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6 stringers, fretless, and other questions

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by swartzfeger, Apr 13, 2009.

  1. Ok, y'all need to quit it. Right now. I'm serious. I rue the day I ever stumbled upon TB because I've had non-stop GAS ever since. To whit:

    I've been a fretted 4 stringer player since day one (25 years or so). There are some compositions now that would really shine on a 5/6 and/or fretless. Ideally, I'd like to have a 5 fretted, 6 fretted, 5 fretless and 6 fretless, but that's not really in my budget. So, for now, I'm going to pick up a Squier VM F cheap and save my pennies for a 6 fretless.

    I'm assuming that 6s really need to be designed as a 6 from the ground up and simply not be made as a 4 with 2 extra strings, wider neck, etc. What luthier/company in your opinion 'gets' what a 6 string bass is all about? There are so many out there that my head spins when I read all the reviews.

    One thing I've always wondered about 5/6 basses -- are the EADG strings inherently different sounding/playing than that of 4 strings, ie, tension, sound, etc?

    What kind of adjustment (if any) did you have to make with the additional strings, spacing, etc? Do you experience any kind of adjustment period when going back and forth between a 4 and a 5/6, or is it pretty natural for you? I'm only asking because I tend to be a creature of habit -- my headless Steinberger always threw me off the first few minutes when I pick it up (I'm weird like that).

    Was playing a 5/6 everything you had hoped/expected?

    One thing I'd really like to explore is alternate tunings (I've been listening to too much Manring lately). Any tips on alternate tunings for a noob? (particularly alt. tunings for 5/6)

    RE: fretless, for those that play unlined -- is it as hard as I think it is? I think there's almost no way I could start off on an unlined fretless because my intonation would just be horrible. Anyway, I've been a Manring and a Jaco fan since day one but was never inspired to play fretless. It wasn't until hearing guys like Tony Franklin, Pino and Levin playing fretless in the context of pop/rock band setting that really gave me gas. Fretless with an octaver just sounds too damn cool!

    Anyway, lots of questions, not really expecting answers, just get some dialog going. I'd love to hear about your 6 string fretless experience! :)

  2. bassopotamus102


    Mar 28, 2009
    Hmmm...where to begin. I started off as a four stringer twenty six years ago myself. I played fours exclusively for almost fifteen years. one day, in Music-Go-Round, I found an Aria Steve Bailey 6 fretted bass. for some reason, i had to have it. I (very stupidly) traded away my G&L ASAT, gave them some money, and walked out the door with it. the transition was easier than i thought, even though i never really connected with the bass.

    Fast forward ten years and I now own two 6's and that's it. one fretted and one fretless. the fretless is unlined and I am thankful it is. i have never been able to play well on a lined board. i know it is psychological but there it is. I like relying on my ears and the vibrations of the bass to tell me i am playing in tune. It is a pawnshop baby and was in rough shape, but it is coming along.

    joining TB has me jonesing for a high quality bass, but i just cannot spend the money at this time. both of my sixes are cheapies that happen to sound good and work for my noodling at home and my Worship team gig. I have played the fretless in church and found myself NOT spending a whole lot of time looking at the neck. I don't think you will have a problem getting used to an unlined board. just open your ears. others will tell you lined is the way to go. you have to pick the bass and type of neck you feel the most comfortable playing.


  3. snyderz


    Aug 20, 2000
    AZ mountains
    Re: unlined fretless. Just do it.
  4. Bryan R. Tyler

    Bryan R. Tyler TalkBass: Usurping My Practice Time Since 2002 Staff Member Administrator Gold Supporting Member

    May 3, 2002
    If you want unlined, then yeah. If you want lined, then just do that.

    All the measurements that mean less on a four-string, such as string spacing, nut width, weight, etc., will be much more apparent on a six. It can take many years before you really know what's most comfortable for you on a six-string, and it may not be at all what you prefer on a four-string.

    As for fretless, go with whatever you want to play in the end. If you want to play unlined in the end, start with it now so you won't have to deal with a difficult transition later. Make no mistake though that lines are by no means a crutch or cheating, and they'll actually help more in situations where you can't hear yourself well. Neither lined nor unlined will give you a better ear than the other- that is completely up to the work you put into it.

    One issue with going unlined on a six-string is that when you're playing on the high C string, the side dots may not line up very well with the intonation point. Some players use small reference dots on the C string side of the neck of unlined fretlesses to help with this- the Alain Caron model of FBasses have these, and TBer spade2you also recently did this with his unlined six. Here's the Alain Caron model:

    One problem with lined fretlesses is that the side dots are located between the fretlines on most models- the same location they'd be on a fretted. This will not help you much if you're using only the side dots as a reference (the times you're not looking at the lines). They look like this:

    About the only way to avoid that is to go custom- I've ordered three fretlesses and always order the side dots to be placed under the fretlines where they'll be far more useful. Here's a pic of my latest fretless six showing this:
  5. unclejane

    unclejane Guest

    Jul 23, 2008
    The main logistical problem with the 6 is, well, having 6 strings. So the necks have to be wider and the whole bass in general has to built heftier to support the extra tension. It's not rocket science tho and most 6 strings I've found out on the market generally do the job.

    As for the inherent sound - yes, very often the 6 string version of a bass will have a different sound than the 4. This is due to the heftier construction overall. I.e my tobias 6 string sounds very different than the 4 string version (a flatter whackier tone with more sustain).

    The main adjustment you have to make when switching to the 6 is developing some kind of muting system. With a 4 you practically don't need this as muting via hammer-stroking is virtually sufficient. On the 5 and especially the 6 you MUST have some method to mute strings or you just flat will not have a good time. I switched to the floating thumb technique myself as I'm now primarily a 5 player and sometimes a 6 player. So the right hand technique usually needs some work when switching.

    As for fretless, I mildly prefer unlined. My 5 and 6 strings, tho, are both lined fretless and the lines do screw me up a little bit. But it's a minor problem easily solved by simply not looking at the fingerboard in those instances where the lines are messing me up. Then lined/unlined makes no difference ;). The biggest advantage of unlined is there are no cuts in the fingerboard wood making the board slightly stronger and those damn inserts aren't there to pop up and make a mess after a while.

    I started off and did all my gigging and etc. with fretted basses. I finally switched to fretless some years ago in a desperate bid to try to improve my sound and hopefully my technique. The results have been fairly good, as from time to time now I can actually hear distinct notes coming from the bass. On a fretted, I'm a total wall of mud, on the fretless I'm a little less of a wall of mud. So I've been fretless exclusively ever since.

    Finally, the 5 is a little easier to deal with physically for me due to the thinner neck (my 5 is a G&L L2500 lined FL). My 6 is a older gibson tobias neck-through lined FL, but with a home epoxy job and a bunch of other things I've done to it in my attempts to make it a playable bass. It's worthless and ruined now, but is finally servicable and I have begun playing it again. It's a hefty instrument and a little harder to deal with because of its size.

    So far yeah it's been all I've hoped for and both give me a lot more range...

  6. Thanks all for the helpful comments. Especially the right hand muting, which I had never considered.
  7. With stock basses, most 5ers and 6ers don't really have any design differences other than the 4 strings.

    When thinking of luthiers, I don't really know many who don't "get" the 6 string, probably the few who simply don't make one. The important thing is to find the luthier who makes a 6er to YOUR specs. I think a lot of 6 string players go custom because the extra neck more or less leads to 6 string players having such rigid specs.

    Kinda depends on the bass. If you compare the EADG of a Fender to the EADG of an F-Bass, sure they'll sound different. If you take a 4 string F-Bass and a 6 string F-Bass with similar construction, woods, and electronics, there might be a difference in sound but it shouldn't be significant. On your nicer luthier made, the EADG will have good consistency with the B and C strings. On some poorly made instruments, the B and C can be virtually worthless.

    The adjustment from 4 to 5 took me a while when I was starting out, but the adjustment from 5 to 6 was minimal. If you use good technique and hang the bass in the right spot, there will be minimal adjustment.

    It's in the eye of the beholder. It takes a little time to get used to it. Some bassists aren't patient enough and those will be the first to bash them.

    Knowing how to use them is another thing. For example, did you know the B string can be extremely useful above the 5th fret???

    When you have a 6 string, you have a lot of notes at your fingertips. I don't find changing tunings is terribly important. A lot of 6 strings will have a strongly angled headstock, which typically make detuning sound good, but make Hipshot Detuners fairly inaccuate.

    Unlined fretless seems to be perceived as one of the hardest things out there. The whole lined vs. unlined debate is usually fairly pointless. Typically you'll stick with the one you start with. If you become proficient on unlined, stick with it. If you started on lined and became proficient on lined, stick with lines.
  8. cosmicevan

    cosmicevan Supporting Member

    Feb 1, 2003
    New York
    like most, i started out on 4 (almost 17 years ago). played that starter bass for a little over a year before i moved up to a 5 string. 5 string was a challenge at first, but like anything, you get the hang of it as you go. making the move to 6 was way less of an adjustment for me than going from 4 to 5.

    i stayed on 5 string pretty much exclusively for about 10 to 12 years and then got a 6 string. rocked the 6 string exclusively until about 2 or 3 years ago when i realized i had a bunch of great basses that weren't getting played so i forced myself to switch between 4, 5, and 6 each time i played. the adjustment from 6 to 4 left me crippled, but i've learned to adjust my playing so that it doesn't matter. in the beginning, switching between the different types of instruments was really tough because i'd find myself looking for strings that weren't there or getting used to 4 string parts and then not taking advantage of the extra strings when i had them.

    i found it to be extremely rewarding (but tough) to get myself to a point where it didn't matter if i had 4, 5, or 6 strings when playing. this required a lot of woodshedding but my playing drastically improved from this exercise. i recommend it. at first things may seem uncomfy, but the more you work at it, the better of a player you will become for it.

    as for who doesn't "get" the 6-string thing...well that is really up to your preferences in a bass. for me, a B string is only usable if it has a certain tightness. to me, a 34" scale on anything with a B string is a waste of the B, since it will be hardly usable. i don't care what people say about this bass or that bass, a 34" scale B is floppy, end of story. i tend to prefer 36" scale these days, but still play 35" on my 5, and i have a 34" 4 string bass. i do think that some builders understand the needs of a bass with an extended range better than others, but at this point, all of the good ideas have been copied and adapted to other designs, so most of what is out there is pretty good.

    if you love playing bass, challenge yourself to be a better player. go for it. or better yet, become a regular at your local music shop and see if you can catch a feel on a 6 string by going there often to play it.
  9. Bryan R. Tyler

    Bryan R. Tyler TalkBass: Usurping My Practice Time Since 2002 Staff Member Administrator Gold Supporting Member

    May 3, 2002
    I've been lucky enough to own 34", 35", and 36" scale versions of the same brand of six-string bass with the same woods- what you're saying may have been true for you from your experiences, but it is not true from mine. Adding an inch of scale length only increases the tension by about 3%...that's barely noticeable. If a 34" bass had a floppy B, a 35" version of the same bass will have a floppy B as well.
  10. cosmicevan

    cosmicevan Supporting Member

    Feb 1, 2003
    New York
    string tension = scale length plus string gauge...34" will always be floppier than 36". show me the 34" scale bass that has a tighter B than a 36" scale bass (of similar build quality) and i'll buy you a beer (perhaps the international TB GTG?). not sure where the 3% number comes from, but it is *very* noticeable to me.

    let's not make this a debate about what makes for a tight B. after all...some people can't hear the difference between a 128k mp3 and a flac file, others can.
  11. The 3% is the difference in tension between 34" and 35" scale factoring in the same linear density and pitch, when the variable of length is changed.

    I have yet to play a 36" scale bass, but I've played a few 34" scale Curbows with a B that you'd swear was at least 35"+, but construction on those is NOT equal.
  12. SLaPiNFuNK

    SLaPiNFuNK Commercial User

    Jul 28, 2006
    LA California
    Owner: BassStringsOnline.com
    unlined frettless...

    cuz if you are used to playing fretted, you will want to play "behind the line" as if it were a frett...


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