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5 String Technical Challenges

Discussion in 'Orchestral Technique [DB]' started by Pete G, Apr 15, 2005.

  1. Pete G

    Pete G

    Dec 31, 2001
    Northern Virginia
    I just got my first five-string bass -- literally took it out of the shipping crate within the past two hours.

    Seems like a very nice instrument, but I noticed the same thing with it as with every other five string I've played (including a Prescott, a Martin, a Pollman, an Arvi, and others -- always just playing a few licks, no serious time spent): The E string (bowed) seems dampened and generally less loud than I think it should be, coming from thousands of hours of playing on four-string basses.

    Is this something that you eventually overcome with a lot of five-string practice? Is it a strings issue? A setup issue (this bass seems very well set up).

    Any comments or suggestions welcomed!
  2. I've been playing on my 5-string exclusively for over 7 years, and yeah, the E string still doesn't feel quite right. It just doesn't seem to speak especially quickly compared to a 4 string.

    I certainly found I did have to adjust my playing quite a bit (at least on the E). I feel I really have to back off on my bow speed on the E, which has been hard since I am quite fond of faster bow speeds much of the time.

    Sometimes when I really have to punch out a low note (E, F, F# or G) I will play it on the B string, which often seems to speak faster.

    I wouldn't necessarily say my E string seems quieter, it's just a little harder to get going quickly. Again, using a lot less bow (i.e. slower) on the E seems to help me. Also, staying as relaxed as possible always helps.

    String choices can make a big difference. I've found that the Pirastro Jazzer B string is about the only B string that speaks at all quickly, so I HIGHLY recommend one of those to start with. I also find the Jazzer E to speak most quickly (for the record, I don't care at all for the rest of the Jazzer set, but the E and B are fabulous). Having said all of that, I'm currently using Eudoxa (silver on gut) E, A and D strings. The gut E doesn't speak as quickly at louder volumes, but it has the most fantastic ability to speak very sweetly at medium to low volume with a wonderfully warm start. Starting the Eudoxa E string at pianissimo is so easy and warm. The pizz sound on the gut is a dream. But if you want a quicker starting E, the Jazzer is the way to go - it might be the best string to 'ease' into while you get used to the 5 string.

    Most of all, I'd say give it time. It will just take a while to get used to the different response of the E (I can't say the other strings feel any differently than I would expect). Slow your bow speeds way down on the E - you'll probably find that works better than trying too hard to force the sound out.
  3. Pete G

    Pete G

    Dec 31, 2001
    Northern Virginia
    Thanks, Rob. Your profile suggests you are primarily a classical player. I take your post to mean that you like the Pirastro Jazzer E and A even for bowed, classical playing.

    Paul Warburton, on another thread, recommends the Spirocore B.

    The bass, as shipped to me, has Kolstein Varicors. I have no problem with the B, but the E string behaves like all other E strings on the fivers I've played.
  4. Looking at your profiles, it seems you both have newer basses....at least compared to my Bohmann. Looking ar the inside of the tops of your basses with an expection mirror or when you bought your basses did the seller or maker mention anything about any extra support for the top table to accomodate that low B?
    My bass has several very thin strips of wood running in an X pattern across the underside of the top table. They're similar to some supports you might have seen on the inside of the back tables on various flatback basses i've know.
    As i've mentioned before, the big reason I bought this bass was not the fact that it was a fiver, but because it was and is the most even sounding bass i've ever played....at least in terms of pizz.
    Anyway, i've always felt that these supports were one reason that the bass is SO even. Both of you guys mentioning your E string being not quite up to par with the rest of the bass.

    Just for kicks, check and see what's going on insde the tops of your basses.
    Let us know........
  5. prelims222


    Sep 20, 2004
    Southeast US
    I would work a lot in the mirror for a couple months. Maybe with some of the zimmerman bowing stuff - just take it down to the lower strings (the double stop etudes..) I don't play five right now, but when I have, I often find the most challenging thing is to keep my right arm traveling along a lateral plane on the lower two strings. With the B it isn't as much a problem because, hey, I can muscle it and not worry about other strings. With the E though, you lose that extra muscle-power that you are probably used to being able to use.

    Another thing to consider is that as your bow arm gets closer to your body, the tendency for many players is to let the stick and flatten out the hair. While thats good sometimes, you might want to try using the same type of angle of the stick you would use on the A and D strings and see if it doesn't make the E speak a little easier.
  6. Exactly what I was going to say. A lot of the problem is you can't use as much bow weight on the E since you have to watch for clearance over the adjacent strings. Also the plane of the bow over the E becomes different from the 4.
  7. Not quite: I like the Jazzer B and E only and am not particularly fond of the rest of the set.

    Although a lot of people like the Spirocore B (which is what my bass had on it when I got it), I found the Jazzer to be a huge improvement in terms of both response and sound - at least on my bass.

  8. Peter Elias makes his 5 string basses very carefully with special consideration for any extra tension on the top. Although he was born and raised in Canada, he has been living in Switzerland since the early '90s and has had a lot of very happy customers in orchestras across Europe. There was a good article in Strad on him a few years back.

    Anyway, my bass is also extremely even sounding across all the strings and has a rich, strong sound. I don't find my E string to sound any weaker as such, it just responds rather differently than most 4 string bass E strings. I am talking about arco response - I can't say I'm that bothered by the pizz response (mind you I play almost exclusively arco).

    I don't have much to compare with though - there are quite a number of us in Southern Ontario playing on 5 string Elias basses (and some 4 stringers too). They are all fabulous basses, but I can't say I've played a 5 string by any other maker.

    Here's a question for you all - do you not notice the E string on most electric 5 string (bass guitars) even feels a bit weird compared to a 4 string?
  9. I can't answer your question about electric basses since i've never played one. I was wondering if any of this E string stuff may have anything to do with Wolf Tones?
    I remember when Elias used to do those full page ads in the older ISB mags....some of the ads said that several Orchestra's entire bass sections were made up of his basses.
    I've never seen or heard one in person, but i've always heard nothing but extreme pride from the players of these instruments!
  10. Pete G

    Pete G

    Dec 31, 2001
    Northern Virginia
    Rob, two more quick questions: First, how would you describe the general tone quality of your bass, strings aside -- is it dark-sounding, bright-sounding, or in between? Is it naturally a loud, projecting bass?

    Second, what G string do you now use?

    Thanks for your help.
  11. Pete G

    Pete G

    Dec 31, 2001
    Northern Virginia
  12. Pete - my bass has a pretty well rounded sound, I'd say. It certainly has a ton of bottom end, but is also capable of some brighter edge when required. It is a rather loud bass with good projection. I'm very happy with the overall tone - I don't really find the tone lacking in either top or bottom generally.

    As for the Jazzer strings, I strongly disagree that they don't bow well. The lower strings, anyway, speak VERY quickly with the bow (I don't like the A, D and G particularly). I'd almost say quicker than anything else I've tried. That goes for the Jazzer B, E and extension low C. It's really not fair to group them with Spirocores, which as we all know, are not very bow friendly. The low Jazzers are almost like a Spirocore that bows really easily (I say that because the tone is very similar to Spiros, except they actually work with the bow).

    My G string at the moment is a Pirastro Obligato (synthetic core). I had a love/hate releationship going with my Eudoxa G. I loved the tone of it lower on the string but was not especially forgiving for anything higher or soloistic (they are massively thick). Since I sometimes need to play the odd orchestral solo when I'm playing Principal, I found the Obligato to be a decent compromise. It seemed to match fairly well with the gut strings and has that extra little edge when I need it.

    Besides, the Eudoxa G strings are a bit notorious for the windings unravelling which mine was starting to do. I thought I'd give the Obligato a try - I've been using it for about 3 months now and I seem to like it.
  13. Pete G

    Pete G

    Dec 31, 2001
    Northern Virginia
    Rob, you've pretty much convinced me to try the Jazzers on B and E, but two last questions about Jazzers, which I've never seen -- are they roughly the same thickness as metal orchestra strings like Helicores, Flexocors, Permanents, etc., or are they thicker?

    Second, are they flatwound or round-wound?
  14. The Jazzer strings are pretty standard thickness I'd say. I'm not sure I'd call Helicores normal - they are on the thin side. Jazzers are a good ol' standard flatwound string.

    Just one more thought, people often use slightly brighter bottom string(s) for a little more definition down low. This is why I use them. I just find the Jazzer low strings to speak easier than the other popular choices.

    I hope they work for you, since they are kind of pricey.
  15. Friends, how about a light Spiro B? Some friends use even solo spiro for bowing. I love my 5 string Prescott - every string plays like the greatest E string on a 4 stringer. I made sure to have the bridge cut with extra arch so I could really dig in without playing those annoying triple stops.
    I love the description about airborne hammering of the bass with the bow and using back muscles to yank the sound out (from another thread) You can get that real percussive thump that really turns heads.
    Isn't it wondewrful when you play so hard you get all 5 strings ringing simultaneously? Another sure thing head turner.
  16. a. meyer

    a. meyer

    Dec 10, 2004
    portland, oregon
    Or a Spirocore C string tuned to B? I tried that on a 5-string I rented for a tour once, and it worked great.
  17. Pete G

    Pete G

    Dec 31, 2001
    Northern Virginia
    One reason I waited so long to try a five was a comment I heard from a pro player to the effect that, unless you can play/practice four hours a day, you're better off either playing a five exclusively, or never playing one -- his meaning being that techniques are so different on the two that switching back and forth would hamper your technique on both.

    Having just started playing the four again while the five is in the shop for minor tuneups, I find somewhat the opposite to be true. The need to use more precise bowing technique on the five for the past couple of weeks seems actually to have improved my bowing on the four. It seems a lot easier.

    It's almost as though for the past few weeks I've been practicing free throws on a basket with a smaller rim, and now I've gone back to a normal basket.
  18. KSB - Ken Smith

    KSB - Ken Smith Banned Commercial User

    Mar 1, 2002
    Perkasie, PA USA
    Owner: Ken Smith Basses, Ltd.
    I played a 5 for about a Month on trial. The String spacing was closer to what I use on a 4. The first thing I tried on the 5 to practice was the Dragonetti 1st moovement. I figured that If I was going to play a 5 then everything I play on the 4 should be comfortable.

    I had two easy concerts back to back as they were both Christmas type Music for the season including the Nut Cracker.

    On Both Concerts I played some extra Low notes just to practice as much 5th string as possible. It turned out to be alot of fun but that particular Bass was not for me.

    Therefore, I have a Bass in restoration to be converted from a 4 to a 5. It so happends that this Bass has a bit of a wide Neck as far as 4s go. Flaring out the Fingerboard for the 5 will not be as drastisc as it would with a normal width 4 so it turns out to be a blessing.

    I found no difficulity at all playing the Fiver as a 4 or as a 5.
  19. I am wondering a little about string spacing for arco technique and this very issue is what concerns me. I just got a 5er a bit after Pete G;- April 25th. The set up out of the box for pizzacato is so good that I'm hesitant to change anything. However for arco, I'm thinking that the strings may be a little close at the bridge. The G D and A are better, but the A E and B spacing is such that I have trouble getting a clear start on the E particularly. I have given myself a little getting used to it time, and I am getting in there better than when I first got the instrument using the slower bow, etc., but I miss being able to dig in more.

    What I'm wondering is what string spacings (at the bridge) are other 5 string basses set up with? Mine is at 7/8" center to center. I could open it up to as much as a full inch. (Strings are Helicore Orchestra low tension)
  20. KSB - Ken Smith

    KSB - Ken Smith Banned Commercial User

    Mar 1, 2002
    Perkasie, PA USA
    Owner: Ken Smith Basses, Ltd.
    I used to use 23.5+mm(15/16") on my Italian Bass, 4-strings. Playing mainly orchestra I now use 25.5mm(1"). The 5er I used for about a month I think was about 25-26 or so. I didn't have problems either way.

    I believe one has to develope good clean Bow technique and have a good quality Bow as well so you don't press into the strings to much. That is where the trouble with spacing will begin. Practice, practice, practice.. 1000x and you will play cleaner providing your are practicing correctly and have a good teacher to guide you. Practicing wrong only digs your grave deeper..

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