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Entering the fifths dimension

Discussion in 'Jazz Technique [DB]' started by Vunz, Sep 2, 2005.

  1. Since I have no gigs for the next month, I decided to take advantage of this opportunity to try something that I am thinking about for a couple of years already, and do a "Red Mitchell": I have retuned my bass in fifths. Let's see if I am able to get used to this new tuning within a month when my gigs start again...

    Apart from the extended low range, my bass indeed sounds more full, or resonant, in this tuning. Moreover, it forces me to play more lateral, to think more melodically instead of in patterns, both because, obviously, the patterns I was used to do not function properly, and because I cross strings less often. this results, at least in my playing, in a more melodic approach.

    I am practising this new tuning for three days now, by playing scales and arpeggios, as well as simple scores, with the bow, and I start to feel more comfortable. But I have to admit that playing a simple blues is still quite a challenge, mainly because I have to unlearn my old rusted in patterns. But on the other hand, this is a good thing as well, methinks.


  2. Congratulations Vincent!
    I don't know how long you've been posting on TBDB, but i'm kind of the resident Red Mitchell freak/expert. I'm 65 and a bit too old to be starting the fifth tuning.
    I do play a five string bass with the low B, which was what Red did before moving on to fifths.
    I highly recomend Dennis Masuzzo's new book. I don't even know the actual name, but if you Google Dennis's name, i'm sure it'll come up.
    Also, check Joel Quarrington's name. He's a MoFo fifth player!
    Good luck, and keep us posted!
  3. Hi Paul,

    I have read many of your posts when I was searching TBDB on the topic of fifths tuning. They helped me decide to give it a very serious try, as were Masuzzo's and Quarrington's websites. In fact, it was Quarrington's interview in the Double Bassist magazine, a couple of years ago, that made me seriously considering converting to fifths tuning. It is not simple to readjust to the new tuning: I play the double bass for about 15 years now, tuned in fourths, and I am very aware of all the automatisms that have crept into my playing, some of them I am glad to get rid of, others less... Nevertheless, it is less hard to do than I feared. Well, at least I definitely have to check out more of Red Mitchell's music - which is an added plus of my conversion!

    Thanks for your encouraging words, Paul, and I will keep on posting my experiences here.


  4. Jeez, if I could play like Paul I wouldn't bother changing tunings either...
  5. Thanks Eric...i'm always saying, if I was as young as you guys,there would be two things I would do to change around my playing/approach: 1) Try the fifth tuning.
    2) Get off my stool and try to adolpt the Rabbath stance. At least the bent end-pin approach.
  6. Ok, I am getting quite used to the new tuning, so used in fact that I feel confident enough to return to my normal practice schedule. The transition went far more easily than I imagined/feared. I am even so confident that I ordered a low B, solo F sharp, and high solo A Pirastro Permanent string and change my setup more permanently to the fifths tuning (until now I just detuned my fourths setup). My next gig is coming up, so the "ultimate" test will not be until then. But I am convinced that it will turn out ok...


  7. Why the low B? Why not a C?
  8. AFAIK, there does not exist a Pirastro Permanent low C... And since I like Permanents very much, I was forced to go with a low B. But I do not expect any major problems when I tune this string a minor second higher.


  9. I can honestly say, after having done several gigs, that I will definitely stay with this tuning. I love the extended low end (especially when bowing), and especially the low G string. I bought a cello method book and use the exact same fingerings as suggested in this book. Although I have rather small hands, by using a pivoting-like technique the fingerings do not pose any problem or cause pain. As a result, I now use all four fingers for the entire fingerboard.

    So, converting to fifths tuning not only extended the range of notes, but also resulted in me adopting a different technique which enriches the way I play the bass. I am a very, very happy bassist and glad I took the risk!


  10. jlattuada


    Apr 25, 2001
    Richmond, Va
    Are there any strings available which are already designed for playing in 5ths?

    As a cellist, I have thought about this from time to time.

  11. There are, but there is not much choice. I believe Velvet and Thomastik offer a fifths set. What I use is a low B string tuned to C, a solo E (which is a F# at concert pitch) tuned to G, a regular D and a solo A string.


  12. Vunz, good for you takes a lot of courage to do someting like that.
    I been intrigued by the thought of tuning to 5ths, but I’m afraid to tighten the strings too high. I’ve tried in the past but when I started on the D, the bass started to make sinister settling type noises and I stopped.
    Can any luthiers comment on whether a fairly sound carved ¾ can take the added load. I’m guessing that since people are tuning to 5th that it should be fine, but expert option would make me feel better about trying it. I’ve tried tuning the fat string to a C then orienting everything in 5th’s from that but everything buzzes at that tension.
  13. Hi Fred,

    When retuning a normal fourths set to fifths, only the high G string has to be tuned higher, all the other strings remain either the same pitch (the D) or tuned lower (A to G, E to C). So, trying out fifths tuning by detuning a conventional set (as I initially did), does not put any additional strain to your bass.

    Likewise, tuning a low B a half step up to C and a low F sharp to G is not crucial, either. At least not on my bass. I did take my bass to a luthier who changed the tuning and did the necessary adjustments for me (widening the nut slots of the lowest string etc.). Yet all in all, I do not believe the additional strain is damaging for your instrument. But I would like to hear some experts' comments on this as well.


  14. I've been using fifths tuning since June and prefer it by far to fourths. The only caveat is that I've kept the high string as a "G" but that gives the instrument the natural harmonic from the lowest string, "C", and the next one, the low "G". I've also found that my instrument sounds better, more open and resonant. The challenge for me was to adjust bow speed on the two lower strings in order to get more efficient vibration from the strings. That is now starting to gel nicely.
    The left hand issues also resolve themselves rather easily. Multiple string crossings are much fewer now because larger intervals are easier to finger on adjacent strings. A section in the "Pastoral" Symphony has now become very manageable when before it had been a struggle.
    Overall I'm very happy with this change and will continue it.
  15. pklima


    May 2, 2003
    Kraków, Polska
    I just made the switch yesterday after finishing up recording some material I've learned in fourths. Haven't really had time to play much as it was pretty late by the time I was done and I have elderly neighbors but I'm in the fifths club now.

    I've played mandolin, tenor banjo, mandocello and bass guitar tuned in fifths so finding the notes shouldn't be too hard. I'll have to rethink the way I finger things, though.

    I'm using the Velvet 180 strings. I used the old-style Velvet 180s in fourths. Are the new ones lower in tension? It seems like my action has risen. Might have to tweak the adjusters...
  16. Welcome to the 5ths club! Glad you started this thread again!
    I tried an old set of the 180's and just couldn't get the nice lows and consistency that comes out of the Spiros. I'm not a Velvet expert, but do your 180's have the loop end? I know the new 180's & old 180's are completely different. I think Velvet has Garbos or Animas available in 5ths now. You may want to give them a try if you can find and/or afford them. I still gravitate back to Thomastiks. I use Spiro weich for Low C & G, and Dominants for D & A. I LOVE this combination.
  17. pklima


    May 2, 2003
    Kraków, Polska
    Old 180s = loop end. New 180s = straight end, you tie them yourself. I can tell you that they are completely different strings, yes!

    I'm gonna try the Spiros on an Ergo EUB that I just ordered. But my main bass seems to like the low tension of the Velvets.