Question For Studio/Theatre Players Regarding # Strings

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by Daniel L., May 23, 2007.

  1. Daniel L.

    Daniel L. Guest

    Aug 30, 2002
    I have a question for any guys playing in the studio, theatre/musicals, or anywhere where you are sight reading a lot of music. Do you play a 5 string or more bass? Do you often find that you have to play notes below E?

    I'm thinking about getting a new bass and kind of want to go back to 4 strings but wonder if I'll need a 5. Not that I'm getting those gigs right now anyway, but....

    *Crosses fingers and prays for sight reading gigs*
  2. Wolfehollow

    Wolfehollow Supporting Member

    Jan 21, 2003
    Pensacola, FL
    Ive played about 45 different broadway musicals and have only seen lower than E in maybe one or two shows... I find that my extender taking it down to a D comes in handy... but I played them all with a 4.
  3. CamMcIntyre


    Jun 6, 2000
    There's a thread in the miscellaneous section where i comment more indepth [advice for aspiring studio players i think is the thread].

    I'm still really early on in the studio/musical realm. I've played bits and pieces of a lot of musicals, but i have only played for actual productions of a hand full. I'm also bassist for an original musical based out of Chicago. I think i could get away with an extender, but my personal preference is for 5. It's what i've grown up playing and not needing to check ahead to see if i need to tune to set the extender to C or D comes in handy.

    The bulk of the theater guys that i've talked [maybe 5ish??] have owned at least 1 five string. Often times the 5 is a more modern sounding bass than their 4 strings.

    So moral/summary: I like playing 5 strings and when there is a part that the low notes come in handy-it's that much better. I also like being able to play notes higher up on the neck [e.g. G on the B string] to get a different tone.
  4. Jim Carr

    Jim Carr Dr. Jim

    Jan 21, 2006
    Denton, TX or Kailua, HI
    fEARful Kool-Aid dispensing liberal academic card-carrying union member Musicians Local 72-147
    I use double bass (upright) or a 4-string 95% of the time. I used to play my 55-01 more, but found I made more mistakes AND didn't need the lower 4th, so I leave it home most of the time.
  5. Fishbrain


    Dec 8, 2000
    England, Liverpool
    Endorsing Artist: Warwick Bass and Amp
    the only sight reading stuff i've ever done I DESPERATELY needed the B string on my five. Only because the stuff I was doing was for the school orchestra and they were too poor/lazy to have real bass parts for most of the songs so I had to play the tuba parts (plus we didnt have a tuba). What fun
  6. Fuzzbass

    Fuzzbass P5 with overdrive Gold Supporting Member

    Bassists I've known who do a lot of sight reading (studio, theater, gospel) usually play sixers. Sixers provide a lot more range in each fingering position, so the left hand doesn't have to move around as much.
  7. Eli M.

    Eli M. Life's like a movie, write your own ending

    Jul 24, 2004
    New York, NY
    Which shows? I would think they'd be more recent ones.
  8. Fishbrain


    Dec 8, 2000
    England, Liverpool
    Endorsing Artist: Warwick Bass and Amp
    one advantage i found with my 5 over a four which i suppose would increase with a 6r is having to move your fretting hand up an down the neck less so you can focus on where your up to with your sheet music!
  9. lefty007


    Jan 19, 2004
    Miami, FL
    If you are trying or planning to be a studio bassist, or let's say, a for-hire bassist in any style that comes your way, I think a 5-string is a must.

    I also like to play 4-strings more, and do so most of the time with my band, but I have found that many producers/musical directors/artists like or expect a 5-string. . .

    It also allows you to quickly play a tune in a different key if the artist decides to change it because his/her voice is not in good shape that day. It can be a pain having to quickly transpose a song in a 4-string that originally is in, say, E, to Eb.

    I doesn't hurt to invest in a decent 5-string and have it handy, and always bring it to sessions.
  10. Fishbrain


    Dec 8, 2000
    England, Liverpool
    Endorsing Artist: Warwick Bass and Amp
    plus 5 strings look better ;)

  11. Michael Vee

    Michael Vee Supporting Member

    Feb 3, 2004
    There are at least a couple of threads about 5-strings and theatre gigs already.. so DAS! (new acronym for Do A Search)

    To repeat briefly some of that briefly, nearly 100% of pre-mid-1990's theatre shows are scored for the range of a 4-string double bass or bass guitar.

    A player could take a 5-string in on those gigs and substitute some of the low B to Eb notes (ONLY with the music director's blessing), and also enjoy the benefit of the decreased position changing. Normally, though, a 4-string is the ticket.

    After the mid-90s, shows started showing up more often with 5-string range scores, which obviously require the B string's low notes.
  12. Daniel L.

    Daniel L. Guest

    Aug 30, 2002
    I have a 6 now but have grown tired of muting all the strings. I rarely ever use the C string. I personally don't care for the tone much either. This could have to do with the 35" scale.

    Plus, I would think most guys that walk into a studio or musical with a 6 would give the producer/MD a heart attack.
  13. I've played several musicals, and i go between my upright and my 6er.

    i like having the 6er because it allows me to focus more on the singers/director instead of worrying about finger extensions, etc.

    at least get a 5 string, for sure.
  14. willgroove2


    Aug 16, 2003
    chicago IL
    Endorsing Artist;Essential sound products,Dunlop, Ergo Instruments
    Although I bring a 4 string and a 5 string to most sessions I do which range from album sessions (mostly) to jingles I could play most stuff on a four. I do get people asking me to bring a frettless from time to time.
  15. In the studio, I never think about how many strings I need or don't need. I simply grab the bass that I want to use for that song. I had a song where I grabbed my favorite fretted 5 and didn't touch the low B. I guess I wanted to play that bass.
  16. Daniel L.

    Daniel L. Guest

    Aug 30, 2002
    Yeah, why worry about silly stuff like what notes you might have to play. :D
  17. appler

    appler Guest

    A five string is a handy tool in a pit orchestra setting. While it's true that many shows' bass parts don't venture below the low D, there are plenty of tunes with those extra-low notes on double bass and bass guitar. You might be able to get away with using a four-string with a detuner for a lot of shows but if you're caught with no low C on certain productions, you'll really wish you had a low B string. I'm not a huge fan of those detuners because I could never get it perfectly in tune and it only goes down one whole step.

    My first pit gig I played Jekyll and Hyde with a regular old four-string Fender with no detuner for my electric and there happened to be a few really important low Cs and C#s. I had to tune the E down all the way to C. It was quite a pain in the neck.

    It's a good idea to have a traditional-sounding bass guitar (perhaps with flats) in shows like, for instance, The Wiz, where you're playing Motown-style pop numbers. Other shows call for a modern-sounding instrument and have lots of low notes, so a five-string is extremely useful.

    There's at least one or two threads about this in the double bass section as well if you're looking for more information. Good luck!
  18. doctorjazz


    Oct 22, 2006
    Wilmington, NC
    If you're playing in a theatre, there's a chance you'll have to cover a tuba part sometime, in which case you'll need a B string or you'll have to take it up an octave.

    As said before, a C string really comes in handy for sightreading, since you're more free to concentrate on your music and less distracted by shifting hand positions.

    All of the above are why I really prefer a 6.
  19. Fuzzbass

    Fuzzbass P5 with overdrive Gold Supporting Member

    Heh. :D

    I agree with what you said about the C string... that's why I've stuck with fiver.

    Muting the extra string was indeed one of the challenges involved with switching to five after 20+ years of four-bangin'. To facilitate muting, I naturally gravitated to the floating thumb technique: i.e. when I'm playing riffs up high, the edge of my right hand thumb can keep the lower strings quiet. Plus, the fact that I no longer anchor my thumb gives me free range to pluck the string anywhere from the bridge to the end of the fingerboard... even over the fingerboard, if I want a big round sound.
  20. Tom Howland

    Tom Howland Supporting Member

    Feb 11, 2003
    If I can get away with a 4-string I do.
    If not a 5er.
    I rarly play a 6-string anymore.