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Why do so many 5 & 6 string players NEVER use their low B?

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by foothilla, Dec 12, 2019.

  1. foothilla


    Aug 21, 2016
    Los Angeles
    NOTE: I am primarily a 4 string player that sometimes plays 5 string, but my 5 strings are always tuned E-A-D-G-C (no low B).

    I never bonded with a low B string (I've tried). Regardless of bass, it has always sounded flabby and undefined to me. Lately I have been watching some excellent 5/6 string players, and I've been paying very close attention to how they use of their low B string.

    To my surprise, a huge percentage of these players barely use the low B. It's not uncommon to see some monster players that will go the entire tune without hitting the low B string a single time. I'm confused why anyone would use a 5 or 6 string for even one tune, if they weren't going to use the B string anyway.

    This is an odd, but serious question. Does anyone know why people are doing this? What am I missing? Why are guys doing this?
  2. It’s there when you need it.
    fr8ghtrain, tubatodd, BoydG and 76 others like this.
  3. bass12

    bass12 Say "Ahhh"... Supporting Member

    Jun 8, 2008
    Montreal, Canada
    I don't know - you'd have to ask them. I suppose some people want the option - even if they might not end up taking advantage of the B string. I use my B string regularly but there are definitely gigs where the material doesn't inspire me to play much (if at all) on that string (be it for the extended range or for position reasons).
  4. Humbled

    Humbled Supporting Member

    Maybe they're drunk and reverting to the four-string positioning that's imprinted in their brain stem (?)
  5. foothilla


    Aug 21, 2016
    Los Angeles
    I'm am asking them,..here. ;)
  6. Do you use your C string on every tune?
    fauxtoe, Kokoman, LowBSix and 17 others like this.
  7. foothilla


    Aug 21, 2016
    Los Angeles
    Haha. Maybe.

    I could find 50 examples of great players doing this, but here are two random examples.

    This cat has a ton of 4 string basses, but plays this on a 5 string, and never touches the low B. Seems like this would be a hell of a lot easier without that B string in the way?

    Then there is this cat, busting out a cool little looped funk groove,.....and never lays a finger on that damn low B!

    Kice and The Nameless like this.
  8. foothilla


    Aug 21, 2016
    Los Angeles
    No,..but if it's a tune I don't want to use the high C, then I use a 4 string on that tune.

    I'm even seeing guys that I know that have a bunch of 4 strings using basses with low B's for recording,...even though they aren't using the low B for that track?

    Conversely, I'm barely seeing anyone outside of Metal using the B string with any regularity.
    matthewbrown likes this.
  9. bass12

    bass12 Say "Ahhh"... Supporting Member

    Jun 8, 2008
    Montreal, Canada
    One reason could be that the players in question might just be used to their fives. Most people are going to play better on an instrument they feel "at home" on.
  10. Humbled

    Humbled Supporting Member

    In both your examples I see a bass guitar being used as a solo or lead instrument.

    Maybe no low B is needed for those.
  11. foothilla


    Aug 21, 2016
    Los Angeles
    Yea, I considered that. But I am seeing guys that are primarily 4 string players (like the guy in that first video I posted) using a 5/6 for a recording,...and then they don't touch the B string at all. I used to not pay much attention to how players used their low B, but now that I been really studying it, it seems like it's mostly only metal players are using the thing with any regularity.
  12. First? I've been playin Low B strings on 5 an 6 string basses since the early 90s. Learning how to string and set up a B string is huge. Back then, it was an art. Today, most instruments and strings are excellent. I play a 5 string exclusively now, for a lot of reasons. To avoid Downtuning my instrument for songs tuned down on records, or sitting in with bands who tune flat. Second, for more range in one position. Less looking at my fretboard. Third, to save my wrists. Songs played in first position on a 4 string's fretboard can be moved to 6th position on a 5. Less stretching, less hand fatigue. And last but not least? I love the power and authority of my B string.

    But, much as I love it, it isn't always applicable in all situations. I play in an Alice and Chains tribute. Guy only played a 4 string. So I only use 4 strings. I only own 5s, and I'm not the kind of guy who runs out and buys new basses for a project. But I do approach each tune as a separate entity. I try to think in the way the original player did at time of recording, and try to match, philosophically, the intent.

    On my original shows, tho, I use my B far more. It's part of my style after 30 years, and I use it naturally I don't go in thinking, "I must use my B today.", it just happens. I don't see it as a separate thing. That's my bass. I just play it. I love lows, using my B instead of low octave pedals, I can play key and sax lines, it adds freedom for me. Exactly what it was designed for. I imagine the pros you see not using their B have reason. If it isn't necessary? I leave it alone, too. But it's nice to have when I want it.

    Also, some guys believe Mass equals Tone. 5 strings are a bit bigger, and that can lead to bigger tone. Plus, if only playin 4 strings of a 5, the B is a GREAT fingerstop to keep your plucking fingers from getting too far away after a pluck. When I play a 4 today, that's something I have to account for. My fingerstop is gone. Heh.
    Hank S, GazzBass, Cosmozis and 48 others like this.
  13. bass12

    bass12 Say "Ahhh"... Supporting Member

    Jun 8, 2008
    Montreal, Canada
    Switching basses for one tune because you won't be using the extra string? That sounds exhausting. As for styles outside of metal where extended low end comes into play, there's plenty of contemporary popular music that makes use of notes lower than E (reggae, top 40, R&B, etc.). And keep in mind that it's not just about the register - it's also about what you have access to in any given position (as well as any textural differences).
  14. foothilla


    Aug 21, 2016
    Los Angeles
    Excellent explanation. This is the kind of understanding I was looking for. I am not faulting the guys that barely use the low B (many of them play circles around me),...I'm just trying to understand it. :thumbsup:
    ChaZam, Gooney, Gravenites and 6 others like this.
  15. two fingers

    two fingers Opinionated blowhard. But not mad about it. Gold Supporting Member

    Feb 7, 2005
    Eastern NC USA
    You can't play much modern country at all (like the recording anyway) without the low B. Same goes for a lot of modern pop and funk.

    I would be lost without mine. I use it mose every song.

    I used to have a 6 string bass. Ither than scale exercises at home, I never once played on the C string.

    Either way, I'm certainly not going to switch basses because the next song in my set doesn't need a low B. Carrying around that extra string for a song doesn't hurt anything. :D
  16. foothilla


    Aug 21, 2016
    Los Angeles
    For sure, it would be in a small gig scenario. But I am seeing it in well rehearsed recording sessions (the first vid I posted, for example),...and on big stages where bass switches are handled by the crew.
    Syl_Funky_bass and The Nameless like this.
  17. bass12

    bass12 Say "Ahhh"... Supporting Member

    Jun 8, 2008
    Montreal, Canada
    Maybe the guy in the first clip prefers the sound of that bass in that context. The last time I did any slap in the studio I used a five string, not because I needed the B string (I didn't and it would have been easier without it) but because that bass had the sound I wanted for that track. The second clip? It's NAMM. Who knows why that guy is playing that particular bass. Could just be because Ned wanted it showcased. Or maybe the player just liked the sound or playability of it, or maybe it was the colour, or... Really, I wouldn't lose any sleep over it.
    Last edited: Dec 12, 2019
  18. gln1955

    gln1955 Supporting Member

    Aug 25, 2014
    Ohio, USA
    Even if you aren't playing the B, it makes for a handy thumb anchor.

    I really can't see a regular 5 string player changing to a 4 for a song. Doesn't make much sense.
  19. socialleper

    socialleper Bringer of doom and top shelf beer Supporting Member

    May 31, 2009
    Canyon Country, CA
    Getting good tension on a B string is difficult but not impossible. My personal preference is for 35" scale basses for a low B. Then I can use a .125 or .130 string.
    I think you need to find some better 5 / 6 bass players. The ones I like live on that low B (or A, G, etc)
    kennettsq and Larchi like this.
  20. pigsonthewing


    Jul 7, 2009
    New Yawwk
    They probably just don't play enough music that makes utilizing the B string necessary I'd guess...I could see myself being in the same boat if I wasn't currently in a band that tunes to Drop A (I know), which means I have to use it pretty frequently
    LowBSix likes this.

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