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Are 5 string basses worth the effort?

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If I had to keep just one of my many bass guitars it would be my Yamaha RBX 765A - picked up for £200 second hand, it had only been played for a couple of hours.

It's the one bass I can do pretty much everything on (except fretless mwah obviously)

Edited by BreadBin

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On 15/09/2019 at 13:49, FWB said:

I shall take this advice forward and check out some gear locally. Thanks muchly!

If you get the chance, try out an Ibanez SRC6, I know it’s a sizer but seriously, as I’ve said far to many a time on here, they are more addictive than crack.

 

Edited by Frank Blank

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I use the low B string more than the G - the one 4-string I gig is strung BEAD. 

As said it's partly about having more chord / key changes under your fingers rather than chasing up and down the neck. It also allows you to root anything in B - C - D an octave lower. 

Sadly many 5s do have a floppy B string - if that 5th string is an afterthought to a 4-string design. I have a rare top-end 1992 Fender Jazz+V on which the B string is unusable. My main squeeze is a GMR Bassforce 5 on which the B is as tight and clear as the other four (she was my first bass, and it took me a while to realise that not all 5s are like that!) 

I'd say go out and try as many basses as you can. Focus on whether that B string *feels* the same as the other four under your fingers. Some will do nothing for you, and one will feel like a body part you didn't know you'd been missing. 

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As I think I wrote earlier, try different gauges before tossing the idea of a tight B. I tried several gauges before finding the functional string. Now I am very happy with the sound and feel.

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If someone said they had a floppy B string I'd ask how hard they hit/plucked/pulled the strings.

I've played basses were the B string didn't sound quite right, but I've not seen a floppy B string yet.

Has anyone with a light right hand touch experienced the floppy B string thing?

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12 hours ago, chris_b said:

Has anyone with a light right hand touch experienced the floppy B string thing?

Nope :)

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21 hours ago, chris_b said:

If someone said they had a floppy B string I'd ask how hard they hit/plucked/pulled the strings.

I've played basses were the B string didn't sound quite right, but I've not seen a floppy B string yet.

Has anyone with a light right hand touch experienced the floppy B string thing?

I would say they were playing a Fender 5 string.

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14 hours ago, bubinga5 said:

I would say they were playing a Fender 5 string.

Technique has got to have a lot to do with it. Most of us will have played 4 strings for our first 5-10 years and by that stage the damage is done - maybe some of us won't ever suit 5s (me included)

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15 hours ago, bubinga5 said:

I would say they were playing a Fender 5 string.

I had a 5 string Fender Jazz and the B string wasn't "floppy" at all. It did sound slightly different to the other 4 strings but that difference disappeared when playing with the band. I seem to be playing with a lighter touch as the years go by and typically don't see the differences others write about in my strings, so I'm wondering if the real cause is the way people play their instruments.

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The most dispiriting thing I found about playing a 5 in the context of a metal band was the tendency for the guy on the desk to make a mess of my, and hence our, FoH sound. Too many of them seemed to either see a 5 and think "ooooh yeah, super low notes ahoy; let's hit it with an extreme smiley-face EQ" so all you got out front was low rumble and percussive clicking, or they'd get really flustered by the fact that, especially without compression at work, the B string can flicker an occasional 'clip' light... and suddenly they'd all-but-remove you from the FoH mix for the rest of the set. It got so bad, so frequently, that I eventually just went back to using 4s live for heavier music as it was almost a guarantee of better sound; suddenly the mids were back in the mix and you could hear actual notes. I tried to explain/request/bribe etc. but the sad fact is that once you're on stage, unless you've employed the sound guy (or you *are* the sound guy) you get what you get.

In terms of the instruments themselves and especially the floppy string thing, I've had 5s that arrived badly set up, and some of those needed more work to get them properly set up than I was capable of myself and/or wanted to pay to have done. However, I've never had a 34" or longer scale 5 string bass which, when set up correctly with a set of EXL220-5s, wasn't perfectly acceptable to play with both fingers and pick - and I wouldn't say I had a particularly light touch with either. One such bass that was perfectly playable was a 2011 MIM Standard Jazz V - a very nice bass, but one that sadly ended up on the altar of GAS!

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On 22/09/2019 at 11:44, Defo said:

Technique has got to have a lot to do with it. Most of us will have played 4 strings for our first 5-10 years and by that stage the damage is done - maybe some of us won't ever suit 5s (me included)

I properly switched ten years ago or so, after I'd been playing for 35 years.

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9 hours ago, tauzero said:

I properly switched ten years ago or so, after I'd been playing for 35 years.

You are one of the lucky ones

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1 hour ago, Defo said:

You are one of the lucky ones

I have also been playing 35 years and switched last year with no problems at all. Now I feel restricted on a 4 string. I remember trying to swtich to a 5 many years ago though and really struggling with it, so I wonder if it's got something to do with how individual bassists perceive the fretboard and strings? 

If you consider that people use both visual references and memory of hand and finger position, I wonder if different players use more of one type of perception than the other and this makes a difference to switching to different scales and ranges? 

I'm very visual and I can switch between short, long and extended range basses (and 6-string guitars) with no problem. I can play well enough, but I'm one of those people who is always looking at the fretboard unfortunately.

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I played 5 stringers exclusively for many years (been playing 30 years in total) and 6 for several years too. At the time I could not imagine ever going back to 4.

However, in the last few years I have increasingly gone back to 4, to a point where I now only own 1 5 string that I use when I need it (depping mainly), but day-tp-day I mainly use 4 string basses with a Drop D tuner. And I also have a BEAD tuned 4 string that sounds killer. 

Ultimately it doesn't really matter what you play, it is what you do with it.

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6 hours ago, Max Normal said:

I have also been playing 35 years and switched last year with no problems at all. Now I feel restricted on a 4 string. I remember trying to swtich to a 5 many years ago though and really struggling with it, so I wonder if it's got something to do with how individual bassists perceive the fretboard and strings? 

If you consider that people use both visual references and memory of hand and finger position, I wonder if different players use more of one type of perception than the other and this makes a difference to switching to different scales and ranges? 

I'm very visual and I can switch between short, long and extended range basses (and 6-string guitars) with no problem. I can play well enough, but I'm one of those people who is always looking at the fretboard unfortunately.

That's a really interesting perspective, I think you're probably right. I always look at the fretboard as well but I think that's the reason I can't do 5 strings, I just think maybe more along the fretboard than across, does that make sense?

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I got my first 5-string a few months back.  I was playing music with a low D in it and was also drawn in by the extra low notes and the increased number of notes available per hand position.

BUT:

most of the 5-strings I tried (including a Pedulla, a Zon, some Stingrays, plus a Chowny and some Warwicks at the EM bass bash) seemed to sound and feel a lot different on the bottom B string, it didn't feel "in keeping" with the rest of the bass; of these the stingrays were OK, but a Sandberg VM was perhaps the only one with the same feel and sound across all five strings - but that had a 34" neck (and I have small hands).  Bought a 2nd Wal in the end ... just ... well I'm a Wal freak and couldn't help myself.

It IS a different instrument to a 4-string.  First you have to be a lot more careful about string damping as there are more strings to damp than you have free fingers to do the damping; I've had to adopt "floating thumb" which is actually good and I'm now using it on the 4-strings too.  Second, it is not always easy to hit the right string when you are used to none of them being further than one string from the edge, the A in the middle is confusing and at first I'd find I was plucking one string and fingering a different one; I'm getting there.  Third the neck is wide so it's a long way across to the bottom string.

My hopes to plant my hand further up the neck and still get a bottom E ... yes, sometimes it's good, some music that on a four string demands all kinds of up and down the neck suddenly doesn't.  But apart from remembering I don't have to change position, the tone up there isn't quite as good as you get from playing the same notes in a lower position, so I'm still based in first position.

All in all, I'm glad to have a 5-string ...for one it's improved my four string playing, its an interesting learning experience and its opening up new avenues; if I could only keep one bass .. hmm.  Not sure.  Think I'd stick with the 4 string..... which I took out to a session last night and did not miss the extra string one tiny bit.

Edited by NickA
gramaticals
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It’s absolutely up to you, bearing in mind the type of music you play. I played 5s and 6s for a while but I’ve never found a 5 or 6 I particularly like the sound of. I also prefer the sound going up the neck to going across it (particularly on the specific basses I prefer) so the positional thing wasn’t any real plus for me. Changing key was never an issue; for a start I never play covers. Never really used the low notes, and you need gear that’ll happily cope with those notes, so bear that in mind. Try a 5 and see what you think; only you can decide.

EDIT: Never had an issue with the B itself but then the basses I chose were Seis. Oh, and one Status, which wasn’t a patch on them.😉

Edited by 4000

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I don't see this as a matter of it "being worth the effort" (which indeed isn't much really if you're smart and choose a skinny fast neck), but a question of how you need it and how willing are you to explore the 5 string bass and let it change you as a performer. I own and play exclusively 5ers (save for an Epiphone Viola I don't use at all and am about to sell) and the good thing is I let the 5 string bass change me starting 25 years ago. Made me a "low" bassist, I too use the low B more than the hi G, and could probably get away with a 4 banger strung BEAD for all the rock stuff I do.

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7 minutes ago, andruca said:

I don't see this as a matter of it "being worth the effort" (which indeed isn't much really if you're smart and choose a skinny fast neck), but a question of how you need it and how willing are you to explore the 5 string bass and let it change you as a performer. I own and play exclusively 5ers . . . . . and the good thing is I let the 5 string bass change me starting 25 years ago.

Exactly.

This subject is always mired in negativity.  It required far more effort to pick up a 4 string bass and learn to play it than it ever takes to adapt to a 5 string bass.  Make it a positive move, that enhances your playing, and there is no down side.

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What do you get with a 5?

5 extra notes

Several extra ounces

A requirement for longer fingers

 

 

 

I'm out

Edited by Twigman
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I could probably get away with two 3 string basses to play my set.

One strung EAD - the other ADG

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