Fifths Tuning!

Discussion in 'Strings [DB]' started by Calvin Marks, Aug 1, 2020.

  1. Calvin Marks

    Calvin Marks Supporting Member

    Oct 22, 2017
    One of my basses has been tuned in fifths for a while but I never got around to playing it much. I've had a set of Spirocore Red Mitchell strings on the C-G-D for years and a Belcanto Solo A.

    These are my findings:

    1. LOUD
    2. Incredibly powerful
    3. Lacks warmth for arco and a bit scratchy
    5. C and G and quite slow to respond under the bow.

    I really like darker/warmer sounding strings like Belcanto - has anyone had any luck with a C and G that is a bit quicker to speak and a bit less growly/aggressive sounding? I will probably end up putting a Belcanto Orchestral D on soon.
    etorgerson and BarfanyShart like this.
  2. A. Munk

    A. Munk Supporting Member

    May 11, 2005
    san francisco bay area
    I had a very used set of obligatos 5 th’s tuning on bass for a bit.
    They were definitely warm/dark.
    I felt they were a lot easier to bow than the spiro mitels orchestra they replaced.
    I keep thinking I’ll try a new set someday.
  3. Calvin Marks

    Calvin Marks Supporting Member

    Oct 22, 2017
    years ago I was playing in fifths with a professional chamber ensemble and Pirastro contacted me and a few other fifths players to test out these Obligato prototype strings. I remember the first thing I told them was that the Low C string sucked and sadly they carried through that same design into the commercial version. Funnily enough I still have that prototype low C in my string drawer!
  4. A friend of mine who's a 5ths player uses a Spiro C and Dominants for the G, D, A (ala Joel Quarrington.) He wasn't too fond of the full Spiro 5ths set for bowing, but as always any Spiro low string kicks absolute butt.
    piggywiddle likes this.
  5. Calvin Marks

    Calvin Marks Supporting Member

    Oct 22, 2017
    those are pretty aggressive under the bow, too. I find dominants to produce a very harsh sound.
  6. Sam Dingle

    Sam Dingle Supporting Member

    Aug 16, 2011
    Dumb question but wondering if it’s just for arco, you could try like a Flexocore stark A tuned down to G, flex medium d and flex solo a. Though the G-D transition may be too weird
    piggywiddle likes this.
  7. There used to be a set of Velvet's Compas 180 Suit for fifths tuning - I don't know if they are still making it. Believe it or not, I've tuned a good old Spiro Mitt E down to C and it worked alright, a little loose. Perhaps a stark E would substitute well. For me the G (III) string was always the difficult one.
    piggywiddle likes this.
  8. Alberto Wang

    Alberto Wang

    Apr 5, 2018
    I love Spirocore 3885 orchestra weich low C. Much more warmer and darker, and more arco-friendly than the RM mittel C. It blends well with the Belcanto solo #F, orch D, solo A.
    piggywiddle and Sam Dingle like this.
  9. BarfanyShart


    Sep 19, 2019
    DC Metro
    I've got the Red Mitchell mittels on my EUB, and I love them, but i want to try the weichs because 1) the C is slow on the bow, and 2) i want the A to sound more like a solo string. My only hesitancy is that the piezo on my EUB is responding magically better than with any other set of strings, and i can actually switch seamlessly between arco and pizz with it sounding good and no knob twiddling, and I'm worried losing that with the lighter strings.
    Ludwig likes this.
  10. ldekoning


    Mar 13, 2010
    Hey Fifths Players,

    As I've always wondered what tension db strings have when tuned up or down for playing in fifths, I put together the attached spreadsheet. It contains all the string tensions I could find on popular db strings as well as calculated tensions for strings tuned up or down in combo sets, e.g. weich B tuned up to C, solo Fs tuned up to G for Evah Pirazzi - all based on formulas listed here The green highlighted combo sets have either the most even or steadily decreasing tension from low to high strings. Take a look and feel free to share. Perhaps it will help you choose your next combo set.


    Attached Files:

    ablumley and paulunger like this.
  11. If I try to view the file with the old app, it crashes. Might be the app...

    You might have missed my Dropbox resources. Specially the excel file for string tensions and formulas.html.

    The formulas there are all derived mathematically from one formula for string making and can be used with JavaScript enabled.

    As far as I can remember fifth tuning strings are included there as well. Also scale unification as the tension by manufacturers is measured for different scale lengths.

    You can add your own strings below the included ones, the formulas are there.

    if you want you can make your own spreadsheet by copying the formulas to a new spreadsheet if you want to make a fifth tuning only one.

    No need to reinvent the wheel.
    ablumley likes this.
  12. paulunger

    paulunger Supporting Member

    Sep 1, 2002
    Fort Worth, Texas
    Thanks, Idekonig. Your chart is a GREAT resource. I've been telling students for a few years that tuning strings up or down, changes the tension of the strings about 7 pounds per half step. Your chart gives us real numbers that will help people understand.

    As one can see from Idekonig's chart, tuning solo F# strings (which already have an increased tension) up a half step has a serious effect on the tension. All the solo F# strings tuned up creates a 10-20 pound tension difference between the upper strings. From my practical experience, this radical change in tension (and the overall increase in tension) creates problems in how the bass responds and it makes things uncomfortable to play.

    I find that balanced tension across the strings really helps. That is why I settled on Red Mitchell mediums for the low C and G and Flexocor or Flexocor Deluxe or Dominants for the D and high A strings. Not ideal by a long shot. I'm not a big fan of the Spirocore for orchestra work, but there is no good alternative.
    ablumley likes this.
  13. CaseyVancouver


    Nov 4, 2012
    All arco I’m using RM medium low C, Dominant F# tuned up to G, Flex D and A. I also like Belcanto D and A. These strings sound powerful especially at the heel. Fwiw the overall tension is much lower than a standard 4ths bass with extension Spiro C and Belcanto A, D, G. (a medium Spiro extension C is a whopping 84 lbs tension)

    I find the low RM C and Dominant G very responsive under the bow. Yes they are big cables. I often play the strings (including low C and G) all the way to the end of the board. Some of my bows require sticky Pops to bring the C and G alive but I believe this is a result of the particular hair on the bow. Some of my bows have hair that can be scratchy with Pops. I prefer Carlsson rosin, and if needed rub Pops on the strings.

    Joel Quarrington is now using light RM low C, with the rest Dominants. His strings certainly sound good, deep and not scratchy or harsh. 5ths tuning low strings do require bowing chops. I loved the sound of the Dominant solo A but mine broke shortly after installation.

    The Belcanto or Dominants for D and A are just fine in my experience. I try to stay on a string for a phrase if possible. This is to avoid the change in sound between strings, which really can stand out especially going from the D to A string in lower positions.

    On the shelf I have a brand new Spiro low B I’ll tune up to C one rainy day. I do not expect any miracles. My string safari is pretty much over.
    Last edited: Aug 27, 2020
  14. Calvin Marks

    Calvin Marks Supporting Member

    Oct 22, 2017
    I dunno I just never liked the Dominant fifths setup. After I had a bad hand injury I used dominant solos strings tuned down to orchestral pitch in fourths and that was actually a nice experience. The open D and the F# tuned to G is incredibly harsh to my ear on the majority of basses.
  15. BarfanyShart


    Sep 19, 2019
    DC Metro
    For a long time my regular setup was a spiro weich E, and the rest tuned down dominant solos. I had the solos on the top strings for my senior recital in college and would tune them down for my ensembles, and I kind of just left them like that for a few years after graduating.
    piggywiddle likes this.
  16. Calvin Marks

    Calvin Marks Supporting Member

    Oct 22, 2017
    What do ppl think about a low c string in fifths? I’ve always found it to be much less powerful than using an extension because the string length is so much shorter...same goes for a 5 string
  17. Extension and low B/C strings are often higher tension than fifth C strings.

    Most 3/4 bodied instruments don’t sound good below E (and maybe even below A). I have no problem with my 4/4 110 cm 5-string with a low B (in case I will restring it again from my high C).

    It really depends on the instrument and on the size of the box (and that also includes the top).
    piggywiddle likes this.
  18. Rod Sroufe

    Rod Sroufe

    Jan 31, 2015
    Van Wert, OH
    I have a new Pietro Moretti Amati large 3/4 bass that I bought just over a week ago. I’ve now switched it to Spiro bottom two and Obligato top 2 fifths tuning. The low C Spiro sounds deep and powerful in my studio. I’ve not had that bass in a hall yet to have a feel for it’s sound in the real world. I’d say though it’s just as powerful as my Shen Rogeri low C extension string (also Spiro). The Rogeri is an even larger bass with deeper ribs. I’m just as happy with both setups currently. We’ll see how the Moretti performs in a hall someday I hope!!
  19. Calvin Marks

    Calvin Marks Supporting Member

    Oct 22, 2017
    Very hard to find a bass that lets you play on the low C string with clarity all the way up the heel of the neck.
  20. CaseyVancouver


    Nov 4, 2012
    Hard to totally beat the extension long string length but you can get super close.
    So close that playing skill, in my situation, seems more valuable than a tiny bit better sound.

    Side by side, my newer Venetian copy 7/8ths bass 42” RM C string is very close (but not absolutely as good) to an extension Spiro C on a fine 100 year old Italian 3/4 bass. Recorded with my phone, I cannot hear the difference later ...but live the extension was just a wee bit deeper. Keep in mind this old Italian bass is possibly the nicest sounding classical bass in town.

    Not $80,000 better. Not enough to make me install an extension or get an old Italian. Close enough to rattle gold fillings and windows. Close enough to convince me to work on my skills and feel at rest with my gear.

    My low C (and G) gets played not just to heel but all the way to the end of the fingerboard in practice time as recommended by Rabbath. It sounds clear and musical.

    All imho of course :)
    Last edited: Aug 30, 2020
    Chris Symer and Povl Carstensen like this.
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