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When 5-string basses suddenly make a lot of sense...


mcnach

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Over the years I've owned a bunch of 5 string basses, not out of necessity but because I wanted to have the option. I have owned Squiers, Peaveys, EBMM, G&L, Lakland... Some were really sweet, like the Lakland 5502, some had the sound I wanted (EBMM SUB5), but I never really gelled with any.

My girlfriend bought me a Harley Benton MB-5 SBK (the Stingray style one in satin black finish) for Xmas... and I haven't played anything else since.

At first I made lots of mistakes, and my muting left a lot to be desired. But the bass felt great, it's light (8.6 lbs, which for a 5 string is pretty good), and it sounds good too. Because it felt and sounded 'just right', it didn't feel like homework... so I made the point of using this one exclusively so that I get used to the 5th string, and within 2-3 weeks I have improved a lot. I still make a mistake here and there, and occasionally I get the wrong string(s) ringing, still lots to do, but I'll get there.

Ok, so that's the bit about getting used to the ergonomics of a 5-string. What about the advantages?

I didn't really care that much for having a few additional lower notes available to me, although sometimes it's nice (very nice), but I really like covering so much ground *across* the strings. It's actually easier to play without looking at the fingerboard because I have to move a lot less up and down the neck and when I do it's typically one position (3-4 frets) higher or lower, which is easy to shift without looking. That is nice. It also gives me more note options easily, as the octave (higher or lower, depending) is just there at your fingertips much more frequently than on a 4-string... I seem to be able to break from my usual patterns more easily too. I played one of my 4-string basses yesterday and it was familiar territory and comfortable and all, but I missed that low B string, and the ability to choose say between an F on the low E 1st fret, or on the low B 6th fret: one sounds tighter and the other sounds fatter, so you can pick one or the other depending on what you're playing.

I can't believe it took me this long to 'get it'. I knew, of course, that the extended range available 'sideways' across the strings was one of the selling points of a 5 string, but because I never gelled with any 5-string bass I never played them long enough to really absorb it into my playing. Now I feel like I'be been missing out a lot :D

 

 

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@mcnach I hear you loud and clear.  I’m in the same sort of position.

I picked up a Yamaha TRBX five string just before xmas and have been noodling around the house on it continually. After a couple of days the different dimensions etc felt more familiar and I find myself playing not so much the low notes but the other positions across the neck.

Feels like a door has opened in my understanding of how things all interrelate. 

I’ve briefly owned a few five strings over the years but quickly lost interest and sold them - too big, too heavy, didn’t like the sound or feel etc. Suddenly the penny has dropped tho. Great!

Edited by bassbiscuits
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Count me in the "New to 5er Club".

Similar story to @mcnach having previously owned but never really gelled with 5ers I've committed to persevering with the Lakland, so much so that I also bought a Sterling Sub 5er which is 34", where my Lakland is 35".

Similar story with ringing strings so I added mutes by the bridge helps dampen bumm notes which means I'm getting less banging on the floor from upstairs who have a baby. 

What I also like is the ability to play Octaves in two positions so I'm actually varying the riffs I'm playing by moving into other octaves.

I am frustrated sometimes trying to identify notes which was second nature on a 4 string but this is merely a hurdle that I need to overcome - it'll will come with time.

I'm avoiding going back to my 4 strings for now...

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I've exclusively played five since I got my Roscoe, over 10 years ago.

Just like you the fact it was very light for a five and felt and sounded amazing made wanting to pick it up every day.

Still occasionally make a flub with right hand not quite being on the same page as my left, but it's rarer than ever and only really when I'm freewheeling a bit too much.

It's so good I've got a fretless sister coming as a 50th birthday pressie to myself 🤩

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You cannot spell bass without a B. Band members are so astounded that they spend the first few gigs playing stuff in the wrong key.  

Edited by owen
to cover up a spelling mistake. Sadly it has been quoted further down so the evidence is there. Ho hum :(
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15 hours ago, TheGreek said:

Count me in the "New to 5er Club".

Similar story to @mcnach having previously owned but never really gelled with 5ers I've committed to persevering with the Lakland, so much so that I also bought a Sterling Sub 5er which is 34", where my Lakland is 35".

Similar story with ringing strings so I added mutes by the bridge helps dampen bumm notes which means I'm getting less banging on the floor from upstairs who have a baby. 

What I also like is the ability to play Octaves in two positions so I'm actually varying the riffs I'm playing by moving into other octaves.

I am frustrated sometimes trying to identify notes which was second nature on a 4 string but this is merely a hurdle that I need to overcome - it'll will come with time.

I'm avoiding going back to my 4 strings for now...

 

Yeah, I have to think what note is where on that B string, not long but it's not automatic yet like it is on other strings. However, I am used to recognising certain intervals and that just comes naturally which is nice. I always like it when I realise I already know something, like the day I discovered my fingers knew where each letter was on a computer keyboard: ask me where H is, and I'll have to think a while but ask me to type 'while' blindfolded and I'll just do it. Crazy.

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11 hours ago, owen said:

You cannot spell bass without a B. Band members are so astounded that they spent the first few gigs playing stuff in the wrong key.  

 

I'll remember this :D

 

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14 hours ago, owen said:

You cannot spell bass without a B. Band members are so astounded that they spend the first few gigs playing stuff in the wrong key.  

Don't cite this too often to guitarists as they may cite what the rest of "bass" is...

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I had, well, not exactly a similar experience, but definitely a moment where it all clicked

I got my first five string just before the millennium, and it instantly felt "right" - it may have helped that it was a Wal!  Took a couple of weeks to get used to having the extra string and not getting lost mid-song, but it didn't take long before my existing 4 string was getting left at home.  I haven't bought anything other than a five string since.  It seems best to have that extra string if you need to play those extra notes, and I've never had any issue with accessing the string or adapting my technique.  It annoys me when manufacturers don't offer a five string option as standard, as it seems such an obvious thing to do

However...other than playing the odd low D, I didn't actually use the B string for very much.  Partly because of being in bands with six string guitarists, there didn't seem to be any need for a lot of playing on that string, and dropping an octave seemed to leave a hole.  I rarely ventured above the fifth fret on it.  And partly because I never spent any serious time getting the tone sorted out - the low B seemed to boom in comparison to the tone of the E string, and it didn't seem that well matched to the gauges of the rest of the set.  Better on some basses than others - I once had an ESP LTD with EMGs on it and while I don't like their tone (or the bass, it's long gone) they were, certainly at that time, the best pickups I'd heard for a consistent tone across all the strings.

Then a few years ago I helped out some of my mates who are in a death/black metal band for a couple of gigs - not entirely my sort of thing, but within the venn diagram of my musical tastes.  Everything they played was on guitars that were tuned down.  And having spent the first rehearsal hammering out riffs on the B string, suddenly it all fell in to place - the tone was excellent, and my technique seemed to have adapted to manage the sound much better.

Since then I now use the B string for a lot more that the odd low D, and it feels much more joined up.  I now often start with the assumption that I'll be playing whatever notes are required as low as possible, since that's the bass' job

As an aside, I spent the spare time I had in the first lockdown playing a 7 string guitar  that I've had for a few years but don't regularly play - getting used to the extra string and what my options are across the fretboard, just as I had done with my first five string bass.  I hadn't found adapting as simple as I had assumed when switching to another instrument with a low B, but a couple of weeks of playing nothing else and it's sorted

Edited by Monkey Steve
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Taken me over a year to get used to a 5-string (also a Wal) ..and still sometimes hit the wrong string!  The extra neck width (the Wal mk2 5 is quite chunky and my fingers are short and stubby), suddenly having to contend with right hand damping and having an extra string after 50 odd years of playing things with only 4 strings make things harder than I'd expected.  Still have to look at my fingers now and then (BAD habit) but it's worth it to be able to stick in a low D and better still not change position so much. 

I think the recommended technique is to base your hand with the first finger on fret 5 ( ie play "bottom" Es, Fs and Gs on the B-string ) but on the Wal Mk2 at least, you get a different sound from when you play in first position (index finger on fret 2) so I still move my hand back along the neck, even if the note could be reached on the B string.

So many options!!  Don't think I'd every buy another four string.

 

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9 minutes ago, NickA said:

Taken me over a year to get used to a 5-string (also a Wal) ..and still sometimes hit the wrong string!  The extra neck width (the Wal mk2 5 is quite chunky and my fingers are short and stubby), suddenly having to contend with right hand damping and having an extra string after 50 odd years of playing things with only 4 strings make things harder than I'd expected.  Still have to look at my fingers now and then (BAD habit) but it's worth it to be able to stick in a low D and better still not change position so much. 

I think the recommended technique is to base your hand with the first finger on fret 5 ( ie play "bottom" Es, Fs and Gs on the B-string ) but on the Wal Mk2 at least, you get a different sound from when you play in first position (index finger on fret 2) so I still move my hand back along the neck, even if the note could be reached on the B string.

So many options!!  Don't think I'd every buy another four string.

 

Pretty much sounds the same as my journey...

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On reflection I have actually bought a 6 string to mess with bottom F# and it makes me feel 30 years younger. As in the "why is my left hand not on the same string as my right hand?" feeling I got when I went 5 string in 1990. 

This actaully the 2nd time I have tried this. I gave up very easily the first time but I figure I am not yet too old to learn new tricks. I will just have to practice :(

Edited by owen
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Five strings ftw, I've sold all my four string basses and various budget basses that never got played and condensed everything down to this.

IMG_20210125_183725086.thumb.jpg.8d0dc735523de35802d6dc7918db3107.jpg

This is my 11th year with the Blue SR5, it's just a proper tool for every job and does everything I'll ever need, but you've got to have a modded Jazz too so that's staying forever too. I think I'm done buying anymore basses. Five strings and active, job done.

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10 hours ago, NickA said:

Bottom F#.  That's erm.. 23Hz!!  Can you hear it or does just do strange thing to your innards (sub sonic weapon style)

You can hear it but need decent amplification. We have some Subs which are not earth shattering but good enough in church and it works nicely there. Well, it would if we were in the building. The last one did before I sulked with it and flogged it. Flicking the D-tuner and adding an extra bottom bottom E to the end of a song is a lot of fun. I cannot guarantee I will keep it but I had to try.

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1 hour ago, stingrayPete1977 said:

Five strings ftw, I've sold all my four string basses and various budget basses that never got played and condensed everything down to this.

IMG_20210125_183725086.thumb.jpg.8d0dc735523de35802d6dc7918db3107.jpg

This is my 11th year with the Blue SR5, it's just a proper tool for every job and does everything I'll ever need, but you've got to have a modded Jazz too so that's staying forever too. I think I'm done buying anymore basses. Five strings and active, job done.

I have always fancied one of those MM guitars.

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My third 5er arrived earlier (me...an impulse buyer??? Who told you that??) - this is a Sire MM 5er - weighs in at just over 5kg and suffers from the worst neck dive I've ever encountered. Not something that I'd heard associated with Sires - is this unusual?

Nice tonal package though (for a Jazz) - strange knob layout (oo err!!)

I'll get some photos done shortly.

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I reckon genre has a lot to do with how much real use your 5 will get.

I play in a band with horns, somehow having a five string means it all works more easily. A lot of flat key signatures to keep the brass happy 🤔

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