To 5-string or not to 5-string?

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by Band Mom, Oct 10, 2017.

  1. Band Mom

    Band Mom Not Actually a Mom

    Oct 2, 2017
    Austin, TX
    Hi again, TBers! Starting to get my feet wet in the forums here, and while there are numerous threads around the subject of 5-string, I wanted a more personalized bit of advice from you guys.

    Short story of my musical history: Started off as a guitarist, eventually moved to bass as it was much easier to find a gig, and over time I'd become aware of the fact that I actually liked playing bass more than I do guitar, and felt like it's a more natural fit for my interests as a musician. I've always gravitated towards rock music, and while it seems like most bass icons lean more heavily into jazz, it's just not an area of music that's ever spoke to me.

    So, to the thread question. I've been playing bass in bands for about 7 years now, almost always originals, and over time discovered what gear I like and didn't like. I'm definitely more of a fan of passive bass sounds, and particularly p/j configurations. My two main basses are a Fender Am Pro P bass V and a G&L SB-2 (4 strings). While I like the tone of the P5, I have never really made much progress using the low B. I always thought of 5 strings as having a larger degree of options, which is true, but I find that I don't really employ the 5th string much beyond the occasional accent to a line or a fairly quick run across the fretboard. Whereas I simply have more *fun* playing the SB-2, I feel myself sometimes hampered by the 5th string on the P5 because I honestly use it as an afterthought and I've never really put the time in to adjust my playing to account for the extra string.

    I'm... torn. I've more or less had a nagging idea in my mind ever since I picked up the P5 that I would have been better served with the 4 string version. This isn't a career for me, and I continue to play out because it's fun rather than out of necessity. I can't quite decide if I really should put the time in to force myself to really learn 5-string, or accept my current preferences and stop worrying about it so much (leading to a downsized P bass). I regularly challenge myself to play parts that are initially challenging to my ability, and I'm always looking to increase my skill as a bassist, but this is an area of bass (similar to my feelings around slap bass) that has just never pushed me to challenge myself. Outside of the obvious additional notes and positioning, what would I miss out on by simply dropping back to 4 strings only? What haven't I considered by making such a move?

    Thanks in advance for any advice!
    pjbassist likes this.
  2. James Collins

    James Collins

    Mar 25, 2017
    Augusta, GA
    A 5 string is really just about convenience. Whether a high C or low B, you only get 5 extra notes. Most of the time, you play a note that already exists to avoid shifting position. With a low B, it also makes it easier to play drop tunings without alternate tuning.

    However, if you don't like it and don't play drop D for example, I would recommend dropping the extra string.
    BelowTheBenthic and Gizmot like this.
  3. MrLenny1


    Jan 17, 2009
    New England
    A 5 string is a 4 string with a great thumbrest.
    Current gigs are New Country and the low B
    is on a lot of the recordings.
    Nothing like the extra low range IMHO.
  4. Don't under estimate the ability to pickup some of those E notes further up the neck on the B. It can be an advantage if you can train yourself to look for them.
  5. csc2048b


    Apr 4, 2010
    i was going to suggest a BEAD bass but it seems you're not fond of the Low-B. all the same, try a BEAD when you see one and you might just change your mind,
    BelowTheBenthic, OOD and Band Mom like this.
  6. Band Mom

    Band Mom Not Actually a Mom

    Oct 2, 2017
    Austin, TX
    Hmm, I hadn't really considered BEAD, though that might actually be worth considering. I don't really avoid playing the B string simply because it's a B. It's a bit more like MrLenny said above, and it ultimately becomes a thumb rest. I simply find that I tend to only use 4 strings in most situations. But I would guess that I probably use the low B a bit more than that high G.
    csc2048b likes this.
  7. If you play from standard notation the five string has value. IMO if you are not playing from standard notation your four string will do what you want.
    Band Mom likes this.
  8. It sounds to me that you know where your heart is at (4) and you should stick to that if you have to choose. Personally I play both with no issues.
    Last edited: Oct 10, 2017
    hisdudeness, Band Mom and chip134 like this.
  9. biguglyman


    Jul 27, 2017
    Pownal, ME
    The biggest plus for me as far as playing a five string goes, is having a low D. Did a studio session for a friend who wrote a nice song in the key of D. Being able to walk up from and down to that low D was sweet. Made the song IMHO. The writer loved it too.
  10. stringthrough

    stringthrough Supporting Member

    I'm a 4 stringer for 40+ years. Just ordered a 5 stringer. This will be my 4th attempt at getting comfortable on the 5-er. I seem to get closer to that point with every effort. I do this because a 5-er will extend my range and will make certain musical ideas easier to execute. I do however except that I will never be as comfortable on a 5-er and that it will once again be a challenge to mute that additional string... I hope my story has some value for you.
  11. phillipkregg

    phillipkregg Supporting Member

    Jun 8, 2010
    Nashville, TN
    I debated this for years myself. Recently I decided to make the switch to five-string permanently and not look back. Sold off all my four strings and now all I have are 5 string basses.

    Honestly it's the best choice I could have made. The 5-string bass gives you opportunities that you may not have on a 4. If you ever find yourself playing jazz, or show tunes / musicals, that stuff has Parts written specifically for 5-string bass. You simply can't get away with just being a 4 stringer.

    Also the 5-string bass allows you to play the entire circle of fifths simply by playing each open string and then fretting the bass on the first fret and playing every string. Then you can repeat that pattern all the way up the neck on every fret.

    Just one more benefit of having a 5 string. I think the five string is the new 4, in the sense that it's the basic requirement for modern music as a bass guitarist. Just my humble opinion.
    trigger happy, Beej, Band Mom and 2 others like this.
  12. TheLowDown33

    TheLowDown33 Supporting Member

    Jul 4, 2009
    For what it's worth, I play 5's and 6's almost all of the time and my playing reflects that. It takes a while but you start to utilize that low string way more often than you think. When I play 4s I often reach for notes that are not there and feel a bit "naked". I also play a lot of chords and chord melody type stuff, so having more notes per position is a major plus. 4s are a lot of fun though because moving around the neck is significantly easier. Objectively speaking, it sounds like you want a 4 though, and there's nothing wrong with that.
    Band Mom and osonu like this.
  13. BigKD


    Apr 19, 2014
    Get a 6 string and go F#, B, E, A, D, G

    Gotta compete with the kids these days and their software synthesizers.
    Dieboy, mattj1stc, John Conte and 3 others like this.
  14. the_home

    the_home Supporting Member

    Jul 14, 2005
    Pensacola, FL
    I also transitioned from six to four strings some time ago. Over the years I became a reasonable bass player, and still do fine on rhythm guitar. Three years ago I started playing five string bass, strung to a high C. I use the extra string to play triad chords on the bass, and now supply the bottom and some rhythm, too. Like you, I play in a band that plays originals. The bass + rhythm approach has taken the entire band into some interesting new directions.
    Band Mom likes this.
  15. jjmuckluckjr


    Mar 24, 2015
    One of the biggest challenges I’ve had with a 5’er is more; where to use it, rather than the physical mechanics of playing. They’re usually a bit heavier and have wider necks with closer string spacing. You get used to it in no time. (Here’s were I get hammered). For 80%+ of the music I play, the 5’er is just overkill. Lord knows nothing will rattle your molars like that B-string at high volume! But sadly my death metal days are long gone. On the other side of the fretboard, the C-string starts to wander into guitar territory. Staying too long in the upper registers can get you lost in the mix.
    That’s the paradox of 5’ers. Having more and less options simultaneously.
    hisdudeness and Band Mom like this.
  16. OOD


    Jul 29, 2009
    Judging by what you've said here, I think you should try BEAD. I've been using it for a while and I don't see myself ever going back to a 5-string or EADG-4-string.

    I do love DGCF also, but you lose the open E and open A, and that might not be ideal for you.
    Band Mom likes this.
  17. biguglyman


    Jul 27, 2017
    Pownal, ME
    Band Mom likes this.
  18. mikewalker


    Jul 30, 2017
    Canada, Eh!
    From my personal point of view, 4-strings is an instrument all its own. There have been five-string and six-string and even seven-string basses since antiquity ( Small 7 String Bass Colichon 1683 )

    I like four strings for "electric bass guitar" and enjoy the challenges of navigating the timbres of the different strings at different positions, and using them all to best effect.

    Five string... Ick. I'm happy playing a six string gamba and a five string arpeggionne but a five string electric bass guitar is just "wrong" to my fingers. I'd much rather play BEAD or ADGC four-string, if the super low notes that only whales can hear are really what's required. :)
    Band Mom likes this.
  19. Band Mom

    Band Mom Not Actually a Mom

    Oct 2, 2017
    Austin, TX
    Wow, guys! Thanks for all the input. I can't say I disagree with many of the points made here.

    I would agree that my heart is in the 4-string, but like some of you, I've sometimes run into a line that would just be that much easier to play on a 5-string. But I also find that the 5 string is also overkill for most of the stuff I play, and I like how much more quickly around a 4-string neck.

    I could continue on playing both, as I've played for long enough to get around both without too much of a hiccup in the transition, but I can't help but feel that I'd be better served by committing my practice time/writing to one or the other.

    For those of you suggesting BEAD tuning, what kind of bass/strings do you use for that tuning? I would imagine that most standard scale basses could accommodate that tuning with some decent set up work and possibly replacing the nut, but I was curious if there were specific basses/strings that are better suited.
  20. biguglyman


    Jul 27, 2017
    Pownal, ME
    I go from a Hofner Beatle Bass 4 to a Carvin long scale 5 and back. Just takes practice.
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