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Tuning in fifths?

Discussion in 'Strings [BG]' started by amper, Apr 5, 2005.

  1. amper


    Dec 4, 2002
    I didn't really know where to post this, but the Strings forum seems like a good place...

    For some reason I suddenly have the urge to expreiment with tuning one of my bass guitars in fifths. Has anyone else attempted this?

    After some consideration, I've settled on Rotosound Jazz Bass flatwound strings, because I like the way these strings sound on my fretless basses, and they seem to be available in the gauges I think I need. If I find other brands of strings that I can get in multiple tensions, I may try them, as well (like D'Addario Chromes, of which I could assemble a similar CGDA set easily, but not an FCGD set). Plus, Rotosound and TI are the only two companies I know of that make flatwound high C strings, but TI only offers one tension grade, so that limits me to the Roto's as long as I'm sticking with flats.

    I'm going to try this two different ways:

    1. CGDA (octave below cello)
    2. FCGD (fifth below cello)

    To do this, I bought three sets of strings:

    1. RS776LD (35,45,65,85,105,130)
    2. SM77 (40,60,80,100)
    3. RS77LE (50,75,95,110)

    For the CGDA tuning, I'm going to use the following gauges:

    C = 130 (regular tension B, tuned up 2 semitones)
    G = 100 (light E, tuned up 3 semitones)
    D = 75 (heavy D, concert pitch)
    A = 45 (regular G, up 2 semitones)

    For the FCGD, I'm using:

    F = 105 (regular E, up 2 semitones)
    C = 80 (light A, up 3 semitones)
    G = 50 (heavy G, concert pitch)
    D = 35 (regular C, up 2 semitones)

    That leaves me with the following gauges unused: 40,60,65,85,95,110. I can probably use some of these elsewhere in my instrument stable.

    Any suggestions/comments/words of encouragement?
  2. Passinwind

    Passinwind I Know Nothing Supporting Member

    Check this thread out, from the DB Technique Forum:

    Have fun!
  3. amper


    Dec 4, 2002
    Yeah, I came across that thread by doing a search on Google for Joel Quarrington, as I remembered reading his articles on fifths tuning awhile back. It seems to me that fifths tuning on a double bass must be extremely difficult, what with the much longer scale length.

    I figure that the 34" scale should make it a bit easier, plus, using the FCGA tuning, I can capo at the seventh fret and get the equivalent of a 22 2/3" scale cello.

    I have visions of playing the Bach cello suites, myself. After seeing/hearing Yo-Yo Ma playing #1 on "The West Wing", I got hooked on that melody--which is one of the reasons why I had my custom Warwick short scale made (to approximate a cello's range, though I keep it tuned in fourths at the moment). Trying to play the #1 in standard fourths tuning doesn't sound quite right, not to mention being extremely difficult to play like that.

    I've always loved the sound of the cello, but my heart is with the bass guitar...
  4. amper


    Dec 4, 2002
    One more experiment...cello tuning (CGDA) on an electric guitar. I've ordered some D'Addario Chromes in .065, .045, .030, .020. The tensions will be in the mid 20's each, for a total string tension of about 100 lbs, so this will be pretty light and will possibly need a truss rod adjustment (maybe not, it works out to pretty close to a regular set of 10's), but these are the best gauges I could come up with. The .065 and .020 are the heaviest and lightest, respectively, that D'Addario offers.

    If it works out OK, maybe I'll think about a custom fretless guitar for this idea...
  5. Passinwind

    Passinwind I Know Nothing Supporting Member

    I still have a fretless guitar kicking around in pieces, I think. I made it back in the 80s, tried a bunch of tunings (mostly slide oriented), and eventually settled on a baritone guitar format. I used a couple of half round bass strings on the low side, can't remember the gauges now though. It had a Les Paul low impedance recording pickup in it for a while. The other bass player in my band at the time used it a lot more than I did.

    You might PM TB'er Dirk Diggler, I think he uses 5ths tuning or a variant on his Warr? Dirk's messed around a lot with piccolo basses and other offbeat bass-objects too, and has done some really cool stuff with 'em.
  6. amper


    Dec 4, 2002
    You know, I just realized I have two errors in my first post. B-C and E-F are only 1 semitone each...
  7. Other bass player??? you had a badn iwth two bass players???
  8. Istar


    Apr 5, 2005
    Antwerp, Belgium
    I`m not sure what you are trying to do, but changing your bass so it`s sounds like a chello is not going to work. It`s hard enough getting a electric bass to sound like a Double Bass and even then it`s never quite the same sound. I`m not trying to discourage you or anything but I just don`t want you to stick all that work into it and than be disapointed. And I am really curious how you are going to bow you electric bass guitar ? If you are going through so much trouble to basicly play fretted pizzicato cello why not just play cello ? I mean I just because you love your bass guitar doenst mean you can`t play another instrument.
  9. amper


    Dec 4, 2002
    I'm not necessarily trying to duplicate the sound of a cello, just the range and style. I *may* actually end up buying a cello, or an electrical equivalent thereof...

    It is, of course, pratically impossible to bow most electric bass guitars (eBow notwithstanding), and I *do* play other instruments (guitar, keys, drums, vocals, odd noisemaking percussion, etc.).

    I don't think I'll end up disappointed. If nothing else, the experiments will at least introduce me to another way of thinking about my (current) main instrument. Plus, I have a budding interest in lutherie, and if the experiments turn out to be at all fruitful, they will help me distinguish my products from the vast majority of luthiers out there.
  10. Istar


    Apr 5, 2005
    Antwerp, Belgium
    Sorry if you thought I was dissing you that was not my intension.

    I`m really curious how your experiment turns out.
    My girlsfriend plays cello and it a very unique sound.

    Goodluck ! :)
  11. pklima


    May 2, 2003
    Kraków, Polska
    I have a cheap Galveston doubleneck on which I tune the 4-string neck in fifths (strung with d'Addario Chromes except the low C is a LaBella flatwound B - works well, the tensions and tone are well-balanced). I used to play various instruments tuned in fifths (mandolin, mandola, mandocello, cello banjo) so dealing with the fifths tuning isn't a problem. The problem is I play double bass 98% of the time...

    Fifths tuning is great for playing chords and arpeggios - the wider intervals give things a little more clarity. Also, the one-finger power chords are great for metal. And with the Galveston's 27-fret necks I get four octaves of range with four strings, so taking things up an octave or two is easy. The downsides, aside from the obvious need for more long shifts, is that to avoid some of those shifts I end up playing high up the neck on the low C more than I do on the low B on the 5-string neck - the tone and clarity start to suffer. And typical guitar keys can get awkward - a longer-scale bass tuned AEBF# would be better-suited for rock, I guess.
  12. I've got an old beater Vantage fretless that I keep lying around that I tune to DAEB. It's kind of interesting to find how different you play in different tunings. I play around on it and then try and transpose things that I've written on it back to standard tuning. It can help to break out of habitual playing patterns, too.