The first and most obvious advantage of opting for a bass with that additional low string is that it gives us the ability to extend the bottom range of what we can play. Standard strung 4 string basses can get us down to an E, but an additional 5th string on the bottom will enable us to plummet to a glorious rumbling B. This can be a really useful, dynamic tool in a band / ensemble setting, allowing you to add a little extra weight to that last chorus!
Is it harder to play a 5-String bass?
As you might expect, it takes time to adjust to the width of a 5 string neck. As little as it sounds, that extra 10-ish millimetres can make a big difference! It’s hard to comprehend the change in feel, as it can differ depending on the brand you’re interested in. Basses with a more traditional design features tend to have slightly wider necks, whereas more modern brands opt for something slimmer.
You may also find that to compensate for the increased number of strings vs. the relatively small increase in neck width, the strings are closer together – again, this will take some adjustment, so taking the time to try one is essential!
The extra string does, however, make it easier to play in different positions. If you’re halfway up the neck and suddenly find you have to drop a low F#, you can simply jump onto your lower string. To put it simply, you’ll have access to more notes with a fraction of the movement!
Weight for it…
For those of us who have played gigs of 2+ hours with a small tree hanging round our necks, we appreciate how significant weight can be when it comes to choosing the right bass for our needs. It’s worth considering that 5 (or 6) string basses tend to weigh a little extra – this may not matter to you, however. It depends entirely on whether you’re a frequent gigging player, or if you’re more home or studio based!
Looking (and sounding) the part
Extended range basses can, in some cases, look pretty distinct and head-turning. If you show up to a gig, rehearsal or session with one, you’ll immediately set the impression that you mean business. A low E simply isn’t enough – you’re there to make a statement!
This can, however, be seen as a disadvantage – producers and mixing engineers will either love you or hate you. Bass guitar, or any other low-range instrument for that matter, can be tricky to fit neatly into a mix with the right amount of clarity and rumble. Add an extra string, and you’re adding a whole bunch of extra frequencies that are likely to affect the way you sit in the mix. If you’re considering a 5 or 6-string, make sure you consider adjusting your tone too!
Range, feel, weight, tone and impression – there’s no clear answer, but if you consider each of these things, you’ll hopefully be at least a couple of steps closer to making the decision of whether a 5-string bass is what you need!
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