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cheddatom

Tuning to suit the guitarist

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When I started out I would always match my tuning to the guitarist's tuning, so that I could copy the way they played their riffs. E.G the guitar is in drop D and the riff is using the bottom string a lot, hammering on or whatever. It always seemed easier to match that, even though I'd always had a low B string. Either I wasn't capable of playing the riff in standard tuning as it was too fast, or I just found it easier to learn by copying the guitarist. I stopped playing bass for quite a while and when I came back to it my approach seemed a bit stupid. Now I stay in standard tuning (with a low B) and play the riff my own way. I've been jamming on guitar with a bassist and he seems to do things the way I used to, tuned B, D, A, D, G so it can't be that uncommon, but it does seem a bit silly/inefficient to me.

I'm wondering if anyone has decided to stick with this way of tuning for a good reason and what that might be? I don't want to ask the guy I'm jamming with in case he takes it personally

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Ive spent the majority of my time using a 5 string and only recently gone back to using 4 strings. 

Even when jamming to a drop D song I've never dropped the E down because I like the sound of the B string on the D, and grooving below the D was also fun in some songs. BDADG got a bit confusing for me so I stuck with standard so my memory of scales and all that wasn't messed up.

If I'm using a 4 string there's not really any other choice in going drop D but I tend to find it makes the string a bit floppy.

Each to their own though I guess

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For me it depends on whether I need to follow the guitar riff exactly or not. Personally, given the chance I would prefer to play something different, so in that case the tuning doesn't matter, and in fact using a different tuning to the guitarist is likely to force my into doing something more creative than simply aping the guitar part an octave lower.

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My main current covers band wanted to do a couple of drop-D songs but they already downtuned half  a step so I now have a Jazz in drop-Db😆 I probably ought to invest in a couple of droptuner machine heads at some point and put one on each main gigging bass.

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When I had to change from a 5 to a 4 due to back issues I was having at the time I still actually needed a 5 string but adapted what I played so that I could still play it on a 4.

I have a Hipshot double stop as I need D & B, sometimes on the same song, so I sat at home and worked out how I could make the change mid song so now it comes naturally to flick between the three tunings during songs.

I use a 110 E string so that it doesn't get too floppy when I drop the E to B

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Personally I don't like detuners as the change in string tension puts me off. If the string is the right tension for E it's too floppy for D. 

I actually have a separate guitar for playing in drop D with the 52 E replaced with a 56 for tuning to D.

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I'm in the lucky position that my band only plays one song which is a real struggle even on a 5-string (Radar Love in E, with loads of passing grace notes on the D), so I bring along a 4-string tuned D-G-C-F which works perfectly for the song.

That also means that I get to use my 'spare' bass at every gig, so I don't resent carrying around something I never use.

 

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Fascinates me.

If you haven't got perfect pitch the punter is highly unlikely to be able to tell a song is dropped by a semitone or even a full tone.

So why do it? Sabbath did it because of Tony Iommi's fingers and it's become de-rigeur for any dark/black/doom/mildly depressed metal band.

You might have a singer with a desperately limited vocal range...

I sometimes think its only done so people can flame other people who post tabs in standard tuning.

 

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I've been jamming with a guitarist who tunes to drop C or C standard, depending on the song. I just keep my bass in standard tuning. When he plays a riff I just figure it out and play along. When I play a riff and he wants to play along he stares at my left hand and I have to remind him that that's useless.

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I think you should tune to what suits you best. The only reason I can think to detune the E to Drop D would be if you had a riff bouncing off the open low D string, then it would make sense.

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6 minutes ago, burno70 said:

I think you should tune to what suits you best. The only reason I can think to detune the E to Drop D would be if you had a riff bouncing off the open low D string, then it would make sense.

That's why I used to do it but now I realise that it's easy enough to just play the fretted low D on the B string

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The tribute band I'm in used to tune down a semitone to help the male singer. But one of the songs, the original band now play tuned down a tone so we also did it down a tone. However, that in the original key featured a bottom E, which became a D below E, which, as we were playing a semitone down, became an Eb, which I was trying to work out how to play. The bassist in the band that we're tributing simply used another bass tuned down a tone - my options were a D-tuner which would have been weird, a pitch shifter which would have worked at the cost of bass tone, or a spare bass. Then we got a female singer and put everything back to original keys, which helped an awful lot and meant I didn't have to either use my spare bass or justify the purchase of another Warwick (for authenticity). I suppose I could have used a five-string but the bassist in question doesn't.

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Guitarist in tune? :tatice_03:

Is that even a thing? O.o

In my experience, they normally want to change the whole of music theory to suit whatever godawful racket they're emitting! ;)

 

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We play in Eb just to help the singer (and me when i sing), it's amazing how a semi-tone can make a lot of difference.  For other songs that she or I struggle with due to the pitch, we just learn it in a different key.  TBH, nobody notices and in some cases it sounds better than the original.  For covers most punters wouldn't have a clue that you've changed the key.  As long as you're all playing and signing in the same key then nobody really cares.

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13 minutes ago, DrBike said:

We play in Eb just to help the singer (and me when i sing), it's amazing how a semi-tone can make a lot of difference.  For other songs that she or I struggle with due to the pitch, we just learn it in a different key.  TBH, nobody notices and in some cases it sounds better than the original.  For covers most punters wouldn't have a clue that you've changed the key.  As long as you're all playing and signing in the same key then nobody really cares.

If the guitarists were tuned to Eb, previously I would have tuned to Eb too, but now I'd just stay in standard tuning because I have a B string, so there's no need to change. Are you playing a 5 (or 6) string?

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13 minutes ago, cheddatom said:

If the guitarists were tuned to Eb, previously I would have tuned to Eb too, but now I'd just stay in standard tuning because I have a B string, so there's no need to change. Are you playing a 5 (or 6) string?

I've just got the 4 strings, that's enough for me.;)

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Back in my death metal days, the guitarists were in drop B, but I played in B standard, as drop tunings mess with my head. It meant for some interesting playing on my left hand at times, but I made it work.

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55 minutes ago, DrBike said:

We play in Eb just to help the singer (and me when i sing), it's amazing how a semi-tone can make a lot of difference.  

And a 4th is just bloody huge.

I bought my first 5-string specifically to be able to play the bassline correctly on Whatever You Want. The original is in D and the bass line drops down to the E string for the walk up to A, but our singer couldn't sing it in D. 

We dropped the key to A, which was good for the singer (and for my BVs), but that forced me either to walk UP to the E or - even worse - to play the wrong bass line to get DOWN to the E. Yuk.

We've been playing it in A for 10 years now, and I have never yet had a punter or a muso in the crowd come up to me and say, "Have you changed the key?".

 

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46 minutes ago, Happy Jack said:

And a 4th is just bloody huge.

I bought my first 5-string specifically to be able to play the bassline correctly on Whatever You Want. The original is in D and the bass line drops down to the E string for the walk up to A, but our singer couldn't sing it in D. 

We dropped the key to A, which was good for the singer (and for my BVs), but that forced me either to walk UP to the E or - even worse - to play the wrong bass line to get DOWN to the E. Yuk.

We've been playing it in A for 10 years now, and I have never yet had a punter or a muso in the crowd come up to me and say, "Have you changed the key?". 

 

Pretty much proves my point!

Yes, a semitone is a killer if it takes your voice out of your range or into, but Joe Punter just isn't going to notice.

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Is this "everybody tunes to the same wacky tuning" primarily a metal thing? 

It's always seemed a bit odd to me. Especially if you play a 5 string. 

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When I depped in a band many years ago I caused the regular bassist some "problems", when the band leader wanted him to sound just like my 5er playing a riff starting on the low D. I believe he had to drop down a tone, which he didn't like doing at all!!

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1 hour ago, thepurpleblob said:

Is this "everybody tunes to the same wacky tuning" primarily a metal thing? 

It's always seemed a bit odd to me. Especially if you play a 5 string. 

My old metal band used to play in drop Ab.. which wasn't too bad but the B string was floppy as hell

Two of the songs were in drop E, then were funny with me when I just played in standard tuning lmao

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1 hour ago, thepurpleblob said:

Is this "everybody tunes to the same wacky tuning" primarily a metal thing? 

It's always seemed a bit odd to me. Especially if you play a 5 string. 

It happens in pretty much every genre in popular music. 

Some bands tune to E flat, particularly a lot of classic rock bands in the 60s and 70s. Can you play most/all of their material on a standard tuned five string? Certainly. Can a four string just tuned to E flat also do the job just as well? Absolutely.

The same goes for lots of classic rock/psychedelic, indie bands, stoner bands or drone bands who can often play in tunings from C standard to D standard. Some people will just lump them all together as 'metal' but that isn't really fair considering the amount of variety within the indie, rock and metal sub genres). A five string will do the job, but since a lot of  bands rely heavily on improvisation when it comes to writing and playing, do you really want to be constantly transposing guitar parts and figuring out what fingerings to use on a standard scale bass in the middle of a writing session and or a blues dep gig where the guitarist is tuning lower like latter day Buddy Guy or higher to open F like Albert Collins? Sometimes it is just easier to play knowing that you can pretty much quickly double the guitar part simply by looking that what the guitarist is playing!

Lots of bands who play in lower tunings also rely on a lot of open strings. Particularly in psychedelic music where the drone of an open string is often left ringing while the guitarist or bassist also does something more intricate further up the fretboard while an open string is ringing. If you want a ringing low F sharp (a tone and a half below an open A string), then a standard tuned five string isn't really going to be the ideal tool for the job if you also want to play a legato line or two some two handed tapping further up the fretboard. Of course you could play around it and play something else entirely, or even just play everything in standard tuning. Basically, so long as you are able to play what you want to play then you don't have any issues. 

There is no real law in terms of what should be considered normal in music and what should be considered 'wacky'. You are not going to 'ruin' a bass or be less talented because you choose to use a different tuning to achieve the sound that you want to achieve. It is called 'standard' tuning, not 'mandatory' tuning. 

 

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Posted (edited)

What would be cool would be a partial capo for the low string allowing you to select a drone note to suit.

You could even set you 5-string bass up like a 5-string banjo!

<edit>

It looks like they used to exist!

http://www.woodieshanger.com/shop/woodies-g-band-single-string-partial-capo/

 

Edited by Stub Mandrel

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20 minutes ago, Stub Mandrel said:

What would be cool would be a partial capo for the low string allowing you to select a drone note to suit.

You could even set you 5-string bass up like a 5-string banjo!

<edit>

It looks like they used to exist!

http://www.woodieshanger.com/shop/woodies-g-band-single-string-partial-capo/

 

I never knew that such a thing existed! That looks very cool.

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