My On Again, Off Again Relationship With The 5 String Bass

5 Strings Of My Past

5_String_BassIt seems that I have a bit of an on again, off again relationship with the 5 string bass.  In the past few years I have owned two.  My first 5 string was an Ibanez, I don’t recall which model or what prompted me to buy it.  It was black and had two humbucker pickups, like a Gibson Thunderbird.  I actually really liked that bass, it had a nice deep tone and was easy to play.  The B string sounded decent, but I never really new what to do with it and mostly used it as a thumb rest.  Once the initial novelty wore off I ended up selling it.  Some time later I was offered a Lakland Skyline 55-01 in trade for a Carvin Fretless I was selling.  Lakland was not a brand I was familiar with at the time, and originally I declined the trade as I had no desire for a 5 string.  As luck would have it, I didn’t get a whole lot offers for the Carvin so I decided to do a little research and see what Lakland was all about.  Once I realized that Lakland’s where known to be quality instruments I decided to take the trade as I figured it would hold it’s value just as well as the Carvin, if not more so.  

From the first time I played that Lakland I was hooked.  That bass just felt so good in my hands.  Playing it was effortless, although I did have some difficulty reaching the E and B strings below the 12th fret.  For a while it became my main player, but again, I never really utilized that low B string for more than a thumb rest.  I tried several times to incorporate it into my playing but that low rumble just never sounded good to me.  So, I sold it.  I figured I wasn’t playing it and reasoned that it was actually distracting me from focusing on the 4 string and my studies with Teach Me Bass Guitar, in fact I wrote about it in a Weekly Ramble about a year ago.

On Again

Well, lately I’ve had that itch again.  Now that I am playing in a cover band I got to thinking that a 5 string might come in useful on some of the songs we play.  Not that any of the songs we do need the low B, just that having it might make for some economy in playing on certain numbers. This of course prompted me to scour the internet, ogling all the different offerings out there.  At first I decided that the Holy Grail for me would be the Fender Precision V, as I prefer P Basses.  Having said that, I also recalled my past experience with the 5 string and decided that there was no way I wanted to spend $1300 on one at this point.  So I decided to hit the town and see what was out there in the under $500 range, hoping to play a couple of basses that are highly rated online.

The Search

Sq VM Jazz V
Squier Vintage Modified Jazz V

The first 5 string I found in my price range was the Squier Vintage Modified Jazz V.  I have played the 4 string version, and liked it, and had heard nothing but great things about this bass so I was excited to actually have the opportunity to play one.  Squier is really doing a nice job on basses these days and the Vintage Modified Jazz V is no exception.  The bass I played looked and sounded great, but the neck seemed huge.  Despite this fact, it was fairly comfortably for me to play, however the sound of the low B just didn’t do it for me.  I had truly thought this might be the one for me, and the price was definitely right, but after playing it I was much less enthused.

 

Squire Deluxe Jazz V
Squier Deluxe Active Jazz V

Next up was the Squier Deluxe Active Jazz V.  This is another bass that is highly rated online.  Once again the neck seemed huge to me, I think it is actually wider at the nut than the Vintage Modified Jazz V!  Additionally, the shiny, ebanol fingerboard does not have any dots or inlays, which I’m ashamed to say, threw me a bit when playing.  This bass felt very heavy and uncomfortable in my hands, I didn’t even bother to plug it in.

 

Ibanez 405
Ibanez SR405QM

Finally I gave an Ibanez SR405QM a try.  Now this is a beautiful bass that is comfortable to play, has tight string spacing, a much slimmer neck than the Squiers, and doesn’t seem to weigh a ton.  Plugged in it sounded fantastic, yet I still found no love for the low B.  I tried running through a few of the tunes I thought would lend themselves to the 5 string, but just was not feeling it.  The tones on the B string are just not the sounds I have in my head.  At this point I decided to give up and head home.

Off Again

As I drove home listening to music on my iPod on shuffle, it dawned on me that none of my bass heroes are particularly known for playing a 5 string bass.  Geezer Butler, Bob Daisley, Steve Harris, Mike Watt, Eric Avery, none of them created the bass lines that inspire and motivate me on a 5 string.  The truth is I still have a lot to master on the 4 string bass.  There are a lot of players out there that are doing magnificent things on 5 and 6 string basses, but for now I think I am content with just 4.

How do you feel about the 5 string bass?  Would love to hear your thoughts and experiences, drop me a comment below.

 

7 Replies to “My On Again, Off Again Relationship With The 5 String Bass”

  1. Great post. I think I have the same love/hate relationship with the 5 string. On the one hand, having that option available seems attractive, but like you, I haven’t found an actual need for it. Most of the bass players I admire stick with 4 strings and do great things. And I’m nowhere NEAR their level of playing.

    As you put it, I feel I still have a lot to learn on 4 strings that having the 5th there would only hinder my progress. Plus, I have smaller hands so the thicker neck of a 5 string (regardless of brand) has never felt comfortable or natural to me.

  2. Hey Bronson, thanks for the comment. I too feel my hands are on the smaller side, which could indeed factor into my decision. Funny thing is that I kind of have this same sort of relationship with my short scale Mustang bass. Some days I love it and think it should be my main player and others it feels cramped and small. Guess I’m just acclimated the a standard, 34″ scale, 4 string.

  3. Have always wanted to try a Mustang just never had one at the local GC. Love the look and the fact that it’s short scale has it’s appeal too. Of course, I may try it and hate it since I’m so used to the 34″ scale.

  4. Hi Stantonl. Yours has been an interesting journey. Thank you for writing about it.

    I guess I’m very fortunate, as a bass player, in three ways. (1) I did not take up bass guitar until this millennium. Therefore, I came into the market with advanced options on every front: makers and models, state of the art electronics, state of the art strings, so forth — all innovations largely achieved in the years/decades prior to my taking up bass. So by the time I considered bass, and 5 stringers, many things had been worked out. (2) I was somewhere in my early 40s before I took up bass. By then, I had learned not to be swayed by the opinions of others. (3) Some of my favorite players DO play 5 stringers, but I wouldn’t care if they didn’t.

    Why do I like 5 strings? A few reasons.
    (1) I use that 5th string often. As I do constant sight reading, I gain something substantial by having those notes below my E string without having to shift my hand position, in the crunch of learning a new song.

    (2) I get good sound consistently from every 5 string bass I play. But there are three relevant factors here: (a) I play heavier gauge strings, (b) I play very high end instruments, (c) I downtune all strings half a step (Bb-Eb-Ab-Db-Gb).

    Why 2c? I guess I just like having my lowest possible note (without an octave pedal) being Bb instead of B. And for some weird reason, I can think better about the fingerboard positions by shifting everything off half a step. I’m weird, but it works for me. Been playing near weekly (7 songs a week in a church venue) for over a year downtuned like this.

    (3) Another factor is that I have fairly huge hands. The neck of a 4-stringer looks like a broomstick in my hands.

  5. Hey Vince. There definitely seems to be a lot of love for the 5 string, which is probably why I keep coming back to it. Maybe I just haven’t found the “one” for me yet. To be honest I have been purposely avoiding the higher end instruments as that I fear if I play one I will fall head over heels and put myself into serious debt acquiring one!

    Thanks for chiming in.

  6. Hi again, It’s good your website is called Bass Ramblings, as that’s clearly what I did – Ramble. 🙂 I’ll try to chime in again when I am ramble-worthy. Launching bass as my artistic voice has not been cheap for me, but I’ve given up all TV (6 years) and owning a car (3 years).

    Another topic of active work for me in recent months has been a pedalboard. Even without fuzz, distortion, much overdrive, or other countless options, it’s amazing how engaging pedals have been for me, limited strictly to octave, chorus, delay, and DI/EQ preamp stomp boxes. I digress.

  7. Well I’ll drop in my two cents..If you have more than one 4 string bass laying around try tuning one down to b,e,a,d…Could be worth a try. You would have a slimmer neck you are used to and it wouldnt cost you anything but a little time to set it up.

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