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Does beginning with a 5 string inhibit progress?

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by AaronS, May 19, 2001.

  1. I have 47 years of guitar, a few of dobro & lap steel, but I am just getting interested in bass. I play blues, swing, r&b, light jazz, 50's country and early rock. I play a lot of bass lines on guitar and often wish for a low B string. So I am thinking I would eventually gravitate to a 5 string. Would it be best to start with a 4 string for a year or two and then make the decision, or would starting with a 5 be ok? I guess the question comes down to, if I started with a 5 string would I be inhibiting my learning progress. I put this in the instruction section because I am hoping for a few more thoughtful responses, than the stereotypical poll of "what's better 4 or 5" which belongs in the bass section.
  2. Turock

    Turock Supporting Member

    Apr 30, 2000
    If you are sure you want the low B, I would say go for it now. I have around 30 years of 4 string bass playing experience, and several years ago I got my first 5 string. All of the things I used to do on "auto-pilot" now required me to think about it. None of the strings were where I was conditioned to finding them. I had to put aside my 4's and really practice hard with the 5. I think it would be easier, in the long run, to start out with what you ultimately would like to play.
  3. Aaron -

    Turock's right, if you "hear" those lower notes, go ahead and start out on the 5'er. I went from guitar to 6 string bass, and it had no ill effect on me. I'm actually back-pedaling a bit and moving to 5's myself, but 4's confuse :confused: the snot out of me: No B, no me! ;)
  4. dawgawd


    Mar 23, 2000
    I have been playing about a year and a half, which makes me far from an expert bass player, but since I started on a 4 and now play a 5 I think it makes me an athority to post on this subject. I see no reason not to get a 5 if you think you would use it. There is no set rule saying you MUST play the B string, I in fact rarely use mine, and when I do, I rarely play lower than an Eb on it. The transition at first was sort of difficult for me, but since I had been playing a relatively short time on the 4, it wasn't as accustomed to it as those who have been playing for years before swapping. I like to swap between my 5 and 4 every now and then, just to make sure I can still play them both, and I'm pretty used to both of them. Basically, I think you would benefit from the 5 to start with. It might be handy to be used to a 4 string too (in case you ever are forced to play on a bass other than your own perhaps?). but I don't have a very difficult time swapping between the two. I heard somebody say it this way...

    you need to look at the bottom (G) string as the foundation... and build up from that, and then the top (B) string is your extra, this makes it easier to take it away and bring it back when necessary. many people look from the top down, meaning they base everything around their top string, which in most cases is an E, which is why they are screwed up when the B comes into play. It's all about perception in my opinion. I don't know how much sense this actually makes.
  5. It's much easier to learn on a 5, than to switch to a 5 later on. I'm like Gard, I play a 6 and a 5, and I could'nt imagine life without a b string now.
  6. rickbass

    rickbass Supporting Member

    Another one to back up what everyone has said thus far.

    It's analogous to learning how to drive a car. If you were taught in a car with a stick, there are no old habits and mindsets to bother you.
  7. lump


    Jan 17, 2000
    St. Neots, UK

    I am an adult learner as well (originally a brass player). I started on a four-string about 4 years ago, and after much resistance switched to a fiver a few about a month ago. Here are the observations of someone who used to be on the other side of this argument, for what they're worth (I believe $.02 is the going rate).

    I finally broke down and bought a five with two main things in mind. The first was that I read a lot, and position changes were killing me. We don't get much rehearsal time, and even though I shed at home, I often only get one run-through with the band on what are often unfamiliar tunes (in four years, I have yet to have the luxury of being able to memorize a tune). On a four, position shifts are inevitable. I can play fairly well without looking at neck if I'm in one position, but if I have to make a jump of more than a few frets, I gotta sneek a peek (so sue me). And that often means losing my place, which p!$$es me off, and occasionally others. I also end up playing in F or Bb major a lot, and I was tired of having to play everything down at the first fret.

    The second reason is that a lot of the music I like these days simply requires a five, whether it's metal or gooey ballads. If you intend to do all originals, that's one thing. But more and more contemporary music requires a five, and if you intend to play covers, IMO playing a four exclusively will soon make you unmarketable. So, with all that in mind, I broke down and bought a five.

    And I am so glad I did.

    First of all, the point of the fifth string is NOT just to get five more notes (although that's a bennie). The beauty is being able to play two octaves with a minimal position shift. It's just a more logical layout, period. My original thought was that you would sacrifice some growl, say, by playing an F on the 6th fret B string instead of the 1st fret E, but you don't (at least not on mine). Now, when play in the keys of around D-Gb major, I think about starting on the B string instead of the E or A. To be honest, I rarely use anything lower than D; the the ability to play lines further up the neck over two octaves is where the real payoff for me is. Now I can read without worrying (as much) about losing my place (I still don't have the five TOTALLY down yet, and still have flashbacks to a four).

    As far as negatives, the only real one is the transition, but you're better off making it now than later. If you slap, the B string can get in the way (I still have problems with my hand pressing it down into the pups when I pop the G string), but it also adds a bunch more bottom to play with ;). I chose a bass with pretty wide spacing for the right hand, which makes for a stretch sometimes for the left. I also had to raise the bass up a few inches in order to reach around for the B string.

    Again, I'm just a rookie compared to some of these guys, but that's how I see it. Good luck!
  8. Boplicity

    Boplicity Supporting Member

    Just for the heck of it, ask Jeff Berlin in the Ask the Pros folder. I don't know if his position has changed, but in the past, he has been adamant that a four string was adequate for any and all bass players' needs and that there were far too many bassists on fivers that didn't even know what all they could get out of their four string.

    I'd really be curious to know what he would tell you today. However, I myself heard his admonition to stick with fours and went out and bought a five. I don't regret having done so. The transition takes some reorientation, but for all the reasons mentioned by others here, I do not regret having gone to five strings.

    The only slight down side I can imagine is that much bass guitar instructional material is written for four string basses. Still, more and more bass instructional material is coming out now with drills and exercises for five and even six-string basses. I guess the writers realize it is wise to adapt to the times. Music does change or we'd still be playing ragtime or folk music. New music styles demand new instruments.

    Oh, finally. If you want that B-string tone, buy a five string and start with it from the git go. Why not?
  9. john turner

    john turner You don't want to do that. Trust me. Staff Member

    Mar 14, 2000
    atlanta ga
    my advice is to start on whatever you want to start on - there is no "beginner" bass, if you want to play a 4 then play it, but otherwise don't let anybody tell you that you need to start on a 4 just "because that's what's done".

    i only wish that the basses that i play ( 7 and 8 string fretted and fretless) were available when i started - i would've been all over them fromt he beginning instead of just the past 8 years or so.
  10. Yeah. And remember, guitarists start out on 6-strings and think about how stupid the average guitarist is! Then realize that half of them are stupider than that! ;)

    - Dave
  11. I don't think I've seen such uniformity of opinion on TB before. I'm glad I generated a response from rickbass and jasonolsted, since I have really liked their responses to other folks questions. BTW Jason, some of us still play ragtime...and boogie woogie and swing. Everyone's comments have given me things to think about and encouragement. I am definitely going to try out some fives. I haven't found any in my area, but I get to Denver or Salt Lake (300 miles each) about 3 or 4 times a year, so I will look there. The one concern I have is that I prefer the narrower J-bass type of neck to the wider P-bass type. I will have to see how they feel when I try one. Great comments all.
  12. My original thought process about 5's is similar to your experience. I like to play guitar around the 5th to 7th frets and sometimes I either want to go lower than the 6th string or I don't want an open string for a low note. Two octaves with minimal position change is a lot of what is in my mind. Thanks.
  13. JimK


    Dec 12, 1999
    ...huh!? What's next for you, playing with a pick?
    My world makes no sense; thanks a lot, lump! :D
  14. lump


    Jan 17, 2000
    St. Neots, UK
    Never!!! ;)


    This is a cool thread from over on the DB side, but still relevant, I think.


    It has to do with playing horizontally across the strings instead of vertically. Some interesting thoughts from guys who know their stuff.
  15. That's not quite true about Jeff Berlin. When he made that comment, he was referring to himself, not other people. His current stance is, I quote, " if I were doing a lot of sessions today, I would play a five". He prefers a four because for what he is currently doing, that suits him. The only bass he does'nt really like is fretless, and that's because he feels that no-one has come up with a new style or sound since Jaco.
  16. Well lump, you are right. These guys really know their stuff and the various points being made were all worth considering and practicing. I suspect that the intonation problem for a fretless instrument is greater than for a fretted one. My reference point is dobro and lap steel. That being said, the real reason I like to hang out in the 5th to 7th fret vicinity and play across the strings, rather than using a single string technique, is it feels and sounds good to me. I don't know if that kinesthetic reinforcement will be there on a 5 string bg. Perhaps, perhaps not. These guys on the DB part of this forum make my mind swim and my eyes roll back in my head. I should get over there more.

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