5 String Upright Bass (Tuned EADGC)? Worth it?

Discussion in 'Basses [DB]' started by EnVico379, Oct 10, 2017.

  1. EnVico379


    Oct 10, 2017

    I'm in the market for an upright bass, and have been considering a 5 string tuned with a high c. I'm a senior in high school who's going to college to study jazz, and music education as a bassist. For most of my life I've been an electric bassist, but for the last 3-4 years I decided to join the school orchestra in order to learn upright bass after discovering as mostly a jazz player upright bass is the name of the game in terms of traditional jazz. However, for this time I've been renting a standard student 4 string bass from my school, and I've only got a Stagg EUB at home for practice purposes, so I'm in the market to buy my frist bass for college. I've been playing 6 string electric bass, as well as 5 string tuned EADGC, and really enjoy having the high c for soloing. However, no matter how hard I look it seems like 5 string upright bass in general is considered untraditional (not in a good way), and is rarely used. I'm not afraid to stray away from tradition, but I am afraid of regretting my decision. As someone who plays mostly jazz, and fusion music I play 80% pizz give or take, although I've heard the High C sounds almost like a cello while played arco (in college I will probably have to play in orchestra, and if I have to perform classical solo bass repertoire, this sounds really appealing to me). Obviously I would go try a 5 string for myself before making any final judgement as I've never played one personally, but I'd like to hear some opinions from people who are knowledgeable on this subject. So:

    Is a high C 5 string DB a concept worth exploring for someone who plays mainly jazz, and fusion music?

    Are there any notable high 5 string DB players I can listen to on youtube, or somewhere else?

    The reason I think I might like a high C 5 string is there is much easier access to the upper register of the DB, meaning less shifting to facilitate faster, longer, and overall more creative improvised lines. I also think in orchestra this would make solos played arco, not only easier up high, but a bit "cello" like in character, perhaps with a clearer sound. However, having never played one what would the drawbacks of having a High 5 string DB be that wouldn't exist with a 4 string?

    What brands make quality 5 strings? from what I've heard good 5 strings are much harder to come by than good 4's, I've been looking at having a custom Upton built for me, but if someone does it better I'd love to know.

    Overall what do you think? I'd love to hear opinions that could help me make an informed decision on a big purchase I really don't want to regret.
  2. BobKay

    BobKay Supporting Member

    Nov 5, 2012
    Estero, Florida; USA
    Can't comment on suitability for jazz or orchestral, but 30 years or so ago I was thinking of getting a 5 string for bluegrass and traditional country, set up with a high C. Talked to a touring pro about it, and his comment was: "You'll be playing a lot of the same notes as the guitar player. Why would you want to do that?" I didn't want to do that, and have concentrated on staying as low as I can ever since. Clearly, that strategy doesn't work for jazz or orchestral, but it is one dimension think to think about.

    Regarding Upton - I have two of their basses and really like both of them. But that's personal. There are a lot of great makers to choose from.
  3. Steven Ayres

    Steven Ayres Supporting Member

    Mar 11, 2007
    Northern Arizona
    I play jazz and shows frequently with high-C five-strings. Kay started building them that way in the late '30s, endorsed by known players and bandleaders. Eberhard Weber made it a thing again in the '70s. There's no question that in the jazz world it's a useful and accepted setup, if not well known.

    The classical world prefers access to lower tones, and the low-B five-string setup is common in European orchestras, somewhat less so in the US.

    The downside of five strings is the additional tension on the sound table, which can choke down the sound acoustically. This requires special attention to the setup, particularly the sound-post position and string choices.

    For a student, though, I'd probably recommend getting fully intimate with the four-string before moving to five. Working up the neck is important to your development as a player, particularly in the early days.
    matthewbrown, Lee Moses and old spice like this.
  4. Sam Dingle

    Sam Dingle

    Aug 16, 2011
    Nashville TN
    I would suggest having a 4 string. I think based on you really getting into the instrument it's better. If you decide you want it later you can always sell your 4 string to fund a 5. You may find that you don't need it though.
  5. Five strings are great and a lot of really great players play them. Still, best to start out on a 4 just so you are used to it and don't get thrown off when you have to borrow a bass. All the standard methods are for four string basses.
    Also, you will find there is plenty to do with a four string.
  6. CSBBass


    Sep 21, 2013
    For classical solo repertoire, it certainly could make some things easier. However, I could see it also making some things more challenging--most solo pieces written for bass are written for a bass with the highest string being G (or solo tuning A), and often with the intention of most of the playing being done on the G. Having a high C, while perhaps brighter and clearer, could perhaps tempt you towards neglecting certain thumb position skills that learning these pieces on a standard 4-string would force you to improve.

    Sure, for a jazz musician, or someone exploring new creative areas and looking to unlock as many possibilities as they can, it could be. As a student, though, I think having a standard-tuned 4 string would be the most logical option, as you develop your basic skills, figure out exactly what you like and need from your bass/basses, and explore the various genres you're interested in. It's up to you to decide whether it's worth it, but even if you think it is, I'd argue that maybe it'd be an exploration better suited to later in your education/career.

    Renaud Garcia-Fons and Adam Ben Ezra come to mind. I've heard Barre Phillips referred to as well, though I'm not so familiar with him or his playing.

    The only thing that's going to facilitate faster, longer and more creative improvised lines is you learning how to craft faster, longer and more creative improvised lines while honing your technique to be able to do so effectively. A fifth string can't do that for you. It can be helpful, certainly, but I think that having the thumb position technique that a four string forces you to develop, and a solid musical vocabulary, and then adding the fifth string is probably the only way that having a fifth string will facilitate that. In all reality, I could easily see a high C becoming something of a crutch that weakens your thumb position capabilities overall compared to what a really skilled four string player could do if you gave them a high C.

    I'm almost certain that any big name player who's playing a non-standard tuning first earned their stripes on a four string. Adam Ben Ezra can be seen doing many wonderfully cool things with a four string in his older videos, although he plays a five now. Renaud Garcia-Fons recorded his first album on a four string, and switched to a five after about ten years of playing. In the documentary on Youtube about the Isle of Man competition, Joel Quarrington (who tunes in 5ths now) can be seen playing a bass in 4ths... You get the idea.

    Yes, your orchestral solos might stand out a little more on a high C, but... The one or two orchestral solos you might get to play (especially as someone who's not focusing on classical music exclusively) would sound just fine on a G. In orchestra, I'm almost certain that any conductor would rather see a low B or a C-extension over a high C. That range is just SO much more useful in that context, and we really don't get enough solos that anyone other than a high level, professional section principal could justify having a high C for the purpose of playing orchestral solos. Even then, they'd probably only bring that bass for the rare concert in which they DO have a solo.

    Drawbacks--some things may not be drawbacks so much as just differences. You'd have either tighter string spacing or a wider fingerboard. To play in the register that you as a bass player would use most of the time in college ensembles, you'd be reaching over an extra string. With a low B, players are only reaching over the same strings they usually have to reach over on a four string, until they actually have that occasional low note. For you, you'd be dealing with that extra string ALL the time. Another technical aspect to consider--some solo rep would be more awkward to play on the higher string. Take the first measure or two of Bottesini's second concerto. It's not a very hard lick to play on the G string--part of the beauty of thumb position is that because the notes are so much closer together, you can reach more notes with out having to shift your whole arm. Now try playing as if it was on the C string--you'd be transposing it down a fourth and starting on the B on the G-string if you wanted to try that as an experiment. To me, that's more awkward. More shifting and larger distances to shift. Now try playing transposed down a fourth, but starting on the D-string. If you play it starting on the D but moving onto the G as if they were G and C strings, it's fairly awkward. If you play the whole line on the D, which is what I'd do in that case, that completely ignores the highest string. This isn't to say that just because one measure of one piece doesn't benefit from the 5th string, you shouldn't do it, just to illustrate that it's not a magical bonus for all things played in the upper register. Before you take the plunge, try transposing pieces down a 4th and see how they lay on your D and G as if they were a G and C string. There's certainly examples for more awkward and for less awkward, but it's a way to maybe get an idea of how often you might actually decide to use that 5th string in a real context.
    Selling it would most likely be harder.
    The fifth string isn't going to make or break your jazz playing, or your experimentation with the instrument. Having a more standard setup will make it easier to buy and sell the instrument, and considering that you're not yet in college I'd say that's a worthy concern since you'll likely upgrade at least one if not several more times in your career unless you're lucky enough to have the funding for a "lifetime instrument" now. Even if you ARE that lucky, it's entirely possible that you'll desire a different instrument as you explore different styles, and you may discover that the bass you buy now doesn't suit what you're doing ten years from now. You definitely won't regret building your skills on a four-string, and you may not ever look back from buying a five string, but if you're worried about buyer's remorse being a possibility, just get a good four string and focus on your playing.
    RSBBass and mtto like this.
  7. Slight derail: I would fix that. Barre is by far the most innovative and important of those three great players, especially in terms of history. He recorded the first unaccompanied solo bass album for starters! He used a five for most of his career, though I've seen him on a four recently.
  8. CSBBass


    Sep 21, 2013
    Thanks for the heads-up, Damon. I had only heard his name mentioned briefly once or twice before, and always forgot to take the time to find and listen to him. Sounds like I've got a little homework to do!
  9. EnVico379


    Oct 10, 2017
    Thanks to everyone who replied for the insight!

    The general consensus seems to be start now with a four string, develop the appropriate skill set as a student, and then if I still wish to have a fifth string after years of mastering the other four then experiment. I'm very confident now that's what I should do, and I will.

    As for which bass, I still think the Upton's look great, I've discovered they have standard models which don't cost as much as having a custom built instrument with a fifth string, and I can have it come with a pickup for some extra cash as well; a necessity for playing in big bands, or anywhere rather where the pure acoustic sound won't cut it. That being said, I'll see if there's somewhere near me I can test different basses to find what works best for me. I live in the tristate area, so if any of you know a place where I can try out a lot of double basses in New York, Pennsylvania, or New Jersey that'd be good to know. Living here also means the Upton workshop in Connecticut is within driving distance if I decide to check that out as well.

    Although I won't be playing a high 5 string anytime in the near future, thanks for giving me some great players to listen to while I do homework. I've heard of Adam Ben Ezra, but never realized he had a high 5. I've only seen a few clips of his in which he had a 4 string. I've never heard of Barre Phillips (although by the looks of things he's definitely someone I should look up later). Renaud Garcia-Fons is a name I've seen once or twice looking around Google for high C players, but I've yet to give some of his stuff a listen either. I'll be sure to put him on the playlist as well.

    Thanks again!
    Tom Lane likes this.
  10. I would just go to shops and find a bass that sounds good, don't get hung up on "brands". Brands tend to be good for super basic entry level and really high end basses.
    Everyone does love Upton, but, they are the nearest great bass shop to me and I can't use them because they price-gouge on bow rehairs (200% of what most NYC shops charge). This would make me skeptical about having any work done there.

    Full disclosure: I DID have a high school student who fell in love with 5 string that was in his price range. It was a nice bass and he really loved it more than all the others, so that is another factor. His mother and I decided to go with the motivating factor of having the instrument he really liked.
    Our solution was to learn all solos up the G and across to the C. He also did about half of his lessons on my bass. If you do come across a five in your range that you really love you can make it work.
  11. Don Kasper

    Don Kasper Supporting Member

    Full Disclosure : I'm not at all affiliated with Upton Bass in any way, but their bass bow rehair prices are not at "200%...price-gouge" levels. (Maybe Damon can specify which NYC shop(s), along with their prices?)
    See Upton's website price list (below) for their "Bass bow rehair mail-order service" price range. (Maybe less if you carry it in and pick it up, instead of mail-order?)
    Very much in line with bass bow rehair prices here in Los Angeles.
    Double Bass Bow Rehair Service, Upright Bass Bow re hair
    I'd take Damon's hyperbolic comment above with a grain (or block) of salt.

    Michael Karn likes this.
  12. Adam Booker

    Adam Booker Supporting Member

    May 3, 2007
    Boone, NC
    Endorsing Artist: D'Addario Strings, Remic Microphones
    To cut to the chase:
    If you want a high C to facilitate and enhance what you already know how to do, and make solid musical choices doing it, go for it.

    If you want a high C to avoid learning thumb position, don’t.
    Michael Karn likes this.
  13. statsc

    statsc Supporting Member

    Apr 23, 2010
    Burlington, VT
    Go to Upton! They have many other basses in the shop besides their own, and you can try them out and AB them against Uptons. I have an Upton Standard laminate as my "2nd" bass and am very happy with it!
  14. Kolstein is $60, Gage is $75. Upton is $110-145. Either way it is master bow maker prices. I am sore about them being the closest shop, but I am pretty clear about that.
  15. RSBBass


    Jun 11, 2011
    A little bit of a hijack. If you have a five string bass can you have two sets of nuts and bridges so that you can do either low B or high C?
  16. Not sure how helpful this is (if at all)
    If you're really interested in having a higher string, my teacher (Dennis Massuzzo) has his bass tuned in fifths. Maybe something to experiment with along with a 5 string in the future?
  17. matthewbrown

    matthewbrown Supporting Member

    Jan 7, 2003
    Harwich, MA, USA
    So FWIW, I have an Upton Bohemian all-ply 5-string with a high C, and I'm loving it.
  18. Eric Hochberg

    Eric Hochberg

    Jul 7, 2004
    My re-hair shop http://www.bowwright.com charged me $56 last year, including tax. You can always send your bow somewhere for repair. My shop has a quick turn-around.
    damonsmith likes this.
  19. Primary

    Primary TB Assistant

    Here are some related products that TB members are talking about. Clicking on a product will take you to TB’s partner, Primary, where you can find links to TB discussions about these products.

    Dec 4, 2021

Share This Page