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How long to adjust to a 5 string?

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by bumperbass, Jun 10, 2018.

  1. bumperbass

    bumperbass Supporting Member

    Jun 19, 2012
    Been playing a 4 since the late 60's and now this new band I joined does 7-8 songs that would not cut it with a 4.

    I've been learning a ton of tunes in the last three weeks, while at the same time trying to adjust to a 5.
    I seem to be lost. when I look down at the fretboard, the notes do not register in my head.
    The other day I was making notes for a few tunes. At one time I took my hand and covered up the B to my eye so my brain would lock on.

    I've done 2 live shows so far with the 5. I've gotten embarrasiingly lost a few times. I have to stay on a strict track, it seems. I cannot take any chances in wandering around the fingerboard, fearing I'll get lost.
    I'm also having trouble with left hand-right hand coordination, which means that sometimes I do not pluck the correct string. Othertimes, it's the other way around...I'll pluck the correct string but my fretting hand will be on the wrong string.

    I bought a 5'er with 19mm string spacing, thinking it would be an easier transition from my PBass.

    I'd guess I have 50-100 hours on the 5.

    For those of you who have made the switch, how long did it take you to get comfortable, and
    do you have any tips for an old rocker like me?

    I have the gift of tenacity, but if the answer is simply "You have to keep doing it until it comes to you", I don't know if I have the time.
    I'm wondering if it's worth it (literally.....how long will I be out there playing live?).
    Is it worth the effort for a few more years of live playing?
  2. Better to grow than not, ain’t it?
    Max Blasto and Hounddog like this.
  3. bumperbass

    bumperbass Supporting Member

    Jun 19, 2012
    Yes it is. But if it's gonna take 2 years to play a 5 as good as I play a 4 now, I don't know if it's worth it. All the guys I see that play 4's are still playing 4's. That includes those that have achieved commercial success playing 4's.
    Monzo likes this.
  4. I started on a 4. Didn’t take me too long to get used to a 5. I think it’s mostly about motivation. When I got my first five all my favorite bass players were playing 5 strings so I was pretty determined. I’ve noticed most people who don’t succeed at getting comfortable with a 5 are folks whose bass idols only played 4s.

    Something I did that helped my get used to the 6 and 7 string basses I had was I used color coated strings to easily see where the eadg strings were. You can do this by ordering a 4 string set of strings and then ordering single DR neons for the low b or if it’s getting used to a 6 string the high C as well. Looks goofy but it really helps imo
  5. bumperbass

    bumperbass Supporting Member

    Jun 19, 2012
    The colored strings are a great idea! Thanks. I'd feel like I was painting by the numbers, though.
    elkkid2 likes this.
  6. Yeah but I only did that for a couple weeks, just enough time to where I built up enough muscle memory to play without looking at my fretting hand so much and it worked. Wasn’t like I had multi colored strings on the bass for a year or anything
    bumperbass likes this.
  7. After having played nothing but a P and a J, I finally invested in a 5-string just this past month.

    I was quite surprised how quickly I was able to adjust and feel very comfortable within a day or two. Yes, there have been a few accidents along the way, where I either fretted on a wrong string or plucked a wrong one. But for the most part, it's been a fairly easy transition for me.

    By the way, my 5-string has a neck width of 43 mm at the nut and 18 mm spacing at the bridge, which seems to work very well when switch back and forth with my P and J.
    ak56 and lfmn16 like this.
  8. chris_b


    Jun 2, 2007
    The different shapes on a 5 string will become second nature if you stick at it.

    It's a learning curve and you will overcome all the difficulties and uncomfortable feelings if you keep at it.
    Hounddog and retslock like this.
  9. bass12

    bass12 Say "Ahhh"... Supporting Member

    Jun 8, 2008
    Montreal, Canada
    I didn't take too well to the first two 5 strings I bought. The few times I gigged with them it was a struggle. My third 5 was the charmer. With that bass it suddenly just worked and I was able to gig with it confidently, with little time necessary for adjustment. So the right bass can make all the difference. Beyond that, it's just about taking the time to play through some exercises that require you to think about where you are on the bass note-wise.
    Passinwind, Wisebass and wmmj like this.
  10. Scott Lynch

    Scott Lynch Supporting Member

    Nov 27, 2002
    Delaware, USA
    I started on a 4 and recall it taking a little time. Learning the fretboard wasn't much of a problem but when first getting into 5ers I recall a couple of times, when intending to lay down a nice strong open E, accidentally playing an open B instead.... whoops. :laugh:
    bkbirge, S-Bigbottom and retslock like this.
  11. petrus61

    petrus61 Supporting Member

    IME, it can depend on a few things, such as string spacing (a big one for me), scale (I can’t stand 35”scale), radius (does the bass you’re used to playing have a flatter or rounder radius than the the other one?), and neck shape. I’m at a stage where I can go back and forth between 5’s and 4’s with ease as far as knowing where the notes are and what string I’m playing, but technique wise I find some of the details I pointed out above can make a pretty big deal when adjusting for comfort. Some people don’t notice such things, but I’m not one of them. For years I couldn’t get along with 5’s until I realized I had simply been playing the ones I didn’t know weren’t right for me.
  12. I regularly switch between 4/5 low b/ 5 high c/6 and upright and the only way it works is to spend a period of time with ONE configuration until its natural. When I first got a 5 I played it exclusively for a year before going back to 4's and then the same when I got 6. Ya have to make the new thing the norm for a time to really absorb it.
  13. JGbassman

    JGbassman Supporting Member

    May 31, 2011
    It took me about a month or so of playing it every day if I remember correctly. The trick was to immerse yourself in the fiver, not playing your four string until it feels natural.

    I played a four string for 20+years before I adjusted to a fiver. I've had one in my arsenal for about 7-8 years now, and I float back and forth seamlessly between the two.

    Anything in life that's rewarding takes time to accomplish. You simply have to have the mental drive to do it.

    How bad do you really want to learn it?

    Of course you could put a d-tuner on a four string and go thst route as well. (I have them in my precisions and they are nice to grab a d (or lower) every now and then.
  14. I think Brad has the right game plan.
    I made a point of playing my 5er a lot the first year.
    One thing i did that helped was to play the things that would work just fine on a 4,
    by treating the 5th fret E like the E string and using the lowest 4 strings like a 4.
    It got me used to playing on the 5 and at the same time I was aware that if I
    needed to go lower, I could just slide down.
    There is something about the familiarity of a 4 and at the same time feeling the 5
    in your hands that helps the transition.
    Once I was used to that, I started to look for stuff I played in D and using the 3rd fret on the B.
    That makes you grasp the use for those lower notes.
    Soon you start to look for reasons to use the B string.:laugh:

    Oh, and I started playing in the mid 60s, so there was a LOT of habit to overcome.
    Wisebass, Daniel-exx and interp like this.
  15. interp

    interp Supporting Member

    Apr 14, 2005
    Garmisch, Germany
    It took me about ten days of playing a lot. To me, it’s a perceptional matter; once I realized that my five string has a standard four string built into it and stopped thinking about the string nearest me as an E string, things got a lot easier.

    Also, I think bilingual individuals already have the brain plasticity that it takes to switch back and forth between mental modes.
    reddog, Kragnorak, Wisebass and 4 others like this.
  16. jchrisk1

    jchrisk1 Supporting Member

    Nov 15, 2009
    Northern MI
    I've played fours forever. I tried a couple of fives, but couldn't get used to them, so I stuck with fours. I recently traded for a six and am getting better at it. It's a bit of a learning curve for sure. I spend all of my practice time using the sixer and it's been getting better. I'm still not ready to use it for a gig though, other than open mic. I find I have to pay attention more with the six, and when I start getting comfortable with the music, I regress into playing it like a four and forget I have extra strings now. Just keep practicing. It gets easier.
  17. I went to fives exclusively in the late 80's. Me too, for a while, I thought I'd NEVER get it.

    I'd take the 4 and 5 both to the gig. I'd start on the 5, and yep, in about 5-10 songs my head was spinning, and I'm getting 'those looks' from the other guys. So I'd bail, go back to the 4 and never touch it the rest of the night.

    After about a week of this, it dawned on me I was getting nowhere fast. We were steadily booked and working 5-6 nights a week, and the next week we were playing an 'animal house' that paid well, but was full of so many drunks and street pharmacists nobody cared what we played or sounded like as long as we kept up a steady 'background noise' to their activities.

    I told the guys this was the perfect place for me to get this dog brought to heel, and they said it sure is. So every night I brought only the five and at the end of the week, I had made a big jump, got it under my hands, and went on from there.

    If I'd had the opportunity to keep backing away from it, it would have taken forever. It really was a lot harder to a doofuss like me than just telling myself 'all the strings just moved down one spot . . . . . '. I'm sure there are some guys that just jumped on it and ran with it, but I'm such a rocket scientist I got a five as I could never get the hang of a DeTuner !
    Pendulous likes this.
  18. Lock your 4s away and force yourself to only play the 5er. It’s the only way. I was about to smugly declare that it didn’t take me very long to adjust to my first 5 but in reality it was because it was the only bass I played for a solid year and a half. I HAD to get used to it, fast. There was no alternative.
    BigNotes likes this.
  20. I agree...you have to put the four aside and force yourself to use the five. After awhile it will become easier to play the five and you will find yourself enjoying those lower notes
    quickfix likes this.

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