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anyone play a 5-string?

Discussion in 'Basses [DB]' started by nonsqtr, Jan 1, 2005.

  1. nonsqtr

    nonsqtr The emperor has no clothes!

    Aug 29, 2003
    Burbank CA USA
    Hello all, DB newb here. I've been playing electric for thirty-some years, and finally got motivated to take the plunge. Upright isn't "totally" new, I've dabbled off and on, once had the opportunity to bass-sit for a friend while he was in Europe for six months, but this will be the first DB I've actually owned.

    I must confess to not knowing very much about what I want in terms of DB. I love the thump of old Kays, I know that much. :) But when it comes to the finer points of what to look for in a good instrument, I still need lots of education.

    The strategy I've chosen is, to buy a cheapie bass just to get started, and keep it for maybe a year or so, and then sell it and get a good one. Meanwhile, use the time to start building up finger strength and technique, and start listening to a lot of good players and trying to play along, so I'll get a feel for the types of sounds people are using, and hopefully that'll help build up a "wish list" for the next iteration.

    I'm looking at one of the Chinese import jobs to get started, maybe a Milano or Merano or something like that, and it looks like the going rate on those is somewhere around 500 bucks. If iI can sell it for half that after a year or two, that's still less than twenty bucks a month rent. :D

    Here's the twist: for years I've played nothing but five string electrics, and it would be really cool to find a nice 5 string upright. I've only seen one at the bass store, it's another Chinese import but it's a nice one, it's called a "Christopher" brand, and the one I saw was a 7/8. Beautiful flamed sides, nice ebony all over, the one thing that threw me for a loop was that the neck is really wide. Not like a five string electric, we're talkin' wide. I'm not sure if that was "standard" 5-string spacing, but that would definitely take some getting used to.

    Does anyone here play a 5-string DB? Are there different string spacings to be had, or is there a standard size for the fingerboard? I have "pretty big" hands, bigger than most, is there any reason I couldn't get used to the huge table on the neck? Are there reasons "not" to go with a 5-string and stick with a 4-string instead? Does my trade-up strategy sound like a good one for learning to play the upright? If I start with a 4-string and move to 5-string, is that going to be a problem?

    Thanks for your patience with a newb's questions. :)
  2. mazaremba


    Apr 15, 2004
    Well from my experince most double bass players don't own five strings and the instrument with a fifth string is not as popular as it is on eletric. One of the reason I suspect is that most classical music does not call for the really low notes and if it does the "extensions" on the e string get used more often than another string.

    As far as switching from a 4 to 5 down the road, I don't think it would be to different than eletric. Sure it may seem odd at first, but so does everything new. I don't think there would be a reason not to play on a five string vs. just using the e string extension, but I am guessing that a 5 string double bass will be a bit more expensive than a 4 string.

    I recommend that you go a little bit higher on your price for your starting bass. The difference in quality will help you get everything done much easier and it will give you more satisfaction.

    By the way, I am guessing this bass will be used mostly for pizz/finger playing and not orchestra/arco playing?
  3. Mudfuzz


    Apr 3, 2004
    Try searching for five stringer
  4. Jazzman


    Nov 26, 2002
    Raleigh, NC
    I play the five string electric bass too. I also play the four string double bass. The playing styles between the two type of basses are so different, you shouldn't have any trouble using only four strings on the double.

    Please, do not buy a cheap bass to start out on. It will now work like that. At least do yourself a favor and get an Engelhardt EM-1 or something similar at the least. You can always "upgrade" this bass later and get a five string.
  5. Andy Allen

    Andy Allen "Working Bassist"

    Aug 31, 2003
    Los Angeles, CA
    Howdy neighbor, welcome to TalkBass DB.

    As I understand it, the reason 5-strings are less popular is that the extra tension caused by the 5th string damps the top and causes a reduction in volume (not to mention more stress on the bass). And the cheaper the bass, the more these (and other undesirable characteristics) will be exhibited. Someone who really knows will correct me if I'm wrong, I'm sure :)

    If you're are serious about double bass then there's two things you should do asap:

    1) Go visit Lisa Gass at Los Angeles Bassworks in Silverlake. She is a talented luthier, a great resource, and a nice lady too. Call her at 323-953-5122.

    2) Go visit Gary at Stein-on-Vine (as you'd expect, he's on Vine; just south of Santa Monica, opposite the musicians union). He is an LA institution, an invaluable resouce and quite a character. Bear in mind that he is very flexible with his prices and likes to bargain.

    Don't buy anything at all without playing it first - this rules out on-line purchases; you'll probably pay more to get a cheap eBay bass playable that it's worth. You can get a cheap chinese bass from Gary at Stein's that's checked out and set-up to be playable for just a little more, if you insist on a cheapie.

    And if you need a good teacher I can give you the number of mine in Passadena.

    Good luck,
  6. Ben Joella

    Ben Joella Supporting Member

    May 31, 2004
    Boca Raton, FL
    Also, don't forget to check out World of Strings in Long Beach.
  7. Chasarms

    Chasarms Casual Observer

    May 24, 2001
    Bettendorf, IA USA
    The main reason five string DBs are less popular is that a good one is really hard to come by. As mentioned, the design is difficult to master. Although they are much more popular in European Orchestras.

    Finding a good 5 string DB in the $2,000 range is like trying to find a good five string BG in the 200 range. You might do it, but you better be patient.

    I haven't owned a four string slab in 4-5 years and I never even think about the fact that my DB is "only" a four string. It is such a different animal than EBG, it doesn't seem to matter at all to me.

    Read the threads over here on $500 DBs. After doing so, you may reconsider your idea. If you really want to begin developing technique and a sound, you want a bass that you can actually play.

    This is all covered in the noob threads, but the jist is that the whole key to a positive experience on DB is the setup. A $500 bass out of the crate will not be setup. So, does it make sense to spend $300-400 with a luthier on a $500 bass?
  8. I play five. Look at my Joseph Bohmann on the TalkBasses at the top of the Basses heading. The good five strings have a narrow neck with the B side of the fingerboard laid over the edge of the neck.
    Also, see all my threads on fivers.
  9. nonsqtr

    nonsqtr The emperor has no clothes!

    Aug 29, 2003
    Burbank CA USA
    Thanks everyone for your input and encouragement! l appreciate the good word on the local resources too, and will definitely take a trip around town one of these days and do some investigating. Those pics are cool, the fingerboard on Paul's bass is definitely very different from the one I saw. Paul's is narrower on top, and the one I saw was a lot flatter. Great, something to look into. I'll stick with the four for now, it's tough justifying the big bucks on an unknown, and it'll be good motivation to get down to Long Beach. I hear y'all on the 500 dollar basses. That's why they call 'em "student" basses, right? Make you mad enough to graduate to a better one. :) It's all good, I want to be playing while I"m making up my mind on a bass that'll last a few years. Then maybe after that it'll be time to move up to a fiver. It makes sense that when one walks into music store to buy an expensive instrument, one should be able to play it passably well to begin with. As it is right now, I wouldn't know a good bass if it came up and bit me, except to say, "yeah, feels pretty good". :D So, lots of learning ahead. Thanks again for your encouragement, that's very helpful. I'll doutblessly be back asking for more guidance in the future. :)
  10. Doesn't sound like you're as interested in a five as you thought you were.
    As with all newbies, you need to spend many hours reading about the DB in general. Act on what's the begining of an obsession.....make it a quest. Read through as many links and TBDB archives as you can stomach. Check out books at the library. I know I sound like your drill Sargeant, but you'll be glad you did. Carry on!
  11. the first was a "homebrew" job from elderly instruments. someone had made fingerboard extensions on either side, sanded them down and stained everthing black. it worked, sorta... i "played" this bass for about 4 years and the darn thing finally fell apart from much neglect...

    the second was a kay chubby jackson model, which had a high c and was blonde. the neck was the perfect width for a 5 string and i really enjoyed the high c. i really dug this bass but it met an untimely death after making a really, really bad decision of strapping it on the roof rack of my vw bus and trying driving from cincinnati to chicago like that. as if a vw bus isn't enough like a sailboat...

    anyway, i really dug the kay chubby 5. there was one on ebay a few months back for a reasonable...

  12. nonsqtr

    nonsqtr The emperor has no clothes!

    Aug 29, 2003
    Burbank CA USA
    Thanks Paul, actually I am very interested in the five. Thing is, my preliminary research confirms Chasarms' input, which is that I won't be able to get anything decent without shelling out a few grand, and under those circumstances there are "constraints", ie I can better justify the "migration path" concept and maybe keep the family smiling. :) The least expensive five I've ever personally seen was in the four grand category, and that was a cheapie from what I'm told.

    When I was starting out on electric, in the early 70's, my "student bass" was a cheap Korean copy of a Jazz bass. It served its purpose admirably, although with 20/20 hindsight I'd have to say the bass "sucked". :D It was a four string, and it was good for learning finger positioning, and building finger strength, and stretching and so on, but one couldn't in a million years get a Stanley Clarke sound out of it. Which is okay, 'cause I graduated to an Alembic before I ever played my first gig. Then went straight from a four to a six, and over the years discovered I didn't play the C string very much, so the five became the norm. So it's been fives for twenty years now, and all my finger memory and so on is programmed around fives. I can't even play a four anymore, my fingers always go down to the B position and it's really annoying when they hit empty space. :)

    But a DB is "sufficiently" different that this will probably be a minor factor, at least when starting out. I learn fast. Six months from now I'll be pretty good. Then it'll be time to find a decent teacher, for ten lessons or something, just to get a second set of eyes on the playing technique and so on. And, by then I'll be able to sit down with a teacher or walk into a music store and check out a bass, without embarrassing myself. I hate doing that in public. :D

    Anyway, Paul, thanks for the good advice. I'll certainly do as you suggest. Don't be surprised if I keep asking about fives, even while I"m learning on a four. I'll depend on your input for a heads-up on areas I need to be thinking about or paying attention to, in preparation for the transition. Oh yeah, and then there's the small matter of finding a decent instrument, which will doubtlessly contribute to some interesting future discussions. Carrying on sir, and will report back with progress. :)
  13. godoze


    Oct 21, 2002
    I had on of Bob G's 5's for a while. The neck was wide...But it was a very playable bass for the price. Shen will special order a 5 for you but it is is the $6k range.

    I would love to get ahold of a Kay 5 !
  14. Mudfuzz


    Apr 3, 2004
    :D Shen 5 :D
  15. godoze


    Oct 21, 2002
  16. Damon Rondeau

    Damon Rondeau Journeyman Clam Artist Supporting Member

    Nov 19, 2002
    Winnipeg, baby
    I wanna hear more about this little episode from life's grand situation comedy...

    Did it actually sail away off the top of the van?
  17. Chasarms

    Chasarms Casual Observer

    May 24, 2001
    Bettendorf, IA USA
    FWIW, those 10 lessons will probably go a great deal further now than they will after you've spent six months teaching yourself bad habits.

    In the presence of a good teacher, you may find your self-taught technique far more embarassing than the simple fact that you're a beginner.

    And, I speak from experience.

    I played EBG for 16 years before I ever touched a double bass. In the words of the great Ferris Bueller, "Never had one Lesson." So, I buy myself an Engelhardt thinking I'll figure out this whole DB thing in a few months.

    After four months, I decided to get a teacher. It took at least six weeks of working with a teacher just to reverse all of the awful habits I had already developed. I learned more from a teacher in 30 minutes than I could figure out on my own playing every day for a month.

    No matter who you are and what your skill level is on another instrument, your beginning stages will be very difficult. Consider every advantage to make it as gratifying as possible. Starting with a proper bass and a teacher is the biggest part of that.

    Since you already have a musical ear, you can go farther in 6 weeks with a proper bass and a teacher than you will spending 6 months alone in the basement with a $500 BSO.

    Plus, a teacher will provide a HUGE amount of insight into the selection, setup, tweaking and care and upkeep of your bass. My teacher has done at least a couple hundred bucks worth of tweaks here and there on my bass free of charge. Loans out stuff, etc. It's really a great thing.

  18. Beautiful figure on the neck of this Sam! Thanks Aaron.
  19. Nice talking to you.....You didn't even use the dreaded term 'fret board' in your post. You're on the right track!
  20. godoze


    Oct 21, 2002
    I've often thought of going back to 5 but I just cannot justify it... well, maybe if paul were going to sell his bass...