up to the individuality and complexity of our brains.
  9. Going by that logic, a six string is exactly like a five string except with the extra string on the top.

    Honestly, it is NOT exactly the same.

    The best method of determining if a five string bass is right for you is to try it in comparison to a four string.

    I have a hard time comprehending why certain individuals believe that having a B, or C (or 7 more strings for that matter) available is in some way making the player more competent whereas the very same four strings have been rigorously tested through time itself.

    I'm not trying to knock extended range players, as I have two five string instruments myself, but in all sincerity, I find differences in inherent technique a more important factor to consider rather than number of strings somehow equating to versatility.
  10. adouglas


    Jun 23, 2003
    Bridgeport, CT
    For the specific reason already stated (that you have to reach over the C string all the time, which changes the ergonomics of the thing), I disagree. The situation is not the same for the B and C strings. Your left hand never touches the B unless you're playing it. But your fingers have to reach past the C every time you play a note on a lower string.

    Furthermore, a 6 has much narrower string spacing than a 5. It's a very different instrument.

    Given the similar string spacing to a Jazz bass and the same four upper strings, the only pertinent difference between a 5 and a 4 is the shape of the back of the neck. This has very little impact on playing...at least it has very little impact for me. For those of us who do not have large hands, having to reach further around the neck to get past that C string DOES have a significant impact, however....IMHO. Clearly this is a debatable point.

    I do agree that the best way to tell is to try.

    To the original poster: Go to a store that has 4s, 5s and 6es. Pick up each one and try it. Then YOU decide. I think we're all giving you good information here, but from different points of view.
  11. adouglas


    Jun 23, 2003
    Bridgeport, CT
    More competent? I agree...that's silly. More versatile? Most definitely YES.

    Probably a third of the songs my band plays have been transposed downwards from the original key. For a significant portion of those, that means that on a four-string bass the part would have had to be radically altered (played an octave up) which would have destroyed the desired effect.

    The 5 string makes it possible to play these songs in a key that we are capable of singing. Without that fifth string, we would not be performing that material. Therefore, it DOES add versatilty.

    I'm certainly no better a player than I was when I had a 4 string bass (aside from any skill developed through several additional years of experience), but I have found that the 5 string is a far more versatile tool than the 4 string was, for that reason.

    There's nothing magical about having four strings. If the 5th string lets you do things that four strings do not, then it's a good thing in my book.
  12. WillCO

    WillCO An ounce of perception, a pound of obscure.

    Mar 9, 2005
    Denver, nee Austin
    I played four-strings for 15 years, then sort of got out of the game for a while and sold all my stuff in the process. When I decided to get back into it, I bought two 5-string instruments, one fretted and one fretless.

    I'd have to say that the transition gave me a little more trouble than I thought it would. I found out that part of the way I played, mostly unconsciously, was spatial, even though I am trained and can read music. Without knowing it, I understood basslines based somewhat on their physical position along the fingerboard. As a result, when I would instinctively go for the A string, which my synapses knew was the second string from the lowest, I would play the notes on the E string instead. This problem just went away on its own with some practice hours, but I have to say I did notice it.

    Also, when most people make the switch, they have to learn how to mute the strings a little differently - you may find your B-string rumbling on its own a little, or you may not, depending on your habits to mute the string. If you rest your thumb on the pickup, for instance, you may notice it. If, on the other hand, you rest your thumb on the lowest string, you may not.

    One final thing, and perhaps the only bummer deal for me playing 5-strings. I'm a low-action guy, and that B string moves so much that I found myself having to raise it up a lot more than I wanted to to keep it quiet with the frets. I wonder if this may be one of the reasons why most of our most notable funk guys tend to still play fours.

    Good luck.
  13. i play both. but prefer 4's
  14. this is not always true, my Carvin 5 string has the same string spacing as my Carvin 6 string
  15. WillCO

    WillCO An ounce of perception, a pound of obscure.

    Mar 9, 2005
    Denver, nee Austin
    Here's the question, I think. Let's say you play a four string, and have never played anything else. You are at a show watching another band. You have the chance to sit in on a song...but the band's bass player only has a five string and a six string for you to choose from...

    ...would you feel comfortable? I think not.
  16. Okay, guys, here's the thing.

    It is Different!

    Yes, you can get used to it.

    Yes, some necks are wider than others; you have to shop around and try some out.

    Yes, IMHO, it's worth the extra range. Once I got used to it mentally, knowing the E string is in a different place, I use the B string a lot in Jazz for walking lines to extend my "walk".
    I also do Blues and do come covers that have the lower B used in the original, so I need it for that, too.

    I use a Fender Jazz 5, and it's not much of a reach for the B string. Nice neck for that. I had tried a couple others out before the salesman asked me what I thought and I said the neck was really wide on the one I was trying, and then he handed me the Fender Jazz 5 and I was sold!

    Go for the 5. You'll love it after you work with it a while! :D

    P.S. All this after playing 4-string for 30+ years.
  17. Oh, yeah...

    I have a Warwick Fortress 4-string fretless, and I'm really starting some serious GAS to upgrade to a five string fretless, soon. Just played a Corvette 5/fretless and loved it!

    Just FYI ;)
  18. adouglas


    Jun 23, 2003
    Bridgeport, CT
    Possibly not...but I was quite surprised at how comfortable I was right away when I got my 5. Depends on the individual, I think.

    I should note here that I've always (for 23+years) anchored my thumb one string below the string I'm playing...so there was never any right-hand issue for me. I can see how someone who anchors on the pickup at all times might have some difficulty.

    Oddly enough, I'd never seen any mention of this right hand thumb anchoring technique until recently, when I picked up a "hints and tips" book at GC and flipped through it. I'd always assumed that I was doing something strange and unusual...it just felt right to me.
  19. Fuzzbass

    Fuzzbass P5 with overdrive Supporting Member

    Extremely important point. After playing four-string for 20-odd years, it took me a couple of months to get used to five. It wasn't ergonomics at all, it was mental frames of reference WRT note placement on the E string: I had to concentrate to avoid playing a fourth off.

    Overall, there are many different challenges involved with moving to 5 or more strings. There are also many different ways of visualizing bass. So, one bassist's experience will likely vary from another's.

    I subconsciously adopted the "floating thumb" technique after switching to 5-string. Before that I mostly kept my thumb on the pickguard, pickup, or thumbrest. But to play five properly, I needed to un-anchor my thumb. I'm a better player overall now that I use floating thumb. YMMV, natch.