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Turning a 5 string into a 4 string bass

Discussion in 'Basses [DB]' started by Gregmak, Feb 29, 2020.

  1. Gregmak


    Oct 1, 2009
    Larnaca, Cyprus
    Hi guys,

    I am curious if it's possible to turn a 5 string bass into a 4 string bass but I'm not sure how it would affect the sound as the instrument will have less tension. I found a powerful fully carved 5 string that sounds incredible. Very punchy for Jazz and lots of beautiful sustain and growl. The neck is a bit thick for my liking but I could get used to it over time.

    Now I don't play a 5 string, and I wouldn't be interested in playing a 5 string. If anyone has experience with this, do you think it would work out? Or is it too much of a risk? I personally have no idea about this.

    Thank you in advance!
    kerrycares likes this.
  2. Steve Swan

    Steve Swan

    Oct 12, 2004
    Burlingame, California
    Retailer: Shen, Sun, older European
    The bass will tell you right away if the change is good. I have a 19th century 7/8 French bass that had been converted to 5 string in the 1920s-30s by switching out the original neck for a huge eastern European 5 string neck. Just taking off the low B string spoke volumes. This bass is much happier with a new 4 string neck and a C extension. Your results may vary !!
    groooooove and Sam Sherry like this.
  3. Gregmak


    Oct 1, 2009
    Larnaca, Cyprus
    Unfortunately, I can't risk buying the bass and converting it to a 4-string without having some solid information. I know it's always a risk and there's no way to really know unless I try it, but it would be good to know if generally if it's a viable option. Thanks for the replies!

    Also, there is no bass luthier here so changing the neck is not an option. I would have to get used to playing on a thicker neck. If the sound remains as excellent as it is right now, I can live with the thicker neck as long as there are no problems converting the bass to a 4 string. I would just switch the nut, bridge and tailpiece. I have a violin luthier here who could do that for me.
  4. mdcbass

    mdcbass Supporting Member

    Feb 6, 2005
    Seacoast of NH
    You might like the 5 with a high C string which would just need the string and some adjustments on the nut and bridge.
  5. Eric Hochberg

    Eric Hochberg

    Jul 7, 2004
    Why don't you take off the B string and see how it sounds?
  6. Gregmak


    Oct 1, 2009
    Larnaca, Cyprus
    Good idea.. didn't think of that :roflmao:
    Ric Vice likes this.
  7. kerrycares

    kerrycares Supporting Member

    Jan 17, 2006
    Howell, Michigan
    My bass is a 5 that was converted to 4 by the builder Luciano Golia.
    He removed the B , changed the bridge and it is my favorite bass I’ve ever owned.
    I never saw or played it as a 5.
    Good luck !
  8. bengreen


    Jan 26, 2016
    San Diego
    Speaking as a guy who plays 5-string and remembers how frustrating it was finding instruments to audition in this country (US)...if it plays that well as a 5-string (and many don't) maybe you should let that one go and leave it for the next person who actually wants one?

    But I see you're in Cyprus. Is there a lack of basses in general there?
  9. Gregmak


    Oct 1, 2009
    Larnaca, Cyprus
    Hey bud, I understand your thoughts. But yes, there are no basses here. I brought mine over from New York and I have a friend who brought 4-5 basses from Germany. There's also 2 German basses for the state orchestra. That's all the basses on this island and we are 8 bass players here. The rest just play on generic chinese plywood basses.

    Bringing a bass from abroad is also very risky as people here really don't take care of stuff at the port or airport. My bass was cracked in 4 places in a flight case when it got over here.
  10. paulunger

    paulunger Supporting Member

    Sep 1, 2002
    Fort Worth, Texas
    It’s relatively easy to do. I do it with my 5 string. I just had 4 slots cut for 4 strings on the existing bridge and nut and swapped out the tailpiece. Eventually I got a Thomson tailpiece that allows me to use it for either 4 or 5 strings. This allows me to just remove the B string without changing the entire tailpiece assembly. It takes me about 5 minutes to remove the string, the tuner and just move the strings over from slots they sit on the bridge over to the slots cut for 4 strings and viola, I’ve instantly converted my bass from a 5 to a 4 string.
    If you don’t want to go back and forth between 4 and 5 strings, just get a new nut made, recut the string slots on your bridge and get a new tailpiece.
    Last edited: Mar 5, 2020
  11. leonard


    Jul 31, 2001
    The results need to be reported immediately here on this thread.

    With photos, preferably. =)
  12. Maple

    Maple Supporting Member

    Feb 25, 2016
    San Francisco Bay Area
    All of the 5-string basses I've see were built originally as 4-string and modified later.
    I would assume they will be happier with the lower tension of 4 strings.
  13. Gregmak


    Oct 1, 2009
    Larnaca, Cyprus
    I just asked the guy to take off the low B string and let it sit for a couple of days and I'll go play it and record some audio. I'll post it here once it's done.
    Ric Vice likes this.
  14. John Sprague

    John Sprague Sam Shen's US Distributor

    Mar 10, 2003
    Rochester, NY
    Sales Manager, CSC Products Inc.
    I'm wondering if your violin luthier could trim that neck down a bit for you.
  15. Calvin Marks

    Calvin Marks Supporting Member

    Oct 22, 2017
    If the five string was constructed properly the bass bar and top is going to be tuned specifically for the extra tension. That being said, if you are to find a luthier to perform the surgery necessary to convert it to a four string it may not end up sounding that much better unless they take the top off and shave some of the wood down, too.

    I know players that simply trimmed the neck and fingerboard down significantly and called it a day, and I know one or two that did that and were left with crummy instruments that were hard to sell.

    My advice would be to sell the instrument as a five string and then put that new money to work for a four string bass.
    carl h. likes this.
  16. This is a good thing. After you get used to it, you'll realize that a thick neck on an upright bass is ergonomically superior to a skinny neck.
  17. Ric Vice

    Ric Vice Supporting Member

    Jul 2, 2005
    Olivette, Missouri
    Unless you have small hands like me. :)
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