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Why play a four string?

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by joel406, Feb 20, 2020.

  1. joel406


    Dec 27, 2013
    I wrestled with the title of this post.

    I have been a four string player for a long time (longer than I’m going to tell anyone).

    But as music has progressed, last year I found myself in need of the “even” lower register. A lot of music diving down to low D, C and even B.

    So after a torrid affair with a cheapo fake Fender fiver I pulled the trigger on a quality fiver.

    After a little acclimation I seem to have it well in hand now.

    And besides the lower notes I have found the greater freedom of horizontal playing.

    I still move up and down the board. You know some old habits will never die.

    But I now see no reason to have a four string anymore. I can play everything on the five. Even if I never drop below the E it gives me many choices I didn’t have before. And I find that liberating.

    My last four string I had for 7 years. And we had a bond. But when the fiver came into the picture it went into the case and sat for three months.

    I don’t think anybody wants to sit a $1600 bass in its case for months let alone years.

    I released it about a month ago. While I miss it I have new friends now. And have lost interest in four string entirely.

    I understand fivers aren’t for everyone.

    Some people have small hands. Same here. I tried them all. Well those I could afford. I’m sure Alembic make a very lovable fiver. But I love my house too.

    No one was more surprised as I was that Fender made the five string bass I would love so much.

    And after a great while playing only fives I wonder why anyone wouldn’t just play those and let the four just go extinct.

    I’m sure the flamers are writhing their hands as they read this.

    I think I just heard a MMBWAAAAHAHAHAHA in the distance.

    My point is I moved away from fours and I don’t see any reason to ever go back.

    So I doubled down.

    Nephilymbass, DanGR, skybss and 62 others like this.
  2. Bah .. what can other people say? Good for you .. I may as well say that the music I play, based on typical double-bass jazz arrangements (notwithstanding, I play the electric bass), doesn’t require more than 4 strings but who will care? :whistle:
  3. MD


    Nov 7, 2000
    Marin Co. CA.


    Carry on.:thumbsup:
  4. bucephylus

    bucephylus Supporting Member Commercial User

    Aug 18, 2002
    General Manager TecPadz LLC
    Couple of nice basses. Enjoy.

    Why play a 4 string? Well, we have discussed that for a few years here on TB.:cool:

    Ultimately, that’s a player’s choice. But, if the gig doesn’t call for the lower notes (and a LOT of gigs don’t), then a 4 string will do just fine. Of course, you can still play that gig on a 5 string; but, the differences are irrelevant in that case.

    So, many of us have both and play what’s called for on a given date. That’s about it.
    jamro217, Matt R, feschyn and 23 others like this.
  5. Stevorebob

    Stevorebob Well... I Am Here, Aren't I? Supporting Member

    Sep 29, 2011
    Los Angeles
    The greatest challenge for 5-string players is the limited number of basses in the marketplace. Other than that, for me — and YMMV — there’s nothing a 4 can do that a 5 can’t. Well, except get a gig with Lenny Kravitz.
  6. micguy


    May 17, 2011
    I have a couple of 5 strings. And a few 4 strings. I also have a fretless. The music I'm playing this weekend doesn't call for a 5 string. I have huge hands, and the opportunity to have room for my fingers on a nice wide P width neck (on my 5's, even though they're even wider, the string spacing is closer to fit all the strings in)) - that's something I'll take any day. I'm so accustomed to a 4 that it's home - when I play a 4, I don't have to look at my fretboard hardly ever - I can look at the audience, the other musicians, etc. Music is a team sport, if you're comfortable on your instrument, and interact with everyone else more, you all play better.

    They're tools. You don't hunt bears and pigeons with the same gun. OK, I don't hunt, but I'm pretty sure I'm right about that.
  7. thabassmon


    Sep 26, 2013
    New Zealand
    Right on.

    To me a five is a four with options.
    And if that means that you have the range you need for the music you play, that is excellent.

    I started with four, then five for a long time, I mostly play six now but I personally don't use a low B because I don't play music that needs that lower register. I need the higher register for chords and melodies that I often play at the same time as the bass lines.

    My opinion is that as the lowest member of the guitar family it really should of been six to begin with, but I find fives are a comfortable compromise that is used in a lot of music. Everything that can be played on a four can be played on a five so why not.

    It's all about being able to meet the requirements of the music you play.

    The only reason I play my four these days is because it is the only fretless I have, if it was still a fretted instrument I'd have retired it a long time ago. In fact I pulled out the frets to make it still useful once I had switched to five.

    I am comfortable on all of them regardless of the spacing. Just a byproduct of practicing and playing a lot.

    MYLOWFREQ Supporting Member

    May 13, 2011
    New York
    Good for you. Why play a 4 string over a 5? Because it has one less string to worry about (bass is an instrument that you usually play one note at a time) and muting the unused strings is easier w/ a 4 string especially when slapping/popping etc. The ringing of the unused strings is more of an issue when recording (live you may get away w/ that) Also IME a 4 string bass sounds tighter which works better for certain things.

    That's said, a 5'er had its own place.
    MarkA, CalKel2, MOFuB and 24 others like this.
  9. Kro

    Kro Supporting Member

    May 7, 2003
    New Jersey
    I played nothing but 5-string basses from 2003 through 2018.

    Then I switched, and have been playing a 4 since 2019, for no other reason that I wanted to - and it's a lot of fun to play!

    Sometimes there doesn't need to be a logical reason for liking something. :)
  10. thabassmon


    Sep 26, 2013
    New Zealand
    Are you finding it ridiculously easy to play the 4 after playing the 5 for that length of time.
  11. J_Bass


    Feb 7, 2008
    Porto, Portugal
    5? Why not 6?
  12. fcleff


    Apr 22, 2005
    Austin, Texas
    Jaco only needed four.
  13. After using a wonderful Modulus Quantum five for many years I used to say the same thing. Finally I realized I didn't REALLY need it, got tired of the longer scale and weight and returned to four string where I have happily lived ever since.
    Never say never, as they say. But my Mod is still in the stable and if I were to go back it would be the one.
  14. lfmn16

    lfmn16 SUSPENDED

    Sep 21, 2011
    charles town, wv
    Or 7?
  15. JimmyM

    JimmyM Supporting Member

    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    I have a 5 but I rarely use it because I like 4's better. But what you do affects me in zero ways, so if you are happy, I'm happy for you.
    ekfritz, MarkA, jamro217 and 39 others like this.
  16. bassbenj


    Aug 11, 2009
    Well, What can say? My story is identical to yours! Only my difference is that in spite of playing 4 strings for more years than I'm going to tell, I felt the limitations of 4 string basses right from the beginning (especially in horn keys). It did not escape my notice either that all the bass players in the local symphony (Cleveland!) had these extender things on their basses to get lower notes. Sine I studied piano it was always a mystery to me how an instrument called a "bass" didn't bother to cover the low end of a piano. But of course when I bought a 5er and especially when I learned about playing across the neck it was like "coming home" as the 4 stringers like to say. I do still have one of my 4 bangers, but all the rest are real basses (Calm down. That's just supposed to be joke, dude) However, as much as I love ERB I'm not going to place 4 stringers in a class with the Lute. Yet. While I don't play them these days unless it's a house bass somewhere and they ask me to play, I do think they have a place. Part of why I don't play them is the kind of music I play. In the case of classic bass lines of the masters, I find a 5er isn't such a good idea. Even though one CAN play a classic line on a 5 string, I find I have a very bad tendency to try to 'improve" on the bass lines of the masters and that is a VERY bad idea. On the other hand I find the cross neck playing the biggest advantage rather than those few low notes everyone always talks about. I can't remember the last time I actually played a Low B! I look at it this way now. A 4 string bass and 5+ string basses are basically different instruments sort of like clarinets and saxophones. Yes, they sort of play alike and sort do the same things, but really they aren't the same. And lots of people can play both. But if you like one better or one better fits the music, well, that's what it's all about, Right?

    As for "doubling down", you are here in TB where ALL gratuitous bass purchases are celebrated!
  17. ( caution this posts contains way to many commas) I started with my band using a four string, writing my own bass lines to the songs I had to learn when I joined em after their bass player quit. Im a greenhorn to the band scene you see,,and had to get reunited to playing bass again,,a few months in I invest in my G&L fiver,,ok cool,new challenge,,well for myself a fiver made me almost lose my mind, brain kept thinking four string and id mess up songs all the time,,now im used to it,,,Well brain and fingers sometimes disagree how many strings,,but I love it now, lots of options but my fours will stay and I play em all just so they don't get neglected,,,one day id like to try a 6er,,and see if I give myself a stroke....sorry for the ramble,,,, nice bass,s..enjoy and cheers!
    RodRy, D-G and Stumbo like this.
  18. A 5er has a lot more options than a 4 strings, and it's not just the extra lower notes. Some people don't feel limited on a 4 strings and don't miss the extra options, sometimes just because they haven't realised they exist. Also people tend to stick to tradition which in bass lore is a Fender with 4 strings, even if that means resorting to downtuning or downtuning devices.

    I think it's a question of feeling. I bought a 6 strings out of curiosity and it very quickly became my main bass although and it is the most difficult one to play. Don't ask why, I don't know myself.

    Maybe also the fact that some basses sound like a 4 string to which an additional low string has been added with more or less success keeps people suspicious.
    BritFunk and zmebass76 like this.
  19. Inara

    Inara Fierce Fun Fretless Female Supporting Member

    Jun 12, 2017
    Seattle, WA USA
    I primarily gig with my 5 string fretless these days, because my music requires those low notes. I also used to think like you, "why would I play a 4 again?" Then I got a gig with a traditional-minded artist in Nashville who didn't like the image of my bass (let's not get into that please - not relevant and it's long ago), so I found a 70s fender P. It had the looks the artist wanted, but what surprised me is this: I liked how I thought and played on the 4. Moving up and down the neck where before I would move across on the 5 unlocked some sort of door for me, and my lines got much more creative and interesting. I think differently with a 4 in my hands, and I really like where it leads me.

    Like I said, I still gig primarily with my 5, but I'll never be without a 4 again if I can help it, and I use a 4 a lot in my solo project.

    So that's why I personally play a 4 when I can, even though I'm very experienced with 5s. It's different for everyone, of course.
  20. thabassmon


    Sep 26, 2013
    New Zealand
    Wow this is one of most reiterated sentences on talkbass.

    First none of you are Jaco.
    Even he tried out a five, the extremely poorly designed Fender Bass V.
    Had he still been alive he would most likely included extended range instruments as they improved.
    His son plays a six, and you don't hear him say "dad only needed four".

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