To 4 string or 5, that is the question.

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by James Lugo, Jul 22, 2018.

  1. James Lugo

    James Lugo

    May 29, 2010
    Nashville, TN
    I am starting to play with a dance band. 80s dance Rock/Disco/Current Top 40 etc. I am using a 4 string P and some of the new tunes have really deep hip hop kind of bass. I just ordered an octave pedal but do you guys think I should consider just going 5 string? I’ve played both but have struggled on 5 string basses cuz I just don’t like the feel so I’ve always stuck to 4 strings 90% of the time.

    And I guess my other question is what would be a good 5 string for this kind of band? Think Tainted Love meets KC and the Sunshine Band meets Usher.

  2. Kai Sanchez

    Kai Sanchez Supporting Member

    Sep 12, 2006
    I'm on the some boat! I love 4 strings, but to me certain songs are much more fun to play on a 5 string. Superstition, I wish, Rock with you, I wanna dance with somebody, Bruno mars songs. Some songs are more negotiable than others. To be honest my band members could care less what bass I bring, ultimately it's my choice. Life is short so play whatever makes the gig more fun!
    If you are going the 5 string route and don't want to spend a lot check out these basses:
    Sire ($600), Bass Mods ($1000), Xotic Vintage ($1500), Sadowsky Metro Express ($2000).
    Joebone likes this.
  3. Take a spare or beater bass and convert it to BEAD tuning.
    A Squier P would be a great choice.
    The 4 string feel remains, but you get those lower notes.
    Takes a little time to get used to it, but not as long as getting used to a wider 5 string neck.

    A friend gave me a water damaged Dean bass, and after I fixed the bowed neck and electronics, I was looking for a job for it.
    BEAD was the perfect answer.
    I'd had an Ibanez Roadstar II fiver back in the 1980s (first 5 my friends had ever seen) and never got along with it, but playing a BEAD bass is natural and fun for me.
  4. James Lugo

    James Lugo

    May 29, 2010
    Nashville, TN
    Man I was thinking of doing that.
  5. JW56789

    JW56789 Guest

    Feb 18, 2017
    James, I converted to five-string in the mid-80's and have played them ever since. I can tell you that buying a five simply to pick up that handful of lower notes is strong medicine that may not be needed. The real advantage of a five is that you have more options to play across the fingerboard instead of up and down the fingerboard as a four sometimes forced me to do. I came from playing keyboards and the ability to play things in a linear fashion without a few shifts up and down the fingerboard just appealed to me, and I felt limited somewhat because of that feeling of those shifts on a four.

    BTW, I'd definitely recommend a converted four or a five over an octave pedal for those lows: Most of them track pretty well up the neck, but can flounder on low notes, and you can get some fairly weird tones if your amp is wondering where these weird lows are coming from !

    In those early MTV days, there were (and today as well) a lot of keyboard bass parts to replicate live, and for me, a five was far easier, and a few low C's and D's were required. Also, if you wind up doing metal or heavy rock that's tuned down to E-flat or D, you won't have to, you just shift down a fret or two.

    Now you could do a lot of this with a BEAD four without the re-training you'd need to do on a five to get it under your hands. I'm a big believer that their are no real rules and guys should play what suits them, but for me a five just made sense in a lot of ways. Your results may vary . . . . . Fives are pretty common here in Nashville, so I'd ask around, try a few in the various stores (by the way, make it a point to meet JD at Corner Music, the store manager who's a great bassist and a superb human being who knows his axes and amps), and see where it leads you.

    Good Luck !
  6. James Lugo

    James Lugo

    May 29, 2010
    Nashville, TN
    Cool. Yeah I got my P there. Love that store. I think it’s moving. It and Forks.
  7. fretlessbass

    fretlessbass Supporting Member

    Dec 3, 2010
    Tucson, AZ
    I have a five string, but I must say that most of those tunes sound GREAT on a four string with the original Boss octave pedal, which I've had since the 80s: it captures the synth attitude--especially when you bend notes, and when I slap, I get both the 8vb sound AND the actual string sound.
    Probably the only reason I picked up a five is because it's expected when you do theater work.
  8. Element Zero

    Element Zero Supporting Member

    Dec 14, 2016
    Been strictly 5s for the last 20 years. Personally I can’t see a reason to ever go back to a 4.
  9. chris_b


    Jun 2, 2007
    To the OP. It seems like you're recognising, in this new band, you have a need for the flexibility and range of a 5 string. There are gadgets and techniques that can mess around with tuning for you but they will only have a limited effectiveness when compared to the real thing. You have to look at what this band and the "new tunes" are requiring you to play. IMO if you thought that 4 string bass was going to cut it you wouldn't be asking this question. Maybe you already know the answer?

    We can suggest anything, but what do the band say? Do they want a 5 string? If you're not going to embrace the 5 string bass, you're either going to have to develop an impressive technique to make the band happy with 4 string bass lines or maybe find another band. It's all bass. I view the differences between 4's and 5's, the extra flexibility of the notes and playing positions, as positive things. I can make extended bass lines work for me.

    You don't play hard rock lines in a Reggae band or a double bass in a Disco band. If you can make your 4 string bass work, do it. If you know you would be sounding better playing a 5 string bass then do that. At the end of the day, if you upgrade, you'll be a better player for the experience.
    Jesuguru and Garret Graves like this.
  10. madbass6

    madbass6 Inactive

    Jan 13, 2009
    I do not give consent to use any of my photos ! please respect that. thank you.
    Yeap Beet me to it! Was just going to make same sujestion!! With Only one minor change I wouldn't bring a cheap beat up bass I would try bring a decent bass that would be able to resonate those low notes after drop tunning clearly ! But yes, that would be a great solution !
  11. Tim Skaggs

    Tim Skaggs

    Sep 28, 2002
    No bass or bassist in Soft Cell, Richard Finch played a 4 string Jazz in the Sunshine band, so looks like you need to look up what NJOB played with Usher.
  12. ColonelZulu

    ColonelZulu Not Impressed By Those Who Flaunt “Authority” Supporting Member

    Apr 14, 2001
    For some reason, when there are people dancing, and you drop them some low Hz, the ladies get crazy.

    You can also use an octaver or harmonizer.
  13. James Lugo

    James Lugo

    May 29, 2010
    Nashville, TN
    Bam! I ordered an octave pedal. I’m gonna see if I can do it with that first. Maybe get a hip shot.
    ZuluFunk likes this.
  14. Up the dose

    Up the dose

    Mar 10, 2013
    The answer to this question is always 5.
    If you think you need a five string it means you should have already bought one and you're just being indecisive.
  15. Nickweissmusic

    Nickweissmusic Knows all intervals from one Fred, to Juan octave Commercial User

    Jan 26, 2014
    San Diego, CA
    I teach lessons and perform live music in and around San Diego CA. Sometimes I even make money doing it!
    TONE and PITCH are 2 different animals. You don’t necessarily need a 5 string bass to have a deep tone. You only *need* one of you play songs that require pitches below E. Some people use 5 strings to make playing in one position easier as well, and using the B string allows you to play more songs higher up on the neck, thereby making the tone thicker and deeper. 5 strings are usually heavier and often harder on your hands, plus they’re kind of out of fashion if that matters to your band, so there can be down sides to it. That said, my number one bass is a 5 string.

    An octave pedal is a fine idea to use if you’re trying to emulate synth basses, but be aware most don’t track or work very well below A or so, so a 5 string is certainly not necessary if you go that route, you’ll probably end up fretting an octave higher than you would without the pedal.

    A preamp stompbox with a squashing compressor can also help in this quest. The Tech21 Bass Fly pedal board is intriguing. I don’t really need it as I have an old bass pod pro which honestly works great and gives me all the tone flexibility I need, from cutting bass tone with a little chorus for the Duff style rock tone, to a compressed, bass boosted, slightly broken up tone to emulate keyboard and hip hop bass. But if I needed to explore more sounds and didn’t have the Pod, I’d try that Bass Fly rig. There are others out there too.
    Anders Barfod likes this.
  16. bluefizz


    Aug 8, 2008
    Los Angeles
    MTD USA, Bartolini Electronics
    The second bass I ever owned was a 5 string and I’ve always had one since then. I still have 4 strings but mostly use them in big bands and acoustic shows.

    The 5 string bass will take a bit to get used to, but once you do you’ll be happy you did. An octave pedal is a good idea but I don’t like depending on pedals, plus you have to think about tracking down low and any issues that might happen.

    It’s not impossible to get used to, and if the neck and string spacing is the issue try an Ibanez Sound gear bass. They have small string spacings, light, and thin necks.

    The BEAD tuning is also an option. I’ve personally have never done this. Mainly it just comes down to what will work for you.
  17. Lance Bunyon

    Lance Bunyon

    Jul 17, 2018
    Played in bands with a horn section for a decade. On a 5 string, playing in E flat is a piece of cake anchored off the B string 4th fret. Sounds much more organic than playing in E flat on a 4.
    And if you don't see the significance, horn players love Eb and Bb which helps them play naturals.
  18. Flog

    Flog a Viking in Tejas Supporting Member

    Oct 18, 2017
    Denton, Tx.
    I play the same type of music; top40 from the 50's to 2018. The vast majority of songs that we cover were recorded on a 4 string P-bass or similar. A couple songs out of 40-50 per night could use a 5 string, but I don't think it's worth it. 4's are just more comfortable to play on stage, and IMHO sound better. There are a few synth bass songs that sound better with an octaver. I have two, a Aguilar for only an octave below and a Boss for octave fuzz. A hipshot is handy for a few songs as well.
    If you are playing any modern country or a lot of R&B I think a 5 string is mandatory. But for 80's stuff a P with fingers and a pick baby!

    MYLOWFREQ Supporting Member

    May 13, 2011
    OP: yes, you're justified to get a new bass. Looking forward to the NBD thread! You're welcome: )
    Staccato likes this.
  20. James Lugo

    James Lugo

    May 29, 2010
    Nashville, TN
    That makes sense. I ordered an octave pedal. I went today and played a bunch of 5s: Ibanez, MM, Reverend, Fender, Yammy etc. The Reverend Mercalli 5 was nice. Sounded so strange when I A/B’d It with my P. I mean so strange. So big sounding but didn’t have the classic definition of the P. What’s weird of all the basses I played I liked this used Fender Squire Jazz 5 for $350. I liked the way it played and it sounded really nice. Could probably use some better pickups like Fralins. But just as it was it felt really good to play.