Yes, you get purists who swear by a 4 string bass and get offended by the mere mention of an extra string...
But, in many situations, a 5 string bass is an absolute must and there are so many things you can do with one.
This post will give you the lowdown plus a couple of my favourite 5 string songs.
What Is A 5 String Bass?
It's basically a standard tuned 4 string with an extra string. That extra string can be higher than the G (a C string) which is useful for jazz, chordal playing, and soloing.
Or, the more common tuning is a lower B string. That string is brilliant for impactful, rumbling low notes. It's used a lot in pop, hip hop, rock, metal, and also in jazz.
Why A 5 String Bass?
Here are a few situations I've needed a 5 string bass in a professional situation:
- Recording rock songs where the guide bass features below E string notes.
- Theatre pit bands where the music is often notated with lower notes than the E string.
- Cover bands where one or two songs feature synth bass or lower-tuned bass lines.
- It's really easy to move shapes around on the fly and transpose songs to different keys with a 5 string.
In short, they're versatile, convenient (you only need to take one bass to the gig rather than swapping different ones around for different tunings), and have a big, powerful sound.
How Much Do They Cost?
Speaking of tone, there are so many different manufacturers who provide a myriad options when it comes to 5 strings.
I would love a Fodera Emperor 5 Standard Classic but it's nearly $7500!
Conversely, you can get a Harley Benton 5 string for just over £100. That deserves its own exclamation mark!
There are hundreds of models in between these prices. Get yourself down to your local bass shop and try a few. String spacing differs as does weight, balance, playability, and tone.
The only way to find what you like is to try as many basses as you can.
Songs That Use A 5 String Bass
Covers that utilise the low B string include:
- Superstition by Stevie Wonder
- Ain't Nobody by Chaka Khan
- Summer of 69 by Bryan Adams
Here are two songs I love. Both use 5 strings. Chris Chaney heads all the way down to the low B on Waiting by Joe Satriani, and Tony Levin (a long-time StingRay 5 player) goes down to C on Where Are We Now? by David Bowie.
Joe Satriani - Waiting (Chris Chaney On Bass)
David Bowie - Where Are We Now? (Tony Levin On Bass)
Remember that a bass is really just a tool to help you express yourself. Nothing more!
So don't get too hung up on the 4 v 5 v 6 string debate. You can adapt to any instrument with good technique, knowledge of the fretboard, and an open mind.