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HELP! 5 or 6 string!? Help me decide!

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by rkrysl, Aug 29, 2007.

  1. rkrysl


    Aug 23, 2007
    Here is the deal. I am buying a bass, my first bass to be exact. I am having a tough time deciding on whether to get a 5 or a 6 string. I have heard that with a 6 string you can play across the fretboard and not have to play up and down it so much. This is appealing to me. But could this also be done on a 5 string strung EADGC, or is the B actually needed to accomplish this? Also, if I did get a 5 and use EADGC would I find I wish I had that B? I cant think of any other questions right now...please be helpfull...I am buying either a 5 or 6...I dont want to hear people saying "so and so did it on 4", or "6's suck"...thats just unproductive. Also, if anyone has any other tips on "added bonuses" of a 5 or 6 string bass...please let me know!!!

  2. That's funny: A few year's ago I asked myself the same question as you do now. With this difference that I started to play bass from the 70s. I decided to buy a cheap but decent and used six string because it's impossible to know how it works out within an hour or so in some shop. If this wouldn't work out, I knew I could sell it for about the same amount of money.
    I tried all sorts of styles: Also chords and like a classical guitar. It's nice when you play alone or together with a melodic instrument. Together with a piano or synth can work out also. But as soon as there is some kind of guitarplayer involved I noticed that the high C (or B as I tuned it most of the time) had nothing to do with bass any more. When I was playing walking bass the notes on this sixth string kind of vanished in the mix.
    Besides this it's harder to play a six string bass because of the neck dimensions.
    Most of the time I play bass in a rock band (when I do jazz I'm playing upright). So this sixth string wasn't of any use to me. Now I play five strings (with or without frets) from B to G all the time and use them all about equally.
    Perhaps in your situation a sixer can be more suitable. It all depends on what you wanna do with it.
  3. lefty007


    Jan 19, 2004
    Miami, FL
    Pretty simple. Your decision should be based in what type of music you are plannning to play, and in what settings.

    5-strings are good if you will be backing up a busy band that puts most of its attention in the singer(s) and other soloist (guitar, trumpet, etc.) If you aren't going to solo much, playing a 6-string does not make much sense, IMO.

    If on the other hand you are planning to develop solo techniques and compositions and see yourself taking solos in a band setting, or if you will be playing in a setting that lends itself to covering a wide note range (in a jazz fusion trio, for example) then a 6-string can be beneficial.

    I went through that experience. I started playing a 6-string with my 10-piece band. I seldom take solos in that band, so it felt totally unnecessary to have an extra high C if I never used it.

    Playing at home, though, I can appreciate the extra high C when composing and playing solo, although I gave up 6-strings and usually have a 4-string strung up ADGC.
  5. Basseroni


    Oct 17, 2006
    Southern California
    Endorsing Artist: Aguilar Amplification, Dunlop/MXR
    I would first ask myself these questions. Answer them honestly and you will come to your own conclusion.

    1. Why not a 4-string?
    2. Is playing below the lowest E on a 4-string important to me?
    3. How often will I use the C-string on a 6 or the B-string on a 5?
    4. Is the C-string and/or B-string instrumental in what I'm trying to accomplish musically?

    The answers to these questions will not be the same for everyone but I hope they will help you make the right decision for your situation.
  6. bassjigga


    Aug 6, 2003
    I prefer 5. I don't use the notes below E much and if I do want to I can simply change tuning. I also found I don't like the way the B string sounds once you get higher than the first 5-7 frets so using it as a means of shifting less does not work out for me either. I string my 5s EADGC. To me the C is much more useful. But like others have said, it will depend on your playing situation and your voice.
  7. rkrysl


    Aug 23, 2007
    Thanks for the answers! I have decided to go for the 5! YAY! Decision made...now all I have to do is wait for the auction to end!

    Thanks again!!!
  8. hunta


    Dec 2, 2004
    Washington, DC
    You sound like me when I got started. My first bass was a 5-string fretted (fender squier), my second was 6-string fretless (carvin). I've actually been playing electric bass for about 15 years and just bought my first 4-string last year.

    These are the different PROs and CONs in my opinion:

    4 String
    PRO: Easier to play, wider string spacing, forces you to shift (good or bad depends how you look at it, more later)
    CON: Less range

    5 String (BEADG)
    PRO: Low B thumps, great for heavier styles
    CON: Lots of 5 strings have crappy B strings

    6 String
    PRO: Huge range, great for "soloists", lots of chordal options
    CON: Strings are super close together, "clutter", can you resist noodling?

    If you've decided to go for a 5 or 6, I'd recommend to try one of each out at the shop, see what pulls you in. It's up to you! Over the years I moved more towards a 4. I found that after playing a 6 for a long time, I was avoiding the upper registers of the neck simply because I didn't have to go there. I'd stay in one position just because I could, and I think that creates a lot of bad habits. You might think it's awesome to never have to shift, but one day a light comes on and you understand shifting isn't a bad thing.
  9. gjooro


    Mar 27, 2006
    That happened to me. I play in a band (bass, guitar, drums) and I have lot solos and I was thinking of 6 for really long time and than I decided that I should get 5 tuned EADGC.. This isn't a final decision. I'm going to buy a new bass next month,
  10. Liko


    Mar 30, 2007
    Good show. I agree totally with Basseroni; 80% of the time a standard-tuned 4-string will have the notes you want, and the decision to buy a bass with more strings should be based largely on your need for more range/flexibility.

    A 5 or 6-stringer isn't quite so much a matter of extra range (each string only gives you an extra fourth; two strings isn't even an extra octave), but more specifically extra range in a given position. Being able to jump one string instead of shifting up five frets can be a huge advantage, but only if the lines you play would otherwise have you all over the fretboard.

    I think you made a good decision with the fiver. It will allow you to play virtually any line without touching the tuning pegs, where a four-banger would require retuning. In addition, two-octave scales are a breeze: only one hand shift is required to play in two octaves in both of the two most common major scale patterns or the most common minor pattern. In addition, the fiver will allow you to largely ignore the fifth string fretting-wise if you don't need it. A sixer would require you to shift your fretting fingers down a string between a 6 and a 5 or 4, messing with muscle memory. Your plucking hand still has to remember it's there, but that, at least for me, has been easier than relearning my fretting hand would have been.
  11. Flintc


    Aug 15, 2006
    The way I see it, if you have a 6-string, you ALSO have a 5-string AND a 4-string embedded right there in your 6 strings! So the extra range (for solos and chording) is there when you need it, but there's no law that you must use the B string above the 5th fret if you don't like the sound, or use the C string at all if it competes with what others are doing.

    (I do mostly jazz/classical/folk. When I first put DR Black Beauties on my sixer, I noticed that the black coating wears off after a few months of use - and my coating wore off all six strings from about the 7th fret to the 14th. The first 4 frets showed NO wear, on any string. A really interesting illustration of how you actually USE your bass.)
  12. allexcosta


    Apr 7, 2004
    Get a 5. You'll hate slapping on a 6, and slapping is so fun!!! Plus at the gigs nobody will ever ask for a hi C but they WILL ask for a low B.
  13. nikki_k

    nikki_k the i9 project

    Apr 19, 2002
    Portland, Or
    OK, there are some who say a 6 is horrible for slapping (typically), due to string spacing (compared to 4's and 5's?). Yet I see vids of people smackin away, incredible playing, and on 6's.

    So what would peole consider the minimum string spacing at bridge and ~24 fret for decent slap-ability? (maybe that should be a new thread? Has there been one on that? Could not find one with the search...). I mean, a bass like an Ibanez SR506 is a decent price, but pretty damn skinny, spacing-wise. I would love to know if that one could be slapped up easily....

    I posted a similar question earlier this week. I am still going crazy trying to decide. I see Lokire (from here on TB) playing DT stuff, from "Change of Seasons" to simply following JP's guitar solo in Forsaken (wild to see that one!), and knowing I will be sticking to prog rock and will want to extend things a bit, the 6 makes sense. But, I do not want the 6 to limit where I caan go style-wise, and I only have the cash to do a decent fretted and fretless for a 5 or a 6, not both. Flintc wrote what I figure, in a way: with a 6, you have a 4 and a 5...but not the other way around. Even so tho, it wont feel the same as a 4 or 5..lol...
  14. nonohmic

    nonohmic Supporting Member

    Dec 13, 2005
    ABQ, NM.
    Noted on this. That is one of the main reasons I switched to 5 - so I could shift less up and down the neck. But, yeah I'm finding that I will shift back anyway to hit the further frets on the E rather than use the B. And I'm not really using the extra few lower notes anyways.

    Will definitely be back to four for me next time.
  15. YCBass


    Aug 29, 2007
    I think all the previous responses have it covered but I just wanted to chime in anyway....

    Yes, the bottom line is it depends on what you want to do.

    I played guitar first and when I switched to bass I chose a 6 string Carvin... It lasted me 7 years but after a while I noticed I wasn't using the high C at all. It's nice for solo work - I love to play chords and get cool voicings with the low B. But I personally never found a use for the 6 in band situation - though lots of guys do.

    I now play a 4 string Jazz and have a 5 on order.

    Smart move going with the 5 - it doesn't have to be final decision either - try it out and see if you want to fit in the high C in your music.
  16. Thunderitter

    Thunderitter Bass - the final frontier! Supporting Member

    Jun 6, 2007
    Starting out on bass my 2 cents worth would be get a 4 string - echoing the other posts re how much you are going to use either a 5th or a 5th and 6th string.

    A 4 string will let you work on your technique without having and over wide neck. Once you get proficient there then maybe consider more strings! Generally you'll for the same dollars (under a grand) you'll get a better 4 than the same priced 5 or 6! I'd always go for the better bass first.

    Hey, but what do I know? if you feel you need to jump, go for it with 6!
  17. Jaco did it on 4!

    (Having said that I didn't like Jaco's playing much and I play a six string.)

    I recently swapped over to six string after having played fours and fives the whole time I've been playing (Fender J was my main bass). The six string electric bass is amazing - I wouldn't go back to anything less. It's got everything you need - and my bass is quite widely spaced so it feels like any other bass! I play jazz mainly so the high string is great for a solo or for accompanying behind a drum solo or something, and the low notes and the B are great when you're walking. Just the tone you get from the thinner C string is great, and of course less reaching up the high register to play notes you would normally have to for.
  18. doctorjazz


    Oct 22, 2006
    Wilmington, NC
    One additional benefit to the 6 that hasn't been mentioned:

    If you ever have to sightread a bunch of music that goes up into the higher part of the average range for a bass (around G above middle C in some cases with the big band I played with), the C string can be handy for getting those notes without a position change, and that's one less thing to trip you up. It's also handy for adding in the occasional chord or harmonic, which can actually add a lot to your line if you do it tastefully.
  19. Ah - skip the 5 and the 6 and just go to 7! :D :bag:

    They both have there good and bad points. There is some pretty good advise in the above posts.

    String spacing can be an important one for some people - I personally hate narrow spaced 6 strings. Take your play style(s) into consideration.
  20. casio


    Aug 1, 2007
    well, I honestly believe that a 5 is more than enough for just about any tasteful player.
    You can solo on it (especialy with 24 frets), you can play the low notes and have that fat rock sound, the strings aren't horribly spaced so tou can slap/tap and all that.It's just important to get one with a good b string.

    But I also wanted to add,
    If you see yourself moving in the direction of a 5 (or more) string, get that right away. You'll get used to the neck better than you would working up from a 4, trust me!
    and the 5 is ideal there too, cause going down to a 4 isn't a hassle at all, and moving up to a 6 in time won't prove to be much of a problem (it isn't for me whenever I play one in any case)!:D

    I hope my input helps a bit:D

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