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5 String or C Extension... Or Neither?

Discussion in 'Basses [DB]' started by Crazyfist, May 13, 2015.

  1. Crazyfist


    Sep 26, 2011
    Hey everyone,

    I'm looking to branch out my work opportunities with bass generally as I'm pretty comfortable with an electric bass. I was looking at buying a double bass (starting out so I will get a fairly cheap one... by double bass standards at least!) and wondered if anyone has any experience with a 5 string or a C extension and if they have a preference?
    Any Classical/Jazz/Folk pieces where it might have been useful? Is it easier/harder to bow/pizzicato or just the same as if it were a 4 string? Is a cheap 5 string more or less the same as an expensive one? I basically started playing bass on a 5 string so I'm very comfortable with the low B in that respect.

  2. I'm an old guy who played electric bass and guitar in my youth. Two years ago I started double bass lessons. I rented a cheap 4 string and a couple months ago I bought a Upton 5 string. The 5 string has closer string spacing and I'm still getting used to bowing it. If you are not going to bow your bass that isn't an issue. I have played a extension and prefer the 5 string. Some people prefer an extension. You don't really need either unless you are playing orchestral music as no other genre seems to use anything below an E that I've found. Also the fifth string applies more tension to the top and can muffle the sound. Some of the best sounding basses I've heard (not in person) are 3 string. So in my opinion you need a better bass to get a good sound on a 5 string than you do on a 4 string. Hope this helps.
    Crazyfist likes this.
  3. MikeCanada


    Aug 30, 2011
    Toronto, ON
    Outside of classical music, the low notes really aren't necessary. Some jazz/world/non-classical guys that have extensions/low 5th strings/tune in 5ths will throw in a low note once in a while typically to end a tune, but most of those guys have the low notes because they use that same instrument to double in classical music. Even in an orchestra setting until you start to play in fairly serious community/regional orchestras they aren't going to require/demand the low notes.

    When buying a double bass, you pay a premium for those notes. You will get more bass for your buck 99/100 if you go with a "normal" 4 string bass, with a few lucky exceptions. Typically an extension costs a minimum of $1000 to install/have built if you are commissioning an instrument, and a 5 string starts at about the same. At the cheaper end of the spectrum that's a difference between no bass and a bass, a horrible ply bass-shaped-object and a functional double bass, a functional double bass with a proper setup, real strings, a good bag that will protect your investment, and a bow to get you started, from there into a hybrid instead of laminate etc. Basically, there are better ways to spend that money on a first instrument.

    Down the road if you find yourself in a situation where you want/need the low notes, you can decide if you want to add an extension to your current instrument or upgrade to something else. At that point 5ths, an extension, a 5 string, or some other option for getting there might be what you end up doing. Until then, welcome to the light side of the force. There are cookies and orange juice at the break.
  4. In the long road, I will end up getting a 5-String. That is my opinion though. For now, I am using a mixture of 4ths and 5ths having GDGC (high to low). For me, changing tunings really helped me without the expense of getting an extension or the extra string for now and I have gotten used to the new tuning. There is nothing like the sound of that Low C wether or not I am using it for my repertoire.
    paulunger likes this.
  5. Tom Lane

    Tom Lane Gold Supporting Member

    So, here's the consensus, as I've learned it over the past 10 years regarding doublebass 5 stringers or extensions. They're not a good idea. You shouldn't confuse your desire for one with your need with it. For the large majority of players, 4 strings is more than enough until you're looking at getting a gig that requires a low C, which most of us will never experience. And I mean, "need" as in truly need. Not, nice to have, would be cool, the BL/director would like it - if they're not paying you for that 5th string, you probably got a bad deal. A 5-string double bass is a much worse idea than a 6-string BG for all of the reasons Mike cited plus many more. Even a 5 string EUB is better and can be used instead of the upright for the non-pro player.
  6. mrmarbles


    May 6, 2015
    Washington DC
    It depends on what your musical aspirations are. If you are in North America and want to be a professional full time orchestral musician (firstly, good luck!) then I would not recommend you learn how to play the instrument initially with five strings.

    If you are just someone that wants to play bass and have some fun then why not go for 5 strings? There are a lot of cool instruments out there that sound great. When I was playing in Vienna and later in Prague I played many wonderful 5 string instruments that sounded like a cannon!

    Personally, I really do not like extensions of any sort. Even if they are set up extremely well they are always going to be a pain to maintain and I have never found one that didn't mute the instrument or cause some sort of rattling...and that goes for the ones made extremely well by well known and respected luthiers.

    Do what feels right to you and brings out your musical expression, and most of all, is most enjoyable to you.
    Last edited: May 14, 2015
  7. Eric Hochberg

    Eric Hochberg Supporting Member

    Jul 7, 2004
    I think most of them remain in Europe.
  8. eerbrev


    Dec 6, 2009
    Ottawa, ON, CAN
    I love my 5 string - It sounds amazing, and plays really well. However If you're not playing in orchestras at a high level, it's not worth the money.

    The reason why extensions are popular is simple - You get to keep the bass you know and love (and which may be a fine old bass), while gaining needed/wanted notes. In my own personal experience, it's the only plus. That said, that is a REALLY BIG plus.

    Just get a 4 string. you can always change your mind later.
  9. robobass


    Aug 1, 2005
    Cologne, Germany
    Private Inventor - Bass Capos
    If you haven't studied upright until now, then forget about either. Learning it well enough to play professionally is a bit more work than with slab. I know I'm gonna get killed for saying this, but let me put it this way. I got my first slab when I was sixteen, and after six months I could play most everything that was in my rock collection at the time. I started upright at eighteen and now at fifty-one I still can't play Mozart G-Minor all that well, even though I've had a long career as an orchestra player. For now, just concentrate on getting the best four-stringer you can afford, and look more into finding a good teacher and planning a long journey rather than experimenting with fifths, fivers, and extensions right off. You can and should upgrade your instrument often in the early stages. You can get a fiver or extension later.

    Mr. Marbles, I really must beg to differ with your opinion on extensions. I and many of my colleagues have been using them for decades, and you are the first I have heard of to report muting issues. Maintenance and rattles once in awhile maybe, but overall less trouble than with other aspects of the bass.
    Last edited: May 14, 2015
    bskts247 and Don Kasper like this.
  10. mrmarbles


    May 6, 2015
    Washington DC
    I have found extensions to have a dampening factor, but some people may equally argue that 5 strings often have a weak E and are slow to respond. There is no ideal way to play, just preference. On my little solo instrument I have an extension but it doesn't have a machine - it works okay with the capos and is mainly just for adding some resonance depending on which key I am in.

    I do like 5 string instruments, and I wouldn't rule them out if the forum poster doesn't want to be a professional orchestral player. The only real issue I see is that finding a decent one outside of Europe is very very hard!
    gnypp45 likes this.

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