Low B, novelty or useful?

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by nanook, Oct 19, 2000.

  1. nanook


    Feb 9, 2000
    After fooling with several 5 strings, I have about decided the low B string is a waste of time.

    I can't even make out the pitch well enough to tune it. My electronic tuner can't pick it up well enough to tune it either. These are high end basses and top of the line amps. Admittedly, my tuner is second rate but my ears are first rate.

    As much as I like the idea of an additional bass string I would be ashamed to perform with notes that the audience can't make out. At some point, music becomes noise and for me, this is it. I think it is at the fringe of out hearing range so we only hear part of it. The result is a muddy undesirable sound.

    I would suggest a big bon fire and toss anything with a low B string on it. Grrrrrr
  2. Well, I wouldn't go THAT far. The more I've tried 5's lately, the more I've liked and been comfortable with them. But I will say that last year, I came to the conclusion that several of my band's songs would benefit from a well-placed D, C#, C or B.. so I got a 5, brought it to practice, and guess what? Those low notes didn't work nearly as well as I thought they were going to.
    I think it just comes down to personal preference in the end, like just about everything else we discuss at talkbass!
  3. IMO, the real benefit of a five string is being able to stop the low E and the fingering options that the extra string allows. The lower notes are cool too for stuff like octave
    displacements and chromatic approach notes, etc. On my bass
    the open B is only slightly flabby. Everything else on the B string sounds fine. Poor string quality and bad eq setting could be contributing factors to the bad sound you experienced.
  4. Try playing some music where the lower notes are required. The use of a 4-string for these songs is awkward and the texture of the song is different, in a negative way (IMHO).

    We play some songs which have low D's, C's, and B's in them. I have a new song which I will teach the choir soon which has a low-A in it (I think I'll let the keyboard play it under me. I don't like drop-tuning )! The tension of the song is lost when those notes are not there.

  5. jazzbo


    Aug 25, 2000
    San Francisco, CA
    I find the low B is useful. I've tried many different basses, and I've been very unhappy with several companies, however, I think Carvin makes a great 5-string bass. Assuming you have the right amp and speakers, I find it can really add a thump. I may not use at equally to the other strings, but on occasion, after a solo, I'll just sustain a low C, D, or B, and the crowd goes ape****. They love the feeling.
  6. jazzbo


    Aug 25, 2000
    San Francisco, CA
    Also, I like Tony Hall's use of the low B string on Harry Connick Jr's "Boozehound" from the Star Turtle album.
  7. Deynn

    Deynn Moderator Emeritus

    Aug 9, 2000
    I have two, 6 string basses...both with excellent B strings, which I use extensively.
    I also like the advantage of being able to play some of those keys...farther up the neck.
    I certainly have heard my share of bad B strings, but there are also some VERY good ones out there.
  8. ONYX


    Apr 14, 2000
    I personally would not find any use for the extra five notes. But that is just my style---I'm not critical of those who do. I've seen some interesting stuff done with the low B ( even the low F# on some 7 strings--John Turner where are you?).

    If the five string is not your bag, that's cool, but I don't think we need to "excommunicate" those who find use for it!:)
  9. Gard

    Gard Commercial User

    Mar 31, 2000
    Greensboro, NC, USA
    General Manager, Roscoe Guitars
    Nanook -

    You try that with one of my B string equipped babies, and you'll draw back a bloody stump! ;) :D

    I have never had trouble either tuning or hearing my B's, so I'm guessing you've found some pretty shoddy ones to have the opinion you do. Not that there's anything wrong with not wanting or needing a B, but some of us find them very useful and think they sound great on our basses.
  10. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    As has been said, there are good B strings on basses and bad ones. Over the last 2 years or so, I have tried literally hundreds of different 5 or 6-string basses and have quite often rejected them only because of the poor sound of the B string. I haven't found that a particular method of construction or scale length has affected this, but as with most things the overall level of contruction. Basically - cheap basses don't tend to have good B strings and most of them might as well not have that extra string for all the use it is!

    But, get a good B string and it is extremely useful. Fistly, for transposing tunes on the fly - with just 4 strings I often find that a reasonable line has gone "off the edge" - you need that low Eb for example. Secondly, it gives you more positions to play lines, so you can reduce fatigue in your fretting hand on long gigs. If you have to play every low F at the first fret on the E string, it can make your wrist ache after a while. Thirdly, the upper range ofthe B string - about the 12th fret - has a differnet tonal quality, that is very useful for getting sounds like an upight bass. If I want to get a Jazz upright sound for a walking line, I would stay around the 12th fret on the B, E and A strings to get that bassier rounder, sound. Playing the same notes around the first to third frets on higher strings sounds completely different - useable, but not like an upright bass. This variety of tones, is a benefit in itself - you are not restricted to one sound. You can have a warm round tone and then pop on the higher strings to get that crisp, abrasive sound, without having to change any EQ settings. So you can switch sounds instantaneously in songs, with no need for pedals etc.

    I think these benefits make having a 5 or 6 string worthwhile and that's without mentioning that you have a few extra notes - nothing like ending a song on a low C, gives it that air of finality that just wouldn't be the same an octave up!
  11. After over 18 years of playing on nothing but 4 string basses, I finally got my hands on a nice 5. Now, three years later, I do not know how I lived without it before. I use that string so much now that it pains me to play on a 4 string.

    My current band does most of the songs in D tuning. The guitar uses a dropped D. I can leave my bass in standard tuning and play in 3rd position. Other songs are done tuned a whole step below this, with a low C. Again, I've got it covered. Or I can tune my B up to C and play that way. For some of the D songs I tune the whole bass down a whole step and have a low A. I don't know about you but my bass and rig handles it just fine. Add that low note to a chord and it's just massive.

    Even when you don't need the extra low notes, the extra position possibilities are great, and you get a better tone! One tune I play I can play the whole thing on a 4 string, but I don't. I play in 3rd position on the B and it works great!

    Put it this way. I don't think I could live without it now. Or at least I wouldn't want to.


    [Edited by Brian Gordon on 10-20-2000 at 03:30 PM]
  12. nanook


    Feb 9, 2000
    I guess I never thought of that. There are other notes on the low B string besides the 5 that are lower that the E.

    Of course I do play mostly on the lower fretts of my 4 string so I would have to completely change my style. Hmmm, I guess 5 strings aren't for everyone.

    If I can't distinguish the lows on this Zon and Carvin I really fail to see the usefulness of it for me.
  13. Either your amp is no good for reproducing them, or you've got a hearing problem.

    I will agree that it can sometimes be difficult to distinguish pitch at those low frequencies, but with the added upper harmonics in the sound, you should be able to hear it. If you've got all the high end rolled off of your tone, you're not hearing all those harmonics. Maybe that's your situation.
  14. My main bass is a five string now. I actually went through two other five strings before a settled on the one I'm using now. I also had to revamp my amp situation because my old setup couldn't handle it. I could play any note on the B string and it would sound muddy. I can finally say I'm happy with my setup but going from a 4 string to a 5 string ended up being a longer journey then what I first envisioned.

    Now, when I play lower notes on the B string, there's still a lot of clarity. I do agree that the lower the note, the harder it is to distinguish, especially in a band setting. But you can certainly feel that low rumble and I think that can add a lot to the music. I'm lucky in the fact that my five string plays a lot easier then most four strings I've played.
  15. nanook


    Feb 9, 2000
    I think you are right Brian. I can't hear some of the low B string sounds and hardly anyone else can either. That's my argument, it's on the ragged edge of our hearing spectrum.

    My ears get checked at work every year and the last time the technician said, "I wish I had your hearing".

    I think the low B string is fine as long as you don't play anything lower than E on it. Your audience will not hear these low notes with clarity no matter how loud you play them.

    That still gives you plenty of frets and a big fat string to work with.
  16. john turner

    john turner You don't want to do that. Trust me. Staff Member Administrator

    Mar 14, 2000
    atlanta ga
    well, all i can say is that my audiences definitely can hear the low B, and lower, and as for distinguishing it, if i was playing a low Ab and the band is playing in A minor, you bet they could tell that too.

    then again, i play through pa subs as well as 4x12" cabs. lots of rigs don't cut it below a low E, especially a lot of 4x10" cabs, in my experience.
  17. Deynn

    Deynn Moderator Emeritus

    Aug 9, 2000
    Well, MY hearing must be phenomenal, because I can distinctly hear my B string....even thru my Ampeg combo amp. :)
  18. embellisher

    embellisher Holy Ghost filled Bass Player Staff Member Supporting Member

    On my first extended range bass, a Westone Pantera 5 string back in the 80's, I could not hear the low B. The string was pretty tight, so I attribute that to crappy pickups and electronics.

    But on my Ibanez 6 and my Pedulla 5, I have no problem hearing the fundamental or the overtones.

    The low open B is 31.5hz, and 80% of the population can hear down to 20hz.

    It is the high frequencies that go first, most people never experience any hearing loss at the extreme low end of the spectrum.
  19. The funny thing is, you don't really need to distinguish a note for it to sound bad. Even if it was a low rumble in Ab, and the band was playing in A minor, I bet the audience would still be able to tell. The bad notes <i>always</i> seem to stick out. :)
  20. john turner

    john turner You don't want to do that. Trust me. Staff Member Administrator

    Mar 14, 2000
    atlanta ga
    yeah, you're right there, bassin'. something that must be taken into account when i play live is to make sure that i am muting my strings. otherwise, sounds like we're playing in a whale's intestine. RUMMBBLLEE RUUMMMBBBLLEE! :D