Episode 014: 4 vs. 5 or more

Why are some bassists drawn to 4 vs. 5 strings (or more)? What’s right for the gig?

Music: JahzzarPlease Listen CarefullyspinningmerkabaUrbana-Metronica (wooh-yeah mix). Image: Jade Palmer.

Dave:

  • Have always only played 4
  • Well, once I had a 5 string Mexican Jazz (scored at a gig)
    • I only gave it 2 months and 4 gigs

Paul:

  • I know this answer – LOL
  • So I’ve got 4s and 5s, in about equal numbers. Nowadays I gravitate to the 5, tuned with a low B (as opposed to a high C). I used to have a 6, but it was just too big for my hands and it was stupid for me to buy it.
  • First thing to know is that I don’t ride on the lowest notes all the time; they’re like seasoning, if you add enough the flavor is awesome, but too much and you ruin the dish
  • The B gives me a way to play in a lower register, but higher up the neck where frets are closer together; for someone with smaller hands this is a godsend
  • It’s all in the neck size and profile!

Dave:

Talk about why 4 vs. 5:

  • Lighter – Can man handle
  • Comfort – over 20 years
  • Shifter – Stylistically, I lean toward that sound you get from shifting (D to E on A String)

But here’s what I don’t like about 4:

  • Not having the sweet tone of the B
  • Some bass lines really call for a 5 string out of tone and mapping

Paul:

  • Bigger neck in most cases; the exception being the vintage P neck from the late 50s and early 60s that I call the “baseball bat” — low radius, C-type profile. Sometimes you just want that chunk because it makes you play differently, like you’re strangling the neck
  • The spacing between the strings means you have to be careful about how you dig in, versus a 4 string, especially versus a Precision style bass
  • Strings are more expensive!
  • Examples of styles for 5’s — modern R&B, fusion, progressive, hard rock/metal, pop
  • Example of styles for 4’s — anything before mid 1980s for sure! Also would probably choose this for any vintage/indie or old school vibe

Dave:

  • So there’s also something about my stubbornness that prohibits the switch
  • What would you tell me if you had to sell me on the 5 – bottom line?

Paul:

  • It’s like a sunroof on a car. You’re not going to open it every day, sometimes it’s rainy out. But it’s great to have when you want to feel the sun coming in on a good driving day!
  • I think the hardest thing for people to get past is that the very lowest string is no longer the note you expect — but if you can think of the bass in terms of intervals and patterns, it’s much easier to switch. Use the B string as mainly a thumbrest!
  • Dave, sell me your 4 vs. 5

Dave:

  • Jaco did it with 4 (wait, that’s not a good argument, I’m not Jaco)
  • Redo: I mean, 4 is plenty, right? If not 4 then 5? Why not 6? Or ….

Paul:

  • Transition to comment on 6+
  • I used to have a 6 string bass but it was just too big for my hands. I could play it but I realized it just wasn’t comfortable, and I had developed into a better player who could tell the difference, vs. just struggling with it because that’s what I thought I was supposed to do
  • Extended range basses (I consider these 6+) are not for everything. They have their place but they’re almost specialized to the point of needing the right kind of gig
  • Not going to lie, they’re fetishized a bit. I’ve seen players using them as an affectation, where they care more about the fact that they have or play some wild 6 or 7 string bass than doing the job of bass, being the musical foundation

Dave:

  • Chapman Stick? At what point does the bass become a different instrument?

Paul:

  • Maybe something around how we use effect pedals to manipulate bass capacity
    • Does this mean, like sub octave pedals to get even lower without needing more strings?  

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