The Fifths Tuning Club

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by ~M.o.M~, Apr 14, 2013.

  1. ~M.o.M~


    Oct 28, 2009
    Being a player that tunes in fifths myself, I have always wanted to have a place on TalkBass where everyone can discuss the stuff needed to successfully move on to this tuning.
    Fingerings, chords, exercises, strings, song tabs and anything else that is of interest.

    In my opinion, creating a club for this purpose not only presents the opportunity to talk all things fifths, but also a friendly environment that you can always return to and ask for more.

    So, let's begin! Numbers will be given to anyone that has at least one bass tuned this way. One number per bassist.

    === USEFUL LINKS ===
  2. t77mackie


    Jun 13, 2012
    Wormtown, MA
    I'm thinking this may be a lonely club...

    Why do you tune in 5ths? I'm not being sarcastic, I really want to know.
  3. Nev375


    Nov 2, 2010
    Aren't all basses tuned in 5ths high to low?
    Dug2 likes this.
  4. bassdude51

    bassdude51 "You never even called me by my name." Supporting Member

    Nov 1, 2008
    Central Ohio
    Fifths is the tuning of the mandolin and violin, right? Is there an advantage to tuning a bass from 4ths to 5ths?

    Educate us, please?
  5. Nev375


    Nov 2, 2010
    Makes those 3rds hard to get to doesn't it?
    gebass6 likes this.
  6. fmoore200


    Mar 22, 2011
    Reinventing the wheel, much? :D :bag: :D
  7. lidesnowi


    Jan 29, 2011
    I find the standard bass 34 inch Scale length a bit too long for fifths tuning,you need the ability to play four notes per string scales from the lowest fingered note"C sharp on a Cello" , and this becomes a hassle with a 34 inch scale! A 27.4 inch scale is probably a maximum scale length for convenience when it comes fifth tuning"if you do not have very long fingers, of course."

    Personally I use one of these instead when I want Range!
  8. ~M.o.M~


    Oct 28, 2009
    Well, time for replies! :D

    Well, two reasons popped up in my mind just now.
    1. You can study all of the cello literature using, if you desire, the fingerings given.
    2. You can get the range of a fiver (plus a semitone, I think) with only just a four string.
    But it's not only that. It also gives you the opportunity to think differently, creatively I may say, and outside of the patterns you're used to in standard tuning.

    To tell you the truth, though, all that comes with a prize. The biggest disadvantage can be relearning your song list. It is frustrating!
    Not only that, songs that, for example, use natural harmonics heavily (think of Jaco's Portrait of Tracy) may be impossible to learn.

    High to low, yes. But I'm talking about low to high. ;)

    A different technique is required for sure!
    I guess you're thinking of monstrous finger stretches, but it's not like that if you're used to shifting.

    To be more specific, you can get most of those 3rds using your index and pinky in a 1-4 fashion.

    True! :smug:

    Mostly correct. I, too, would be concerned if I were to play those four notes per string scales using finger stretches!

    To avoid that I play the Major scales, for example, like this:

    Index, index shifts to the next note, ring, pinky, next string, index, index shifts to the next note, ring, pinky.

    Also, that baritone looks so nice! :eek:
    Skeezix, gebass6 and Atshen like this.
  9. Clef_de_fa

    Clef_de_fa Guest

    Dec 25, 2011
    Also some DB player use the 5th tuning because the cello have more melodic stuff to play than any DB player.

    The sad thing is you have ridiculously easy stuff and ridiculously hard stuff nothing in between.
  10. I play mandolin as well as bass and I'm interested in 5ths tuning. Also a big admirer of Red Mitchell.

    It's not at the top of my to-do list, but I do have an extra fretless and I'm planning to try 5ths tuning on it.

    May not be a popular subject but I'm glad to see someone started a thread on it.
  11. that is certainly a consideration. But Red Mitchell did it on an upright which is 41 or 42 inch scale.

    I'm more worried about string tension. You'll need some kind of special string to give you the right tension tuned to C.
  12. ~M.o.M~


    Oct 28, 2009
    Circle K Strings has singles that do the job great.

    I'm currently using .124 .082 .055 .035 (36.9 37.2 37.7 36.1 lbs of tension per string on a 34" scale) and I'm soon going to use .130 .086 .057 0.37 (40.4 40.7 40.4 40.0 lbs of tension per string on a 34" scale).

    Since you plan to try it on a fretless, I guess you might be looking for flatwounds. If so, check this thread.

    BTW, I still need to listen to Jim Hall's and Red Mitchell's 1978 record in a quiet afternoon. :smug:
  13. thanks for the suggestion. Yeah, flatwounds.

    Red Mitchell's playing tuned in 5ths kicks some of the most serious (b)ass I've ever heard. Just makes me want to try it. He does Willow Weep for Me with Herb Ellis I think it was - incredible stuff. But my experiment wouldn't be limited to jazz. :bassist:
  14. anonymous111813

    anonymous111813 Guest

    Mar 1, 2011
    Actually there is a considerable number of double bass player that tune their bass in fifths.
    Root 5 and Atter like this.
  15. khutch

    khutch Praise Harp

    Aug 20, 2011
    suburban Chicago
    Count me in, I tune all four of my basses in fifths. Right now they are all CGDA and the lone fiver has an E string on the top. If you decide to hand out numbers I will take one and if not that is fine too since I never really do anything with the club numbers that I have. Gotta run now, I will try to post more about why I tune in fifths later.

  16. ~M.o.M~


    Oct 28, 2009
    That makes you #2, Ken!

    I'm eager to listen to your story. :)
  17. TapyTap


    Apr 26, 2005
  18. sevdog


    Mar 2, 2008
    I have 1 of my basses tuned CDGA. Each of my basses are tuned differently.

    I find playing in different tunings, whatever they may be, to be a very worthwhile exercise for all kinds of different reasons. Exercising your brain is never a bad idea.
  19. khutch

    khutch Praise Harp

    Aug 20, 2011
    suburban Chicago
    There is another thread devoted to fifths tuning. It is one I started when I was thinking about taking the plunge. It has gathered more interest that I thought it would but it certainly is not a barn burner. Anyone interested in the topic might do well to read through it but I would ask you not to post there anymore. Post here instead so that all the new material, at least, can be found in one spot.

    I'd heard about the CGDA "cello" tuning periodically from early in my association with TB. There were a few people who used it, some of them were/are trained as cellists. Being an engineer I studied it by looking at diagrams, translating riffs I commonly used to the new tuning, and measuring the distances between frets and noting the shift distances required. It really seemed quite impractical. I said exactly what someone else said above, it might work on a 27" scale but not a 34" scale and certainly not ever on a DB's 43" scale!

    So I considered BEAD but ended up buying a BEADG bass instead. I bought a nice one, an SR505, and gave it a good try over several months. It played pretty nicely for me in stores, better than any of the many fivers I tried, and when I first got it home. But it never played any better than pretty nicely and in fact the longer I played it the less I liked it. Too many strings to mute and my right hand kept tripping over strings that weren't supposed to be where they were. I just never got over it and did eventually sell it.

    So I went back to thinking about BEAD and while I was doing that I made a stunning discovery: Red Mitchel. Yeah, he did CGDA on a DB and has inspired a small (but growing they like to say) tribe of DB followers. Red of course is no longer with us but fifths tuned DBs are. Turns out that "double bassists" had adopted three approaches to notes below E which are somewhat common in "classical" music. One is to play them an octave up, one is to use five strings, and the third is rarely seen in BGs though the other two are common: use an extended scale on the "E" string so that it (usually) goes down to a C. The first approach is still quite popular although many would rather not have to use it, five string DBs are quite popular in Europe but they have the same playability problems (only worse) that some of us find with five string BGs, and C extensions are quite common in English speaking countries although they too have operational issues.

    Tuning in fifths gives a four string bass the range of a five. It also gives five string bass the range of a 6.6 string and a six string bass the range of an 8. This was the thing that caught my attention. If you tune your bass in fifths you don't need five strings and if you own a DB you don't need or can throw away your C extension. A fifths tuning has other advantages for a DB that do not apply to a BG. Unlike a BG the DB is actually a resonant instrument and tuning the stings in intervals of fifths enhances the resonance of the instrument since the unplayed open strings can form pleasing harmonics of the played notes more often. If you tune a DB in fifths you are suddenly in sync with the rest of the string section in a way that you never were before. In part this is because a lot of music was written as though the DB was tuned an octave below the cello even though they generally were not. Evidently all kinds of DB tunings were in use before EADG won out. And some argue that EADG won out over the more sensible CGDA back in an era when it was technologically impossible to make an acceptable C string. For some reason a surprising number of BG players dabble in the Bach cello suites. I have only tried one movement of one suite so far but I can tell you that it makes a whole lot of sense when you play it in the cello tuning!

    So I have to run again, I will continue later.

  20. khutch

    khutch Praise Harp

    Aug 20, 2011
    suburban Chicago
    As Red Mitchel tells it when he decided to tune in fifths he blocked out an empty hole of 9 days in his calendar, rented a beach house for his family, and immersed himself in the tuning for those 9 days. At the end of that period he started playing gigs in the new tuning and I don't believe that he ever looked back. I am not 10% the bassist that Red was, yet my conversion experience is similar. My only musical training is on clarinet. I played in school bands from 3rd (?) grade through the first two years of college because I attended a two year campus of the University of Wisconsin at first, a campus so small that engineering majors were not only allowed to play in the band with the music majors, we were dragooned into playing with them! And once in the band we were dragooned again into singing in the choir but that is another story. I played around with bass guitar starting in high school and continuing until maybe my early thirties, without ever developing much skill. After three decades I joined a new church that had a worship band. And they were advertising every week in the announcement screens for bass players. So I bought a bass, practiced for a few months, and then let the worship pastor know that I wanted to try out for a position on one of the worship teams. He suggested that I apprentice first, sitting in a practices and playing along into headphones, which I did. After almost two months of that I was just on the verge of getting bored with that drill and had also just concluded that five strings were not what I wanted. I knew that BEAD was an option but having just learned about Red Mitchel and his followers I decided to give CGDA a try.

    I ordered some strings and happened to get them and string up the bass CGDA right at a point where there was no worship band rehearsal for me to sit in on that week but I did have the song list for the following week. So I began practicing with 10 days time before the rehearsal. And it really was love at first sight for me. The fifths tuning gave me the range you "need" for "gospel" music and it gave me that range on a familiar, comfortable four string bass. Picking up the tuning was fairly easy since three of the strings were the same, if in the wrong order, and the D string was even where it was supposed to be. That left only one string that had to be learned from scratch. I walked into rehearsal 10 days later with a fifths tuned bass and a whole 10 days practice with it and then I looked around the room and felt a chill run down my spine. There was no other bassist in the room. And here is the worship pastor walking up to me with a HUGE grin on his face and the mere sight of that grin confirmed my fears, I knew what he was going to say before he said it. The other bassist had canceled out due to a conflict and would I mind playing that Sunday? So I had to play for them that evening for the first time ever using a tuning that I had only 10 days familiarity with. And I really had no time left to retune and relearn the music in the fourths tuning for Sunday so I had to play my first real "gig" ever using the same new tuning and only two more days practice. God is kind, it went pretty well! Not perfect, mind you....

    Since then I have used fifths tunings exclusively. I sold the Ibanez fiver and bought a Reggie Hamilton Standard Jazz to "replace" it. I did that in part because I wanted to have a P/J as well as a straight Jazz and partly because the Hipshot tuner on the Reggie would allow me to get down to a B (I actually tune it to A) if I ever need to. Still waiting for that need to develop but it is nice to know that the capability is there. After a while the Reggie became my main player and I decided to tune the other Jazz to GDAE partly as an experiment and partly because my church suddenly has enough bass players but still lacks guitar players. I reasoned that the higher voice would be nicer for chording and if I could chord some I might be able to fill in for a missing guitarist. I can't chord well enough yet to be able to replace a guitarist but the high voice does chord nicely. Too nicely. Before long I was buying a used Fender Standard Jazz V so that I could have CGDA and GDAE at the same time. Ironic, huh?! The Fender does seem to work better for me than the Ibanez did. I'm still not sure if I will keep it or not. To some extent it is neither fish nor fowl and I still cannot seem to get completely comfortable with it. Lately I have been considering selling it and getting Bass VI, maybe an Eastwood Sidejack. If I am going to learn to deal with more strings maybe it makes sense to go with six.

    If I do that I would tune it in fifths starting on either C (CGDAEB) like my others or the F above that (FCGDAE) which would make the top note the same as the top note on a standard guitar. Interestingly, Robert "King Crimson" Fripp has developed a nearly fifths tuning for guitars known as the New Standard Tuning. It starts a little lower and ends a little higher than the standard EADGBE guitar tuning: CGDAEG. Note that the last string interval is a minor third rather than a fifth. Evidently this was done because at the time he came up with it a top B string for that tuning was impractical. I wonder why he didn't just drop the starting note a little more? In any event there are some guitarists who use a nearly fifths tuned tuning so we fifths tuned BG bassists have company among guitarists as well as DB bassists.

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