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Golchen

Why play a 6 string

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To all you guys who play a 6 string (or 7) - why do you like the extra string(s)?

I have to admit that I play 5 strings rather than four because I like those extra low notes, but I'm not quite sure how useful the extra high string is? I'm not being critical here at all, I'm just trying to understand the mindset. For some reason I really like the look of 6 string basses, but I'm not sure that I'd find the extra string particularly useful. I also tend to think that you need to be able to play pretty well to get away with having one - or do you disagree?

I hope it's not a daft question, I'm still something of a bass newbie!

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It is a matter of taste I guess, but the high notes on high C strings sound to me like a sh*t guitar. Even in the hands of very capable guys. I don't have a problem with others taste for it, but not for me.
The only bass player IMO who really puts the register and sound to great use is Anthony Jackson, and do you know what I've never heard him do a solo.
Jake

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well my band plays in a# but does a bit of post rocky stuff so i need the range really of a 6 to be able to play the stuff i want to i feel so limited on a 4 or 5

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[quote name='jakesbass' post='165666' date='Mar 29 2008, 12:25 AM']....the high notes on high C strings sound to me like a sh*t guitar.......
...Anthony Jackson, and do you know what I've never heard him do a solo.[/quote]

The main problem with playing a 6-er, is that from the moment you pull it out of the case people assume you're a noodler that wants to play a million notes a minute. People like Jake probably think you bought a 5-string bass with an extra string to solo on. Or maybe you went to the music shop to buy a Fender Strat, but got confused and ended up with a 35" scale bass?


Think in piano terms: a 4-string would give you 3 octaves (ish) of piano keys - a 6-string just extends the keyboard. You don't have to use those extra high or extra low piano notes, but it's nice to have the option if the musical situation permits.

I own a 4,5,6 and 7, but the 6-er is my main gigging bass. On some gigs the extended range hardly gets used - it's not required.
Occasionally though it's great to get right under the band, or to comp a few double stops higher up. A lot of great players (other than Anthony Jackson) tune their basses "tenor" A-D-G-C and it's great to have this facility without carrying two basses.

Also, if you sightread, 2 and a half octaves in one position is really handy. You have more opportunity to play "shapes/patterns" anywhere on the neck, which also makes life easier.

I totally recommend a 6. You can still play one note a bar, or play simple grooves as on any bass, but you have more options if the fancy takes you. A pianist doesn't use every note on the piano - he can choose! The only difficulty with 6 is dealing with "stereo-typers"

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+ the one - I bought a 6 because I liked the bass, and didn't even think about the extra string (s). I played what I normally played on it, it didn't make me play differently and was a nice bass.

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This comes up with monotonous regularity. Have a go with the search engine and you should find loads. Personally I've never needed more than 4 but I do cheat and tune one of my basses down a tone.

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[quote name='guyl' post='165782' date='Mar 29 2008, 11:07 AM']The main problem with playing a 6-er, is that from the moment you pull it out of the case people assume you're a noodler that wants to play a million notes a minute. People like Jake probably think you bought a 5-string bass with an extra string to solo on. Or maybe you went to the music shop to buy a Fender Strat, but got confused and ended up with a 35" scale bass?

The only difficulty with 6 is dealing with "stereo-typers"[/quote]

I think you've quoted me a little out of context there Guy, If you read the whole of my post I am clearly expressing a taste and am not, as you seem to suggest, blinkered enough in my thinking to assume that high Cs are for soloing only. I also state that I have no problem with 'others taste for it' Its just not for me'
So don't assume I'm like anything, or 'probably think' like anything especially when using an out of context quote for the evidence to support imagining what I am 'like'.
I have encountered prejudice in studios all over the country (and wider) regarding my use of a low B, when producers think that basses should be four strings only. And I repeat and elaborate, to me the tonal qualities of a high C enter the same frequency range as that of a guitar and [b]IMO[/b] don't sound very good.
Now my saying that neither undermines nor denigrates your enjoyment of the same, so you can be a little less defensive.
And you can think again before you line me up along with the 'stereo typers' I am not one, and neither could that conclusion be drawn from my reasonably stated taste and opinion.
Jake


PS. For the record I can noodle just like the next bloke, check tracks 4 & 5 of my MySpace. 16th note bass countermelody at 116BPM played on a 5 string bass. (Ironically recorded at Cavalier Studios in Stockport)

Edited by jakesbass

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I play a 7.

In answer to you, no I don't think you have to be amazing at bass to play one - I certainly don't think I am. I just enjoy playing it. When you start thinking of it as another instrument, not just 'this is what Leo Fender says a bass should be', it is a lot less daunting.

I guess the answer to 'why?' is 'why not?'. Likewise, the answer to 'do you need it?' is almost certainly 'no'. I could do without it, but I find it more enjoyable and as long as I have a 7, I will continue to find ways to use it. As someone else has mentioned, having the extended range doesn't mean you have to play with it all the time, and for the majority of the time in my band, I still play the role of a traditional bass player. However, the extra range is nice for adding a bit of colour in - maybe some chords, some tapping on the high strings, that kind of thing. When I'm playing at home too, I far prefer to mess around with chords, or in the higher registers than just play a groove to myself. And as for 'noodling' - I really don't. I still see myself as a 'band bassist' for want of a better description, than a solo noodler.

So yeh, basically they are fun instruments. Nothing more, nothing less. I find a lot of criticism shifted towards them comes from people who have never attempted to play them, or can't play them. Much the same way as the plectrum gets picked on, mostly by people who cannot use one, therefore denying themselves just another technique in their bag of tricks.

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I play 6ers just because they feel more comfortable to play. I can't get on with 4 anymore, I don't solo, and I'm not a flash player, I just like the versatility that a 6er gives.

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I once tried out a fantastic looking fretless 6 string. Beatiful instrument, but the unlined, mega-wide neck was more than a bit intimidating. In the right hands, I'm sure it would have sounded fantastic. Unfortunately, in my hands, the only use it would have got was as an ironing board...

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when anothony jackson talked about playing his contrabass he stated that it makes more musical sense to have a 'Bass guitar' as a six string, and found it bizarre that leo invented one with four. I can't rememberwhy but if you can find it its quite an interesting discussion on the matter of having a 6 string.

I play a 6 string and I love to mess aroud and make little tunes with the extra strings as I now have the range if I want to use it, but i can't still play the simple stuff if I want! Best of both worlds

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The only reason 6 strings get looked down upon by people that stereotype bass players that play 6ers is because, as stated above, Leo fender made the first basses with 4 strings. Therefore that became the norm. The amount of strings you use really doesn't matter.....I use 6 strings most of the time, and sometimes a 4 string, but I tend to prefer the 6.

I really like the sound you can get from the high C when you pluck it in a slap situation.....really twangy.....

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I played a 6 almost exclusively for a few years, 4 for a few (and still do), and a 5 (with a C) for a part of a year.

They are wonderful instruments but I'm with Jake, I just cannot get used to the sound of the C string. As soon as you jump onto that string on it's own the bottom drops out, and it often doesn't cut through (IME). However I enjoyed having the extra range and extra string for options. So the next bass I get will most definitely be a 5 and almost certainly strung with a low B.

In short I'd rather have more frets on the G to gain the range than an extra string so as to keep a better tone.

After saying that though, Janek Gwizdala plays with a high C on his bass; when he was playing with his band the bottom did not drop out at all and it sounded like a very natural extension of the instrument. Full and thick, or at least not so radically different from the G. I would hazard a guess to say that could be to do with the Fender TBP-1 preamp he has, which thickens up a bass tone wonderfully. Though I am not 100% confident he had it with him.

Mark

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Thats twice now that Leo Fender has been credited with the conception of the idea of four strings for the bass guitar, I think it a little beyond probable that he got the idea for the number of strings from the string family of instruments, which have been around for hundreds of years (I've got one thats older than Leo) and their developement in (frequency range) groups was such that they avoided treading on the toes of the frequency range in the next section. Broadly known as SATB Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Bass.
There are interim ranges such as, counter tenor, and baritone. but the whole point of dividing them into groups was to ensure the fulfilment of each range in full voice of an orchestra.
I feel that the six string bass strays into the register of a guitar and the tonal qualities to my ears of a bass in that register are summed up as a poor replica of a guitar. I have already pointed out the I think there are exceptions to this (Anthony Jackson)

Edited by jakesbass

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Following on from what Jake said above, the reason for SATB is it covers the range of the human voice and very few people can sing lower than bottom E. The human ear is most sensitive to the range of the human voice unless it is f***ed like mine are. Ergo notes outside the range of the human voice are not always heard so well. Grand Piano's compensate for this by producing more volume in the low notes that is why they always sound better than uprights. It is also why the high notes are usually difficult to hear.

The 4 string format was used by St Leo because it was the most common format for string basses, but 6 string fretted bass viols were made in the 18th Century so it was not exclusively 4 string. The range of the string bass matches the lower range of the human voice.

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[quote name='mcgraham' post='165911' date='Mar 29 2008, 03:46 PM']I played a 6 almost exclusively for a few years, 4 for a few (and still do), and a 5 (with a C) for a part of a year.

They are wonderful instruments but I'm with Jake, I just cannot get used to the sound of the C string. As soon as you jump onto that string on it's own the bottom drops out, and it often doesn't cut through (IME). However I enjoyed having the extra range and extra string for options. So the next bass I get will most definitely be a 5 and almost certainly strung with a low B.

In short I'd rather have more frets on the G to gain the range than an extra string so as to keep a better tone.

After saying that though, Janek Gwizdala plays with a high C on his bass; when he was playing with his band the bottom did not drop out at all and it sounded like a very natural extension of the instrument. Full and thick, or at least not so radically different from the G. I would hazard a guess to say that could be to do with the Fender TBP-1 preamp he has, which thickens up a bass tone wonderfully. Though I am not 100% confident he had it with him.

Mark[/quote]

I think it's a question of experimentation with different string types on your particular instrument. I've tried loads of different makes, and I totally agree that with some the C just doesn't sound right.
Elixirs are good, as are all of the DR strings, the C string on these sounds like it belongs.

As to why I play a 6, there are several reasons -

It feels comfortable to me, I have long skinny fingers and a 4 just doesn't feel right.

I like having the ability to play nice chord voicings, and let notes ring while playing other notes, really nice when a guitarist is soloing.

It makes reading easier, less position changes.

I play a lot of jazz, and it certainly makes playing through complex chord charts easier, again less position changes.

I also think it's more of a 'real' instrument, like a piano or a guitar.

On the downside though, I only have 6 string basses, no 4 or 5's, there are gigs that I'd like to do that I don't/wouldn't get offered due to peoples misguided stereotyping I suppose.

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[quote]I think it's a question of experimentation with different string types on your particular instrument. I've tried loads of different makes, and I totally agree that with some the C just doesn't sound right.
Elixirs are good, as are all of the DR strings, the C string on these sounds like it belongs.[/quote]

Good point! I agree that if you really like the added range then you'll be willing to put the effort in to make it work. I know for me it just doesn't work. I love the options open to me, but in a group setting a 5 string strung with a C gets used like a 4 string with an extra bit of width to the fingerboard.

So, I like the options that come with a 5, but not the C... that implies I'd be better with a low B, a 4, or perhaps an intermediate tuning to gain some advantages of both. We'll see...

Mark

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[quote name='modulusq6' post='165954' date='Mar 29 2008, 04:54 PM']I think it's a question of experimentation with different string types on your particular instrument. I've tried loads of different makes, and I totally agree that with some the C just doesn't sound right.
Elixirs are good, as are all of the DR strings, the C string on these sounds like it belongs.

As to why I play a 6, there are several reasons -

It feels comfortable to me, I have long skinny fingers and a 4 just doesn't feel right.

I like having the ability to play nice chord voicings, and let notes ring while playing other notes, really nice when a guitarist is soloing.

It makes reading easier, less position changes.

I play a lot of jazz, and it certainly makes playing through complex chord charts easier, again less position changes.

I also think it's more of a 'real' instrument, like a piano or a guitar.

On the downside though, I only have 6 string basses, no 4 or 5's, there are gigs that I'd like to do that I don't/wouldn't get offered due to peoples misguided stereotyping I suppose.[/quote]

That pretty much sums up what I was about to post. Elixirs do indeed sound very consistent across all six strings. I'm not sure on the "real" instrument bit though as I see the bass guitar as a real instrument regardless of how many strings.

As for the stereotyping, it can unfortunately happen. I have had people be surprised when I turn up with a Jazz as they didn't realise i played four string???

Ultimately, make the decision with your ears not your eyes.

Cheers
Alun

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[quote name='modulusq6' post='165954' date='Mar 29 2008, 04:54 PM']I also think it's more of a 'real' instrument, like a piano or a guitar.[/quote]

*[i]wince[/i]*

I'm glad Jaco, Jamerson, Entwhistle, etc etc etc didn't live to find out they'd wasted their careers on a 'fake' instrument...

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[quote name='Alun' post='165973' date='Mar 29 2008, 05:30 PM']That pretty much sums up what I was about to post. Elixirs do indeed sound very consistent across all six strings. I'm not sure on the "real" instrument bit though as I see the bass guitar as a real instrument regardless of how many strings.

As for the stereotyping, it can unfortunately happen. I have had people be surprised when I turn up with a Jazz as they didn't realise i played four string???

Ultimately, make the decision with your ears not your eyes.

Cheers
Alun[/quote]

What I mean by real instrument is, I don't know it's hard to explain..........it's more of a multifuntional instrument, as in a piano or a guitar, you can play bass lines, comp, solo etc.
I know that likes of Jaco could do this on a 4, a 6 just makes it easier for us mere mortals.

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[quote name='modulusq6' post='165954' date='Mar 29 2008, 04:54 PM']I also think it's more of a 'real' instrument, like a piano or a guitar... ...due to peoples misguided stereotyping I suppose.[/quote]

An entertaining few clauses! Or did you mean real as opposed to complex? Nice to be promoted from my previous status of 'mere mortal' due to being able to play basslines, chords and solo on an imaginary instrument...

The only issue I'd ever have with six string is that it requires a little more work when it comes to muting unplayed strings, particularly when strumming chords. For those thinking about increasing their string count, I could encourage them to try using the very dusty end of the neck first, there is plenty of forgotten real estate beyond the 15th fret, and plenty of chord voicings available with a mere four strings.

Alex

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[quote name='jakesbass' post='165828' date='Mar 29 2008, 01:58 PM']I think you've quoted me a little out of context there Guy, If you read the whole of my post I am clearly expressing a taste and am not, as you seem to suggest, blinkered enough in my thinking to assume that high Cs are for soloing only. I also state that I have no problem with 'others taste for it' Its just not for me'
So don't assume I'm like anything, or 'probably think' like anything especially when using an out of context quote for the evidence to support imagining what I am 'like'.
I have encountered prejudice in studios all over the country (and wider) regarding my use of a low B, when producers think that basses should be four strings only. And I repeat and elaborate, to me the tonal qualities of a high C enter the same frequency range as that of a guitar and [b]IMO[/b] don't sound very good.
Now my saying that neither undermines nor denigrates your enjoyment of the same, so you can be a little less defensive.
And you can think again before you line me up along with the 'stereo typers' I am not one, and neither could that conclusion be drawn from my reasonably stated taste and opinion.
Jake


PS. For the record I can noodle just like the next bloke, check tracks 4 & 5 of my MySpace. 16th note bass countermelody at 116BPM played on a 5 string bass. (Ironically recorded at Cavalier Studios in Stockport)[/quote]

Apologies Jake - no offence meant and bollo*king accepted.

I should have added that being stereotyped as a "noodler/frustrated guitarist" tends to make ERB-ers over-defensive and tetchy. Rockin' out on my old fender (4) on tonights blues gig will probably help!

I'd still recommend anyone trying a 6. Maybe you'll be lucky enough to find a high c that doesn't sound like a "sh*t guitar".

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[quote name='guyl' post='167547' date='Apr 1 2008, 12:32 PM']Apologies Jake - no offence meant and bollo*king accepted.

I should have added that being stereotyped as a "noodler/frustrated guitarist" tends to make ERB-ers over-defensive and tetchy. Rockin' out on my old fender (4) on tonights blues gig will probably help!

I'd still recommend anyone trying a 6. Maybe you'll be lucky enough to find a high c that doesn't sound like a "sh*t guitar".[/quote]

Very gracious of you sir, and it warms me to find people who have the balls to stand up to their words.
Cheers
Jake

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On a related practical matter: getting strings for a 6 isn't always easy. I have to order strings for my 5-string (headless High C) from the UK, and I've never seen 6-string sets on sale here in Ireland. All the shops carry are standard 4- and 5-string sets from (mostly) D'Addario and EBMM. In fact, last week, at a university jazz gig, I saw the first 6-string I've seen in 8 years here. (An Ibanez BTB-406, new, and I never saw the bassist touch the 1st and 6th strings!) I know the're certainly [url="http://www.chrislarkinguitars.com/"]made[/url] here... maybe one day. :)

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