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Just getting started: 5 string or 4?

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by Balog, Mar 23, 2009.

  1. Balog


    Mar 19, 2009
    Mukilteo, WA
    After a lot of years of putting it off, I've finally decided to get serious and learn to play the bass. I've been scouring the local classifieds, and trying to read up on here so I can make an informed decision.

    One thing I'm still on the fence about is number of strings. For some reason I love 5 string basses; the look, the concept, everything. However, I'm not very musically inclined to start with, and adding an extra string to the mix just seems like it would make an already tough task even more difficult.

    I know it's a subjective question, but how much more difficult to learn is 5 string versus 4 string? Are 5 strings considered more for "advanced" bassists, or are they just a different experience than 4's?
  2. orestes71


    May 14, 2008
    Honestly I learned on a 5 but I was given a 4. At first the 5th isnt needed but the extra string is nice to have. Get a 5 doesn't hurt to have but I do warn you its a tad harder if you dont have your fingers conditioned.
  3. 5-string basses have five strings; 4-string basses have four. I'm intentionally being cynical, I play both although most of mine are 5's because of the music I play. I think that should be your most important consideration, what type of instrument is most commonly used for the musical style(s) you intend to play the most. I suggest starting out with the bass that is most comfortable in your fretting hand, then branch out from there. A lot of people on this forum have success with SX/Essex basses.
  4. Aaron M

    Aaron M

    Oct 7, 2007
    On the subject of 4 vs. 5, get the 5. More than just having the increased lower range, the B string allows you to play stuff that's a stretch down low on the 4 up the neck on the 5 where it's easier. A 5 isn't necessarily any more difficult to learn than a 4.

    But, that said, buy the best instrument you can for your money. You'll be much happier and less likely to be held back by your instrument. I'd rather have a quality 4-string than a lesser quality 5er.
  5. All the guys here will give you their personal opinios, but with respect, I think that is more easier to know the instrument wih a 4 string. An extra string is nice when you really dominate all the basics but if you really want to learn slap, the extra string can be a really unconfortable thing at the begining. Just personal opinion. Learn with a 4, run the neck and then go to a 5 and get the extra sound.
  6. LevinFan


    Aug 4, 2008
    Louisville Ky
    IMHO, a bass is much easier to play than a guitar. I'm right handed, and while I've experienced fatigue on my left hand, and sometimes cramping, I've never had either problem with a bass.

    I just got my first 5 string two weeks ago, a Peavey Foundation, and it only took about an hour to get used to the wider neck. And actually, I've found it's more comfortable than my 4 string Lakland. Doesn't make sense, because I've got short fingers, but it's true in my case.

    For years, I thought a 5 would be harder to learn to play han a 4. Now that I have a 5, I've found that not to be true at all. So I'd suggest getting a 5.

    US built Peaveys are the best bet imo. They can be had for the same price as the entry level imports, and unlike the imports, you can get your money back for them if you decide to upgrade. I came very close to ordering an SX 5 string, and I almost bought a OLP 5 at a pawn shop. But after reading the good things said about the Peavey's here on TB, and considering the ridiculously low price they sell for, it was a no brainer.
  7. boamedt

    boamedt Supporting Member

    Jul 2, 2008
    Santa Rosa, Ca
    i started with a 4, and left for a 5 in four or less months. might as well of started with the 5. i would have already been used to the strings. but my dad had a 4 string, so i wasnt picky
  8. Balog


    Mar 19, 2009
    Mukilteo, WA
    I can't afford lessons at the moment, so I'll be learning from books/videos. Will it be more difficult to find material for a 5er than for a more standard 4?
  9. Bryan R. Tyler

    Bryan R. Tyler TalkBass: Usurping My Practice Time Since 2002 Staff Member Administrator Gold Supporting Member

    May 3, 2002
    Not if you're learning standard notation. Music doesn't care how many strings you have. Tab may be an issue though.

    It'll be more difficult to switch to a 5 once you've learned on a 4 than if you just started on the 5 to begin with, so if your goal is to play 5-string, then start on a 5-string.
  10. boamedt

    boamedt Supporting Member

    Jul 2, 2008
    Santa Rosa, Ca
    "I can't afford lessons at the moment, so I'll be learning from books/videos. Will it be more difficult to find material for a 5er than for a more standard 4?"

    no, usually what i do is learn it the "4string way" and then just transfer it over to use with the 5th string. some bass line are more comfortable because you can use your 5th string and not move your hand out of the normal bass line to hit that "one" note in the line. some songs you can do mostly or all on the five, you just gotta figure out where the notes are on the 5th string. hint: ocataves will help alot to find notes on the 5th string. so learn it off the videos/books for 4 strings. then learn to use the 5th string in the line.
  11. UncleFluffy


    Mar 8, 2009
    Head Tinkerer, The Flufflab
    5 means you can play along with old Sabbath tracks without having to downtune. This is a significant consideration... ;)
  12. Low Main

    Low Main Supporting Member

    Nov 27, 2004
    I think it's OK to start with a 5 - there are some decent ones out there for not much money.

    However, if you get into it and find that something is not quite right and eventually decide that the four is really where you need to be, don't fight the feeling. That's what happened to me. I just came to realize I was happier and more comfortable with the four.

    I keep some basses tuned down to DGCF, and I have an old EBS octave pedal on hand if needed. That pretty much takes care of my ultra low end needs.

    Once I settled on playing a four, I started trying various different string sets to find ones I liked. I think it's harder to find good five string sets than four string sets. And more costly too.

    I know some five string players that still haven't found a B string they really, truly like even after much searching and trying.
  13. Scootr117


    Mar 11, 2009
    I would go with a five......I bought a 4 string to start out (playing country) and now I'm finding I either need to detune a step or play the needed note an octave over....will be buying a 5-string soon....just need to play some paying gigs to raise some cash...
  14. LevinFan


    Aug 4, 2008
    Louisville Ky
    Nothing is more frustrating than working up an original killer riff, and reaching for that low D that isn't there.

    Only 4 I'll ever buy again will be a fretless.
  15. I'm sure I'll get donked on for saying this...I say learn on a four...learn to get all you can out of it then go to a five...to me the trick of the low B string is knowing when to use it... (not counting drop tuned bands) its way over used by beginners
  16. Mojo-Man


    Feb 11, 2003

    Simply answer.
    Play whatever you like best?
    There is no right or wrong.
    If you need a low B, or high C then play a 5er.
  17. pringlw


    Nov 22, 2008
    Seattle Area
    I'm with you. I'd learn on a 4. As someone else said, especially if you want to slap. It's not that throwing in the extra string will completely mess you up its just that I'm a believer in learning the basic instrument before you deal with "optional approaches" to the instrument. I would also recommend starting with fretted vs fretless at first (for example).
  18. not trying to argue...learning to play and playing is two different things...you don't start off a drummer with a double bass pedal....you get him to get the most out of one before using two...different but the same... unless he is playing bass for sevendust or something I think learning the basics should be first....I'm no teacher but a few kids at the church asked me to show them how to play a bass...I wont let them play a five yet and I wont teach them slap until they get the hang of playing basic scales, staying in the pocket, and have a fundamental understanding on how music should be constructed.
  19. There are so many threads on this subject already, but you're new here, and it is hard to search using "4 or 5" being less than 3 characters each

    If you like music that uses uses low B or if you just feel in the mood for a 5er - get a 5er

    If 4-bangers sound easier, and nothing you listen to or want to play uses low B - get a 4-banger

    In any case - go to a GC or local music stores, and try them out - you can almost camp at CG untill you find the right one. Based on manufacturer, basses have very different tones, necks, shapes/colors, and quality
  20. Fawkes007


    Sep 13, 2005
    SF Bay Area
    Whatever feels most comfortable.

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