1. Please take 30 seconds to register your free account to remove most ads, post topics, make friends, earn reward points at our store, and more!  
    TalkBass.com has been uniting the low end since 1998.  Join us! :)

Tuning in 5ths vs. a five string

Discussion in 'Basses [DB]' started by spebald16, May 15, 2011.

  1. spebald16


    May 15, 2011
    What is everyone's opinion regarding tuning a bass in 5ths (cgda) or a five string with a low b?
  2. LeslieD


    Jul 25, 2006
    I think you'd get very tired of all the extra shifts on every string if you tuned your bass in 5ths. Also, some already difficult passages might become insanely impossible.

    Plus, if you've played for a long time you might forget that you're not in 4ths anymore.

    I'd definitely opt for the fiver or at least a bass w/ the low C extension before using an alternate tuning for the bass.
  3. eerbrev


    Dec 6, 2009
    Ottawa, ON, CAN
    I'm glad someone other than me is asking this. I've been thinking hard about this for some time now.

    i've never used a 5 string for any extended length of time (few hours max) but both tuning in 5ths and a five string are better than an extension in my opinion (which people are more than welcome to, and often do, disagree with).

    the only advantages that I really see in a c-extension is that you don't need to buy a new bass. you can stay with the same bass you know and love and get a few extra notes without changing much. the notes speak clearly due to the length of the string and small mass in comparison to a low B/C string. Also, if you have a run of low Ds, you can "set it and forget it".

    on the down side, I've never met a C-extension that's in tune (i've tried and listened to quite a few. like I said, I've been thinking about this a while. usually the low C must be Sharp for the E to be in tune). The old "typewriter" style system was noisy and heavy, and not particularly articulate, and while the new "capo" style is lighter, it is difficult to finger due to extended string length (most players use 1-4 for a half tone), which means that it is also slow.

    5-string basses are a good option if you can find one that sounds good. This, unfortunately, is the rub. some people here (Paul Warburton, for example), found a 5er that sounds like warm, chocolatey goodness and will swear by them. others here have found nothing but tubby, heavy, thick-topped monsters with A strings that have no volume and speak slower than the rest of the strings. The moral of the story being that if you want a fiver, you have to search around and be willing to shell out a lot of hard cash to get a good one. Some people find the string spacing, etc hard to deal with because they've played 4 string basses for so long (the same problem comes up in 4 and 5 string electrics, surprisingly enough), others can get used to it.

    So Pros? you can find a good one, and learn to play it well. Cons? you need to find one, and you can't use the old bass you had, and you need to learn to play it as well as you did your old one.

    5ths? well, I'm a bit controversial in opinion here. i think that it not only makes a lot of sense, but also works really well in practice. I will admit that tuning in this way is a big pain for some things, but the basic turn of phrase around the people who play this way seems to be "if it was hard on 4ths bass, it's easier in 5ths. if it was ridiculously simple in 4ths, it's probably hard in 5ths. I feel like I can speak a bit here because I regularly do both. I use a 4ths bass at school to learn with my teacher, and i use a 5ths bass whenever i got to any kind of jam, whether folk, jazz, whatever. I also practice classical stuff at home in 5ths for my own amusement. There's also a learning curve. you need to relearn how to play the bass. Basic technique transfers, and some basic shifting concepts, but all your scales and arpeggios are different, and all your excerpts need to be relearned. added benefit? you've never heard your bass sound so good.

    There are arguments that the low C string just can't put out the power of a c-extension string, and not only is that untrue in every incidence of my experience, but 5ths basses tend to be louder instead. They are also more articulate , though much of that aspect has to do with the fact that all the 5ths guys here cut the wings off their bridges. The other argument that isn't entirely true is that of shifting. This depends heavily what music you're playing. all those insane mozart runs are suddenly much easier because you're tuned like a cello, but some of those easier under the fingers, meaty Brahms 4ths bass parts become more difficult because you're not playing the exact instrument they were written for. I've been told Ein heldenlieben is way easier in 5ths, but I can't confirm. I have the privilege if seeing the National Arts Center Orchestra perform (cheap student tickets are 15 bucks. sweet deals). There are two 5ths players (principal and asst. principal), and the other three bassists are in 4ths. I would argue that, having seen them play the same part side by side, that neither does more shifting than the other, they just shift in different places (I will add the caveat of the 5ths "hand position" of a minor third here, although it is very rare that you ever hold that position, generally a very closed hand is used).

    so, long winded, slightly inflammatory explanation over? it's up to you. got a bass you just love to pieces? c-extension unless you want to make a big commitment to 5ths. looking to upgrade your bass and think that extra string won't be a bother? go for a 5er and don't let anyone stop you.

    Jsn likes this.
  4. id reccommend C F B E if you want to play comfortably with chords.... any day over a 5string
  5. engedi1

    engedi1 Supporting Member

    Sep 16, 2005
    I am not wild about 5 strings due my small hands, nor C extensions. I think tuning in fifths is more promising. I know the principle bassist of Montreal Phil tunes in fifths and is a big evangelist for that tuning system. I have never had the guts to try it myself!
  6. Chris Symer

    Chris Symer

    Dec 13, 2009
    eerbrev nails it for me. Great post! Having played in fourths for over twenty years and then switching to fifths eleven years ago, I have to say this post matches my experience very well. Yea, I can still play in fourths and will do so when sitting in or teaching (just spent three weeks in a pit subbing for a friend on his fourths tuned bass also) but have found the advantages of fifths to outway the disadvantages in most situations. The shifting is really more of a mental learning curve than a physical one if you ask me. And yes, Einheldenlieben does sit a little better in fifths but all the thirds in Mozart 40 kind of suck.......
  7. eerbrev


    Dec 6, 2009
    Ottawa, ON, CAN
    i've seen JQ's student's fingerings for that. they're comical. so much thumb. but at the same time, perhaps because they had to work that passage so hard, it's so articulate.
  8. eerbrev


    Dec 6, 2009
    Ottawa, ON, CAN
    it's not montreal symphony, but the National Arts Center Orchestra in Ottawa (diff province, a bit like saying nashville is in louisiana :D ) He does teach at McGill in Montreal though. He also now has a Co- Principal position in the LSO.
  9. engedi1

    engedi1 Supporting Member

    Sep 16, 2005
    if 40 sucks, I could only imagine the finale of 35 is WAY improved in fifths. If you have ever watched a cellist play 35 and then a bassists in 4ths, that is all you need to know. It is all in "first position" for the cello, they barely move their hands...
  10. Skabasskid


    Mar 6, 2011
    I play a five string with a low B (though technically it's a low C, but tomato/tomahto...kinda)

    I love it. It's perfect. Wow. =]
  11. donn


    Mar 28, 2011
    Some rather long time ago, when I had only been playing a couple years, I replaced my E with a C string and tuned my A down - but left the G alone, so two 5ths and a 4th. Played that way a while and went back to E, but I might've liked it better with a bass with more low end. It was a fairly inexpensive experiment, anyway.
  12. engedi1

    engedi1 Supporting Member

    Sep 16, 2005
    My bad! I couldn't remember where he was at, but must've have latched onto the McGill thing. Don't want to offend my beloved Canuck neighbors!
  13. Jluvial


    Oct 30, 2010
    Hillsboro, Oregon
    Good job to Eerbrev. He hit pretty much all the main points of 5ths tuning. I want to stress one main point though: most musicians hate learning how to replay their instrument. Luckily I started out in fifths so it hasn't been at all a problem for me.

    I have slender hands with long fingers so the large hand position required for 1st position is achieved with only a bit of rolling on my part. If I find any passage difficult to manage because of strange shifting it can usually be solved by using a higher position, like 3rd or 4th. Switching strings was as easy as changing out the low E for a low B and retuing everything to CGDA. If you have the money I'd suggest getting some solo strings, cause right now I'm not entirely happy with my low G being a bit loose (having been tuned down from A).

    One point I'd like to make about 5 string basses is one I've said in another thread. That is, the middle A string is usually so weak because it's situated right over the heart of the bridge while the other 4 strings have a clear path. It would require and entirely new bridge design to correct, not a more powerful bass. Why nobody has thought of this I have no idea. I guess everyone thinks the hearts are purely artistic. Also, you might see all the way down to low C, but nobody writes a low B. Nobody.

    C extensions seem really dumb to me. It's really funny when you find a guy with a C extension and a fingerboard end extension (for those REALLY high notes). It's like, with my 5ths tuning I can easily hit those extra notes, especially the low C to Eb. They're right there under my hand! It looks like such a pain to use too...
  14. I played at least a dozen 5-string basses before I bought mine 12 years ago, and I've played at least that many since. I never found this to be the case.
  15. Strauss, I believe.

  16. davidsbass


    Dec 5, 2010
  17. Eric Hochberg

    Eric Hochberg

    Jul 7, 2004
    Absolutely, but keep in mind, he's playing what he wants to play, not what the music says he has to play.
  18. and Respighi . . .
    Bassguyrob likes this.
  19. LeslieD


    Jul 25, 2006
    Yes, that's what's true for me. It would just drive me nuts. It's hard enough to learn a different instrument (I'm learning to play violin, but I admit that I play it more like a bass than a violin).

    Old habits die hard.
  20. red_on_red


    Dec 11, 2008
    Vancouver, BC
    ... Alban Berg.
    Bassguyrob likes this.

Share This Page