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What's with the B??

Discussion in 'Miscellaneous [BG]' started by MikeyFingers, Jan 23, 2006.

  1. I've been trying to figure this out, but I just can't. I asked some guitar player friends of mine, and they can't figure it out either. The question: Why do guitars defy logic by stepping out of the normal 4th tuning pattern, and using a B String? On a 6/7 string bass, it's tuned to C (like it should be). I can't think of any reason why they use the B string, except maybe it makes some chords easier? Besides that, I can only see the B string complicating things.
    Anyone have a logical explanation?
  2. Eli M.

    Eli M. Life's like a movie, write your own ending

    Jul 24, 2004
    New York, NY
    Although I don't know the history of it, I assume it has something to do with playing chords... For example, because of the B string you get a high E which corresponds to the low E.
  3. Oysterman


    Mar 30, 2000
    Making chords easier to play is "logical" enough for me. Or perhaps "practical" is a better word. No easy way of doing barre chords with straight 4ths tuning...
  4. burntgorilla


    Jan 24, 2005
    There's a slightly relevant discussion about tuning in Basses, which touches on this.
  5. fretlessrock

    fretlessrock Supporting Member

    Aug 8, 2002
    The standard E tuning gives you the 1 and 4 on the E and A, and then the 5 and octave on the B and E, making for a better barre chord than getting the 1-4-x-x-b6-b9 that you get by barre-ing a 4ths tuning. It is kinda crazy, but it works for guitar. Have fun trying to sound like Pete Townshend on a guitar tuned in 4ths!!!!

    A neat web app is InterChart:

    It can be tweaked to show you forms in lots of tunings.
  6. Chords are one big reason. Another, somewhat related, reason has to do with the question of which notes you're likely to use in a given key or at a given position, and of which notes you have available to you as open strings. For instance, if you're playing in E minor (for which the 5th is B), having a high open B and a high open E available is probably going to be more use to you than having a high C and F. If you capo up to the 3rd and play in G, the high D and G are going to be more useful than a high Eb and Ab. If you're playing in, say, 6th position in the key of Bb, it's handy that your low F (on a 5 string) is also on the 6th fret; on a BEADGB or EADGBE bass, *your high F is also at the 6th position,* so you don't have to shift to get it.

    Historically, having this little irregularity in the intervals between the strings is not an exception but is in fact more like the rule, at least in Western music of the past few centuries. Really, it's the 6 string electric bass, as it's usually tuned, that's the freak here. Not that that's inhehently either good or bad, of course.

    Another possible reason, which would operate probably more for acoustic guitars than for basses, would be sympathetic resonances. Hit a low E, and the high E is gonna resonate with it; a high F won't.