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Starting with a 5 String Bass

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by baktothebassics, Aug 16, 2004.

  1. Is there any advantage or disadvantage to getting a 5 string as a first bass? I have been playing for approximately 5 weeks, and I was thnking that since you can play everything on a 5 string that you can play on a 4 string, would this be a good idea?
  2. Dr. Cheese

    Dr. Cheese Gold Supporting Member

    Mar 3, 2004
    Metro St. Louis
    There is no disadvantage to learning on five string. If that is what you want, you might as well get used to it from the beginning. If you become advanced on four string, some techniques like slapping may feel awkward on a five. People mention that almost everyday here.
    gebass6 likes this.
  3. Fuzzbass

    Fuzzbass P5 with overdrive Gold Supporting Member

    Absolutely true. If you want to play five (which is a good idea, 5-string is becoming the standard), it is much much better to start on five rather than starting on four and moving up.
  4. vanselus


    Sep 20, 2000
    Boulder, CO
    My first real bass was a 5...

    but i'm not sure if that makes it a good thing... :)
  5. Fretless5verfan


    Jan 17, 2002
    as was mine. I've moved to six and starting on the five made the change easier IMO.
  6. mikezimmerman

    mikezimmerman Supporting Member

    Apr 29, 2001
    Omaha, Nebraska
    The one big disadvantage to starting on a 5 used to be that the low B strings on cheaper 5's were just not up to snuff. With the Lakland Skylines, the MTD imports, the G&L Tributes and others around nowadays, though, that's not really a problem--the low end stuff has improved dramatically in the last few years.

    One consideration is figuring out what sort of string spacing you prefer. On 4's there's a bit less variation and one fairly "standard" spacing (.75" from string to string at the bridge), but 5's go from fairly narrow to fairly wide. Try a bunch and see what feels best to you.

  7. Yes, fivers have wider necks and neck radius has greater impact on a 5 than on 4, so as said, try a lot of them, to find the right feel.

    It's not just an extra string that makes a 5 different than a 4 IMO. On a 5 you have one string in the center and two up and two down, on a 4 there is no "center string". Having odd number of strings makes my playing much different, than playing a bass with even number of strings.

  8. I started with a 5'er and felt that my progress was slow and I was frustrated trying to keep the B string muted. It was also difficult for my left hand fingers to cover the big neck.

    I switched to a jazz neck 4 and progressed a lot faster.

    After a couple of years I got a decent 5 string and slowly transitioned to it, and after a year or so I stopped wanting to play a 4.

    I found the biggest problem as a beginner was keeping the B string muted and under control when not using it. If you leave it alone, it will make terrible noises that may annoy your bandmates more than you.

    Once I got over muting the B and my left hand became nimble enough to cover two octaves at once on a 5 string, I never looked back. But I know many great players who prefer the sound of a 4 string and feel they can move around a lot faster on a 4 string neck.

    So far I've never felt the need for a 6 or more, but there is always tomorrow.


  9. Fuzzbass

    Fuzzbass P5 with overdrive Gold Supporting Member

    I agree that those issues can be a problem (I encountered them myself) -- but only for those who become accustomed to 4 before moving to 5.
  10. rickbass

    rickbass Supporting Member

    For a beginner, as you describe, having a B string isn't necessarily a problem as long as, as others here have said, it is taut and clear sounding.

    The main problem for many beginners using a 5'er, as I see it, is that they don't have the financial resources to invest in an amp that can handle a B string decently. Their B strings sound absolutely horrid because either their speakers aren't designed to handle those big, low, notes and/or the B is just too much for a low-powered amp head.

    Your profile isn't filled out, (not a good idea if you want to ask gear questions around here), so we don't know what you have as a point of reference.

    Moreover, the beginner with a 5'er may have a budget that won't allow them to use premium bass strings..........and a cheap B string sounds "cheap", IME...if it doesn't break first. :crying:
  11. embellisher

    embellisher Holy Ghost filled Bass Player Supporting Member

    Great advice! I agree with Mike 100%.

    I wish that I had learned on a five. Despite the difficulties muting the B that Johnathan talks about, I feel that if I had been playing a five for 25 years, that my technique would be even better than it is.
  12. Fuzzbass

    Fuzzbass P5 with overdrive Gold Supporting Member

    I don't agree that a low-budget five-string is worse than a low-budget four. The critical factor for a beginner is not tone, it's playability. How many people can really tell the difference between Squier and Sadowsky in a band setting? Pretty much only bassists, and a select few other musicians who bother to listen to the bass. ;)

    Besides, lot of beginners can't afford to change their strings often enough, and wind up with *all* strings sounding floppy. And some bassists prefer flatwounds -- to some roundwound lovers, *all* flatwounds sound floppy. :p

    About the same is true for a low-budget amp. Even if the beginner uses sub-E notes often, they will still be heard even if the fundamental harmonic isn't reproduced. They might sound *better* through a high-dollar amp, but again, how many people are going to notice? And there's a lot more to the B string than the 5 notes below E.
  13. not_jason


    Aug 4, 2004
    i had been playing on 4 strings for about a year and decided to make my second bass a 5. on 4 strings i'd get to the bottom of my neck and i'd still want to go lower, so i thought that it would be a good idea for me to switch to 5. but all i ever did with the B once i had it was use it as a thumb rest. it took me til 2 years ago when i joined a band that played a lot in D to finaly make use of the string. no matter what, i always had the idea in my head that EADG was the standard and the B was just for spillover in low melodies. and I think that is mostly because i have never been able to stand the tone from that big ol 130, no matter how high on the string i'm playing it. i can't get any mids out of it, it's just a tital wave of lows. so despite using that bass as my primary for 4/5 of my bass playing career, i still feel just as at home on a 4 and I actually feel more comfortable on 4 strings. I think there are benefits of learning on either.

    i might suggest going with a 5 if nothing else because of the versitility it gives you. i think it's nice to have a versitile first bass so that you can try out as many different things with it, and if you want, make your next bass more specific to you... like me: playing on a 5 taught me that i can really handle myself fine on just 4.
  14. Fret Boiler

    Fret Boiler Pity World

    Apr 12, 2004
    Purdue University
    I'm considering the same move--to a 5 string having played a 4 string for a while. My question is did you have trouble re-learning all of your 4-string songs on the new 5-string? How long did it take to get proficient? Are there still songs you can play better on a 4 versus 5?

  15. not_jason


    Aug 4, 2004
    i worried that i would have trouble mentaly processing having the B, but i really didn't. and i think how i did this was i developed a from-the-top-down perspective of my bass. where i just view every string by it's relation to the G, not the E as I think most people do. when i was in my old band i wrote a lot of songs specific to my bass, and it really killed me when i broke a B on stage (happened like 3 times in 8 shows) when that happened though i'd just throw everything up an octave. it wasn't quite as cool as having it down on the B string with the low D, but it was good enough to work me out of tough spots. that band really forced me to play in a style i otherwise wouldn't though, and in my new band i never go lower than a low E (except for 2 songs, maybe once or twice in each song). Everything i play in forces me to attack my instrument in a wholely different way. I don't think i could have handled the old band as well on 4 strings, but in the current band, i think i'm probably going to start using my new 4 string primarily.
  16. Thanks you guys for all your input, I went to the shop today and tryed a few 5-string basses, and they all felt really comfortable. I was suprised because my hands are pretty small, but I enjoyed playing on the 5-string. I decided to get a MIM Fender off ebay, and thats exacly what I did. I now have a beautiful Tobacco Sunburst 5-string bass with a EMG-BTC Preamp, Tortoise shell pickguard and Badass Bridge on the way. I will post pics when it gets here.
  17. I started on a 5-stringer as well, and personally had no problem. Keeping the B muted isn't a problem when not playing it , it might have been when i first got it(for maybe a few weeks). I seem to prefer 5er's to 4's now. I am looking into picking up a wide spaced 5 or 6 in the near future.

    Beginner amps are an issue with lower notes past E. My amp now can't handle them much. But if you just started out it shouldn't matter much, not like your going to be getting bad tone at your gigs.. what gigs? but i know, it is nice to sound good to your self. A better amp can always be bought later pending you even stick with your bass for that long. its just the beginning now you don't know if you'll still be playing in a year.

    The one thing i think 5'er's help with when learning is that you have an extended range for scales and what not... just my $0.02

    - Dan
  18. not_jason


    Aug 4, 2004
    i don't understand all the trouble with muting the B, i keep my thumb on mine whenever i'm not using it, works fine for me.
  19. RunngDog


    Jan 22, 2003
    Chicago, IL
    1. 95% (99%?) of introductory instructional material is written for 4-string, not 5-string.

    2. Unless you are extraordinarily focused, 90%+ of the great bass players you will be listening to on CD and imitating will be playing 4-string basses, not 5-string.

    3. Unless you are prepared to spend some serious bucks on both bass and amp/speakers, it's unlikely your B string will be worth a s#@t. Yes, the price of a quality 5-string bass has clearly come down over the past decade -- but a "low-priced" Lakland Skyline 5-string will still run you $800+ and an amp that will do justice to that B string will run you that much again.

    4. Certain bass techniques (e.g., slapping) are just a lot easier on a 4-string than on a 5-string.

    5. The difference in fretboard width between a 4-string and a 5-string is not to be ignored. There are some advantages -- the wider 5-string fretboard forces you to reposition your thumb in a way you should anyway -- but might be able to avoid on the thinner 4-string neck.

    6. In addition to width, don't ignore length -- almost all decent sounding 5-strings have a 35" scale, rather than a standard 34". It doesn't sound like much, but you'll feel the difference. (Of course, you could always go the Dingwall route as I did -- 37" scale on the B, down to 34" on the G.)

    7. You can get a big chunk of the 5-string advantage simply by adding a Hipshot Detuner for your E-string -- this will allow you to drop down to a low D if and when you need to.

    8. Everything else equal, a 5-string will ALWAYS cost more than an equivalent 4-string.

    If all of the above doesn't dissuade you, and you've sat down at your local GC and tried both a 4- and a 5-string, then by all means go ahead and get yourself a 5-string. I've got 3 of them myself!
    davedblyoo likes this.
  20. RunngDog


    Jan 22, 2003
    Chicago, IL