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Five String Choices

Discussion in 'Basses [DB]' started by Ashley Long, Jan 6, 2006.

  1. Ashley Long

    Ashley Long

    Jan 3, 2004
    Hi everybody,

    Im looking for a new bass for concerto and recital work with occasional use for orchestra and chamber music although I have a larger bass for this purpose. As most of the music I perform is 20th century, I require a five string but it must also be small, no larger than 3/4 size. I know of the Bob Gollihur basses and Im seriously thinking of one as my budget is only about $4000-$5000. What do you guys who own these basses think of them or do you know of any others?

    All the best

  2. Dr Rod

    Dr Rod

    Aug 19, 2005
    I don't know the basses you just mentioned, but I have played 5 string basses for about 10 years, so maybe I can help.

    A 3/4 five string bass is not something you will find often, so if those basses you've seen fit that description, you should consider them very seriously.

    A 3/4 four string with an extension is something you will find more often. I have never had one, but I know some people that sound really good on those. You can even get an extra long extension down to a low B, separate clamps every half step, mechanical machines (there are good ones too) etc...

    I LOVE 5 string basses, but in your case I would really ask myself: Does it have to be a 5 string?
  3. Ashley Long

    Ashley Long

    Jan 3, 2004
    Hey Dr Rod,

    Ive been using a four with an extension and I find it limiting in terms of the speed the string speaks and the ability to play quickly in that range. I need it to be a 3/4 maximum for playing in the extreme uper registers mainly and for the ease of playing generally. Thanks for your help man.
  4. KSB - Ken Smith

    KSB - Ken Smith Banned Commercial User

    Mar 1, 2002
    Perkasie, PA USA
    Owner: Ken Smith Basses, Ltd.
    We have discussed size of Basses here in over 100 threads. I think that there are many variables here in regards to size but more importantly, playability.

    I currently have a 5-string converted from a 4-string. I would call this Bass a 7/8 because of it's length with matching bout width and rib depth. The String length is only 41 1/4" and is one of the shortest Basses I have seen at that size. I can reach the harmonics past the FB with ease as well.

    I think that in order to get the benifit of the 'low B' the Bass should be big enough to reproduce the fundamental of the note and not just some scratchy upper harmonics.

    DR.Rod has his credentials from Europe where the 5-string Bass is normal in all orchestras when the notes are written below the staff. Two things you rarely see on a European Bass is 1) a C extension and 2) an adjustable bridge. I am going to rely on Dr. Rod to be one of TBs Orchestral Consultants as he is one of the few that have such experience. By the way, Welcome to TB.

    Here is link to my 5er and I wish I could have Dr.Rod nearby to come over and evaluate it for me both in the Tone and set-up/playability. Here; http://www.kensmithbasses.com/DoubleBasses/Mystery2/Hungarian.htm

    I too believe the 5 is needed for the faster low Passages. In Beeth 5th, the Ext is hard to use but managable with the fingered Ext. With the Brandenberg concertos the 5er is better than the Ext. In the Trout with only a few notes in the last movement the Ext. is better because the 5th string is there and in the way a bit for the entire piece when you only use the E string as the lowetst string most of the time.

    Anyway, good luck on finding a playable 3/4 5er with a decent B string tone.
  5. guadanini


    Nov 29, 2005
    Two things you rarely see on a European Bass is 1) a C extension ....

    You can see basses with extensions Mostly in England, and some in Spain and Italy.
    T.Martin Basses are made with Extensions , both sistems,(fingered or not) and five strings if the player prefer .Poolman is not friendly of extensions and they just made 5 strings basses.

    2) an adjustable bridge.

    yes that´s true. Is very unusual. Just some jazz players .
  6. godoze


    Oct 21, 2002
    do a search on gollihurs db's and you should find some info.

    EDIT: If you may permit me i will tell you about the Kremona bass that i owned.

    The first thing i noticed about the bass is that it is very heavily wooded. The varnish seems to be some kind of sprayed on thick stuff which is given to spyder cracks...as you would find on a bg with a lacquer finish.

    The neck is VERY wide and very thick. The setup out of the box was ok. On mine I had to adjust the nut and do a little work on the fb.

    The tuners are ok.

    I tried many sets of strings on this bass and overall the bass had fairly low projection. Guts were silent. Corelli's a bit louder. Spiro's actually helped it get louder but for arco Spiro's are not your best choice. You have to really work this bass to get volume out of it.

    I have played several other 5 string basses since owning that one and the necks were much more comfortable.

    I think that if you must have a 5 string Bob may be the guy to get one from. I think the next step might be a Shen but they are in the 7k range.
  7. KSB - Ken Smith

    KSB - Ken Smith Banned Commercial User

    Mar 1, 2002
    Perkasie, PA USA
    Owner: Ken Smith Basses, Ltd.
    Yes, on that part of the world you are correct especially the UK. My point of refrence was mainly Germany and Austria where Dr.Rod has worked and where many of the Composers come from. Tunings varied thru the 17, 18 and 19th centuries and sometime in the late 18th century the first 5-srting 'Double' Basses appear. Tunings in 5ths were also common before but with 42-44" String Lengths this made it difficult to play. Around the 18-19th century England, France and Italy were mainly 3-string with Germany and Austria being 4 and 5-string. I have seen maybe 2 blockless wonders from Germany with 3 strings but tons of Italian, English and German Basses that were made as 3-stringers. The English believed back then that the Bass sounded good only down to A or G but often had sections mixed with 4-string Basses. The term Double Bass comes from Doubling the 'Cello part which 'was' the Bass back then. It seems that the DB was the 'black sheep' of the string family and did not find it's rightful place or tuning untill the mid 19th century with the tuning actually settling only after the 1st quater of the 20th century.

    The Ext. was invented to be a cheap fix for not having a 5er. There were a few experiments in the UK with Ext's and 5ers that led to the current variety of Ext's now available. Still, the real way to play ALL the notes is with the 5-string.
  8. godoze


    Oct 21, 2002
    Ash, why not get an extension ? I have played a few basses with extensions and it seems that once you get used to having the extra component to worry about all is well.
  9. KSB - Ken Smith

    KSB - Ken Smith Banned Commercial User

    Mar 1, 2002
    Perkasie, PA USA
    Owner: Ken Smith Basses, Ltd.
    Well, if you don't mind playing some of the passages sloppy or playing a few notes up the octave from time to time, the Ext. will do just fine.

    To see if your Bass can take one without cutting into the Scroll useing your Bow tightened, place the Hair along the Fingerboard/Neck joint surface with the Tip of the Bow just past the Scroll up in the air and the rest of the Bow as far down the FB joint to make sure you have the Joint lined up all the way with the Bow hair. If the Hair is touching the Scroll or into the Scroll then the Plane of the Neck/Scroll will not allow an Ext without the Cut. If the Hair is above the Scroll for 1/4" or more then and Ext. is physically possible with only a Hole thru the head for the String.

    Now for the Sound, try de-tuning your E-string to a C and play it for ahwile. Listen to see if you get close to 50% fundamental on the C-Eb notes. If the Bass sounds full down there than it will be a good Bass for a Low C ext. If your E sounds thin already and weaker that the rest of the notes, then have a second look at it by the Luthier making the Ext. to see if it is something he can fix. The Ext. often opens up the bottom register some but is not a cure-all for weak bottomed Basses.
  10. Dr Rod

    Dr Rod

    Aug 19, 2005
    Hey Ashley, I understand your point with the fingering problems of extensions. But this can be trained, have you heard Edgar Meyer play his extension ? (I know it's terribly unfair to use Edgar as an example, please forgive)

    Like I said before, I love 5 string basses more than anything but...

    You already know that with a 5 string you usually have a better left hand performance in the low register, but a diminished right hand performance accross the whole register if the bass is poorly set up. The B string clearance is often an issue, or the clearance between strings. This is a big problem when there is no extra room to work with, like on smaller 5 string basses. These are not problems without a solution, but the solutions are usually expensive (neck, fingerboard, bridge alterations or replacements).You see, for you to be able to bow a fortissimo without hitting the adjacent strings, you need enough vertical and horizontal clearance between strings but.... The more clearance you give the strings between each other, the more you compromise the clearance with the C bout on both sides. It's a catch 22.

    Sometimes the bridge alone gets replaced, to give more curve and horizontal clearance, and you end up with an unmatched bridge and fingerboard curve. This is actually a 5 string classic. Your end result is a very low string hight for the G and B strings and a very high one for the middle strings. Very unpleasant.

    This clearance problem also means that you have less room for each string. It is a big problem when you need to play in thumb position. The G string is usually very far near the edge of the fingerboard, so the angle of your left hand and arm are not usually very comfortable at all, and your bowing angle for the G string is very restricted as well.

    You will be amazed at how many very poorly set up 5 string basses you will find in Germany (the 5 string country par excellence). So your clean left hand work is not usually audible behind the constant rattling. The big orchestras like Berlin Phil don't have these issues obviously.

    Do you need to play fast low notes? a five string might give you left hand ease, but the string is so thick that you very often loose definition within 10 feet. If you amplify you won't have this problem I think, but I am no expert in this field.

    To be fair, when I decided to buy my 5 string, everyone advised me against it, and I am glad I didn't listen. So I think if your gut says that you're a 5 string man, then go for it.

    Thanks for your vote of confidence Ken Smith.
  11. Snakewood

    Snakewood Guest

    Dec 19, 2005
    I would only consider a mechanical extension to be honest. I currently have a fingered and it is extremely slow going especially for stuff like Shostakovich and extreme beethoven runs. A five string is iddeal but it will be hard to find one that isn't 7/8 and doesn't have a fairly long string length. I once saw a five string with a string length of 105.5 cm, that's quite small for a five string...you just gotta hunt around!
  12. KSB - Ken Smith

    KSB - Ken Smith Banned Commercial User

    Mar 1, 2002
    Perkasie, PA USA
    Owner: Ken Smith Basses, Ltd.
    Dr. Rod and Snakewood (first names like mike and joe would be easier!), please have a look at my 5er and tell me what you think about it's size and set-up; http://www.kensmithbasses.com/DoubleBasses/Mystery2/Hungarian.htm

    This was a large bodied 7/8 4-string with 3/4 String length that Arnold Schnitzer converted for me. The Spacing at the Bridge is 1"/25.4mm. The Nut is about 3/8" or 9-10mm. The strings are close to the edge but playable. The new FB is highly arched and the height is 5-10mm G-B at the end of the FB. The G and B bouts are ok but I occassionally hit the Corners with the tip or screw/frog with my Bow. It's tight but playable. I have not played many concerts with it yet as I like to choose only what I need for each concert. I choose either a 4 (reg. or loud cannon Bass), 4/ext (only Martini now) or my 5. If I have low notes I practice those parts with both Basses to see if I really need a 5. I don't bring the 5 unless I have to and can't play it on the Ext.

    My Ext. Bass is a much finer instrument than my 5er but I love them equally as I do all my Basses past, present and future. The best sweetest sounding Basses I have are just 4 strings.

    For now, I practice in Bille book 1 to learn basics with the 5th string and then I go thru Excerpts looking for Low note parts to play on the 5er. I am also working on the Brandenburg 3 Bach in Vol. III of Zimermanns Excerpt book series. I did Beeths 5th and a Shostakovich with some slower moving low parts with a Fingered Extension on a 7/8 Morelli with a 42 3/8" String Length.

    That 'B' String is a beast. I currently have a set with G/D reg Flex and A/E/B in Perms. I have a spare new unused set of Jaegar 5s in the Forte/heavy Gauge as a backup. I tried a Pollmann b4 getting my 5 that had Flexs and a Jaegar med./blue B. That was plenty thick bot bowed with medium pressure. The Forte/reds Jaegars need more on the A and E as I have used them but I fear the B might kill me.

    Practicing 5-string Bass for an hour or 2 is borderline physical punishment. I guess it's our way of paying for our past sins in private...lol
  13. Dr Rod

    Dr Rod

    Aug 19, 2005

    The bass looks beautiful, and it's past intriguing (in a good way).

    I don't know what to tell you, I think I would have to play it. I can safely say that it looks in good shape and that the string lenght is nice.

    My first name is Rod, sorry about that.
  14. HAH!
  15. My name is Paul....I play a five string double bass and have for many years. It's a nice bass too. Only jazz though.
    You can see it in John Sprague's The Talkbasses version 2 Eye Candy, under the Basses heading.....
    By the way, gambas and violones, lutes and other stringed instruments with the rosettas were not uncommon in the 1600 to1700's.
    By the way, my fingerboard is laid over the B' side to make for a slimmer neck. Of course, in those days, they didn't have luthiers like Arnold walking around....trying to dress a five string board can be a real challenge
  16. Heifetzbass

    Heifetzbass Commercial User

    Feb 6, 2004
    Upstate, SC
    Owner, Gencarelli Bass Works and Fine String Instruments, LLC.

    Good to see you back... was hoping this would get your attention.

  17. KSB - Ken Smith

    KSB - Ken Smith Banned Commercial User

    Mar 1, 2002
    Perkasie, PA USA
    Owner: Ken Smith Basses, Ltd.

    Paul, mine was a 4-string with a full sized neck able to handle 12mm spacing. What Arnold did was to center the 5-string Fb and fan it out equally on both sides. I can play it as a 4-string or reach down to the B for lower noted below E when needed. I feel like im in 1st grade here..lol

    I was curious about the overhang on your Bass (or any other 5ers reading this) of the FB past the outsides of each string at the Nut and End of Fb and what String spacing you use at both ends. We may have disscussed this in the Past but I don't recall.

    Mine is spaced 11mm at the nut and 1" at the Bridge from the center of each string. The Ebony overhang past the outsides of the Strings is 3mm at the nut and 11mm at the end of the Fb. Measuring the String arch at the Bridge under the strings the cleareance is about 18mm in the center. It bows tight but that keeps me honest!

    Good to see you up here again OLD buddy.. Kinda makes me feel instantly younger 'Uncle' Pauly!
  18. As is Bill, Jim, Red, Scotty and a few others incuding my bass.
  19. godoze


    Oct 21, 2002
    Slimmer neck ? I went to the Doctor's yesterday and he told me to lose wieght so maybe i'll have a slimmer neck myself in a few months...

    back OT... If i ever get another 5 string i think i will have a high C instead of a low b...
  20. KSB - Ken Smith

    KSB - Ken Smith Banned Commercial User

    Mar 1, 2002
    Perkasie, PA USA
    Owner: Ken Smith Basses, Ltd.

    Yes, and loosing wEIght may also help you spelling and vision over the keyboard. Also Hi-Cs are for Sissys Donnie..(unless you also have a Low B, then you just plain Nuts.. DB-wise that is... oops!)

    By the way, my FB is 1 7/8" wide at the nut and 3 7/8" wide at the end of the FB.