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Do 4 string basses sound different than 5 string basses?

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by mmbongo, Dec 5, 2017.

  1. mmbongo

    mmbongo Five Time World Champion Supporting Member

    Aug 5, 2009
    Let's crack open a can of worms here! :)

    Ignorning the B string, do you find that 5 string basses sound different than 4 string basses?

    It's hard to explain what I'm trying to get at here. I had a 4 paragraph post written out that went nowhere so I deleted that so let me try to sum this up and see where it goes.

    Essentially, it just seems that I'm always chasing a 4 string that sounds as good as my 5 strings. I've had a lot of 5 strings (and a LOT of 4 strings) and it just seems that the 5 strings always have a deeper, clearer, stronger sound. Especially the E string. I just can't find that power from a 4 string bass, and I've had some NICE 4 string basses. And I currently own 5 of them. I always go back to my 5 strings though.

    I thought maybe it was the scale length, as all of my current 5's are 35" scale. But then I remember back when I had a pair of 34" scale 5 strings and loved them as well.

    Maybe I'm not finding the right 4 string, but it just seems that they all have a more upper mid sound and not as deep and clear like the 5's. But it seems that no matter how hard I try, after years of buying basses, I can't find a 4 string that I love the sound of, while incredible sounding 5 string basses just seem to fall in my lap...which literally happened...which is one reason I'm doing this thread.

    Maybe I'm crazy?
    Gearhead17, Afc70 and madjazzbass like this.
  2. I used to have a bunch of Peavey Cirrus 4, 5, and 6 string basses. Many of them had the same alder, maple, and pao zero wood. Those sounded basically the same, regardless of the string config.
    Frenchy-Lefty, Korladis and dralionux like this.
  3. mmbongo

    mmbongo Five Time World Champion Supporting Member

    Aug 5, 2009
    See those are all 35" scale which kinda goes back to my thinking that a 35" 4 string may be what I need to try next.
    smogg and warrplayer like this.
  4. mikeswals

    mikeswals Supporting Member

    Nov 18, 2002
    Seattle / Tacoma
    Splitting atoms, they always sound different. Sure the baked in character is essentially there. But wailing away slap/pop riffs in E never sounds the same on a 4 vs a 5.
  5. Gee Man

    Gee Man Supporting Member

    Nov 2, 2016
    W. MA.
    The only reason I hear a difference is on the 4 I play the low E open, whereas on the five I tend to play low E on the B string 5th fret, bigger string seems to impart a bigger sound. YMMV and all that. With that said, I find I can play faster/cleaner on the four, as the string spacing is usually wider than on a fiver. So they kinda balance each other out. And a strong P type pickup helps with the fill sound on my 4 stringer.
  6. Dr. Keebs

    Dr. Keebs

    Jan 9, 2016
    Billings, MT
    Not sure if "compressed" is the right term, here. I've always felt that a 4 string sounded more "open" than it's equivalent 5 string counterpart. Generally speaking, whereas the 5 strings have had that deeper sound, the 4 strings seems to throw more, maybe with those upper mids. Could it have something to do with more wood on the neck/body of a 5? Or some other contruction/design difference? Anywho, I feel you. We could both be crazy.
  7. honeyiscool


    Jan 28, 2011
    San Diego, CA
    Just play the seventh fret on an E string. No matter how you mute that thing, it sounds way bigger on a five string. There’s always more going on a five string. For better or for worse.
    Garret Graves likes this.
  8. lowdownthump


    Jul 17, 2004
    Yep , they do sound different . Not everyone can hear it. One isn’t better than the other , just depends on what your ears prefer.

    That’s the reason I sold all my fives and went back to fours only . I prefer that old school funky tone from the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. To really get that authentic old school funky spank I need a four string. I need one with flats and one with rounds.
    When I need to go lower I can tune down or use pedals.

    The fours and fives resonate different. Could be the extra body wood and neck wood. More mass makes the difference.
  9. bucephylus

    bucephylus Supporting Member Commercial User

    Aug 18, 2002
    General Manager TecPadz LLC
    So, obviously a lot of the sound is in the pickups and preamp, if you are active.

    Do your 4’s have the same pickups and preamps?

    I find that with same pickups, preamp, and strings you will get the same sound. Only other thing is setup; and my experience with setup is that the 4 will let you get the pickups just that little bit closer to the E than on a 5.

    Your post is kind of interesting, because for many years after 5’s hit the market, players were having the opposite complaint about the E string on the 5 vs the 4. A lot of that was pickup and preamp related, and some other details like the hold downs on the headstock etc. now, most of that is worked out.

    But, no, I don’t see the E on the 4 being inferior.
    Lee Moses and jd56hawk like this.
  10. mmbongo

    mmbongo Five Time World Champion Supporting Member

    Aug 5, 2009
    I have 3 'sets' of 4/5 string basses with the same pickups (or at least the 4/5 string versions of the same pickups). I have a pair of Laklands, a pair of Roscoes, and a pair of USA Spectors. In each case they sound vastly different, with the 5 string being deeper, richer, fuller, and clearer in all cases. They all have the same strings of course. This is part of my frustration, as in each case I had the 5 string first and wanted to the same sound in a 4 string package. Don't get me wrong, the 4's sound incredible in their own right..but don't sound like the 5's. Again, all the 5's here are 35" scale.
  11. bucephylus

    bucephylus Supporting Member Commercial User

    Aug 18, 2002
    General Manager TecPadz LLC
    Right; but, the pickups aren’t exactly the same, even if the same brand etc. the 5 string bobbins and winds are not the same as the 4. I’m struggling with the same issue, but opposite sense with Delano JMVC’s in the 5 vs 4 windings. In that case, the 4 has more cajones. As you say, same general tone, but not the same sense of slam. I think it just depends on the bass in question. I also suspect part of the deal is whether the pickups were originally developed in the 4 or 5 format, and then ported to the other. If that makes sense.
  12. SteveC

    SteveC Moderator Staff Member

    Nov 12, 2004
    North Dakota
    It has to be a mass issue doesn’t it? If you have basses of the same wood, electronics, etc. the only (I know there are always variables as it’s wood and people and imperfect and ...) difference is the mass and width of the fingerboard as well as the mass of the neck.

    I have played an active 5 for a long time. I don’t really care for 4 strings. I try. I want to be a “P” guy, but I just can’t. I like the sound and feel of my Roscoe. Best 5 string neck I've ever had.
    Last edited: Dec 6, 2017
    Dr_Feelgoood212, PsyDocHill and Afc70 like this.
  13. two fingers

    two fingers Opinionated blowhard. But not mad about it. Gold Supporting Member

    Feb 7, 2005
    Eastern NC USA
    Yeah to me the 4 string version of any bass I play is usually slightly "thinner". That's not a bad thing, jist different.

    I own two 4 string P basses and one 5 string P bass. The 5 string across the board jist sounds "fuller, while still retaining the classic P bass mid bump and growl. I like all three for what they are. One of the 4s now had Chromes on it. So now I have a 5 rounds P, a 4 rounds P and a 4 Chromes P. Can't go wrong with any of them really.
    lowdownthump and AdamK like this.
  14. mmbongo

    mmbongo Five Time World Champion Supporting Member

    Aug 5, 2009
    That could very well have a lot to do with it as well, I hadn't thought about the pickup difference. If I were a brave man I'd get out the router and throw some 5 string pickups in one of my 4's! Heck it might be worth it to pickup a cheap-but-good bass like a Lakland 44-01 and try just that!
  15. MoeTown1986

    MoeTown1986 Supporting Member

    Sep 14, 2010
    SoMD (Mechanicsville)
    I’ve always thought this too! You’re not crazy. Or maybe we both are crazy. I always find that my E sounds better on my 5 strings than on my 4 strings. I always assumed it’s because I use my E(4 string) or B(5 string) as a rest while I’m playing. So, I think they go dead before the other strings.
  16. 80jazz


    Jun 28, 2008

    I would see about scoring a 35" 4 string. This could help your dilemma. I also think a 4 string 35" would be sweet.
    mmbongo likes this.
  17. Tony In Philly

    Tony In Philly Gold Supporting Member Supporting Member

    Oct 25, 2007
    Filthydelphia, USA
    My personal experience is that the more strings you have, the more strings you have to keep muted that aren't being played. I have very little experience with a fiver because I personally can't stand them, but I do on occasion use a Fender Bass VI and I find that you need to keep the unplayed strings from vibrating.
    Korladis likes this.
  18. SteveC

    SteveC Moderator Staff Member

    Nov 12, 2004
    North Dakota
    True, but I've never found it to be an issue with a 5. The B string is a thumb rest, mute the others as normal wth a 4 string. I had more difficulty with my 6 string.
    Tony B. Filthy likes this.
  19. jlepre

    jlepre Supporting Member

    Nov 12, 2007
    Cedar Knolls, NJ
    Just wondering...what can you do on a 4 string that you can't on a 5?
    BigNotes likes this.
  20. Well, right off the bat, the 5er has a thicker neck. Many people contend that a denser neck (Including large headstocks and "FatFingers") gives a 'better' sound.
    In a related issue, look at the slinky-string brethren: Clapton uses a Strat with a blocked vibrato. He never uses the whammy, but he plays a guitar with 5 springs in the body, 'It resonates more,' he says. Nile Rodgers, of Chic fame, plays a hard-tail, no vibrato, for his very precise staccato-style chucking.
    Having that extra string makes a HELLUVA lot of difference in the character and playability of the instrument.

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