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Fifth's tuning on a 6 string bass.

Discussion in 'Strings [BG]' started by tylerwylie, Jul 30, 2012.

  1. tylerwylie

    tylerwylie Supporting Member

    Jan 5, 2008
    Dunwoody, GA
    Hey guys, looking to venture more into alternate tunings and have been considering going all fifths on my 6 string.

    Anyone else done this on a 6 string bass? Looking to have quite the range and to work on tapping and new fretting patterns.

    Do people who use plain strings usually drop the tension a bit on those? It looks like the smaller the diameter of the string the less tension it can hold right? I am hoping to avoid having plain strings snapping so if I were to go by the Circle K tension chart and setup a set for CGDAEB fifth's tuning the gauges I selected would look something like this:

    .124 .082 .055 .035 .022 .015

    Would going lower tension on the plain strings not mess everything up?

    Another tuning I was contemplating was AEBF#C#G# using these gauges or similar:

    .150 .098 .065 .043 .027 .017

    Thanks in advance for any tips, and answers to my question regarding plain strings(non-wound).
  2. FunkMetalBass


    Aug 5, 2005
    Phoenix, Arizona 85029
    Endorsing Artist: J.C. Basses
    I play a 35" scale 8-string tuned F# B E A D G C F and use the 200 set. I recently purchased a new single (moving the .020 down to .019) and it's much nicer (both tonally and physically), but can still be a bit taught to tap. If I were to set this up as a tapping bass, I'd probably lighten the G, C, and F-strings to something like .041, .029, and .018, respectively.

    It is true that a smaller string will ultimately have a lower breaking point, but I'm sure the .022 could handle the 35 lbs of tension you're wanting to put on it; the .015 might be a bit brittle. However, because it's a plain string, it's probably going to feel more inflexible and a big twangy compared to your other strings. Dropping down a few gauges will correct this tonal inbalance and will make the strings much more comfortable to play. Lowering the tension will not mess everything up.

    I would probably make some minor modifications to your set choice:

    .124 .082 .053 .033 .020 .013

    This gradually drops the tension starting with the D-string and puts the plain strings at a more comfortable (IMO) tension. You might consider talking to Skip about it too. I have not tried this set specifically, so I can only comment on the set theoretically.
  3. KodyAudette


    Apr 30, 2012

    TalkBass is awesome. Jus' sayin.

    I hadn't considered going to all fifths tuning on my electric! I know some DB guys do it and I've played some cello which is tuned in fifths. Hmm, I may be able to hold off on buying a 6 string for a little longer if I try this out. Thanks for the idea!
  4. tylerwylie

    tylerwylie Supporting Member

    Jan 5, 2008
    Dunwoody, GA
    Noob question from me actually.. is installing a plain string on the tuning peg going to be the same as a wound string?
  5. SLaPiNFuNK

    SLaPiNFuNK Inactive Commercial User

    Jul 28, 2006
    LA California
    The Brains: FretNation.com

    There are even some Plain Steel strings that are silked if you go with a brand that has these...

    But yeah, basically the same...
  6. Jaco Taco

    Jaco Taco

    Jul 30, 2012
    What a coincidence! I just ordered strings from Circle K today for the CGDAEB tuning that you talked about. I have a 34" scale 6-string. I sent an email over to the tech guy and this was the gauges that he recommended.

    .124 .082 .055 .033 .020 .013

    So I ordered those. Good luck! I'm anxious to see how I like it myself!
  7. ixlramp


    Jan 25, 2005
    Hey cool to see you guys doing this. tylerwylie i'm your man for this subject, my 6 was tuned in fifths for 5 years or so and set up for tapping (i didn't go back to fourths, i then went microtonal). I'll get back to you with a more detailed post within a day or so ...
  8. tylerwylie

    tylerwylie Supporting Member

    Jan 5, 2008
    Dunwoody, GA
    Yea... the way it's been I use my fretless for EVERYTHING now because it's just that much more rewarding for me to play. Tapping is the exception and wanting to experiment with a new technique that I am not very familiar with is exciting. Also hoping to in alternate tunings, get used to thinking of notes instead of positions on the fretboard I can hope to adjust how I view music.

    Looking forward to your response!
  9. ixlramp


    Jan 25, 2005
    As usual i would encourage you to optimise your set by repeated tweaking of gauges, however i'm fairly sure you will find a consistent fall in tension from low to high (progressive tension) to be optimum, and i recommend that as your starting point.

    When i first designed a set for AEBF#C#G# i assumed equal tensions would be ideal but quickly discovered it is not when the range of a bass extends to very high strings. Whereas a .145 at 30 pounds is barely tight enough to avoid flop and flubby tone, a plain string of around .016 at 30 pounds is close to breaking, feels excessively tight, is fairly unplayable and almost untappable. So with such a range a balanced set does not result in a balanced feel.

    So i then designed the set purely by feel, trial and error. Many strings later i arrived at 145 95 60 35 22w .013p, and only then did the calculations to see what tensions those were. To my surprise the tension fell significantly from low to high, with the high G# at 2/3rds the tension of the low A. It was roughly 30 pounds to 20 pounds.

    My set was designed for all guitar techniques, including tapping, chords, string bending and ebow. I discovered over the following years that the more advanced the techniques you want to use, the steeper the fall in tension across the set needs to be.

    Tapping requires progressive tension due to the mechanics of tapping. A tapped string needs to strike the fret at a speed close to it's vibration speed. So whereas a low string is easy to tap with a firm 'press', a high string needs a lot more 'velocity', lower tension high strings helps with this.

    So this is how i discovered progressive tension, and later found many more advantages to it. It makes good sense in terms of playability and string physics, for any technique.

    To fully realise the potential of your new instrument i'm sure you will want to tap 3 note chords with one hand, another good reason to lower the tension of the higher strings. Also, pitch response to string bending becomes more even.

    Installing plain strings is the same for the thicker stiffer plains, but thinner plains can slip out of the tuner post. You may need to create a self-tightening slip knot. Mine is hard to describe but i'll describe the path of the string, i assume your posts have a slot cut into the end and an axial hole through the centre:

    Path of string: from nut to post, 2+ winds around the post, across the slot, looped once around the topmost wind on the opposite side of the slot (to create the slip knot), finally down the axial hole in the post as not to poke you and make you bleed ... nice and tidy.

    Another tip: try to avoid thick plain strings, they are very stiff and therefore inharmonic and less responsive to tapping. I prefer plains of .017 and smaller. I ended up using the conklin snakeskin wound .022 for high C# which was far more flexy, bright and clear than the equivalent tension plain .020.
    Steve-Mo and el_Bajo_Verde like this.
  10. ixlramp


    Jan 25, 2005
    To instal the plains, i created a slip knot ...
    ... but with the end of the string hanging down and perpendicular to the plane of the slip knot. Then i inserted the end of the string into the axial hole, then seat the loop of the slip knot half around the post and half across the slot. Apply tension and turn the tuner to wind the string onto the post.

    Instead of a consistent fall in tension from string to string, i often found my sets had the lowest 2 strings at the same tension, especially with low strings like A0 and E1, this avoids an overly large lowest string and limits the large tonal jump between the lowest 2 strings.

    Up top i often had the highest 2 strings at the same tension, to maintain a reasonable volume of the highest plain string relative to the string below it. The top plain string can be a little quiet, especially when tapped. I also tilt the pickups to boost the volume of the high strings.

    So the tension profile was usually a fall in tension from low to high but levelling out at top and bottom. The largest string to string fall in tension was from wound to plain, this helps mellow the tone of the inherently bright and loud plains for a better tonal blend.
  11. tylerwylie

    tylerwylie Supporting Member

    Jan 5, 2008
    Dunwoody, GA
    Which tuning would you recommend? CGDAEB or AEBF#C#G# ?
  12. ixlramp


    Jan 25, 2005
    That depends on your needs, but since you ask i will be opinionated and say the lower one, for these reasons: The top B and G# are very high, and will be plains of around .011 or .013, a G# .013 is more than high enough but also has more volume, these thin plains are quiet when tapped. Also, the lower tuning is more fun because you get to go higher and lower than a 6 string. Finally, when tapping, the lowest easily tapped fret is fret 2, so your lowest tappable note with CGDAEB is a only a D1, the lower tuning gets you a tappable B0.

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