Does a bassist in a cover band with a big setlist NEED a 5 String

Discussion in 'Band Management [BG]' started by kickysam49, Aug 4, 2022.

  1. kickysam49


    Feb 28, 2022
    (Forgive me if this should be in the bass forum, I Wasn't sure)
    I play 4 string, pretty much exclusively. I really can't stand playing 5 string.

    Our band tunes a half step down (Eb) and I have a Bass extender that gets me down to C#. We know somewhere around 60 songs. Probably 5 were originally recorded on 5 strings that I transposed to four.

    A song came up that the was in the key of Eb but the guitars and bass were tuned to standard, and they wanted to do it a half step down from album key (D). The only way for me to do that would be to drop down to C# and fret the big open Eb notes on the first fret while having to shuffle up the fingerboard for the slappy bits, which would be way easier if I was just hitting open low Ebs. (The song is About D*** Time by Lizzo)

    I think I can convince them to play it in Eb. But I'm just wondering if I NEED a 5 String. I've mainly gotten along okay transposing things to 4, but there are so many songs out there where learning them on 5 strings is more convenient. I don't usually need to hit the lowest notes on a 5 String (truthfully I don't think they sound very good) but it does allow you to fret low E/Eb/D notes further up the fretboard while playing other licks.

  2. CallMeAl


    Dec 2, 2016
    Ithaca Ny
    Personally I think… it depends! if the bass player can get by on a 4, either rearranging or with an extender, and likes how they play and sound, AND the rest of the band is cool with how the arrangements come out- I don’t think a 5 is needed.

    I played in a band with a good number of Eb songs. (Mostly SRV, Jimi and Stevie.) We all liked the 4 banger arrangements and the audience sure never seemed to notice!

    Curious to hear what others say, it’s a good question!
    gebass6, DJ Bebop and bassopotamus102 like this.
  3. DWBass

    DWBass The Funkfather

    Either a 5 string or down tune your bass a half/whole step. I also prefer to play a 4 but most weekend warrior singers can't sing everything in the original key, so I play my 5 strings. Fortunately, I play both and don't hate either.
    Bass4Brkfast, dralionux, Ggaa and 4 others like this.
  4. E Joe

    E Joe

    Jul 21, 2021
    I made the switch some years ago after being a die hard 4 stringer for most of my time playing bass. I agree that you don’t often play the extended range and it’s hard to make the B string sound good.

    I got pretty used to playing with my E string tuned down and playing everything with weird fingerings for a while, but it just became too much of a hassle and some bands moved so quickly I didn’t have time to tune.

    5 felt hella weird at first, but even though I still play 4 I feel most at home on the 5 and feel like I just can’t get low enough notes to really add some of that occasional rumble on a 4 now.
  5. Snarf


    Jan 23, 2005
    I started as a kid with 4, switched to 5 in college and played a 5 for most of my gigs since then. A year ago I switched back to my original 4 string P bass and haven't looked back. My P bass is a monster bass, it's got a magical pickup, it's light weight, and I love the neck radius. The E string vibrates more freely than any 5 string I've played.

    Most of my work is standard tuning, and I'll throw on an octave pedal for a few things here and there if I really need an Eb or D. I'm willing to compromise on those low notes in order to get the sound and playability from this bass. Of course that's for live work. If I need C#, C, or B in the studio, I'll definitely play that on a 5 string.
  6. I’ve been a life-long 5 stringer, largely because I got some excellent advice from the (gigging) music store owner that if I ever played in a pit, I’d be glad to have the range.

    That came to pass. I also found myself playing in variable tuning rock bands. I play in a bar band now that often changes song keys to support vocalists. I even play on a (cringy) church worship team that plays in Db, which I find a little awkward for the bass in the mix without some lower range capability.

    you can do it. It won’t always have the same sound… it might require work arounds, but whatever. Your “voice” is your voice, and if that’s a 4 string bass, then you do what you gotta. I might get a 4 string myself some day, just to force myself to play differently.

    But honestly nothing beats the convenience of a 5 string. You won’t always need the low end, but you have it. You also get a chance to play G major tunes starting on the 8th fret on the B string.

    (also makes that riff on “sir duke” pretty dang fun and easy)
    Snert, fig and Torrente Cro like this.
  7. SteveC

    SteveC Moderator Staff Member

    Nov 12, 2004
    NE ND
    I’m finding that for my cover band gig, it’s just easier to play a 5. I only need it for about 6 songs, but I hate changing mid set. I also find that while it’s kind of cool and fun to swap basses, in my old age I find I’ll take easier every time.

    Sometimes I’ll play my 4 until I need to change and then just play the 5 the rest of the set, or vise versa. Either way, I only bring 2 basses to a gig. Always good to have a backup.
    Snert, fig, Mastermold and 9 others like this.
  8. J Wilson

    J Wilson

    Apr 22, 2022
    An Undisclosed Location
    IF you REALLY don't want one, don't.

    A five string is a different instrument than a four string: Bigger neck, wider fingerboard, totally different fingering method as now your open E is now five frets up the B string, BTW, FIVE strings instead of four, there IS a learning curve for most people in the transition, and you can need a little more amp to steadily push low C's and D's if you don't have steady FOH support.

    All that jive about 'it's just a four with an extra string' is BS, pure and simple. So I guess a B to C six string is just a four with TWO extra strings? Nuts.

    It's a big step to buy a totally different axe to pick up occasional below-Open-E notes, both money-wise and the learning that it's going to require. Unless you're ready to do THAT, I completely suggest using your D-Tuner to get where you need to be. Lots of guys make their bass walk and talk in that fashion, it's completely legit.

  9. gscroggin

    gscroggin Supporting Member

    Feb 2, 2006
    “I really can't stand playing 5 string.”

    You answered your own question. Get them to change age the key, or get a detuner and call it a day. No sense in running uphill if you don’t want to.

    BTW I’ve been playing with a low B since 1989 and am a bit of a fan boy, but that doesn’t mean I think it’s for everyone. You do you.
    icefly, fig, ELG60 and 10 others like this.
  10. I politely disagree with the statement above… 5 strings aren’t that different, because I can switch to a four string just fine. They can’t be that different.

    Like I said though, if you feel like your voice is 4 strings? Don’t change it up.
    gscroggin likes this.
  11. Sounds like a crappy B string. Get a bass with a good sounding low B and your problem will be restraining yourself from hitting the low notes. :thumbsup:
  12. 51PRI


    Aug 7, 2014
    I'm curious...Which band members wanted to change the key...and why?
    Dust2Dust and instrumentalist like this.
  13. lokikallas

    lokikallas Supporting Member

    Aug 15, 2010
    los angeles
    I play well over 60 songs in a rotation and I “need” the 5 string most of the time. The 5 just kills when it calls for it. Drop tuning can work for many songs, but sometimes that low B makes a difference. More often than not my 5 is my number 1 in standard. I generally do a set in half step down and I’ve yet to need the 5 for those songs. I can get by with a drop tuner.
    Beej likes this.
  14. SteveCS


    Nov 19, 2014
    Hampshire, UK
    Just a quick FYI - if open is C#/Db then Eb will be at 2, not 1.

    Back on topic, I also don't play 5 and also have an Xtender that I have set up to go to D. I use it on 3 tunes out of well over 100. So far I have found no need for a low B string - IME, most things can be refactored to 4-string without too much difficulty. I think in most contemporary pop/rock music those low notes are there to satisfy production values rather than for reasons of composition or harmony, so the impact of leaving them out of a live performance is trivial, for the most part. Not only that, those really low notes can be a PITA to manage in a lot of live settings, so there are practical advantages and sonic improvements to be had by not going there.

  15. Yes.
  16. makanudo


    Dec 26, 2008
    When Summer of 69 came up I had a field day just riding that D ( ;) ) on the 5 and not having to worry about tuning.

    Other songs from solo singers that ride a low C alsto were a piece of cake.

    Live you have to read the room and get a feel for whats happening. Sometimes playing a low C or B instead of the record version adds so much more energy and variety to the performance that it's worth the week at most it takes to get used to a 5 string.

    Now, as far as low B strings sounding bad. I'd stay away from FSO like P and Js. I'm sorry but the Bs on them just don't sound good. Ibanez too. I've had both. When I switched to a Musicman stingray copy bass and hit that low B it sung and resonated with so much definition and overtones that I almost cried.
    Element Zero likes this.
  17. Lowend65

    Lowend65 Supporting Member

    Sep 21, 2006
    San Jose, CA
    A 5 string if you can stomach it will make your life easier. As others suggested getting the right instrument is key. I highly recommend getting a 5 on a 35” scale. It’s easily adaptable physically, and the extra tension really makes the B string come to life.
    I suggest checking out the Schecter P5. 35” scale, classic looks, a thinner neck, and an absolute steal at $999. If you don’t like it, sell it used for $900 and it’ll be gone in a day.
    Schecter Guitar Research P5 (Ivy)
  18. drumvsbass


    Aug 20, 2011
    IMO, nope. Others will disagree. Buy an octave pedal, or a Hipshot double lever, or both.
    covermego, Flog, BSatt and 2 others like this.
  19. Tim Craig

    Tim Craig Supporting Member

    Feb 5, 2004
    Nashville area
    Actually a 7 string. Most definitely.
    timmo97 and Element Zero like this.
  20. I don't think you need a 5 string, plus I find that my playing style changes a bit with my 5er.
    I have a 4-string J strung BEAD, that solves the issue for me in those kind of situations. I use the 5 for, well so far for nothing, its a backup just in case, but I've covered all genres with 4's.
    Tony In Philly likes this.

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